Tuesday, July 30, 2013

2013 Pickles

I can't believe it's already the end of July and this is my first canning project of 2013.   I made these 19 jars, mostly pint and a half jars (a new size offered by Ball last year that I love for pickles) and some quarts.   I gave 3 jars away - 2 to Ellen for helping me and 1 to my neighbor Suzanne on her birthday.  I made my family's favorite recipe McClure's Pickles My Way.   I am hoping this will be enough to get us through the year. The one jar with the white lid was a Tattler lid, which is a reusable BPA free style lid.  I ran out of Ball lids midway through this canning effort.   These pickles were made from a half bushel box of small cukes.  It took about 3 hours to make on a cool Sunday afternoon - perfect for canning. 

I can't remember how many jars I made last year, but we just finished the last of them. Pretty soon it will be salsa time!

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Camp Cooking: Dutch oven Potatoes and Mountain Man Breakfast

Camp cooking, as in real life cooking, can be made even better by squeaking 2 meals out of one...you know, make the Thanksgiving turkey, and then follow it up leftovers later in the week with turkey soup .  I just remembered this recipe - I am going to have to make it with my left over roast chicken I am planning to make later this week.  It's a great recipe.  But let's get back to camp....the next recipe to try is potatoes for dinner.   Potatoes are a little harder than chili because there is no liquid in them, but just remember to count coals and rotate the lid and oven every 15 minutes and you will be fine.

Dutch Oven Potatoes
serves 4 people with some leftovers
12 inch Dutch oven

6 Russet potatoes, cut in 1 inch cubes
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 T. olive oil
kosher salt (to taste)
1 t. dried rosemary (optional) 

Heat 24  charcoal briquettes in a charcoal chimney until they're gray.   Meanwhile cut up the potatoes and mince the garlic.   In the Dutch oven, mix potatoes, garlic oil and salt.  Also good is to add some rosemary, if you have it in your camp box.   Cook for 30 minutes in a dutch oven with 9 charcoals on the bottom, 15 on top, rotating the lid and oven every 15 minutes.    Save a cup or so for breakfast the next morning - store in camp cooler.

Making eggs in a Dutch oven is a little bit harder because they can burn fairly easily.   But this recipe is a camp favorite of my family, as well as every Boy and Girl Scout I've had the pleasure to camp with.   Just keep an eye on them and they will come out perfect.   Plus the smell of the bacon, onions and peppers cooking will draw even the teenagers used to sleeping in until high noon out of their tents.  The bugler will not even have to blow Reveille to get them up.

Mountain Man Breakfast
serves 4
12 inch oven

1/2  lb bacon, diced*
1 green pepper, diced*
cloves garlic
1 onion, diced*
1 cup leftover potatoes from the night before, or small bag of frozen hash browns
8 eggs, beaten lightly
1 cup cheddar cheese
salt and pepper

*can dice and freeze at home before the trip

Heat a full chimney of charcoal briquette until gray. Put about half in the fire pit, and cook bacon until brown, stirring often.  Don't put the lid on.   Add some more coals - leaving some in the chimney to start heating 15 coals to use later.   Cook the vegetables, cook until soft, stirring often.  If using frozen hash browns, add them now and heat until they are thoroughly thawed.  Check the heat on the coals - if you can't keep your hand above it for 5 seconds, it's too hot.  Spread some of the coals out to cool things off a little.  

Add eggs and cheese and leftover potatoes, if not using hash browns, and  salt and pepper and replace lid. Top with 15 coals and cook for 20 minutes or until eggs are done.  Rotate lid and oven halfway through - checking to see if the eggs are burning.  If things seem to be getting a little too hot, you can always take the lid off but remember, Dutch ovens retain heat even after you take them off the coals, so it's always better to err on the side of caution.   Sometimes, I will cook the eggs until they are almost set, but still liquidy in the center, and then take the oven off the coals and take the coals off the lid and replace the lid and let it sit  for 5 minutes or so while I brew a pot of coffee.   They will be done perfectly by the time the coffee is ready. 

Next up, we'll discuss the most difficult part of Dutch oven cooking - the baking.   However, have no fear and count your coals and everything will come out fine.  

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Camp Cooking: How to cook using a Dutch Oven

Dutch oven cookery is one of the best ways to cook while camping.   Anyone that has a Dutch oven in their home kitchen can appreciate how they are a true workhorse in any cooking arsenal - and the same is true of   a camping Dutch oven.  Virtually anything that can be made in a slow cooker or an oven can be made outdoors in a Dutch oven.

Camping Dutch ovens are different from the one you might have in your kitchen - they have legs, a lid with a rim and a bale type lid.  For camp cooking, I like a Lodge preseasoned Dutch oven - they are ready to use and are made of cast iron for excellent heat transfer.    It's essential to use charcoal briquettes to adequately control the temperature - anyone that's had a bad experience from Dutch oven cookery can tell you it's really easy to burn food in one.   Cast iron retains heat really well.   Buy charcoal that is in briquette form and has not been treated with accellerants; store brands work just fine and are relatively inexpensive.   Also it's essential to use a charcoal chimney to get the coal hot.  

