Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Recipe: Quick Beans and Rice

Beans and rice with caramelized onions
Beans and rice are a staple of Latin America and the Caribbean, and have been feeding the people of the western hemisphere for nearly five centuries. While beans are native to the Americas, it wasn't until Europeans and Africans brought rice to the colonies in the 1500's that this combo could be created.

This recipe is quick, easy, and really tasty. The secret is to caramelize some onions, which creates sweet and savory notes that combine with salt to build an intense flavor profile. While I usually serve these beans as a side dish, they are worthy of a main course. Rice is of course a starch at heart, but packs vitamin B and protein as well. Beans are full of protein, iron, and many other minerals. Together, they provide all of the essential amino acids.

I used pinto beans here, but red beans, black beans, and even black-eyed peas are all fair game.

In addition to robust flavor, excellent nutrition, and a rich history... beans and rice are some of the least-expensive ingredients you can find. Que Bueno!

  • 1/4 medium onion, sliced
  • 2 cups cooked white rice
  • 1 cup Derek's (almost) Famous Pinto Beans (or any other pre-cooked, seasoned beans)
  • red pepper flakes to taste
  • salt to taste
  • oil
Heat a medium cast iron skillet on medium heat until hot—about five minutes. Add a thin coating of oil, and then toss in the sliced onions and a dash of red pepper flakes. Caramelize the onions for 5-7 minutes until they're beginning to turn golden brown. Be sure to stir or toss the onions regularly to avoid burning.

Once the onions are turning golden, add the cooked rice and beans, salt to taste, and warm everything for 2-3 minutes until the beans and rice are hot. Taste the dish to make sure you added enough salt!

Note: If you have the time, it's kinda nice to let the rice fry for a few extra minutes to remove some moisture and kick up the texture of the dish.

Serve immediately. Beans and rice are perfect next to scrambled eggs for breakfast, stuffed inside quesadillas for lunch, or served as a side dish with enchiladas for dinner.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Recipe: Flaming Bananas Foster (Video)

Bananas Foster comes to us from the great city of New Orleans, Louisiana. While the Big Easy is one of the oldest and most historically colorful cities in the United States, it wasn't until the 1950's that the fine folks at Brennan's Restaurant concocted this culinary gem.

Bananas Foster is one of my favorite quick desserts. It is utterly delicious, packs entertainment punch with the flambé segment, and is one of the few really simple gluten free desserts.

Ingredients (serves 2-3)

  • 2 bananas, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • dash cinnamon
  • 1-2 tablespoons rum or brandy
Heat a medium cast iron skillet on medium heat. After 5 minutes or so once the skillet is just beginning to smoke almost imperceptibly, add the butter. A few seconds later once the butter has mostly melted, toss in the bananas. 

Sauté the bananas for about 5 minutes, stirring or tossing every 2 minutes or so. You want to avoid burning, but you also want to allow the banana slices to develop a deep caramelization on each side. 

Once the bananas are sufficiently caramelized, toss in the rum or brandy, and immediately ignite the contents of the skillet with a match or lighter. You'll get a nice 18 inch-high flame... and while the flame is highest, toss in a few dashes of cinnamon for some sparkle (and flavor).

While flambé is exciting (especially if you burn your house down), there's more to it than fun. The high temperatures involved help finish off the caramelization reaction, and add more flavor to the dish. As noted in the video, the chicks also dig it. 

The flame will quickly die down... and once it is out, serve your bananas foster over vanilla ice cream immediately. 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Recipe: Outstanding Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes done right
Mashed potatoes are the perfect complement to roasted chicken or turkey (provided of course that there's gravy). But don't leave your mashed potatoes to chance.

The difference between a good meal and a great meal often comes down to whether the side dishes got as much attention as the main course.  This recipe ensures that your mashed potatoes will stand on their own without gravy. Add gravy, and you leave the realm of the side dish and enter the realm of the sublime...

The three most common problems with mashed potatoes are:

1) Under-cooking the potatoes
2) Under-seasoning the potatoes
3) Under-mashing the potatoes

This recipe tackles these issues head-on, in order.


  • 3 pounds russet potatoes (about 6-8 potatoes)
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 3/4 tablespoon coarse kosher salt (or a little less than 1/2 tablespoon of table salt)
  • 1 cup milk

Peel your potatoes, and then cut them roughly into 2-inch thick sections. Place the potato sections into a large stainless steel pot, and fill the pot with water until the potatoes are fully covered. Place the potatoes over high heat to boil.

Once they come up to a boil, you may need to turn down the heat a tad so they don't boil over. Boil the potatoes until they are soft, which will likely take about 45 minutes (depending on exactly how thick you cut them). When a fork goes easily into the center of the thickest potato section (and before they begin to fall apart) they're done.

Add caption
Drain the potatoes of water using a colander, and consider reserving the potato water for use in gravy. Place the potatoes back in the pot you boiled them in (removed from heat), and add the stick of butter.

Once the butter has melted, add the seasonings and milk. Mash the potatoes for a good 3-4 minutes until smooth.

While the above seasoning guidelines do a pretty good job on 3 pounds of potatoes, if you used more than 3 pounds... you'll need more of everything.

Always taste your food before you serve it!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Article: Microwave Popcorn... the Cat's out of the Bag

A few years back, a phenomenon known as "Popcorn Lung" began making headlines. A flavoring chemical called diacetyl (used to simulate the taste of butter) was causing workers who manufacture microwave popcorn and butter flavorings to get a rare and serious disease called bronchiolitis obliterans (as in, "your lungs have been obliterated").

