Cooking Over A Fire

I have cooked over an open fire and in a fireplace for years and have learned a few things along the way.  Here are a few things that I think are very important.  Oh … you wonder why someone would want to cook over a fire instead of over an electric or gas oven? I do it because the food tastes better, it slows me down, its peaceful out side and because I just like it. You may not choose to cook over a fire on a daily basis, but if you go camping the know-how might come in handy.

First and foremost, you need the right equipment. Cast iron is the best choice for cooking over a fire. I have used other metals in a pinch but for durability and better cooking you need cast iron. There are several brands out there and you will get what you pay for. I recommend that you comb antique stores and flea markets to find heavy, old cast iron that has already been cured. These older, heavy pans are ideal for cooking over a fire. The heavier a pan, the more the heat will be distributed throughout the pan evenly. This is necessary for any kind of cooking but especially for open fire cooking where you are cooking over a few coals

Three things to remember when cooking on a fire:

1. If you place a pan directly on the hot coals, your food will likely burn.
2. If you hang your pan too far above the coals, it will not cook.
3. If you try to cook over a fire instead of a bed of coals, you will be frustrated. So what you need to work toward is a bed of hot coals, and a pan that is not too close nor too far away from the coals.

HOW close? Well, that depends on what you are cooking, and most of that knowledge will come with experience, however you can logically expect the coals to be hotter when you are closer to them.

How to Make a Fire For Cooking

A fire for warmth and a fire for cooking are two different things. For warmth you want that roaring crackling fire that fills up the fire box and continues to burn with medium sized flames.
For a cooking fire though you want to start with that roaring fire and really feed the fuel to the fire. This is going to make it roar and make the flames really big for a while. But the idea is to feed the fire as much wood as you think you will need coals to cook over. The flames will die down as the wood burns and the wood will become hot coals or embers. These coals are what you will cook over, not really the fire itself.

Remember that coals die out and have to be replaced with new coals. It’s better to have too many coals than not enough. So fuel up your fire to make it big at first and allow it to die down. I make my fire big and then move the coals over to the side of the burning fire. This way I can have coals being made constantly in the big fire while I am cooking on the cook fire.  If I know I will be cooking very large amounts of food I will build two separate fires and transfer coals to my cook fire in a small bucket as they are needed.

You can always fuel your fire while you are cooking but you need to be careful of two things. First, don’t refuel in such a way that the fire burns violently near your pans of food. It may burn your food or throw ashes and embers into it. Second, you must time yourself when you fuel the fire. It takes some time to make a coal, about 20-30 minutes. So start early making more coals when you are cooking.

Always, always use wood to cook over. Other fuels may cause fumes that are harmful. Use dry wood that has been aged if possible so that it will be completely dry.

After the fire has died down you will need to gather the coals up to cook over. This is where you need some of your cast iron tools like a shovel or spatula. Rake the coals together in a spot that you can reach. This is your cooking spot. You may have one to 4 cooking spots in most fireplaces. You can have as many as you like in a fire that is outside. Leave yourself plenty of room to move around and for the coals to reach all the pans.

Obviously you will have to replenish your hot coals from time to time as you are cooking. So, for example, if you are using a fireplace to cook in, choose another place to the side or rear of the fireplace to keep a fire going. I cook all along the front and one side of a fireplace, and allow the fire to burn in the left rear portion of the box. Whenever the coals burn out or loose some of their heat, scoop hot coals from the fire area to the cooking area. Some of the spent coals can be removed during cooking, but I usually wait until the cooking is over to do that because it stirs up ashes that can get in the food.

There are many, many items that you could purchase to use for cooking in your fireplace, but here are my favorites:

Spyders – These are three or four legged trivet-like things that hold your pans above the coals. They have a ring for the pan to sit in and an open bottom. They can be purchased in varying heights so that you can cook close to the coals or several inches away from them. Three different heights would be ideal, but two would do. The really tall ones are great for keeping food warm. Often a cast iron pan will have long legs cast onto the pan itself. Either one of these, the trivet-like contraption or the legged pan, can properly be called a spyder.

