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Sunday, October 31, 2010

cooking over coals - swiss steak and mushroom sauce

This recipe was modified from "Let's Cook Dutch"; I spruced it up to make it less primitive.

It's very similar to this recipe I tried a few days ago.

The recipe was swiss steak with mushroom sauce. It called for round steak; I used chuck.

This time I used a real camp oven, and I don't regret it. The rigged up camp oven worked, but using the right tool for the job is always easier.

The recipe did not specify a temperature, so I used 350. According to the coal chart, that's 24 coals for a 12 inch oven: 16 on top, and 8 on bottom.

First I had to brown the meat, though, so I started out with 18 coals* on bottom.

*18 was a just rough estimate. If I needed to boil before simmering, I'd need 32 coals.

Melted butter in the pot, browned the meat. Added fresh whole mushrooms and cut up red potatoes*.

*If I had boiled the potatoes separately, it would have reduced cooking time.

Then covered, and transferred coals until there was 16 on top, 8 on bottom.

Took one can cream of mushroom soup, added 1 cup of milk, mixed, poured it in.

Added black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, seasoned salt, minced garlic.

Left to cook for an hour and a half, rotating the pot clockwise 1/4 turn every 15 minutes, and the lid counterclockwise 1/4 turn.

I like that when cooking with coals, you can leave it and go do other things. Not so with a propane burner-- you should not leave those unattended.

Seasoned salt made it perfect.

Practical use of the panini press

Until today, I had never tried a panini, let alone made one.

But since I had never used my panini press, I decided to finally make one.

Preheat the press in the oven at 350; Meanwhile, preheat your grill pan on medium heat.

Then make your sandwich.

I used italian bread, turkey, swiss, tomatoes, and pesto. There are thousands of panini recipes.

Spray olive oil pam on each side, then put it on the grill pan. Press down with the panini press.

When the cheese is melted, the sandwich is ready.

The camp oven enhancement kit

This is a camp oven enhancement kit.

It's 14 inches and is supposed to fit the ultimate dutch oven, as well as the Camp Chef 14 inch deluxe camp oven, listed on the website as the 12 quart camp oven.***

***UPDATE: A consumer reported that it actually does not fit the 14 inch deluxe camp oven, as the website claims, but the 12 inch deluxe camp oven.

***The consumer also reported that it does not fit perfectly on the ultimate dutch oven either.

***Camp Chef better update their website to reflect this error, or they'll have unhappy customers.

It does not fit any Lodge camp ovens*, nor does it fit a Camp Chef regular 14 inch camp oven.

*So consequently I will not be getting one.

It's not cast iron, unfortunately. It's aluminum.

The bottom fits on the camp oven to serve as a lid.

The dome lid fits directly on the camp oven, and you can do "stack cooking."

You can use the bottom part as a griddle, or put the dome lid on top to bake something*.

*Be sure to put coals on top, or it won't work.

The dome lid can be flipped to use as a pot.

I think if it were cast iron instead of aluminum, it might be worth buying.

Here are some photos of it in use.

You can now go directly to my recipes

Thanks to honest constructive feedback from a reader, I have added a very important feature to this blog.

On the left sidebar is now a link that takes you directly to my "recipe" posts.

This is for the sake of folks who are interested in my recipes, without having to scroll through everything else.

I THINK I got them all, but I will scan through my posts one more time to make sure.

Third recipe created by me: Mock chicken soup

This recipe came out of necessity, when I had spare veggies I needed to use up.

It's called mock chicken soup because it's made from chicken broth.

Although if you have leftover chicken, throw it in, then it becomes chicken soup.

I've been known to throw leftover sliced turkey in it. Soup is flexible.

The basic ingredients are chicken broth, carrots, celery, cilantro, minced garlic.

Add mushrooms or potatoes if you have them. Feel free to add or omit any vegetable you like.

Add seasonings. Usually onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper, seasoned salt. Be creative.

Simmer in a cast iron pot.

You can add an egg or two shortly before it's done. Optional.

Add leftover cooked rice, or ramen noodles.

Add parmesan cheese, or soy sauce, or both.

I've used up many leftover produce this way.

But mock chicken soup sounds better than "leftover produce soup".

This recipe is basically what I did with the veggies I had used to make stock, stock vegetable soup.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Aluminum camp ovens?

Yes, it's true. They sell aluminum camp ovens.

OK, so they're lighter, rust resistant, you don't have to season them. I get that.

I'll never use aluminum cookware again, but I'll try to give as unbiased a comparison as I can:

Cast iron heats more slowly, but evenly, and it retains heat. That's especially important when you're relying on coals, which have variable heat.