In one case, a two-bags-a-day microwave popcorn consumer also contracted popcorn lung. In response to the bad press, many manufacturers began removing diacetyl from microwave popcorn.

Now, a new (but strangely familiar) threat has surfaced. PFOA (or perflourooctanoic acid) is a known carcinogen that is used in the manufacture of Teflon and other non-stick cookware. As it turns out, it is also used in fast food wrappers, paper plates, and microwave popcorn bags. This cancer-causing chemical used in food packaging appears to be making its way into the food itself.

In addition to causing cancer, there's mounting evidence that PFOA and other PFC's (perflourinated compounds) may be leading to fertility problems.

Heard enough?  Me too.

Wondering what to do about it? You can start by making your popcorn in a good old fashioned dutch oven. It's healthier, free of synthetic chemicals, and tastes a whole lot better.

I have recipes for making popcorn in an enameled dutch oven as well as in a regular dutch oven, and just posted a video recipe for dutch oven popcorn to help people who are new to dutch oven popcorn-making.

Go ahead... take charge of your family's health today. And don't forget to stop by the blog and leave a comment if you have any questions. Thanks!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Recipe: Dutch Oven Popcorn (Video)

While I've covered dutch oven popcorn using bare cast iron and enameled cast iron, folks have asked to see the finer points of the method by video. So here you go!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Recipe: Eggplant Parmesan (Gluten Free)

Eggplant Parmesan in a Cast Iron Skillet
Eggplant is a strange vegetable (actually, it's a fruit).  It's related to tomatoes—which are part of the (deadly) nightshade family. Each eggplant contains the nicotine of about 1/30th of a cigarette. Eggplants are native to India, and seem to have made their way to western Europe sometime in the 1500's, along with tomatoes and the Renaissance.

Eggplants seem unnaturally lightweight for their size—which is part of what makes them such a versatile main ingredient. Unlike outwardly similar vegetables like cucumbers, squashes, and zucchinis, eggplants are not saturated with water. This airiness allows eggplants to soak up lots of oil during cooking, which is part of why they seem so meaty and rich.

This is a one-skillet recipe, and takes about 1 hour and 10 minutes start to finish. I use gluten free bread to make my breadcrumbs, but you can use regular bread/crumbs if you don't mind the wheat. I don't peel the eggplants since I enjoy the skin, but you can peel them if you prefer. I'd recommend not using extra virgin olive oil since it can burn and add bitterness. Stick with regular olive oil (or even canola in a pinch).

Slice the eggplant into 1-inch thick slices. Sprinkle each slice with kosher salt on both sides (just a light sprinkle, less than 1/8 teaspoon per slice). Let the eggplant slices sit for 30 minutes. This helps draw out some of the bitter flavors from the eggplant, and removes further water.

You can make the marinara sauce while you're waiting. You can also toast the bread in preparation for making your breadcrumbs.

Once you've toasted the bread, let it cool to room temperature. Cooling the bread to room temperature after toasting is an important step, as it allows more moisture to escape from the bread (leaving you with crumbs rather than mush after a trip through the food processor).

Once cool, pulverize the toasted bread slices in a food processor. Once the bread has reached a fairly crumby texture, add 1/2 cup of the parmesan cheese and give it a few more pulses until they are proper crumbs.

Dump the breadcrumbs and parmesan into a mixing bowl, and add a pinch of dried oregano and the flour. Then add salt, pepper, onion powder, and granulated garlic to taste. And I really do mean "to taste."

Taste the breading and re-season as necessary. The breading should taste good—not unlike how a well-flavored Italian herb and parmesan cracker might taste if you ate the crumbs. When in doubt, add more salt.

To make the dipping wash, beat one egg, and add to it 1/4 cup whole milk. Mix well.

Pre-heat your oven on 325 degrees F.

Heat a large cast iron skillet on medium heat, and wait 4-5 minutes for it to come up to heat.

When it's just starting to send up wisps of smoke, add a solid coating of olive oil, and begin breading the eggplant.

To bread the eggplant, pat the slices dry with a paper towel to soak up the water that was drawn out by the salt.  Then dip eggplant slices in the egg wash—being sure to get full coverage.

Bread the slices thoroughly on all sides. Don't be afraid to use your fingers to get as much breading on each slice as possible.

Cook the eggplant slices until nicely browned, and then flip them over and brown the other side. This might take 3-4 minutes per side.

Once the eggplant slices are browned on each side, put a generous dollop of Outstanding Marinara Sauce on top of each slice. Sprinkle each slice of eggplant with a respectable pile of parmesan cheese.

Place the skillet in the oven, and bake on 325 degrees F for 25-30 minutes.

Remove your eggplant parmesan from the oven to let cool for a few minutes, and serve! 

I like to serve this dish right in the skillet for a nice presentation. Be sure to warn your guests of how hot the pan is.

This dish goes well with rice pilaf and caesar salad.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Recipe: Pasta Autunnale

The last of the garden's summer bounty... over pasta.
Everyone's heard of pasta primavera. With asparagus, broccoli, peas, and other early-season vegetables, pasta primavera is a culinary celebration of spring.

I had to Google the Italian word for "autumn" to name this dish.  As you might imagine, this dish is a close cousin of pasta primavera... but made with fall vegetables instead.

Any day now the frost is going to sweep down out of the Rockies and end the gardening season. But for now, we've got yellow squash, chard, cherry tomatoes, onions, garlic, green beans, and thyme (I bought the mushrooms from the store). I used yellow squash in this recipe, but you could substitute zucchini if you happen to have a few hundred extras (like most gardeners I know).