If you equip your fireplace with a trammel or hanging arm, you can buy all kinds of doo-dads to hang on it and hang your pots from. I like the one that adjusts from short to long so you can adjust how quickly your food is cooking without moving the pot off the fire. This is especially handy if your fireplace is small and you are cramped for room in there.

Utensils – Well, obviously you want long ones….but don’t get them any longer than what is comfortable for you to manage. My very longest ones are 18″. Also consider getting cast iron utensils instead of stainless or wooden ones. They just last longer. You need a spoon, a slotted spoon, a fork or three of various sizes, two spatulas, one short and one long, and that is all that is really essential. As you cook more and more you will find that there are other utensils that you would like to have. Choose very sturdy ones, for you will find that you use them for lifting Dutch Oven lids, pots and pans and other heavy items out of the fire. I finally got a utensil that is nothing more than a big hook to do just that!

You might want a spit to roast meat on, but I bind the meat up with cotton thread, season it and hang over slow coals for about 6-8 hours to roast. Works well, if you can stand the aroma for that long!
Another good way to roast meat like venison steaks, is to skewer the meat onto a large fork and prop the fork up in front of the fire, turning frequently til the meat is done.

There are reflector ovens made for the fireplace and they are really great…..once you learn how to use them properly, and that takes practice.
They can be used to cook meats, breads, cakes, cookies, or casseroles. They are relatively slow cooking, but they do the job very well, as soon as you learn how to keep the coals at an even temperature and how to pull the oven back from the fire when it becomes too hot.

There are also Dutch Ovens. I recommend one with a lid that has a lip on it so that you can put hot coals on top of it without them sliding off. The coals on the top of the lid helps the food to cook from both the top and bottom of the pan, much the way a conventional oven does. This is the best way to bake in the fireplace, besides the reflector oven.
You want Dutch Ovens that have LEGS. You will need at a minimum of three Dutch Ovens to cook a large meal. They can be used to cook cakes, cornbreads, puddings, soups, stews, roasts, on and on.
I find that I like to move my Dutch Oven around and reposition it with new coals every 5-15 minutes. It’s very easy to burn a cake or breads in a Dutch Oven!

Other Pots and Pans – Well, just get cast iron and make sure that they all have LEGS on them! You want the coals to be able to get up under the pans to cook the food, this way you don’t have to sit the pan ON the coals and risk burning. If your pans don’t have legs, just make sure that you have something for them to sit on like a spyder or cast iron tripod. Make sure they have handles, or bales, too. The idea is to cook safely on the fire. With a lid on your pan, you can lift it, move your pan and generally be in control of the pan while it is hot.

You will need a safe place to sit hot pans coming off the fire, lots of dish towels and all of the usual fireplace accoutrements like a shovel, ash bucket, bucket of water for emergencies, poker, large flat rocks for heating and using to keep food warm and towels or cloths to protect your hands while you lift and move around hot pans. You will also need a large pan or tray to place your utensils on while you are using them to keep them clean.

One last thing I have learned about cooking over a fire. When I am pushed for time and I have hungry people to cook for I have to use higher heat and therefore more grease in my cooking. However, if you are not pressed for time and you can relax a bit, you can cook with lower temperature coals and use less grease. This may not seem important now, but as you cook on the fire more and more you will catch yourself adding more grease to whatever you are cooking because the temperature is too high.

You are going to have to grease the pans a lot more than you are probably used to doing anyway with conventional cooking, especially considering our low fat ways these days. But as you become more experienced, you can cut back on the grease considerably.

One last thing about cooking over a fire. Take your time when you cook over a fire. Make sure your hair is out of the way and that your clothing is not going to drag in the coals. And don’t cook with little ones all around you.

You Can Make Homemade Cranberry Sauce

This sauce is amazing. Its good with turkey and its good on grilled panini sandwiches. Easy to make, keeps well in the frig for weeks.

cranberry-sauce

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries

1 cup red wine and/or pure cranberry juice

2 large oranges, juiced and zested

1/2 cup maple syrup (more to taste)

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

salt and pepper to taste

Yields approximately 3 cups. Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to medium low and let simmer for 10 to 15 minutes or until most of the cranberries have popped. Serve hot or chilled.

