Dutch Oven

Why I love my Dutch Oven

Dutch Oven
My Dutch Oven turns out loaf after loaf of beautiful bread! And so easy!!

If you’re just tuning in, you might be wondering what my current infatuation with the Dutch Oven is all about.   Just a few months ago, I didn’t fully understand what a Dutch Oven was, nor did I think every home cook should have one…but I’ve since changed my mind.

The basics:

Let’s start with the basics.  A Dutch Oven is not an oven and I’m not sure if it’s even a Dutch invention. A Dutch Oven is a large, heavy pot with a tight fitting lid that can be used on the stovetop and in the oven.  Originally created to be used with open flames, Dutch Ovens are exceptionally versatile; almost any cooking task can be performed with a Dutch Oven.

Most of today’s Dutch ovens are made from cast iron and then coated–at an extremely high temperature–with enamel.  The enamel elevates the pot from a Pioneer mainstay to a workhorse in today’s kitchen, because clean up is a breeze.  With the enameled pot, you don’t have to worry about seasoning your cast iron or even rusting.  Most of the enamel covering resists chipping or cracking even at high temperatures, which makes an enamel coated Dutch Oven practically indestructible. Once you acquire a Dutch Oven, you won’t need to replace it. Ever. You could probably even pass it on to someone when your cooking days are over!

 

Why am I just finding out about Dutch Ovens?

To be honest, I’ve been aware of the King of Dutch Ovens–Le Creuset–but they’ve always been WAY out of my price range. I’m not saying they aren’t worth it, but I just could never afford one. But nowadays Dutch Ovens are made by all kinds of manufacturers, not just Le Creuset, and the price difference is astronomical. A new Le Creuset costs more than $300, but you can now find a perfectly acceptable Dutch Oven for well under a hundred dollars. My first Dutch Oven is from the Food Network. It retails for $100, but my sister got it with one of those Christmas sales and % off offers, bringing the price down to below fifty dollars. What a bargain!!

In addition to the substantial price tag, I avoided getting one, because I thought I could do it all with a good slow cooker and my everyday pots and pans.

I was wrong.

 

My first Dutch Oven
This is my first Dutch Oven hard at work

 

Although I still love my slow cooker, meals cooked in a Dutch Oven actually taste better than those prepared in a slow cooker. Which brings me to the top reasons why I’ve been choosing a Dutch Oven over my slow cooker.

 

Beef Stew
Flavorful beef and complex taste are the result of using a Dutch Oven instead of a slow cooker

Taste:

The one thing I never cared for with slow cooking is how it cooked meats. If you really want flavorful meats, you need to brown them first and that’s something the slow cooker just doesn’t do. Sure, you could brown your meat on the stove first, but that means dirtying another pan and that takes the convenience out of slow cooking.

With the Dutch Oven, you can start your meat-based meal on the stove top and then effortlessly transfer it to the oven for a nice even cook.  No extra pans to clean and all of those flavors are locked in!

 

Faster:

Slow cookers are, well, slow. That’s the beauty of them, of course. Cooking your food slow is convenient for the working cook and it allows for more tender meats, but the long cook can be difficult to time and not always convenient for someone trying to get a meal on the table.  Plus slow cookers have difficulty with certain foods such as fish, pasta and dairy.  Dutch Ovens heats evenly–just like a slow cooker–but it does it faster. My traditional Italian Vegetable Soup and also my Beef Stew we’re ready hours faster than the slow cooker version–plus I was able to brown the meat first, which goes to my point of taste (see above).

 

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Versatility:

Dutch Ovens are capable of just about everything!  Soups and stews requiring a long, slow cooking time are a snap, but the Dutch Oven can easily handle frying, baking and roasting with ease!  They heat food evenly, so you don’t have to hover over your stovetop.  The tight-fitting lid traps in the heat, too.   Dutch Ovens can go from your stove top directly to the oven without worry.  Plus they are so easy to clean!  And, because of the myriad colors available, they are attractive compliments to your kitchen.  Actually since receiving it, my Dutch Oven has only left my stove top for cleaning–which is good because they are heavy!

 

Crusty Loaf
This gorgeous loaf of bread was cooked in the Dutch Oven!

The bread!

I’m not going to lie, I love making bread.  The entire experience is just wonderful!  But bread making was always so time consuming!  When I was in a pinch, I did what we all do…bought bread at the bakery or grocery store.

But there is nothing more satisfying than making your own bread.  Plus if you make your own bread, you will win the respect and admiration of your entire family!  Believe me!

One of the first things I made in my Dutch Oven was a loaf of bread and after that, I was completely hooked!  Interestingly the Dutch Oven is *perfect* for creating and sealing in the steam that makes the outside of your bread so crusty and delicious.  Here are two bread recipes I’ve done in my Dutch Oven–Crusty Bread in a Dutch Oven and Recipe: Crusty Italian Bread in the Dutch Oven

 

And that, my friends, is why I have fallen in love with my Dutch Oven.  Do you have a Dutch Oven, too?  Why not let me know what you use yours for!