Aluminum heats faster, but also cools off faster, and may not heat evenly; More likely to have hot spots.

Aluminum is more vulnerable to outside temp and wind conditions, causing uneven cooking.

Most importantly, aluminum camp ovens have been known to warp and even melt while cooking.

Cast iron's melting point is 2000 degrees; Aluminum's is 1200 degrees.

I had an aluminum outdoor cooking pot that burned a hole in it after a couple of uses.

The hard anodized variety is better quality than regular aluminum, if you must have aluminum.

I just can't imagine aluminum camp ovens being worth their salt.

Cast iron cooks better, indoors and out.

The Lodge ash tray-- I mean "spoon rest"

This is the Lodge ash tray.

It looks exactly like the Lodge miniature skillet, except it has two large spouts on the sides.

Since smoking has declined in popularity, Lodge now calls this product a spoon rest.

On a tour of the Lodge facility, a guide called it an ash tray and then quickly corrected himself, calling it a spoon rest.

Maybe they want to encourage cooking instead of smoking.

It can fit a small spoon, the size of a tablespoon, or MAYBE a wooden spoon, but not a large spoon.

A cast iron spoon rest can be kept on the stovetop without melting, as opposed to a plastic one.

It often has advertisements imprinted in it; I'm sure they can be custom designed.

I'm not sure I'd use a cast iron spoon rest*, myself. But if I smoked, sure I'd use a cast iron ash tray.

*Since writing this article, I did end up getting one. It sits on my stovetop, but, I don't use it much. It's a nice decoration.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The cast iron panini press

These are cast iron panini makers. One is a panini iron, and one is a panini press.

The iron is used over a campfire or on the stove, and the press is used along with a grill pan.

Be sure you use a grill pan with flat ridges*, not pointy, so as not to poke holes in the bread.

*Current Lodge models have the flat ridges.

The Lodge panini press can be used as a grill press for meats, sandwiches, and anything that needs to be cooked from the top and bottom.

I wish I'd had one the last time I made quesadillas!

Panini, originating in Italy, have become very popular in recent years.

I've never tried one; Maybe I should!

It's a pressed sandwich, made with high quality bread and lightly brushed with olive oil.

Ingredients are usually Italian in nature.

They include deli meats such as ham or chicken, white cheese such as mozzarella or provolone, and veggies such as tomatoes, olives, or basil.

There are some great panini ideas here.

Well, since I've written about panini, and since I have a panini press, now I have to make one!

Cast iron pie irons

These are cast iron pie irons. They are also called sandwich irons.

In Australia, they're called jaffle irons*. At first I thought that was a typo for waffle iron, but it's not.

*Apparently, jaffle irons have shorter handles, for stovetop cooking and smaller fires. Also, the handles can be removed for easier cleaning.

Most of them are round, square, or double square. They also have slotted ones, for grilling meats, and ones designed for hot dogs, waffles, and panini.

Square or round just depends on your personal preference. A double square can cook 2 sandwiches, or larger foods.

A round pie iron crimps the edges of the bread together to form a seal. The seal locks in flavor, which many prefer. A square pie iron cooks unsealed sandwiches.

Most of them are made from aluminum. Aluminum may be lighter and cheaper, but it can melt, and the teflon scratches.

Cast iron pie irons can be used in coals; Aluminum ones cannot.

Cast iron cooks much better, and can stand the high heat. You won't regret it!

They come apart, so they can be used as tiny skillets.

They would be great if all you could cook in them is hot sandwiches; But, they cook much more.

You can fill them with anything you want, and cook it. With or without bread or pie crust.

Lodge does not make them. Camp Chef and Old Mountain* make the basic designs-- round, square and double square.

*Old mountain pie irons do not come apart; The hinge is permanent.

Rome makes the widest variety of designs. I don't know that brand, but you can purchase them here.

Cast iron bread baker

This is a cast iron bread baker. When I first saw it, I said "That's a stick!"

No, it's not a stick. It really is a bread baker.

It's two hinged halves, like a waffle iron. You put bread dough in it and hold it over a fire.

Product info states that it can also grill sausage, make burritos and wraps, and bake desserts.

You can make a "pig in a blanket" (hot dog wrapped in a crescent roll), or fill a rolled tortilla with whatever you want and bake.

The cooking surface is 12 inches long, by 1 1/2 inches wide.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

pecan brownies from scratch

This was the first time I dared try to make brownies from scratch.

I am very picky about brownies. I only like a certain variety of Duncan Hines.

But I decided to try the recipe that was in Cast Iron Cuisine: From Breakfast to Dessert, since I haven't found a recipe in that cookbook, that I haven't liked.