Re-hydrating Your Dehydrated Food

While I am on break, here is an article from my friend, Vickilynn Haycraft over at Real Food Living about how to re-hydrate your homemade dehydrated foods. Great info!

From Dehydrated To Dinner

corn

Homemade Hamburger Helper: Different Varieties and In Bulk

 Hamburger Helper is so stinkin’ convenient. If only it wasn’t so unhealthy. Its chock full of sugar, salt, preservatives and other junk but it sure tastes good and its filling. So I started making my own hamburger helper years ago. My children really like it.

hamburger helper 2

 

 

 

 

 

If you make Hamburger Helper you know that you use milk.  I use powdered milk because I can make up the seasoning mix and have it on hand and just have to add water.

Here are a few recipes for the Seasoning Packs you’ll need to make my homemade Hamburger Helper. Feel free to modify for your family.  The original Hamburger Helper has a lot of sugar in it. I prefer to have a more healthy dish so I have left out the sugar, you could add a bit of sugar in if your palate demands it.

Make up the Seasoning Mix and store it in a glass jar in a cool place. Be sure to label it and it wouldn’t hurt to keep the instructions for making the dish with the seasoning.

The first one is the classic Hamburger Cheesy Mac.

First make your Seasoning Mix.

This amount will make 4 different meals of Cheesy Mac.  For each recipe you’ll shake the jar well to combine and distribute the seasonings and use  one half cup of the mix for each recipe of Cheesy Mac.

1 – 1/4 cup instant powdered milk
5 Tablespoons cornstarch
3 Tablespoon plus 1 tsp. paprika
1 – 1/2  Tablespoon  onion powder
1 – 1/2  Tablespoons garlic powder
1 – 1/2  Tablespoons  salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
 

You will need for each recipe of this dish:
Remember that the seasoning mix makes 4 recipes of this dish

1 pound ground meat
3 1/3 cups hot water
1 1/2 cups elbow macaroni, uncooked
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

To prepare:

Brown the ground meat in a large skillet or pot.  Add one half cup of seasoning mix.

Add the water and the uncooked macaroni.  Stir well and allow to simmer on low heat for  15-20 minutes.

Once the macaroni is tender and all the water is absorbed, add the shredded cheese, stir.

Taste for salt and pepper.

 

Next up is Beef Stroganoff.  If you can get sour cream powder, its good in this mix and you’d use 2 - 1/2 cups of it in the big batch of mix, but since most people can’t, I decided to build this recipe using fresh sour cream added at the last minute of cooking.

Seasoning Mix
Remember, this makes 4 different recipes of the Beef Stroganoff dish

1 – 1/4 cup instant powdered milk
5 TBS cornstarch
10 tsp. garlic powder
10 tsp. onion powder
10 tsp. parsley
10 tsp. salt
5 tsp. pepper

  You will also need:  
Remember that the seasoning mix makes 4 recipes of this dish

1 pound ground meat
2 cups hot water
1 1/2 cups small egg noodles
1 cup sour cream

To Prepare:

Brown the ground meat in a large skillet or pot. Add one half cup of seasoning mix.

Add the water and the uncooked noodles.  Stir well and allow to simmer on low for  15-20 minutes. Add hot water if needed throughout cooking.

Once the noodles are tender and all the water is absorbed, remove from heat and stir in sour cream.

Taste for salt and pepper.

 

The last one is for a Rice Hamburger Dish. Instead of pasta, it uses rice. I cook my rice before hand. In fact, I cook whatever rice I am going to use in my menus during the week and refrigerate it. But for this meal, you can just put the rice on to cook while you are cooking the hamburger and preparing the other ingredients.

I guess this is sort of a Jambalaya type dish. Its as spicy as you want it to be, just add more pepper or seasoning like Tony Chachere’s . This Seasoning Mix Recipe will make 4 different dishes of Rice Hamburger.

