4-H Outdoor Cooking Workshop–Beef Stew in a Dutch Oven

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We were able to teach 2 4-H workshops about outdoor cooking.  It was great!

We got there early to set up and get the fire and coals going.  We chose to use liners for the Dutch Ovens, to help us clean up.  Rob ordered them from Amazon, but feels he could have probably purchased them at some place like Cabelo’s.  We just were not going near any of those kinds of stores.  The event was held 1 hour from our house, and we needed to take every single thing we needed except water.  So, we spent the week making sure we had what we needed, and loaded it up into the van, a little each evening.

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Rob got a good fire going in the portable fire pit and we spent the next 2 hours making sure it did not get too big, or go out.  He also got the charcoal going on his Dutch oven table, in the metal charcoal starters he uses.  We had to be very careful to keep everything contained, and very safe.

The kids came, and the first thing we had them do was listen to Rob tell them how to be safe with fires and how to build them. Then, they rolled 10 cotton balls in 2 spoonfuls of petroleum jelly (squished in a baggie) for fire starters, and we also gave them some fire starters in a box.  They put that all in their big Ziplock, with instructions about fire building and recipes they could try at home.  We figured they could provide their own matches:)

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We had 10 in one session, and 11 in the other.  We gave everyone a job on the stew we were making.  Some browned the meat, someone else opened the can of tomatoes, a couple cut the carrots, and everyone who ran out of jobs peeled potatoes.  I had a simple recipe for them to follow, but we let them put in more potatoes.  For some of them, it was their first time peeling potatoes.  For others, they obviously had had practice before.

1-2 cups beef (either raw and browned, or cooked, leftover)

2 cups beef broth (either homemade, or 1 14-oz can)

2 cups baby carrots

1 onion, chopped

4 potatoes (they used more)

1-14 oz can tomatoes

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon thyme

Brown the meat if it is raw, in a little bit of oil.  Put the ingredients in the pot.  Put coals under the pot and on top of the pot once the lid is put on.  We were not careful to count them.  Cook for about 30-45 minutes, stirring a couple of times.

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It came out great.  I made one batch at home, which we warmed up for class #1 to eat.  Class #1 made the stew again, and it was cooked for class #2 to eat.  Class #2 made a batch and we took it home, uncooked, because by that time, we wanted the coals and fire to die out so we could transport our equipment safely.  While they ate their stew, Rob told them how to properly take care of cast iron properly.

After they enjoyed their stew, we roasted Peeps in honor of Easter, and then moved on to regular marshmallows.  They loved that part, of course!  Rob made sure they knew that the sugar on the Peeps would get super hot, so they needed to be careful to not burn themselves.  They did great.  These were supposed to be 4th-6th graders, but we could tell that a few younger ones had slipped in, so we wanted to be extra careful with them.

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It was an awesome day.  The sun came out, which made it even better, and the kids were receptive, polite, and eager.  Our daughters, Ja’Ana and Patsy helped, as did our niece, Alissa.  Part of the idea was for the older 4H members to help with the younger ones, and that’s what they did. At the end of the day, we felt like the kids had learned something, and had a great time doing it.  We heard many nice compliments, and one little girl said the stew was her favorite, which surprised me!  It was good, I’ll have to admit!

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A Visitor to Our Yard

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All you can see of our latest visitor is the tail.  Look through the fence, on the right hand side.  It’s a turkey.

On Wednesday, my aunt and mom came for lunch.  My aunt had just finished asking my mom if there were any birds starting to come to her new feeders in her yard.  I had just told them that there were lots of birds here in our new yard, as the gentleman who owned the house before us had put up feeders, fed them, etc.  I pointed to the birdhouses, and to my shock and surprise, a turkey jumped over the fence from the neighbor’s yard and began to walk across our yard.  I said, “look, there’s a turkey, now” and  fumbled with my phone, trying to get ready to take a picture, but was not fast enough to get a good one..  I went barreling out the slider into the back yard, raised the phone, and watched in surprise as the turkey jumped onto the fence and over, leaving me with a picture of its tail only.

Not being able to get through the locked gate to chase it further, I tore through the house to the front door, with Ja’Ana and Alissa close behind.  They politely pushed past the 2 unsuspecting Jehovah’s Witness gentlemen who had just appeared on the doorstep, and took off down the street to see where it was going.  The gentlemen seemed quite good-natured, though surprised and were soon on their way.  The girls came back with the news that the turkey had jumped over a neighbor’s fence and headed off across their yard.  We all settled down to the salad lunch the girls had prepared and enjoyed a peaceful lunch with no more surprise visitors.  It was a beautiful bird and I was delighted he chose to meander across our yard.

Mystery Bird

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Yesterday afternoon, we were treated to the sight of a large bird soaring over the river.  At first, the girls thought it was a bald eagle, but upon further examination, it did not have a white head and black body.  As it circled around, presumably looking for fish, we wondered if it might be an osprey.  Some of the kids thought it might be a hawk, but I’ve never seen one fishing before.  Maybe they do, but the ones I’ve seen have always been searching for mice and other things from fields.  Before we could decide, it swooped by one more time and flew across the river, to perch in the top of a tall tree.  We could never see it closely enough to identify it, but no matter what variety it was, we enjoyed the noble, majestic sight of it very much.