  • 6 oz cremini or baby bella mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 large yellow summer squash, sliced roughly 1/2 inch thick
  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped fine
  • 4 large cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 10 green beans, chopped into small pieces
  • 1 small bunch of chard, chopped very rough
  • 1 pound of linguine pasta (I use Tinkyada brand gluten free)
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme, chopped (about 1/4 teaspoon loosely packed)
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine (e.g. Chardonnay)
  • 1/3 cup veggie broth (or chicken, if you don't mind the meat)

Boil the pasta is well-salted water (the water should taste like a too-salty soup). NOTE: I did not include the pasta water salt in the above ingredients list. Once pasta is al dente, remove from heat, drain, toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and set aside covered.

As the pasta is nearing doneness, heat a large stainless steel saute pan on medium to medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and then toss in the squash, mushrooms, chard, onion, and green beans. After about 3 minutes, add the butter and lower the heat to just under medium. Add the salt and pepper.

Saute the veggies, tossing or stirring frequently. Try to develop a bit of browning on the squash and onion caramelization.

After about 10 minutes, toss in the tomatoes and thyme. After another 3 minutes, taste the veggies to make sure they're pretty soft.

Prepare to add the pressed garlic. Do this by clearing a spot in the center of the pan, adding a splash of olive oil, and then putting in the garlic.

Stir the garlic around in its little clearing for about 1 minute, and as it begins to stick to the bottom (but well before it burns), deglaze the center of the pan with the white wine and scrape up any stuck garlic. Toss in the pasta, add the broth, and toss everything together to mix it.

Simmer for 1-2 minutes to evaporate some of the liquid.

Serve immediately topped with Parmesan cheese. I didn't have any, but some chopped fresh parsley on top would have been nice.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Article: PFOA and PFOS linked to High Cholesterol in Children

The Ohio River Valley, where Teflon has been manufactured for decades
In a recent study that examined over 12,000 children ages 1 to 18, high levels of PFOA (perflourooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluoro-octanesulfonate) were associated with high levels of LDL (or "bad") cholesterol.

This study was conducted in the Ohio River Valley as part of a class action lawsuit against DuPont, the makers of Teflon. DuPont's manufacture of Teflon-containing products, including non-stick cookware, has polluted the area's ground water with PFOA and PFOS.

While DuPont and other manufacturers have agreed to phase out the use of PFOA in their manufacturing processes by 2015, little is known about the safety of the new chemicals that will replace PFOA. I don't believe that the money allocated for the review of chemical alternatives to PFOA is sufficient. 

In the face of continued political pressure to reduce the EPA's ability to perform its functions—thereby putting corporations in charge of public health—the conservative approach is to seek alternatives to Teflon cookware in your home.

It is likely in this case that the manufacture of Teflon-containing products was responsible for the elevated blood serum levels of PFOA in these children (as opposed to the use of Teflon-containing cookware). However, because PFOA off-gasses from non-stick cookware under normal use, I recommend you throw out your Teflon and other non-stick cookware in favor of cast iron cookware and stainless steel cookware.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Article: CNN's "Toxic America" Series Recommends Cast Iron Cookware

A Teflon pan releases PFOA into your food at medium-high heat
CNN has been running a series on chemicals that are known or suspected carcinogens that happen to be in the bloodstreams of nearly all Americans—including babies that haven't been born.

One of the articles in the series covers 5 toxic household chemicals, and offers guidance on avoiding them.

One of these toxic chemicals is PFOA, or perflourooctanoic acid.  PFOA is a chemical used in the manufacture of Teflon and other non-stick cookware.

According to the CNN report, "PFOA causes cancer and developmental problems in laboratory animals."  The CNN report goes on to note that the EPA has determined that research on PFOA is "suggestive of carcinogenicity but not sufficient to assess human carcinogenic potential."

In other words, the EPA is pretty sure PFOA is bad stuff, but because it would be unethical to run an experiment on humans to prove it, they can't say for sure.

CNN's recommendation:

"You can reduce potential exposure by using stainless steel or cast iron cookware. If you use nonstick cookware, do not overheat, which releases toxic gas."

I heartily agree with CNN. But I'm biased.

Or am I?

I don't sell anything on this website. My only bias comes from the fact that I have two small children and a wife that I love very much, and I'd like to keep the carcinogens in their bloodstreams to a minimum.

On the subject of bias...

DuPont, the manufacturer of Teflon, has agreed to reduce the presence of PFOA in their products by 95%. This is an abrupt about-face for DuPont, who for the past 30 years has steadfastly denied any dangers associated with PFOA or Teflon. It turns out DuPont was lying, and in 2006 the EPA fined DuPont $16.5 million for the cover up. NOTE: $16.5 million represents roughly 1/50th of 1% of DuPont's profits during those years.

Given the 3-decade lag between when DuPont knew about the dangers of PFOA and when they began removing it from their products, I don't trust that whatever chemical they decide to use instead of PFOA will be safe.

And I'm not waiting 30 years to find out.

If that sounds sensible to you, I encourage you to check out my collection of recipes using cast iron and stainless steel cookware. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Recipe: Outstanding Marinara Sauce

Marinara sauce is a pretty simple affair of tomatoes, onions, garlic, and olive oil.

Contrary to some accounts, it is not named for the men of the sea (mariners) based on its ingredient list. While fish (most commonly in the form of anchovies) feature prominently in some marinara recipes, the name apparently derives from the old Italian grandmothers of Naples who served this delectable sauce to their sons and husbands upon their safe return from the sea.

Of course, tomatoes didn't exist in Italy until mariners brought them from the new world... so perhaps there's more to the story of how this sauce got its name.