1 – 1/4 cup instant powdered milk
5 Tablespoons TBS cornstarch
1\4 cup diced, dried sweet bell peppers (optional)

Spices and Herbs:
1- 1\2 Tablespoons Paprika
1 Tablespoon Chili powder
2 teaspoons cayenne
2 teaspoons oregano
2 teaspoons thyme
5 teaspoons onion powder
5 teaspoons garlic powder
5 teaspoons salt

OR, instead of the spices and herbs above, you can use 1\2 cup of Tony Chachere’s Cajun Seasoning, or Zatarain’s

You will also need:
1 pound ground meat
3 1\2 cups hot water
1 cup shredded cheese
1 small can of stewed tomatoes (about 8 ounces)

Put 1 cup rice and 2 cups water on to cook. While that is simmering, brown the ground beef in a large skillet or pot. When the beef is done, drain it and place it back over the heat.

Add 1\2 cup of the seasoning mix to the beef, add the hot water and tomatoes then stir. Lower heat to a simmer.
Stir in the cooked rice. Cover and let sit for 5-10 minutes to thicken.
When heated through and thick, add the shredded cheese. Cover and let sit again another 5 minutes. Serve.

My Onions Wear Panty Hose

Sometimes they wear them all winter.  onions 1 words

Here’s how to store onions in panty hose. Storing them in hose allows for air circulation and keeps the onions from touching each other. When you store onions where they can touch each other, its easy for them to start getting soft, then rot.

You can use panty hose, just cut off the legs, or you can use knee highs which is what I used this time.

Another way to store onions is to braid their stalks together and hang them. These onions didn’t have long, sturdy stalks so I opted to store them in hose. Onions can also be stored in flat boxes in cool areas after they have dried completely. 

onions 2

 

 

 

 

onions 5

 

 

 

 

First, be sure you are using onions that have a thoroughly dried stalk. If the stalk is green let it dry some more before storing them. I had several onions that had both dried and green stalks on them. I used them to make minced, dehydrated onions. Only the onions that had completely dried stalks were stored in hose.

 

onions 3

 

 

 

 

 

Next, rub off excess soil and dry onion skin. Don’t peel off any paper, it is a protection for the onion. Trim off the roots but don’t cut into the onion itself. Trim off the dried stalk.

onions 4

 

 

 

 


se and tie a tight knot in the hose on top of the onion.  Drop another onion in and tie another knot. Most knee highs will hold 4 or 5 onions and leave you enough space for hanging the hose either on a nail or tie a piece of twine to the top and hang it that way.
Drop the first onion into the toe of the ho

onions 6

 

 

 

 

 

Hang the onions in a cool, airy, dry place. Every time you need an onion, just snip on off below the knot.

 

 

Amish Bread

bread

Light Whole Wheat Amish Bread

Many of my Readers know that I once owned and operated a bakery in Amish country.  I baked bread, rolls, pies, cakes, donuts and more for the whole countryside.

After 9/11 the business almost dried up, just like a light switch, it was gone. We struggled on for a while but with 2 mortgages to pay it was hard. We finally sold the business and our country home and went back to our little home in the suburbs.

No one has opened up the business again, the new owners just rent out the house.  The home we are in now is the home where I grew up so the situation is not really so bad as it may sound. I love it here.  I get to watch my children climb in the tree I planted. I get to garden in my Mother’s garden.

Anyway, back to the bakery.
  While I was there I learned a lot of Amish recipes.  Amish recipes aren’t typically healthy because they utilize white sugar and flour.  But they sure are tasty!  Feel free to use alternate ingredients.

Amish Bread is a phenomenon all its own.  Its soft, delicious and easy to make in big batches. When someone starts bread baking, I always recommend they start with this kind of bread.  We sold over 40 loaves per day of this bread in our heyday.

Equally well received was the Amish Wheat Bread. You can use the same recipe and replace all the white flour with light whole wheat or half whole wheat and half light whole wheat.  If you use all Whole wheat, the dark kind, you’ll need to add about 2 tablespoons of vital wheat gluten to help the bread rise. The photo above, to the right is 100% Light Whole Wheat, King Arthur flour. The photo below is a side view of the Amish White Bread.

amish country bread

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amish Country Bread

2 1/2 cups milk, heated to about 115*F – I just heat it on the stove in a pan and I heat it til I can stick my finger in it and its very warm but not uncomfortable. Or you could use a thermometer.