I first learned about charcoal chimneys from Alton Brown and they are an excellent tool for grilling and camping - to get the coals hot, just fill it up and crumple 2 sheets of newspaper under it and light.   In about 20 minutes or so (could be longer if it is damp out) the coals will be gray and hot and ready for cooking.   A couple other things that are nice to have for Dutch oven cooking are a lid lifter and welding gloves, although a pair of pliers and oven mitts can be used to open the lid and hold the handle.

To control heat during Dutch oven cooking, it's important to count charcoal - I like to use the "Dutch oven rule of 3".   The amount of coal needed is 2x the diameter of the oven (usually cast in the lid) - for a 12 inch oven it's 24.  Since heat rises, you need more heat on the top than the bottom, so put 3 more coals on top than on the bottom; i.e. 15 on the top and 9 on the bottom.   This will give you a temp of about 350F, which is what most foods are cooked at in an oven.   A batch of coal on the oven will stay hot for about 30 minutes - if you are cooking a recipe that needs more time, you will need to refresh the coals.   There are many theories for how to arrange the coals under the oven and on top; I find evenly spacing them works fine, as shown above.   The goal is to minimize hot spots.  During cooking, rotate the oven a quarter turn  clockwise  on the bottom  coals and rotate the lid counterclockwise a quarter turn every 15 minutes to insure even heat distribution.

The best type of recipe to start out with is a chili, soup or stew, because it's very forgiving and hard to burn.  A good recipe to start out with is my white chicken chili recipe.  Also, it's time for me to debunk some popular posts on Pinterest about camping.   One I keep seeing is this tip to store camping spices in Tic Tac containers.

Whoever wrote this original tip must have a serious Tic Tac addiction and must not cook very often in real life!  This is more Tic Tacs than I personally have eaten in a lifetime....but even more problematic is that it would be difficult to get the spices out of the containers using the little Tic Tac hole, and who wants their spices to taste minty?  Lastly, the volume of a Tic Tac box just isn't feasible for a lot of spices - sure, maybe nutmeg or cayenne might work in such a small container, where only a small amount is needed for a recipe, but for other things like chili powder, oregano, garlic powder, that amount might not even be good for one recipe.   I store camp spices individually in zip lock bags - the snack size work great! I put all of my spice baggies into a plastic Glad container.   So skip the Tic Tacs....

The other Pinterest favorite that keeps popping up is the idea to freeze jugs of water instead of using ice in the cooler.   The problem with this idea is that jugs take up HUGE amount of space in the camp cooler, so unless you need to bring in your own water to a campsite, I'd never give up my cooler space for it.  Instead, I try to freeze whatever food I can that I am bringing, and then I also use the blue ice packs that can be bought relatively inexpensively.    I do all my camp food shopping a few days before I leave, and then prep what I can before I go and freeze whatever freezable - meats, chopped up onions and peppers, coffee cream, etc.  Sometimes I don't cut up onions ahead of time because they don't need to be refrigerated anyway and can be stored with the canned goods.

Bob Talbert's White Chili - serves 4

2 T vegetable or olive oil
1 1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into 1-2 inch cubes
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground oregano
1/2 tsp Cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 large onion - diced small
3 cloves garlic
2 cans (14 oz. ea.) chicken broth
1 jar (48 oz.) Great Northern beans with liquid
1 can (3 oz.) chopped green chilies, with liquid
grated cheese, for topping

Heat a chimney of charcoal until the coals on top are gray, about 20 minutes.   Using tongs, take out about half the coal and put it in an even layer in the fire pit. Add some fresh coal to the chimney on top of the hot coals remaining.  When using a Dutch oven to brown meats or saute vegetables, it's not important to count how many.   Place the Dutch oven on the hot coals, and add oil to the pot.   Heat until oil is hot, and add chicken.  Cook while stirring, until chicken is about halfway cooked through, about 10 minutes and add spices, garlic and onion.   Saute until onions are soft, about another 10 minutes  Add remaining ingredients and stir.  The coals on the bottom will have cooled off somewhat - check with your hand to see if  they are still hot enough.  Move the oven off the coals and put your hand just above the coals and if you can hold it there for 5 seconds, it is still about 350 F.   If not, add 9 coals and spread them out, and cover the oven and put it on the hot coals.   Space 15 hot coals on top.   Cook for an hour, rotating the lid and the oven every 15 minutes to minimize hot spots.  Use welding gloves, pliers or a lid lifter to remove the lid - be careful not to drop ashes in the chili!  Top with grated cheese.

This recipe is outstanding anytime while camping, but it's especially great when the weather is a little chilly outside.   Campers will come from all over to ask you what you are cooking, it will smell so good! Next up, I'll share how to make something slightly more difficult in a Dutch oven, where the heat is more critical - breakfast!  Check out Mountain Man breakfast.