Dutch Oven · recipe

Lazy Lasagna in the Dutch Oven

Lazy Lasagna
Hot-from-the-oven Lazy Lasagna!

I’m back with my Dutch Oven and a new recipe for what I call “Lazy Lasagna”–but it could also be a pasta bake, if you’d like.  I call it Lazy Lasagna, because it has all the ingredients of my regular lasagna without all the time consuming layering.

Barilla Mezzi Rigatoni
Mezzi rigatoni, regular sized rigatoni or even ziti would work fine for this dish

To make this dish, I started with cooking two boxes (two pounds) of Barilla’s Mezzi Rigatoni, which is a short but wide tube of pasta.  I cook the rigatoni for 10 minutes only, because I want to keep my pasta firm. Regular rigatoni or even ziti would work just as well, so feel free to use what you have.

When the pasta has cooked, drain off the water in a colander and return the cooked pasta to the original pot.  It’s helpful if you do not overly drain your pasta for this one, because a little of the pasta water will help when mixing your ingredients into the pasta.

Ricotta and Shredded Cheeses
Ricotta and Shredded Cheeses used for making this Lazy Lasagna

To the drained pasta, add a full container of ricotta, a jar of pre-made sauce OR your own homemade sauce, a generous portion of shredded mozzarella cheese and seasoning.  I like to add salt, pepper, a touch of crushed pepper, and a blend of dried basil, oregano and rosemary, but obviously adjust to your preference.  Mix until blended well.

Cooked pasta mixed with sauce and cheeses
I was making this for people who don’t like too much sauce, so my pasta looks pink! You can adjust the amount of sauce you use.

Add some sauce to the bottom of your Dutch Oven then add your pasta mixture.  Two pounds of pasta with all the other mix-ins will fill a 5.5 quart Dutch Oven almost to the top.  If you have a smaller pan, adjust accordingly.

Lazy Lasagna ready for the oven
Lazy Lasagna all assembled and ready to go into the oven

Top the pasta mixture with the remaining sauce and then sprinkle the top with shredded mozzarella and then a healthy portion of shredded, dry cheese (I use Stella Three Cheese Italian, which is a mixture of Parmesan, Asiago and Romano cheeses).

Completed Lazy Lasagna
Just removed my Lazy Lasagna from the oven and it’s cooling on the board

Cover and bake in your preheated 375 degree oven for 45 minutes.  Then remove the cover and bake for another 10-15 minutes to brown the cheese on top.

 

Digging In to the Lazy Lasagna
No need to worry about cutting THIS lasagna perfectly!

 

Ingredients:

  • Two boxes of Mezzi Rigatoni or similar tube shaped pasta
  • Two jars of prepared pasta sauce or equivalent of homemade sauce
  • One 32 ounce container of ricotta cheese
  • Two cups (or so) shredded mozzarella
  • 1/2 cup shredded Italian cheese blend
  • Seasonings such as salt, pepper, crushed pepper, basil, oregano and rosemary
Plated Lazy Lasagna
Spoon a portion of your Lazy Lasagna and serve with extra sauce if you’d like…or not!
recipe

Meatless Stuffed Mushrooms

stuffed mushrooms

Mushrooms are a lowly thing and yet can be so satisfying.  When cooked, their flesh feels like a meat, so they are excellent vehicles for a meatless meal.

Today I am presenting a Stuffed Mushroom recipe that elevates the common white mushroom to a satisfying meal or appetizer.

The first step to making a delicious Stuffed Mushroom is to start with a fresh container of medium sized white mushrooms.  White mushrooms should not be washed, but you can lightly brush away any growing medium that you might find in the container.

Now it’s time to separate the cap from the stem.  You can do this by holding the mushroom cap with the fingers of your left hand.  Then grasp the stem with your right fingers and wiggle it a bit, side to side.  The stem should pop off easily.  Do this for all your mushrooms and set the caps aside.

Mushroom Caps
Mushroom caps with stems removed

 

Mince the removed stems.  Peel and mince a medium sized shallot and a couple cloves of garlic.  You can use pre-minced garlic if you prefer.

Mince mushroom stems and a shallot
Mince stems and a medium sized shallot

 

Warm your sauté pan over medium heat and then add some olive oil and some butter.  Add your minced mushroom stems, shallots and garlic to the pan and gently sauté until they soften and release their moisture.  Add about a half cup of panko to firm up the mixture.  Don’t forget to season your sauté  with salt and pepper.

saute
Saute your minced stems and shallots in olive oil and butter

Once you’ve finished sautéing, remove the mixture to a bowl and begin stuffing your mushrooms.  I like to use a little spoon to stuff the mushroom caps.    Lightly push the filling into the cap, but don’t force it.

Place the stuffed caps on a small pan.  I used the pan that came with my toaster oven, but an 8″ x 8″ squared pan will also do nicely.

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Before cooking them for 20 minutes in a 375 degree oven, I like to drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil on top.

Completed stuffed mushrooms
Fully cooked stuffed mushrooms

 

Transfer the cooked mushrooms from the pan to a plate for serving.

These are nice as an appetizer or a meatless entree served with a salad.

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