The only thing I did differently was, I used self rising flour instead of regular, used two eggs instead of one, and added a little more flour.

That's because I prefer a cake-like brownie, to a fudge-like brownie.

Although some would argue that fudge brownies are more authentic, I like the cake ones.

Leave 4 tbsp (a half stick) butter out on the counter to soften. Don't let the dog get it.

Melt one tablet* of mexican table chocolate (ibarra) in a double boiler.

*Use two tablets for a more chocolatey flavor.

Cream the butter by beating* it until it's light. Add 4 tbsp olive oil, one tbsp at a time, blending in.

*Use an electric hand mixer-- it's much easier.

Beat in 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, then egg(s), then chocolate. Blend well.

Sift 3/4 cup of self rising flour with 1/4 cup nonfat dry milk. Then combine with other ingredients.

Stir in 1 cup chopped pecans. Put in a cast iron pie pan or small skillet.

I would have used my square baker, but the recipe called for a 9 inch pan, and that's 8 inches.

Bake 20 minutes at 375. Remove and let it cool before cutting and serving.

I liked these brownies because they weren't too sweet and fudgy, like some scratch brownies.

Incidentally, this was my second attempt at making them. The first time I forgot the eggs, and ended up with a powdery mess. Never forget the eggs!

I think that if I had used two chocolate tablets instead of one, it would have been more chocolatey, and thus identical to the Duncan Hines brownies I usually enjoy.

Which makes sense, because the one I always get is "double chocolate".

Pot measurement vs volume

This is the Texsport cast iron fryer.

I can't find much information about it, except for one bad customer review.

She stated that it arrived looking like it had been used.

I bet she was referring to the wax coating, found on all new cast iron that is not pre-seasoned.

Because at first, that's what I thought. My pot was covered with wax, and I didn't know it was supposed to be; I thought I'd been sent a used pot.

It's supposed to be 6 quarts, but I can't find any measurements* on this pan, anywhere.

*I wrote the company; They state the pan is 11 1/2 inches wide, 4 inches deep. That's about right.

After my last fiasco, you better believe I'm going to look for measurements from now on.

I asked two sellers on ebay; Both replied, "I don't know; I'm just selling it."

That irks me. You really shouldn't be selling stuff you know nothing about. I find another seller.

Anyway, a pot that is 12 inches in diameter, 5 inches tall is usually 7 quarts.

If it's 12 inches by 4 inches, 6 quarts; 12 inches by 3 inches, 5 quarts.

If it's 10 inches by 5 inches, it's 5 qts; 10 inches by 4 inches, 4 qts; 10 inches by 3 inches; 3 qts.

If it's 8 inches by 4 inches, it's 3 quarts; 8 inches by 3 inches, 2 quarts.

If it's 12 inches by 6 inches, it's 8 quarts. 13 inches by 5 inches, it's 9 quarts.

The double apple baker

Just when I think I've seen it all... This is an enameled cast iron double apple baker.

It's meant for, well, baking apples. On the stovetop or in the oven.

You're supposed to core the apples first, then bake.

I'm pretty sure you can bake cored apples on a cast iron skillet or griddle.

I'm not sure what to make of this pan, frankly. It's strange looking.

My first crawfish pie, me oh my!

"Jambalaya, crawfish pie, file gumbo, son of a gun, gonna have some fun..."

I really hate that song. But I love crawfish pie, and tonight I made my first one!

Crawfish pie is made from leftover crawfish etouffee, thickened with flour.

First you have to make the etouffee. See my recipe.

Then if needed, thicken the etouffee with Wondra flour. But mine was already thick.

Put the thickened etouffee in a pie shell and bake in the oven at 400.

sunny side up eggs

Just for grins, I decided to try sunny side up eggs the other day.

I had not had them in over 30 years, if at all. I've asked for "flip it over eggs" since I was five.

So I didn't know they are very different in consistency and taste, than flipped eggs.

Not only is the yellow runny, the white is too.

Yuck, actually.

I would expect such a consistency from poached eggs, which is why I don't eat them. Not fried!

Apparently, sunny side up eggs have declined in popularity because of salmonella concerns.

They aren't fully cooked, because they are only cooked on one side.

I wondered if you could fully cook sunny side up eggs, without burning the bottom.

So I decided to try in a skillet with a preheated lid. Melt the butter in the skillet, add the eggs, cover.

I figured the egg would be basted in its own butter.

Yes, they most definitely cooked all the way-- the way fried eggs should be-- without flipping.