We had another snow day Monday. It’s unheard of here in our part of Oregon to get 4 inches of snow on March 6, but we did in our back yard.  It melted quickly and we were off to do errands in the afternoon, since Rob got a day off work because the schools were closed.

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For the most part, we have had extremely rainy weather lately.  There is standing water all over.  This picture really doesn’t give justice to the gorgeous rainbow we saw, though.  No matter how much rain—there’s always a rainbow, if you just look hard enough.

Meltdown Pasta Salad

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I needed to make a salad for a birthday celebration for 3 of our girls on Monday night.  I came up with this pasta salad.  I’m still adjusting to cooking with limited ingredients in the tiny camper, but am making progress.  I was very pleased with how this came out.

I named it Meltdown Pasta Salad for several reasons.

  1. It was super hot that day.
  2. One of our freezers failed and melted down.   It was in Rob’s mom’s garage, and we discovered it and had to clean it up that morning.
  3. I could not find some needed ingredients for my usual pasta salad, having not put them into the camper–so therefore, they were in storage.  That was the straw that broke the camel’s back and I had a meltdown.

The salad came out great, and so did the evening.  It is gluten-free because that’s what I can eat, but it could be made with regular pasta.

Mix the following in a bowl.

1 box rice rotini, cooked and drained

1 can mushrooms, drained

1 can olives, sliced

1 red onion, chopped

1 cup spinach leaves, sliced into little ribbons

1 tomato, diced

4 basil leaves, sliced into little ribbons

Dressing:

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

Several grinds of garlic/salt in a grinder

Pour some dressing on and mix.  Taste to see if there is enough dressing.  When you have reached the point where you like the amount of dressing, put the rest in a container in the fridge for another day.

This made enough to feed 8 people who took large helpings, and there was a little left over.  I would say 10-12 servings.

Rob’s Way of Campfire Cooking

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When Rob cooks over a fire, he builds it carefully, in a certain way.  First, he starts a fire, using kindling, as normal, and then adds larger wood chunks.  He lets that burn for a while, until coals start forming on the larger pieces of wood.  Then, he carefully moves the coals under the grate, and pushes the larger (still burning) pieces to the end of the fire pit. He then feeds the coals with small pieces of wood he has cut down, a few at a time.  He wants to keep the fire going, but he needs to keep the heat down where he is going to be cooking.  As he also feeds fuel to the larger pieces of wood as well, they generate more coals, which can then be pushed under the grate as needed.  This takes both time and patience.  Starting your fire an hour before you want to cook would not be too early.  You really want a good bed of coals to cook on so the food is cooked evenly and not burnt on the outside or raw in the middle.

He has an old rack from a discarded barbecue that he takes with us whenever he wants to do fire cooking.  It has a smaller distance between the grates, and doesn’t let food fall through as easily as the larger, provided rack does.  He also can raise and lower the rack to keep the heat even, using rocks and sticks.

We have even taken old cookie-cooling racks to use in the past, when we were backpacking.  Rob propped them up on rocks out in the forest.

Rob puts the grill rack onto the fire and heats it up.  Then, he cleans it off with newspaper.

Once everything is set up, and the coals are hot, you add the food.  If you are using skewers, you do need to soak them in water first.  Otherwise, they catch on fire.  He also keeps some water nearby to pour onto the coals to keep the temperature down, if needed, and to put out any burning skewers, etc.  If you have long-handled tongs to move the food around with, that is great.  If not, 2 sticks will work.  A pot holder is a handy thing to have on hand, as well.  If you were far out in the wilderness, a shirt or other piece of  clothing could be used.  BUT, you do need to use something to protect hands and fingers, especially if you are showing kids how to do this.  Clearly, fire cooking is done on a fire…….

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There are several methods Rob likes to use in fire cooking.  Kabobs can be cooked on skewers.  He makes chicken and other meat straight on the grill.  This chicken was marinated in a purchased marinade, then cooked over the fire.  Tin foil is another favorite method.  The potato that is shown was cooked in foil down in the coals the day before, and is just being warmed up for dinner.  They can be put directly in the coals, but the skins are more edible when wrapped in foil. The foil packet is a good way to do foil dinners and  vegetables.  It holds cauliflower in this picture.  He also uses foil to make a little “pan” when he wants to cook something delicate, like fish, that might fall apart into the fire.  Last, but not least, is the time-honored method of simply poking the food with a stick and roasting it over the fire.  That is the fastest, and most used method at our campfire!

Campfire cooking is a skill that takes patience and practice.  But, for us, it is worth the time and energy to gather around a campfire and take a step back in time as we enjoy our dinner outside, while also enjoying the sights and sounds of nature around us, and each other’s company.  You also can’t beat the clean-up!

What have you been cooking on a fire lately?

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving 2015

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We would like to wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving!

Rob made a turkey on the grill, and plans to do a ham as well.  The turkey is already all cut up and ready to warm, and the bone broth has been cooking all night in 2 crock pots, making the house smell warm and cozy on this cold morning.  We are having about 26 family members over for a meal later today.  Yesterday, several family members came over and helped clean and set things up.  We plan to have a great day.  We have so much to be thankful for!  I hope yours is full of thankfulness, family, and joy.  Happy Thanksgiving!