We are a scouting family. I have two boys in Cub Scouts, and my husband as the Cub Master. Sometimes I wonder who is more excited to be a scout, my sons or my husband? Either way, it’s a win-win situation for us. As a family, we have learned so much through scouting, and we are blessed with an AMAZING pack filled with wonderful families. In fact, today we just returned from our adventures with the pack and our camping trip to Anza Borrego State Park in Southern California.
When we camp with the scout families, the pack usually provides the Saturday night dinner. We have had fun with foil cooking and the standard burger and dogs on a grill. But this was a special night, because It was FoodBuzz’s monthly 24×24, where 24 bloggers are chosen to make a special dinner on one specific night, in this case, last night March 26th, 2011. And our special night, an evening under the desert stars, we were going to have a heck of a meal!
I proposed to FoodBuzz “a gourmet dinner cooked in Dutch Ovens.” I was thrilled when my proposal was accepted, but anxiety soon settled in.
What exactly makes a meal a gourmet meal?
I had limitations. First, this was a Cub Scout camping trip, and absolutely no alcohol was allowed. Even in cooking. Scratch the Beef Bourguignon.
Second, there was a budget. The meal couldn’t exceed $5/head. Scratch the exotic meats. No lamb. No venison.
Third, no pork. Some families, for religious reasons, didn’t eat pork. Bye-bye pulled pork, and so long bacon.
I knew I didn’t want a standard meal that you would eat at a camp out. I could easily do another Chili with Cornbread Crust as I did in the past in a Dutch Oven or even a beef stew. But, that was too predictable. It was time to think outside of the box.
The lasagna made me a little nervous. I wanted it to be easy to assemble, with no pre-cooking involved. So the noodles weren’t cooked beforehand and neither were the vegetables. I used frozen spinach and frozen slices of zuchinni. My marinara was store-bought and I used a mixture of ricotta, milk, mozzerella and parmasean for the cheesy layers.
Cooking with Dutch Ovens is rather simple once you figure out how they work and how to use them. You are basically applying heat underneath the cast iron pot, as well as on top of the lid, making a small portable oven.
First, you have to heat the coals up using a chimney. If you are sautéing vegetables or browning your meat, you will want to have a lot of coals, 25 or so, under the Dutch Oven to heat the bottom of the pot. Then add the oil and continue as you would with a cooktop. I found myself “winging” it a lot. If the coals were too hot and my meat browned too fast, I removed some coals from underneath. If it appeared to be cooking slowly, I’d scoot more coals under the Dutch Oven. When I was done searing the meat or cooking the vegetables, I combined everything in the Dutch Oven and covered it. Then I reduced the number of coals to approximately 8-10 underneath and 20 on the lid.
To bake with a Dutch Oven isn’t too difficult either. Remember my Pineapple Upside Down Cake? That’s a classic for camping and Dutch Oven baking. This simple chart, provided by Lodge Cast Iron, helps you determine the baking times with the amount of coals needed for which size Dutch Oven you choose to use. I had several Dutch Ovens on hand, from small 10-inch ovens to larger 14-inchers. I had my handy conversion chart and my Scout’s Outdoor Cookbook as my guide.
Dessert was equally important for the night. First, we had Cub Scout with a birthday and he didn’t like cake. We easily baked this giant chocolate chip cookie in a Dutch Oven. Thank you, Mr. Mario, for the beautiful decorating job!
Also for dessert was a Very Berry Cobbler (pictured on top). Thank you Mr. Neil for chopping all those strawberries. I mixed them with, blackberries, blueberries, sugar and cornstarch then poured everything into a Dutch Oven. I topped it with pieces of refrigerated Honey Biscuit dough and sprinkled it all with brown sugar.
I was cooking for 30 and I couldn’t have done it without my pal, Nicole. We were bouncing around from pot to pot, trying to chop vegetables, take pictures and save the food when gusts of wind would pass by camp and swirl the ashes about. It really was crazy-fun. I don’t know how exactly we did it, but we did, and we had a whole lot of laughs in the process! A huge thank you to the dads who cheered me on and gobbled down all the food that I prepared. No chore was turned away, from managing the coals to holding lanterns when it got dark. A big Thank You to my hubby, who washed all six Dutch Ovens after a long and exhausting day.
Anza Borrego was a fabulous back drop for our Dutch Oven Adventures! The wildflowers were starting to bloom and the sun was shining all day. The rain clouds from San Diego were halted right at the mountain ridge, and the Cub Scouts had a blast hiking and learning how to be Junior Rangers at the Visitor Center. Rocks beaconed the boys to climb them and trails were followed and hiked for hours. Everyone passed out with tired muscles and full tummies last night. Sure, we were woken up at 3am with 50-mph gusts of wind that shook and rattled our tent, but those are the adventures we have with camping.
Thank you FoodBuzz for this great opportunity and for letting me step out of my comfort zone. I usually reserve those kind of projects for my husband, but this time I signed up for it myself. I really enjoyed cooking with the Dutch Ovens, and I quickly felt at ease with them. Of course, my hubby is already planning our next big meal with our Dutch Ovens!
I will have details of all the recipes posted by the end of the week, from ingredients to number of coals!
Now check out all those stars! Thanks, David, for the pic!