Since sunny side up eggs have a similar consistency to poached eggs, you can enjoy "hot buttered eggs" without the hassle of poaching.

How do you make hot buttered eggs? Poach eggs and slather them with butter.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Wenzel 1887 camp oven

Pictured above is a Wenzel 1887 camp oven.

1887 does not imply the year it was made. Actually I don't know what 1887 means.

Wenzel camp ovens are unique, in that they have a flat topped lid, but no legs.

That means they can be used with coals outdoors*, or indoors on the stove.

*Because it doesn't have legs, you need a trivet to put over coals.

It was not sold by itself, but as part of a cast iron set that included a skillet and reversible griddle.

Most 12 inch camp ovens are 6 quarts, so I immediately assumed this one would be.

I would have my 6 quart indoor pot, AND a real camp oven.

It was for sale on ebay. The seller claimed she measured it; It held 6 quarts of liquid, and was "about" 4 inches high.

But then I found a few online sources, indicating that it's 7 quarts. My heart sunk.

I hope this seller knew what she was talking about. If not, I'm stuck with another 7 quart pot.

At least I'll have a camp oven to use, instead of my rigged one.

But, if I had suspected it might be 7 quarts, I wouldn't have bid. With the cost of shipping, it's not worth returning.

I could have got a brand new Lodge camp oven for the same price.

So I'll have to find out when it gets here, if I was taken or not. Buyer beware!

***UPDATE: I received this pot today.

It's thick and robust, as a camp oven should be; The lid has a good seal.

I measured it; It's 12 inches across and 4 inches high, which was a good sign.

Then came the liquid test. 7 quarts caused the water line to swell over the top, about to overflow.

So, I'm not sure I'd call this a 7 quart pot-- more like 6 and a half.

I later decided to sell it and get a Lodge.

SQSK - the Lodge square skillet

If you're not a collector, this article will bore you.

Pictured above are two different versions of the Lodge square skillet.

The one on the right was model SQSK, and was made until circa 1993.

After that, they changed the shape to the one on the left. It's still square, but the sides are curved.

I don't know why. I guess to make it look more modern. It does have slightly more volume.

"No more wasted space," the product info claims.

They're referring to cooking bacon or french toast, since the corners are more conducive to cooking those things.

Crawfish etouffee! (or shrimp)

I love crawfish etouffee. If crawfish is not in season, shrimp also works.

Heat butter in a cast iron skillet. Add chopped onions, celery, green onions, minced garlic, crawfish or shrimp. Cook down.

Most recipes also include chopped bell peppers, but I hate peppers, so I don't.

While that's cooking, make your blond roux. Heat 2 tbsp butter in a separate skillet; Slowly stir in flour, bit by bit, not all at once.

When flour is slightly browned, add 1 cup of chicken stock and 1 cup milk. Whisk.

Keep whisking in more flour until the sauce is the thickness you want. I like it thick.

Add the sauce to the main skillet. Then add 1/2 can of diced tomatoes*.

*Not the whole can. Adding all of them will give it too strong of a tomato flavor.

Add onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper, cajun seasoning and / or seasoned salt.

Continue cooking until done. AFTER the heat is off and it's cooled down a bit, add some kitchen bouquet. Do not add while it's still cooking because it will sizzle and burn.

Serve over rice.

all about roux

Many cajun, creole, and french recipes start with "first you make a roux."

Roux is a base for soups and stews.

Roux is made with all purpose flour. It is NOT made with corn starch, as some gravies and sauces are. Roux is not the same as gravy or sauce.

Blond roux is made with equal amounts of butter and flour.

You MIGHT be able to make dark roux with butter and flour, but I have not been able to, successfully.

Dark roux is made with equal amounts of cooking oil* and flour.

*Originally roux was made with lard. Today, usually cooking oil.

Medium roux is "peanut butter" colored. It's also made with cooking oil and flour, but not cooked as long as dark roux.

I use a blond roux for etouffee, and a dark roux for gumbo.

There are a few ways to make roux. Cajuns argue that nothing's better than cast iron.

Heat the cast iron skillet on low. Add cooking oil* and heat up.

*Or butter, if you're making a blond roux.

Then slowly stir in your flour, bit by bit. Not all at once, or it will be lumpy.

Keep stirring until it turns dark, which will take a long time, and you must not leave it unattended.

You want to turn off the heat slightly before it's done, since cast iron retains heat.

You do NOT want black specks-- if you see black specks, it's burnt and no good.

AFTER it's cooled, NOT before, add Kitchen Bouquet for a great flavored roux.

Now, I normally don't cook in the microwave, but roux is one thing you CAN make in the microwave.

