Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Book Review: Dutch Oven - Cast-Iron Cooking Over an Open Fire by Carsten Bothe

I love cooking over the campfire. I've adapted so many household recipes that I've seriously considered writing my own book. I don't usually use my Dutch oven, but I have one. Sadly, it looked like this previous to this review (not too bad, really, but it needed some love):

Obviously, I didn't have a clue as to how to take care of it. I was treating it like a household skillet. It takes more than cold water and a small wipe down with oil every once in a blue moon to take care of something that you use over the open fire (and burn things in constantly). I have had such a sad experience with my Dutch oven that I've punished it by sentencing it to near solitary confinement in the darkness of the back of the cabinet. (It is kept company by my unused Foreman grill.) I would occasionally take it camping and burn biscuits and applesauce-gingerbread cake. I've successfully baked biscuits (from a can) maybe once.

So, I was pretty ecstatic when Schiffer Publishing asked if I would like to review Dutch Oven: Cast-Iron Cooking Over an Open Fire by Carsten Bothe.

The introductory takes you through the history of the Dutch oven - a definite read for those of you who enjoy knowing where your appliance originated from - or, as Bothe admits, not just a cooking utensil, but also a devoted friend.

He then takes you through an in depth look at preparation, care, function, equipment, and heat regulation - complete with easy to understand charts, graphics, and plenty of pictures. After reading and applying this, my Dutch oven looked like this:

Ready to tackle any recipe I could throw at it! And according to the book, if I had treated it well to begin with, I'd be hard pressed to burn anything I was cooking/baking correctly. (We'll see about that!)

Recipes... okay, we're pretty weird about what we eat. When we're camping, hiking, etc - we consume calories like they're the last one's on Earth, but at home, we're "REAL" food eaters. We really don't discuss this in full on the blog, because - well - it's just never really come up. Sure, we'll cook a hot dog over the fire at camp, or splurge on a S'more, but generally - at home and on a regular basis - we're veggie eaters, limiting meat and selecting fresh foods for the most part. With that being said, selecting recipes that fit our lifestyle was a little daunting. First, we don't really want to eat huge veal shanks, roast venison, lamb stew, pigeons, wild duck, goose, armadillo eggs or wild boar (unless survival was an issue). Although, I'm sure all those recipes can be adapted to include readily available from your grocer meats, I really wanted to try recipes that were TRUE to the book (as in, I didn't adapt or change in any way). I'm disappointed a bit to say I found very few that were 1) worth digging out and cleaning the Dutch oven for, and 2) were vegetarian, vegan, or within the range of the few meats we do eat. There were Baked Potatoes in a Salt Bed (hello, microwave them before you go camping or put them beside the fire in aluminum foil for an hour), Potatoes in Foil (see previous comment), Potatoes with Cumin (uhhh are you starting to see a trend?), Potatoes Au Gratin (getting bored now), OH! Grilled Onions, Grilled Tomatoes, Blooming Onions, Stuffed Champignons (yeah, I had to look that up - Mushrooms - Tim hates mushrooms) - all of which can be easier roasted in a aluminum foil packet. Sorry, but I'm a practical girl!

There were dips - honey mustard and bbq sauce to name a couple - and fondue and normal popcorn. There were weird things like chestnuts (where the hell do you find those??) and Elderberry Blossoms in Wine Dough (what are we? Five Star camping??). And then there were breads...

Oh. My. Laaauuud. Breads! I would love to wake up smelling fresh bread baking on a campsite. My mouth waters at the thought of turning over in my sleeping bag and catching a whiff of freshly brewed percolator coffee and fresh sourdough.

Wait. SOURDOUGH?? Seriously... who takes a sourdough starter to camp? I don't even have a sourdough mother, and I'm sure I could figure it all out, but really - for camping? I'm much too busy chasing the kids out of the poison ivy and keeping the dog out of the breakfast skillet. When you have a ravenous family hunting firewood so you can make them breakfast, believe me, the last thing you are thinking about is breaking out the cookbook and letting dough rise... TWICE. No way. And at home, I have to say, I'm a lazy ass. I use a bread machine - and that's if I don't just make a trip to the grocery store.

So, eventually, I settled on just trying one of the cakes. I figured I could use the practice... ya know, if SHTF. You know you're going to want cake during the zombie apocalypse! So, I picked the Pear Cake, and I'll be damned if the instructions didn't say, "Put on the lid and back approx. 15 minutes." That's not my typo... that's theirs. I'm assuming it means "bake" but at what temperature? How many coals? I'm confused! (and I'm not easily confused people - especially when it comes to cooking.)

So I gave up on pears, and moved on to Pineapple Upside-Down Cake. I know this is terribly simple in the house, and the ingredients were as such:

1 can pineapple
1 tsp. butter
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 pack prepared dough (after reading it, I'm assuming they must sell a box of this stuff in the store?)

It says to prepare the dough using one egg instead of three (note that this wasn't listed in the ingredients list), to line the oven with two layers of foil, melt the butter in the bottom, sprinkle the sugar, add the pineapple, cover with the dough. And at least this time it tells me how much heat to use. Seven briquettes on the bottom, thirteen on the top. Simple enough, right?!?

So I scoured the grocery store for this... "dough." After a few passes down aisles I knew had nothing to do with Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, it occurred to me that he must mean CAKE BATTER. (Yeah, Mommy Brain over here. Sue me.) So, I went to the cake mix aisle, found a Duncan Hines Pineapple Supreme that called for three eggs, and brought it home (along with the $10 coconut oil suggested for the re-preparation of my oven. Yikes!).

I did exactly what the recipe said, and had Tim fire up the coals. When they were ready, I spooned in the batter and baked the cake. I waited patiently for 20 minutes to pass by. When I opened the oven, it looked amazing. It didn't smell too bad either (if you like cake that smells like bubble gum. I don't recommend the Duncan Hines). I took it inside. Photographed it, and turned it out. This... was the result.


Holy Mother of Pineapple, I burned something else! UGH!

We ate it anyway; scraped off the burned parts and it was pretty good (if you like aforementioned bubble gum cake - not the author's fault by any means). It had the consistency of Angel Food, light and fluffy... but the sugary/buttery/pineapple parts were pretty inedible.

Personally, I don't blame the author at all for my inability to cook ANYTHING in a Dutch oven without burning it. I need practice, obviously. But with all the work it takes to simply make something I could get out of a Little Debbie package (and just as unhealthy), I think I'll stick to the tried and true.

In conclusion, the beginning of the book was awesome, but the recipes were a little lacking for the typical camp Momma or Daddy - too busy wrangling kids and real doggies. This book would be GREAT for someone with a nostalgic reason to use it (i.e. a chuck wagon cook-off), but for camping purposes - just the ole tent and family type - there's no way I would go through the extravagance of these recipes - even adapting them to fit my needs would be beyond what this camp cook is willing to do.

*Shamelessly sings*
"Happy Trails to You... Until we meet again..."

Robin and Tim

Disclaimer: Robin and Tim received the book Dutch Oven: Cast-Iron Cooking Over an Open Fire by Carsten Bothe from Schiffer Publishing for review purposes only. Appalachia & Beyond is in no way affiliated with Schiffer Publishing and are not being compensated by Schiffer Publishing for this review.. The opinions expressed above are Robin's and Tim's independent thoughts and experiences.