Full disclosure: this recipe is adapted from the Cook's Illustrated "Best Quick Tomato Sauce" recipe from the May / June 2009 Issue.

I didn't change much.

As is true with many a great recipe, this recipe's brilliance stems from its expert pairing of sweet, salty, acidic, and bitter flavors—along with a proper dose of savory (also called Umami).

Unsurprisingly, the saltiness and sweetness come from... salt and sugar. The acid comes from the tomatoes. The bitterness comes from the seared garlic, olive oil, and oregano. The savory flavor comes from butter and the fond developed during caramelization.

This recipe is cooked in stainless steel as opposed to cast iron.

I bring it to you for the following reasons:
  1. Stainless steel is safe cookware, and affords the cook the development of a robust fond (browned bits of goodness that stick to the pan) for later deglazing.
  2. This recipe is really easy to make, and the flavor far surpasses anything you will ever get from a jar. Seriously.
  3. This marinara sauce is featured in several other recipes on this blog, and thus it would seem a disservice not to provide it.
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup grated onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano (or 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano)
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, pressed (about 3 tablespoons)
  • 1 - 14 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 - 14 ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • salt, to taste
Heat a medium stainless steel saute pan on medium heat. While the pan is coming up to heat, grate the onion using a coarse grater (your garden variety grater, the one with roughly 1/4 inch holes). A third of a cup is about a third a medium onion.

When the pan is warm, toss in the butter, and then immediately add the grated onion. Stir things around frequently to avoid burning. You'll caramelize the onions for 5-7 minutes, until they reach a golden brown. Because the onion is in such small pieces it can burn quickly, so stay nearby during this part!

Once the onion is well-caramelized, clear a spot in the center of the pan and drop in a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Immediately add the pressed garlic and black pepper. Stir the garlic and black pepper around for 30 seconds or so, and then add the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, sugar, and oregano.

Simmer for no more than 10 minutes, during which time you should salt it to taste. You'll probably add between 1/4 teaspoon and 1/2 teaspoon of table salt (more if it's kosher salt). How much salt you add depends on how much salt is in the canned tomatoes, and of course your preferences. If in doubt about whether you've added enough salt, add (a little) more and taste again.

Just before serving (or using the marinara in another recipe), add that last tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil to freshen up the taste.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Quick Tip: Use Plastic Mesh Produce Bags for Cast Iron Clean Up

Cook's Illustrated magazine Quick Tip on cast iron cleaning
Many months ago, I sent a note to Cook's Illustrated magazine about using plastic mesh bags for cast iron cleaning. They published it in their "Quick Tips" section in the November / December issue.

Using these plastic bags (that would otherwise be thrown away) is a great way to remove heavy grease or other crud that you don't want sullying your normal cast iron scrubber pad.

You can throw away the plastic mesh bag after use, or even use it again if it isn't too soiled.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Recipe: Dutch Oven Chili

Dutch oven chili simmering on the stove

This is an easy-to-make chili that'll make you feel like a cast iron pro. You can use your cast iron dutch oven, or an enameled dutch oven if that's what you have on hand (bare cast iron is preferable since it allows for the development of fond, which improves flavor).

This chili accommodates a variety of meats and beans, but more importantly it's very tasty.

Related Recipes:

This recipe serves 8-10.

The two most most common problems with chili are:
  1. General lack of flavor
  2. Too-watery consistency
    This recipe solves both problems.

    • 2 lbs ground bison, beef, or turkey
    • 4 cups cooked beans (kidney, pinto, red, etc.)
    • 1 medium onion, chopped
    • 4 stalks of celery, chopped
    • 3 cans (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes
    • 2 tablespoons oil
    • 1 tablespoon flour (I used gluten free, but wheat flour is fine, too)
    • 1 tablespoon chili powder
    • 2 teaspoons granulated garlic
    • 1-2 tablespoons kosher salt, and to taste
    • 2 teaspoons black pepper
    • 2 bay leaves
    Heat your cast iron dutch oven on medium heat, and add 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan. When the oil is hot and shimmering, toss in your onions and celery.

    Aromatics and ground bison
    One of the keys to developing flavor for chili is to pair sweetness with salt. The sweetness comes from caramelizing your onions before adding liquids. Because the onions and celery will continue to cook as the meat browns, I like to give them a 5-6 minute head start.

    Stir the aromatics around as they cook to avoid scorching, and then add the ground meat. Brown the meat, stirring every minute or two. This will take around 10 minutes.

    Once the meat is browned, add another tablespoon of oil, 1 tablespoon of kosher salt, 1 teaspoon of black pepper, and the flour, chili powder, and granulated garlic (NOTE: I use kosher salt because it's what I have in a bowl next to my stove. If you're using table salt, cut quantities in half).

    Always taste your chili and re-season as necessary
    Cook the spices (in the meat and aromatics) for about a minute to release their oils, and then add the beans, diced tomatoes, and bay leaves. Stir things around once more, and then simmer on low heat for 30 minutes to 3 hours—depending on how hungry you are. Stir it every 10 minutes or so while is simmers to avoid burning.

    The longer it simmers, the better. As your chili simmers, taste it! You want the beans to soak up as much flavor as they can, since this makes each bite of chili more balanced once it hits the spoon. As the beans soak up flavor from the surrounding liquid, you'll want to add more salt and seasonings.

    If the chili doesn't delight your palate with flavor upon tasting, add salt until it does. If you prefer more heat, add black pepper (NOTE: pepper takes some time to release into the dish, so wait 20 minutes after adding pepper to taste for heat). If you'd like a little smoke, add a smokey hot sauce like Uncle Brutha's (which, of course, will add heat, too).

