Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tomorrow is the big day!

I am really getting nervous about trying to cook dutch oven next year. There is at least 4 inches of snow on the ground with more to come tomorrow and Saturday. This experiment may be more than I bargained for. My hubby just shakes his head every time I mention it, but I know that he is secretly salivating and anxiously awaiting my creations.

I was going to do a post all about how to clean your ovens, but as I looked into it, there are just so many ways to do it. So I decided to take a week trying each method and then let you know what I think, what worked and what didn't, and which method I like the best. So stay tuned!

For today, I wanted to show you my new toys. Mom gave me an envelope full of cash for Christmas (ha! Don't I wish!) so I spent it at my local IFA store. I stopped at Sportsman's Warehouse and Cal-Ranch first, but they were so picked over that there wasn't much to choose from. I'm sure that if I could have waited a couple of weeks their shelves would be full, but I didn't have that kind of time. I ended up with a charcoal starter from Cal-Ranch. It cost $16.99, and has an extra handle that will make pouring out coals a lot easier. I really hit the jackpot at IFA. I got a lid holder and 2 10" dutch ovens. The lid holder was $9.99, the dutch ovens were $26.99 and $34.99. They are made by Camp Chef. One is a 4 quart and the other a 6 quart. The 6 qt. is the Lewis and Clark edition and has a pic of Sacajawea on the lid. The lid also has little legs on it so it doubles as a serving tray or a griddle. It is also a deep set lid, hence the extra capacity. But the greatest thing about both ovens is that they are pre-seasoned. In fact, every store I went to only had pre-seasoned ovens. They are FABULOUS!!!! You just wash them in hot soapy water and coat them with oil and Voila--you are done! I can't wait to get cooking!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Cooking with your dutch oven

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas! Me and mine had a great day yesterday, full of family, food, fun and of course presents!

Now, on to the dutch oven fun! We are getting into some areas that cause me to get very nervous about dutch oven cooking. That is using charcoal briquets. I have read several dutch oven cookbooks, and they all seem to use different formulas for how to tell if you are using the right number of briquets to get the right temperature in your oven. I have chosen to use what appears to be the simplest method. This information comes from the book "Let's Cook Dutch" by Robert L. Ririe. This is a great book for the beginner--like me!

You should start your coals 30-45 minutes before you are ready to cook. The coals should be red hot, which, interestingly enough, means they will be ashy grey (go figure) but flare red when they are fanned.

As a general rule, the formula for the number of coals needed per oven is this: for bottom heat, take the size of the dutch oven and add 2, that is the number of coals needed under the oven. For the top heat, take the size of the dutch oven and subtract 2, that is the number of coals needed on top of the oven. For example, if you are cooking in a 12 inch oven, you would need 14 briquets on the bottom and 10 on top. I know this sounds complicated, but remember, this is the easiest method for calculating the heat. There are different rules that apply when you are baking cobblers, breads or biscuits. They need more top heat. You would use only 6-8 briquets on bottom and 18-24 on top. We will talk more about the heat needed for baking when I get brave enough to actually try it.

Here is a chart put out by Lodge.  It tell the coal counts needed to reach the proper temperature for cooking.

Come back next time, when we will talk about cleaning your dutch oven. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dutch oven tools

There really aren't any special tools required for dutch oven cooking, but there are some tools that will make it much easier, convenient and fun. I am starting with the bare minimum: long handled tongs, 2 lid lifters, and 3 dutch ovens. You don't really NEED anything more. The few times I have cooked dutch I have been reasonably successful. Some tools you will want to consider are:

Charcoal starter: This is a tall cylinder with a handle that is opened at the top and has a mesh type screen (or something similar) on the bottom. Charcoal is put inside and started from the bottom with newspaper. It gets the coals ready to cook on faster. This will be my next purchase.

Long handled BBQ tools: These are great because you don't have to get to close to the coals and risk getting burned. They include tongs, spatulas, forks, spoons, slotted spoons and knives.

Wide paint brush: This is good for brushing ash off the lid before you open your oven.

Lid holder: This keeps your lid off the ground and prevents dirt from getting in your food from the lid.

Lid lifter: This is really handy. It is a long handle with a hook on the end that allows you to open the lid of your dutch oven without having to touch it. These are great for preventing burns. This is one tool that you really shouldn't dutch oven without.

Gloves: Consider these your outside oven mitts. Need I say more.

Some kind of storage box.