Use a Pyrex measuring cup; Equal amounts of cooking oil and flour.

Microwave in ONE minute increments, no more! Otherwise it will burn. One minute, remove and stir, one minute, remove and stir, repeat, until it turns medium or dark.

You can make it in the oven; Mix flour and cooking oil in a cast iron skillet

Into the oven at 350; Check and stir every 15 minutes until it's medium or dark. Don't forget it!

Also, supposedly you can make "fat free roux" by just cooking the flour in the skillet, or in the oven at 350. I've never done it, and don't plan to.

Roux freezes well, so you can make a big batch and freeze in small containers for future use.

The plot thickens, on my non 6 quart pot incident

Recently I ordered a cast iron pot from Amazon, advertised as 6 quarts, and says so on the box.

And then I measured it. I was very unhappy to find that it was less than 5 quarts.

There's another pot of the same style, on Amazon, advertised as 8 quarts.

Today I found on this website, these exact pots*. Volumes are not given, only measurements.

*The model numbers match, so these are the pots of which I speak.

The small one is 10 inches in diameter, 4 1/2 inches high. That would be less than 5 quarts.

The large one is 12 inches in diameter, also 4 1/2 inches high. That would be less than 7 quarts.

So the one advertised as 8 quarts, is also wrong.

It wasn't a bad quality pot; I sent it back based on principle. Not to mention Lodge is cheaper.

MACA brand camp ovens

This is a MACA brand camp oven. MACA specializes in deep camp ovens.

Their camp ovens are much heavier because they are made with more metal.

They claim that this reduces burning, distributes and retains heat more effectively, and enhances the "pressure cooker" effect due to a heavier lid.

Their dutch ovens are also sized differently than the usual standard sizes.

For example, an 8 inch, which is 2 qts; A 10 inch, which is 4 qts; Or a 12 inch, which is 6 qts.

For MACA camp ovens, the smallest is a 9 inch, which is 5 quarts.

An 11 inch is 9 quarts; A 13 inch is 12 quarts; A 15 inch is 18 quarts; A 17 inch is 29 quarts.

The biggest is 22 inches, which is 45 quarts and 160 pounds.

By comparison, the biggest Lodge is 16 inches and 12 quarts.

You can get them with a plain lid, or a personalized lid for $45 more.

They also have oval shaped camp ovens, which have a removable divider.

So you could either cook two dishes at once, or one large bird, ham, or roast.

MACA started out as a manufacturer of cast iron industrial equipment.

They got the idea for their deep camp ovens from the furnace linings they were already casting.

They just added legs and a lid, and bingo, a deep camp oven!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

cast iron muffin top pan

This is a cast iron muffin top pan.

Note that I said muffin top pan, not muffin pan. There's a difference.

This pan is very shallow and only makes the top of a muffin.

They claim "no more wasted muffins", since many prefer to eat the top, and throw the rest away.

While I agree that the top is the best part of a muffin, I don't believe I've ever thrown the rest of it away, especially when it's piping hot with butter.

Anyway, I wanted to see if muffin tops can be made using a plett pan.

I carefully spooned Jiffy blueberry muffin batter into each mold, and baked.

A plett pan may be more shallow than the muffin top pan, but it worked.

Keep in mind that muffin tops will bake faster than regular muffins. They also cool off faster.

makeshift pizza oven for use over coals

This is a Camp Chef Deluxe 14 inch camp oven.

Deluxe camp ovens are different from regular camp ovens, in that their lids are deeper and have legs.

This enables them to double as a skillet to use over coals, without the use of a lid stand.

Regular camp oven lids can double as griddles, with the use of a lid stand.

I found an article from someone who uses two 14 inch deluxe lids, as a makeshift pizza oven.

To do this, you need a special pizza ring adapter in order to create a good seal.

I don't think Camp Chef sells their deluxe lids separately; You may have to buy two camp ovens.

Then again, when I made pizza on the stovetop, the one in the deep skillet turned out better than in the regular skillet.

I attributed that to better heat circulation in the deep skillet, although I could be wrong.

I wonder if you could just flip the deluxe oven over*, and use the bottom part as a dome lid?

*From what I'm told, yes, but you need welding gloves to take the pot off; the lid lifter won't work.

That way, you wouldn't need the special adapter because the pot already has a good seal.

I don't have a deluxe dutch oven in order to check that out, and no current plans to get one.

You can certainly make pizza in a camp oven, and eventually I plan to try it.

But, I can see how the shallow pan would be easier to use, as far as cutting and serving.

Someone reported to me that he uses his regular camp oven, upside down, on a lid stand.

Maybe I'll try that, maybe I won't.