    As mentioned above, you'd be silly not to serve this chili with some cast iron skillet corn bread. We like to put it over noodles or rice, and it's best served with fresh chopped onions and grated cheese.

    Clean up

    Scrub your dutch oven clean with a non-abrasive cleaning pad and hot water. If you don't want to dirty your sponge, or if your sponge is full of soap, you can use a plastic mesh produce bag (like for  onions or citrus) and throw it away when you're finished.

    Once clean, dry your dutch oven with heat on the stovetop or in the oven (on 250 degrees F). Once it is dry, oil the dutch oven all over and let it cool. Cast iron should always be put away shiny with oil!

    Read more on the care of cast iron cookware.

    Monday, August 16, 2010

    Recipe: Camp Dutch Oven Buffalo Pot Roast

    Camp dutch oven buffalo pot roast over an open fire

    When I go camping, I refuse to relegate my tastebuds to hot dogs and mac & cheese. I may be sleeping on the ground, but that doesn't mean I should eat dirt.

    As it turns out, fresh air, cool breeze, and sunlit mountainside are some of the best seasonings available. But instead of resting on these outdoor culinary laurels, this recipe takes full advantage.

    As with all of my camp dutch oven recipes, this recipe was made over an actual campfire (as opposed to using charcoal briquettes).

    To boot: this is the easiest camp dutch oven recipe I know of, and results in a dish that could be served in the finest restaurants anywhere. I'm serious.

    Needless to say, cooking an entire pot roast assumes that you've got at least a handful of folks to cook for. This recipe serves 4-6.

    Fair warning: this recipe kicks it up a notch or three, and may well earn you lifelong camping partners. I leave it to you to decide if that's a good thing.

    Feel free to use beef pot roast instead of buffalo (also called bison).

    • 1 2-lb. buffalo (or beef) pot roast
    • 4 medium potatoes
    • 2 medium onions
    • 3 large carrots
    • 1 bunch celery
    • salt
    • pepper
    • granulated garlic
    • oil
    • 1 1/2 cups water
    To get started, make sure your fire ring is ready for dutch oven cooking.

    As shown at right, I typically dig out a cooking area next to where the fire will eventually be, and start an initial fire there.

    Once I have a nice pile of coals, I move the fire over about two feet, and start cooking in the spot formerly occupied by the fire.

    Additional notes on cooking over a real camp fire:
    1. You want a nice bed of coals for cooking, not a bunch of flaming logs and sticks. 
    2. The best way to get a nice bed of coals is to build a raging fire composed of flaming logs and sticks... and then wait 20 minutes (see image at right). 
    3. The idea behind building a fire in one spot and then moving it to another is to warm the ground where you're going to cook to help even out temperature fluctuations. 
    4. You want to keep your campfire burning nearby so as to produce a steady supply of hot coals for heat replenishment. 
    5. Once you are cooking, your dutch oven should be far enough from the flames to avoid scorching the food on the side facing the fire. With proper dutch oven rotation, a foot of distance between the fire and the near edge of the dutch oven should do it.
    6. You can check out a little more campfire dutch oven cooking theory in my apple crisp recipe.
    Let's see, where were we... Ah yes, while your campfire is burning into nice coals:

    Roughly chop the veggies and potatoes, and set them aside. Season the buffalo pot roast generously with salt, pepper, and granulated garlic.

    When the campfire has settled down, clear out a cooking spot of all coals, and then add back in a layer of sparse coals, roughly equivalent to 15 or 20 inch-square coals.

    For you math geeks: that's 15 to 20 cubic inches of hot coals, spread thin to an area equal to Pi (3.1415) multiplied by the square of the radius of the bottom of your dutch oven.

    For everyone else: just spread about an inch-thick layer of hot coals into a spot that's about as big around as your dutch oven.

    Place your well-oiled (shiny) dutch oven over the coals, and let it heat up for 3-5 minutes. When the dutch oven is hot (just beginning to smoke), add a few tablespoons of oil, and then toss in the pot roast to sear.

    Sear the pot roast on all sides, turning it every 1-2 minutes to avoid burning (total searing time 5-7 minutes). Leave the lid on whenever possible. When the pot roast is browned on as many sides as are feasible, add the vegetables and potatoes. Stir things around for another few minutes, and then add 1 1/2 cups water.

    Cover the dutch oven with the lid, and pile another 15-20 cubic inches of hot coals on top. If there are hot rocks in the vicinity, I will often pile those on as well since they give a nice even heat.

    Cook the roast for 3-4 hours, replenishing coals below and above every 45 minutes or so. Always err on the side of too little heat as opposed to too much. If, upon checking your dutch oven, nothing is bubbling and everything seems to be getting colder, go ahead and add coals. Chances are, there's too much heat. Never be afraid to remove your dutch oven from all heat (pick it up by the wire bail and set it on the ground), and then add heat back slowly as needed.

    Be sure to taste the liquid as things progress. If it isn't amazingly flavorful, add some salt.

    When the roast is done, serve it up with the surrounding vegetables and potatoes. Pot roast can hold for many hours as long as it is kept warm.

    Saturday, July 24, 2010

    Recipe: Chicken with Mushrooms (gluten free)

    Chicken with mushrooms served with rice and a salad

    I had a job in the great north woods working as a cook for a spell.  I liked it a whole lot. It was there that I learned this recipe from my boss Mitchell. I've been tinkering with it ever since.