2 teaspoons yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1 rounded tablespoon fat*
2 Tablespoons salt**
3-4 cups bread flour

* I use lard, shortening will work. Coconut oil tends to make the loaf dry. Olive oil works well.
** It seems like a lot but if you reduce it, only reduce it by a teaspoon or so

lecithin

Lecithin from egg yolks

If  you anticipate your bread hanging around the house a while before its devoured, you can add 2 tablespoons powdered lecithin. Lecithin is a natural product derived from egg yolk that keeps the bread moist and keeps it from crumbling.  Mine never hangs around that long, chances are, yours won’t either!

Before you begin, preheat your oven to 500*F. You won’t use this high temp to bake the bread, but you’ll turn off the heat and use the heated oven to help the bread rise.

1) Heat the milk, add about 1/2 cup of the milk to a cup and then add the yeast and a pinch of the sugar. Let this mixture sit and foam for about 5 minutes.

2) Add the rest of the sugar, salt, fat, rest of the milk and the lecithin to the mixing bowl.

3) Once the yeast mixture foams, add it to the mixing bowl ingredients.

4)  Now start adding the flour, a cup at a time, to the mixing bowl ingredients,  mixing until you get a soft dough. If you’re using a stand mixer to knead the dough, knead until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and leaves the bowl clean.

If you are kneading by hand, add flour and knead for 10 minutes. Don’t add more than 4 cups of flour.

5) After kneading, grease a large oven-proof bowl. Gather the dough up into a ball and place it into the greased bowl. Pick up the ball and turn it over in the bowl, this greases the top surface of the dough. Cover the bowl and dough with a clean cloth.

6) Place the bowl into the heated oven, turn off the heat and let the oven door hang open a bit.

If you’re not using the heated oven to raise the dough, just place the dough in a warm area. Allow the dough to rise til double, about 45 minutes to an hour if you’re using the heated oven and about an hour to an hour and a half if you’re not using the oven.

While the dough is rising, prepare two loaf pans by greasing them well. You can use spray oil.

7) Once the dough is risen and doubled in size, divide it into to two equal portions. I shape each portion into a loaf by first pulling the sides of the ball down and tucking them underneath the ball, kind of like a mushroom. Then I hold the ball with the tucked ends near my palm and roll the “mushroom” on the table. This presses out air bubbles.

8) Place the dough into the prepared pans.  Using a fork, pierce the dough all the way to the bottom of the pan 10 or 12 times all over the top of the loaf.

9) Allow the loaves to rise until they are about 1 inch over the sides of the pans. This can take up to two hours.

10) Preheat the oven to 325*F. Bake the loaves for 25-30 minutes. Remove the loaves from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack. Turn the pans over and remove the bread from the pans.

Brush the tops and sides of the warm loaves with butter, this makes the crust soft once the bread cools.

Allow to cool before storing in plastic bags.

You can really dress this recipe up by adding fresh herbs.

One way to use this recipe is to make an herb loaf.  Divide the dough into two portions. Place the rounds of dough on a greased cookies sheet or on parchment paper on a cookie sheet.

Paint the tops of the loaves with an egg-wash made from 1 egg white and a little water. Then slit the tops in a decorative pattern using a small sharp knife.  Now sprinkle over the top, kosher salt, rosemary, oregano and thyme. You can also use a bit of grated Parmesan cheese if you like. Bake at 350*F for about 25 minutes. Cool on a rack before storing.

 

Mamaw’s Homemade Pie Crusts

When I was a small child I called my Grandmother, “Mamaw”. As I got older I started to call her Grandma, I don’t know how that happened, really. But when I wanted something I reverted back to calling her Mamaw.

Apple Brown Betty

Apple Brown Betty using Mamaw’s Pie Crust  Recipe

Mamaw/Grandma was a superlative cook. Every time I went to her house I learned something about cooking, mostly because I was a real pest. Always asking questions, always wanting to know. She didn’t seem to mind, she was always a willing teacher. Always I hope I can be like that for my children and grandchildren and others too.

