Dutch Oven Cooking Class

Helloooooo again! It’s been far too long since I’ve posted! Things have been pretty crazy around here, and I don’t just mean run-of-the-mill busyness. If you don’t follow A Love Letter to Food on Facebook or Twitter (and if not, I’d love it if you would!) let me fill you in:

Last week I went to New York City to be featured on the Today Show! Their producers invited me to be on the show for a segment about a crime I was the victim of several years ago. You can watch my appearance here. After my stint on the show, my husband and I stuck around for a few days to catch the best of NYC. (And, in addition to all that, yes, some run-of-the-mill busyness has also been keeping me occupied.)

With anchors Craig, Sheinelle, and Dylan (and my husband Anthony)

Today, though, I’d like to tell you about one other interesting event I recently experienced. With some of my girlfriends, I attended the Becoming an Outdoorswoman weekend in Prescott, AZ. This unique program, 25 years running, is 48 hours of classes (plus socializing and other fun stuff) devoted to teaching women useful skills for the outdoors. I’ll be honest, as someone with basically zero camping experience, a whole lot of it was outside my comfort zone. Examples: putting up a tent, eating javelina stew, sharing a bathroom with four other women…

One thing that was TOTALLY up my alley, however, was my class on outdoor Dutch oven cooking, aka cowboy cooking. I have a totally romantic notion of living in the American West a hundred-plus years ago, harbor a (probably completely unrealistic) fantasy of homesteading, and have always wondered how cooking over a campfire differs from cooking in a kitchen.

Here’s what I learned!

First, explained our lovely instructor Barb of Cowgirls Forever (pictured here in all her Western glory), you have to build your fire.

Once we had laid a nice bed of kindling, Barb added mesquite charcoal. She lighted the coals and allowed them to burn until large chunks were gray.

Meanwhile, we got to work on preparing our ingredients.

Barb had brought a literal truckful of food and said it was up to us to decide what to make! Here are just a few of the ingredients we had available.

Among the dozen or so women in the class, we decided on the following:

  • Roasted vegetables
  • Green chili with ground pork and hominy
  • Elk stew
  • Biscuit breakfast casserole with sausage
  • Bon bons (rolled around a Hershey’s hug)
  • Cinnamon rolls
  • Peach cobbler

Yeah, it was a lot of food. And let me tell you, this lady did NOT fear butter. Although none of our recipes were scripted (more “a can of this plus a stick of this and a shake of this”) if I were to guess, I’d say we went through five pounds of butter. NOT KIDDING.

When enough mesquite coals were suitably gray, it was time get cookin’. Barb grabbed her tongs and pulled several coals aside to sit underneath our first Dutch oven. Then, since she┬áinstructed us to never cook in an uncreased pan, we set the Dutch oven on top of the coals and poured in some oil (or butter. Lots of butter). Once this was shimmering, we started on our green chili by browning ground pork–the idea being that chili can simmer a long time while everything else cooks. We then moved on to our other savory dishes.

Each time we added a new ingredient, we’d top it with the lid of the Dutch oven, then cover the lid with coals. The ideal ratio of top coals to bottom coals is apparently 1/3 on bottom and 2/3 on the top. And, as a rule of thumb, you can take the number of the Dutch oven’s size (they come in sizes like 12, 14, and 16) and double it to get the appropriate number of coals to use in total. By this metric, the interior of the oven should stay at around 350 to 375 degrees.

Amazingly, according to Barb, you can stack up to five Dutch ovens for space-saving. Alternately, you can make groupings of coals for individual ovens, especially if you frequently need to access the inside to add ingredients or stir. For handling the extremely hot pot lids, Barb came equipped with special lid lifters suited to the task.

By the end of our three-hour class, our feast was complete! Since it was far too much food for our group, a number of ladies from other classes wandered over (drawn by the enticing smells, I’m sure) and enjoyed the various dishes with us.

Everything was decadent and delicious–and truly had that warm-you-from-the-inside-out feel that you only get eating campfire food on a chilly day. I absolutely loved this class and would 100% take it again!

I highly recommend looking into the Becoming an Outdoorswoman program in your area (they’re in over 40 states), and if you live in AZ like I do, Barb from Cowgirls Forever does catering and private classes–check her out!

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