    At the lodge at Alaska Wildland Adventures we called it "Chicken Champignon," which is French for "mushroom chicken." Whatever you call it, this is a very tasty recipe.

    Sliced mushrooms sauteing in cast iron
    This recipe takes about an hour all-told, and you can do much of the work up-front and hold the final baking until just before dinner.

    It involves breading and sauteing chicken breasts, and then covering them with a mushroom white sauce to bake in the oven.

    They get another coat of sauce before serving to make things extra-delicious. This meal is great with a green salad and a rice pilaf.

    This is a gluten-free rendition, but you can simply use wheat flour if you don't mind the gluten.

    • 8 chicken breasts, pounded to uniform thickness 
    • oil
    For the dredging mixture
    For the sauce
    • 1.5 x recipe of Gluten Free Basic White Sauce (about 1 3/4 cups white sauce)
    • 1 pint (16 oz) sour cream
    • 1/4 cup white wine
    • 1 pound mushrooms, sliced to 1/4 inch thickness
    • 4 tablespoons butter
    • salt (to taste)
    • pepper (to taste)
    • granulated garlic (to taste) 

    You can do several parts of this recipe at once: sauteing the mushrooms, making the white sauce, and sauteing the breaded chicken. Then it all goes together in the oven.

    Begin by making the white sauce according to my very clear, sensible, and lucid directions.

    Gently saute the breaded chicken breasts
    While the white sauce is developing, pound out the chicken breasts. This is an optional step, but it makes for a more tender dish.

    The idea is to even out the thickness of the breast so that the thick parts are cooked to a safe temperature before the thin parts are as tough as rubber. The thickest part of each breast should be between 1 inch and 3/4 of an inch thick.

    To saute the mushrooms, heat a large cast iron skillet over medium heat, and then toss the 4 tablespoons of butter into it.

    Once the butter has melted, add the sliced mushrooms and saute them until they are soft and delicious (pull one out from time to time to try 'em). This will take about 20 minutes. Remove the skillet from heat and let the mushrooms rest until the sauce is ready.

    Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

    To cook the chicken, heat two medium cast iron skillets on medium heat. As the skillets are warming, combine all ingredients for the dredging mixture and mix thoroughly.  Once the skillets have heated for 5-7 minutes, add oil to about 1/8 inch thick in each pan. Dredge your chicken breasts, and place them in the skillet to saute. You'll cook them for only a few minutes per side—just enough to attach the breading. They'll finish cooking in the oven.

    When you've got a stable white sauce, add to it the white wine, sour cream, and sauteed mushrooms. Taste it. It should taste fairly bland. Begin adding salt, pepper, and granulated garlic until it tastes outstanding. You'll add more salt than pepper or garlic.

    Place the sauteed chicken into a 9 x 13 inch casserole pan (or anything else that's big enough and oven-proof, including a large cast iron skillet). Pour about half the sauce over the breasts, and then place them in the oven to cook.

    They will probably cook for 15-20 minutes, but to be sure measure them with an instant-read thermometer. The thickest part of any breast should register at 165 degrees F.

    When the breasts are cooked, remove them from the oven and serve immediately with a fresh coating of mushroom sauce over them.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010

    Recipe: Camp Dutch Oven Apple Crisp (Gluten Free)

    Apple crisp in the camp dutch oven, prepared over an open fire

    I do all of my camp dutch oven cooking and baking over a campfire (as opposed to using charcoal briquettes). While the open fire method is a bit trickier and recipes are scarce, it's easy once you get the hang of it. And using a "real" fire is immensely more satisfying than dragging along the bag of Kingsford every time you hit the woods.

    This recipe builds on my learning experience from the Utah slickrock where I burned my apple crisp to a crisp... and provides lots of tips and tricks for open fire dutch oven cooking.

    This recipe serves 8, and takes about an hour to make. It is provided here in gluten free form, but you can simply substitute wheat flour and non-GF oats if you don't mind the gluten. You can also make this recipe at home in a 350 degree F oven.

    Tart apples are your huckleberry. I used honeycrisp apples for this recipe, which were just fine. Granny smith apples would have been ideal, but the store was out of them.

    • 8 apples, peeled and sliced
    • 3/4 cup sugar
    • Juice from 1 lemon
    • 1 1/2 sticks butter
    • 1/2 cup GF flour
    • 1/2 cup GF rolled oats
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • cinnamon

    Campfire baking with a dutch oven involves applying heat from two directions (the bottom and the top) and rotating the base and lid to even out any hot spots.  This dual heating, when done properly, simulates the even heat of a real oven.

    Interesting historical note: "dutch" doesn't mean the thing came from Holland... it's a holdover from when "dutch" meant "ghetto".

    The most common trouble area with campfire dutch oven cooking is applying too much bottom heat—which can burn things up in a hurry.  To ensure sufficient but low bottom heat, I clear a spot of fire and place my dutch oven in this formerly-fiery spot.  There are no coals or fire underneath the dutch oven, but the earth/rocks in that spot are usually plenty toasty.  If you find your bottom heat lacking, you can always add a few coals underneath.

    When you move your fire off to the side to make room for the dutch oven, you'll want to leave enough of it burning nearby to supply fresh lid coals during baking.  You may need to enlarge your fire circle to have enough room. This is much easier to do before you light the fire!

    So... once your fire circle is prepped, light a campfire, and throw enough wood on it to develop a large pile of coals.  While your fire is turning wood into hot coals, prepare your crisp.

    To prepare the crisp, begin by peeling your apples.  Once peeled, slice the apples roughly 1/4 inch thick—ending up with pieces no bigger than 1 1/2 inches in any dimension. Discard apple cores, seeds, stems, annoying little stickers, worms, etc.