This is her pie crust recipe. She didn’t write it down; I did. I guess it would have never been written down if it had been up to her. Its a really good, flaky crust. It makes 4 crusts.

4 cups flour (If you use whole wheat, be sure to use pastry flour)
1 – 3/4 cup shortening, lard, or coconut oil – I prefer lard and I chill it before I use it in pie crusts.
1 Tblsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt
1 Tblsp. Apple Cider Vinegar (you can use white vinegar)
1 egg
1/2 cup cold water – really, ice water. I put water over some ice and use that really cold water. The colder the better.

Mix flour, sugar, and salt. Cut in shortening, lard, or coconut oil.  If you haven’t chilled the lard, it won’t cut in as well, but it will work.

Add liquids, mix well, cover the dough and let chill in the frig about an hour. I think lard works better than coconut oil. It makes the crust flakier and more tender. Coconut oil tends to make the crusts kind of dry.

Here’s a 21st century tip for making pie crusts: use your food processor. If Mamaw had had one, she would have used it. Come to think of it she did have one, but she didn’t use it much for anything.

Put all your ingredients EXCEPT the water in the food processor bowl. Lock it down and turn it on, then drip the ice water in a little at a time. As SOON as it comes together in a ball its ready. Don’t over process. 

Fresh Pumpkin Pie using this crust recipe

 

 

 

 

 

 

Divide chilled dough into 4 equal sized balls, flatten with your hand into discs. At this point you can roll out the dough into pie sized pieces and use the dough for a pie or you can freeze the dough.

To freeze the dough: Flatten with your hand, then roll out into pie sized discs, place waxed paper between each piece of rolled out dough and then wrap it up really well and freeze it. You can also go ahead and put the dough into pie plate, wrap them up really well and freeze them. Be sure to label them. That’s the way I prefer. I can just pull one out put the filling in and go.

When you’re ready to use them, just defrost and use as you would a freshly made crust. Don’t try to handle a frozen, rolled out pie crust, it will break. That’s why its a good idea to roll them out and freeze them in a pie plate.

If you want to bake it ahead of putting your filling in it, bake at 400 degrees for 35 minutes. You can cover the crust with foil to keep it from getting too brown. You can also cover the bottom of the crust with a piece of foil and cover that with raw beans to keep the crust from bubbling up too much.

Basil Lemonade

I’m always on the look out for something different…but not silly or simply trendy. This is one of those keeper kind of things. Its a way of making lemonade that, if you like it, you’ll always go to. basil lemonade words

I had it first at a small, local restaurant. I thought, Hey this is great, I can make this! And so I did. Here are the instructions for Basil Lemonade.

Fresh Basil is a love of mine. My grand daughter must love it too, she was eating it right off the plant last weekend. It isn’t all that unusual to use Basil in lemonade, after all  Basil is in the Mint family. Basil has that tell-tale square stem that all mints have.  Basil is Lamiaceae ocimum while mint is Lamiaceae mentha. Same genus, different species. Aaaaand since it is a different species it doesn’t cross pollinate in your garden. There’s your science lesson for the day

What Basil does for lemonade though is pretty magical. It smooths it down, mellows it, if you will.  Basil masks the tart, twang at the end of a swallow of lemonade and of course lends its delicious flavor to the drink.

First make your lemonade. You can use Country Time or you can make it from scratch. Here is my From Scratch recipe:

From Scratch Lemonade:

In a small sauce pan bring 1 cup water and 1 3/4 cups white sugar to a boil. Stir to dissolve sugar, reduce heat and continue stirring 

basil lemonade 1

until all the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, cool to room temperature pour into a jar, refrigerate til chilled. Add 1 34 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice.  The syrup is ready to use once it is completely chilled. 

After you’ve made your lemonade using whatever method you like, you’ll need to steep some fresh Basil in it. I use about 2 cups loosely packed basil leaves for every gallon of lemonade. I allow it to steep for at least an hour.   To keep your lemonade cold, you can allow it to steep with the Basil in the frig. 

basil lemonade 2

After it has steeped long enough, you can take out a little and taste it to see if its strong enough, strain the Basil out and serve the Basil Lemonade over ice!