I know this looks like a long list, but as I said before, you can start using your dutch ovens with very little in the way of tools and do just fine.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Seasoning your dutch oven

You have chosen the dutch oven that is right for you. Now what? Well, your new dutch oven needs to be seasoned or cured. You might notice that there is a waxy coating all over your oven. This is just a protective coating, but you will want to remove it before you start cooking. First, you need to wash your dutch oven in hot, soapy water. This is probably the only time you will do this. The easiest place to season your oven is in your oven. Seasoning can be done on a BBQ grill or over coals, but indoors is much easier. Your will heat your dutch oven with the lid on, to 200 degrees. While the oven in hot, coat it with a thin coat of cooking oil, bacon grease, shortening or lard, both inside and out. Use a clean cloth or paper towels, and be sure to wear gloves or use oven mitts. After the dutch oven is oiled, heat it to 350 degrees for about an hour. It is normal for the oil to smoke when it is heated. You may also want to put a cookie sheet or similar pan on the rack below the dutch oven to catch any potential oil drips. This won't be a problem as long as you didn't oil it to heavily. After your oven has been heated for an hour, turn it off and allow the dutch oven to cool slowly. Be sure to leave a LIGHT coating of oil on the dutch oven. Your dutch oven is now ready to use!

If you are like me you haven't used your dutch oven in a while (ahem...15 years) it will need to be reseasoned. You can tell it needs to be reseasoned if when you open the lid, you start to get sick from the smell. Don't worry, all is not lost. Just follow the same steps you would if you were seasoning a new oven. Dutch ovens are very forgiving of neglect. Thank heaven for that, because the way I have treated mine is criminal. They have a healthy coating of dust, and smell terrible from lack of use. But some heat and a nice coating of oil, and they will soon become my best friends!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Choosing the right dutch oven

Choosing the right dutch oven is very important. There are several different styles and brands out there, as well as different materials. Cast Iron and aluminum are the two main types of dutch ovens. They both cook well, but cast iron will retain and distribute heat better than it's aluminum cousin. Cast Iron also gives the food that great smoky dutch oven flavor we all love, where aluminum sometimes gives food a chalky flavor. The advantage of aluminum is its weight. Aluminum will weigh about 1/3 less than cast iron. Most people use cast iron ovens.
When you are looking to buy a dutch oven, look closely at the following items:

1. For outdoor cooking over charcoal briquettes only buy dutch ovens with legs. The ovens with flat bottoms are much more difficult to use. Legs lift the bottom of the oven up to accomodate hot coals. Flat bottom ovens have to be supported with bricks. Make sure the legs are not bent, cracked or broken.

Buy one like this... not like this.

2. Check the fit of the lid. It should fit flush around the entire oven with no large gaps. The lid should also have a lip that comes up above the top of the oven. This allows you to put coals on top without having them fall into the food. An oven with a rounded lid makes adding top heat very difficult.

3. Check the thickness of the metal, especially around the rim. If the oven walls are thinner or thicker in some areas than in others it will produce hot or cold spots during cooking.

4. Make sure the lid has a loop handle that is not cracked and is well attached.

5. Check the wire handle. It should be easy to move and strong enough to carry a heavy pot full of stew easily. I have an oven with handle problems. The handle actually comes off the oven--it makes it very difficult to move a hot oven full of food.

You also need to consider the size of oven you will need. They are avaliable in many sizes, 10", 12" and 14" are the most common. There are also standard and deep size ovens. If you are only buying one oven to get started, get a 12". It will hold just about anything you need. You can always add other sizes to your collection later.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Why cook with dutch ovens?

In the months since I decided to spend a year cooking with dutch ovens, I have had a lot of people ask me if I was crazy. I just give them a big smile and tell them "probably". But I have thought of several good reasons why it is a good idea to know how to cook with dutch ovens.

First, food from a dutch oven is FANTASTIC! Take any recipe and it can be made better when it is cooked in a dutch oven. There is just something magic about anything cooked in a big, heavy, black pot. Wouldn't it be great to invite your family or neighbors over for a dutch oven cookout?

Second, they are versitale. I am told, and we will soon find out, that anything that can be cooked in the oven or on the stove top can be cooked in a dutch oven. From roast, chicken and soup to cookies, pies and pizza.

Third, there is no need to heat up the kitchen in the middle of July with the oven. Just step outside and leave the heat where it belongs. Sit in your lawn chair, sip ice cold lemonade and watch the kids play in the yard while dinner cooks. Take advantage of the lazy summer days.

Fourth, it is a great way to practice your emergency prepardness skills. How many times have you come home and found the power out. I happens quite a bit where I live. Until now my only options have been sandwiches (provided Colton didn't eat all the bread-AGAIN) or a trip to a local restaurant. No one really gets excited about the first option, and an unplanned trip to a restaurant can be a real budget buster.

In addition to the minor inconvenience of a power outage, a dutch oven and a few bags of charcoal briquettes could save you life, or at least make you more comfortable, in the event of a major natural disaster. Think about the disasters that have occured around the United States or around the world. Imagine if instead of leaving home to wait for help from the government, you break out your dutch ovens, grab some food from the pantry or food storage room and whip up dinner. Unless your home is uninhabitable, it is almost always better to stay put.

Finally, cooking with a dutch oven is just fun! Get up and get out of your comfort zone and try something new. Gather your family around and enjoy some great quality time in the outdoors cooking your families favorite meals--with a twist.

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