    Make sure your camp dutch oven starts shiny (coated with oil). Toss your sliced apples into it. Add 1/2 cup of sugar, the juice squeezed from a fresh lemon, and a dash or two of cinnamon.  Stir things around to combine, and then taste one of your apple slices. It should taste plenty sweet, nice and tart, and have a hint of cinnamon. Adjust ingredients as necessary to make these raw apples taste good.

    Slice up 1/2 stick of butter (4 tablespoons) into manageable pats, and add these to the apples.  Stir around to combine/spread out the butter.

    Separately, combine the flour, oats, the rest of the sugar (roughly 1/4 cup), another dash or two of cinnamon, and salt to taste (yes, I want you to pick up some of this dry flour/oat mixture and eat it). It should taste sweet, salty, and good. If you aren't tempted to keep nibbling on the flour/oat mixture, you probably need to add more sugar or more salt. Perhaps both.

    Sprinkle your flour/oat mixture on top of your apples, and then add the remaining stick of butter (8 tablespoons) on top of the crisp. Once again, slice the butter into pats so you can spread them around evenly.

    Clear a patch of fire, and move the fire far enough away as to provide at least 6 inches of clearance between the fire and the nearest side of the dutch oven. Place the dutch oven on the cleared spot, and then pile glowing coals on top of the lid about 3 inches high.

    It's important to check in on your crisp frequently, especially in the beginning when the first data points about how hot your fire really is are trickling in.  To check your crisp, lift the lid off (coals and all), and place it on a clean surface (so you don't end up with dirt or ashes in your crisp after replacing the lid).  Visually inspect the crisp for any signs of burning, and try to get your nose down there to smell for any burning-apple-type odors. I usually also reach in there with a wooden spoon to dig to the bottom to make sure nothing's burning.  This will result in some of the top crisp layer mixing with the bottom apple layer... but a little mixing is far preferable to a burnt-to-a-crisp apple crisp.

    When you're satisfied that nothing is burning (yet), rotate the base of the dutch oven by 90 degrees, and then place the lid back on top. When you place the lid back on top, rotate it by 90 degrees in relation to the base. The idea here is to even out the heat from top and bottom in relation to the food inside the dutch oven. Just make sure you rotate in the same direction... and don't worry too much about it as long as everything looks and smells fine inside.

    Your crisp should bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Keep checking it every 5-10 minutes (depending on how quickly it seems to be cooking), and always be on the lookout for burning. It can happen quickly. Keep rotating base and lid every time you check, and replace lid coals as needed to keep the top heat strong.

    After 35 minutes or so, grab an apple piece out and taste it. Keep doing this from here on out... and once your test apple pieces are coming out sufficiently soft, pull the crisp from the fire, remove lid coals, and serve after 5 minutes of cool-down. Crisps are pretty robust, so if you aren't yet ready for dessert, keep a few lid coals on top and set it next to the fire to stay warm. Rotate it every 5-10 minutes to provide even heat.

    Crisps are ideal with ice cream (I know, but I really did see one of those crazy plastic-ball-camp-ice-cream-maker contraptions work a few months back). You can add liquid cream, too. Strangely, a mild cheese is also quite nice, and in this recipe we added a few dollops of goat cheese (chevre) on top. Divine.

    Sunday, May 16, 2010

    Recipe: Refried Pinto Beans

    These beans (shown here with spanish rice) are perfect for enchiladas, bean and cheese quesadillas, tacos, bean dip, and more.

    This recipe takes about 25 minutes, so it makes sense to double or triple it so you have extra for other meals.

    I keep bags of frozen pinto beans ready for this sort of thing, but you could also use canned (pre-cooked) pinto beans.  In that case you'll want to strain the liquid out of the beans before you use them.  You'll also want to season this recipe more heavily with salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, and perhaps a splash of your favorite smoky hot sauce.

    Adding caramelized onions to refried beans brings in some sweetness to round out the otherwise salty/savory flavor, and fresh garlic gives the spices more dimension.

    It's important to add the fresh garlic after the onions and beans are done, since if the garlic cooks too long it will burn and turn bitter. I add chicken broth to shut down the garlic's cooking, and to lift flavors off the skillet.  The broth also helps meld flavors, and for some dishes (like enchiladas or bean dip), a filling with a bit more liquid may be desired.  

    • 4 cups Derek's (almost) Famous Pinto Beans
    • 3 cloves fresh garlic, pressed or minced fine
    • 1 small onion, sliced
    • 3 tablespoons oil
    • 3/4 cup chicken (or vegetable) broth
    • salt
    • pepper
    • spices

    Begin by caramelizing the onions in 2 tablespoons of oil. To do this, heat a large cast iron skillet on medium-low heat until hot (the oil should shimmer and get visbly thinner when you add it).

    Toss in the onions.  I typically leave my onions sliced, but you can chop them as small as you like. You can read more on caramelized onion theory and practice.

    Once the onions are starting to turn golden (i.e. caramelizing), add the beans.  Heat the beans until they are hot while stirring every minute or two to prevent burning. Once the beans are hot, clear a spot in the middle of the skillet, and put a tablespoon of oil in the center of it.

    Toss your minced garlic into this spot, and stir it around with a wooden spoon to keep it from burning. Be sure to scrape up any garlic that sticks to the skillet (again, to prevent burning).

    After 30 seconds or so when the garlic is just cooked, add the broth to shut down the garlic cooking and to lift flavors off the skillet.

    Stir things around to meld flavors,  adjust seasoning as necessary, and serve!

    Thursday, May 6, 2010

    Recipe: Smoked Chicken (Weber Kettle method)

    Unfortunately, this recipe is a conversation killer.

    Sometimes a pause in idle banter serves to prime the pump for the stimulating bursts of interlocution to follow.

    Sometimes a recipe is so good that people don't care if they've been struck mute as long as there are seconds.

    I've served this chicken perhaps a dozen times now, and every time, once folks tuck into the meal, the dinner table conversation fades away into a murmur of chomping and grunting for at least 15 minutes.  The silence is then broken by anything from "Wow, that's good" to "Holy shitballs!  This is the best Goddamned chicken I've ever had!"

    I strongly recommend serving this chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy. For this reason (among others), I finish the chicken in the oven—which allows you to collect chicken juices for gravy.

    For this recipe I used two chickens that had been cut in half to speed things along. Whole chickens are fine, too.

    Ideally, the chicken is brined for 24 hours prior to smoking. But you can also get around that by using a shorter brine, or by salting the chicken heavily prior to cooking (more on that below).

    • whole or half chickens
    • salt for brine
    • wood chips for smoking
    • gluten free all purpose flour for gravy
    • 1 cup water for gravy
    • salt and pepper
    Preparing the Chicken
    Remove the packaging from your chicken, take out the bag of giblets from inside the cavity, and then rinse the bird in cold water before tossing it into the brine. Brine the chicken for 24 hours (give or take) in a brine consisting of 1 cup kosher salt (or 1/2 cup table salt) to 1 gallon of water.  I whack my chickens in half with a cleaver because it speeds the cooking time, but whole chickens are perfectly acceptable.

    If you don't have 24 hours to spare before smoking, double the salt and brine the bird for 4 hours. If you don't have time to brine at all, simply salt and pepper the chicken heavily, inside and out, before smoking it.  Kosher salt makes it easier to get an even spread and helps prevent over-salting, but otherwise table salt is fine.

    Preparing the Fire
    To smoke the chicken, start by soaking a "two-handed grab" (about 4 cups) of mesquite wood chips in water for an hour.  You can find smoking wood chips at most grocery stores.  You can also use actual hunks of wood whacked into chips or splinters.  I prefer mesquite wood chips, but you can use hickory, apple, alder, or any other common smoking wood. 

    While the wood chips are soaking in water, light the smoking fire in a Weber kettle (or other grill that you can cover to trap the smoke).   I use hardwood charcoal chunks instead of charcoal briquettes to keep coal dust and God-knows-what-else out of my chicken, but regular old briquettes will do in a pinch.  Use a chimney fire starter to kindle the fire—you don't want lighter fluid making your chicken taste like an oil refinery.

    Once the fire is ready (which will probably take something like 20 minutes), bank all of the coals against one side of your grill.  Add half of your soaked mesquite chips on top of the banked coals, and then put the grill (the surface on which you'd normally place burgers and dogs) in place. Cover the kettle. 

    Give the grill 5 minutes to heat up—at which point smoke should be pouring from the vents.  Place your brined chicken on the grill, close to, but not over top of the fire. Cover the kettle once again, and begin smoking the chicken.

    Turn the chicken every 10 minutes or so, and move the chicken around to ensure that each piece spends equal time on hot areas of the grill (closer to the banked fire), and cold areas (farther from the banked fire and along the edges).  Also try to change the orientation of the chickens to that first one end and then the other faces the fire.  All of this manouvering helps keep each bird at roughly the same temperature (so they're all done together) and avoids burning on the side facing the fire.

    Once 45 minutes have passed, begin checking the temperature of your smoked chicken with an instant read thermometer.  When the temperature hits 140 degrees F (which may take an hour or longer of total smoking time), pull the smoked chicken, and pile it into an enameled cast iron dutch oven. (note: enameled dutch ovens tend to be larger, but you can also use a bare cast iron dutch oven if you have enough room).

    Place the chicken into a 350 degree F oven, and cook until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees F.  Pull the chicken out, and place it on a cutting board under aluminum foil to rest.  The final temperature in the coldest part of the bird should reach 165 degrees F.   It will continue coming up to temperature during the first part of the rest.  While the chicken rests, make gravy with the drippings that are now in the dutch oven.

    Making the Gravy
    You want to begin with 2 tablespoons of "liquid gold," which is the rendered fat, juices, and browned bits of smoky goodness left in the dutch oven once you've removed the chicken.

    If you've got more than 2 tablespoons, pour off (or suction out with a turkey baster) excess fat.  Be sure not to remove any of the brown juice that you've got since this is the key to the gravy's flavor (only remove clear rendered fat).  If you don't have enough juice and fat left over, add butter or oil until you do.

    Place the dutch oven on the stovetop once you've removed the chicken. Turn the heat on medium.  Add 2 tablespoons of Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free All-Purpose Flour (or just about any other flour) to the dutch oven.

    Stir things around with a wooden spatula to form a thick paste, and then add about half a cup of water.  Use the spatula to scrape any fond (browned bits) off the bottom of the dutch oven.  Continue adding another half cup of water as the gravy thickens. After adding roughly a cup of water, you should end up with a thin gravy. Once you've got the water quantity dialed in and the thickness of the gravy has stabilized, lower the heat to a gentle simmer.  Simmer the gravy for another 10 minutes to cook the flour. If the gravy gets over-thick as it continues to cook, add more water carefully.

    Taste it. You'll probably need to season the gravy with salt and pepper.

    As your gravy simmers, carve up the chicken, and serve it all together with your favorite mashed potatoes.