How to clean your Dutch oven

In this cold season I’ve been using my Dutch oven more than ever. So, I’m very inspired to write about Dutch oven topics. Today, we are taking a break from recipes and we are going to talk about caring for you cast iron Dutch ovens.

While having a lot of great qualities, cast iron cookware is not easy to maintain, especially if we are talking about bare cast iron cookware that has to be seasoned regularly. Furthermore, bare cast iron can rust if you don’t take care of it properly and you must be very careful when washing it.

That’s why they have invented enameled cast iron. Enameled cast iron is cast iron with a vitreous enamel glaze coating that prevents rusting, allows thorough washing and eliminates seasoning.

I use Dutch ovens that are made with enameled cast iron so I’m going to write a few thing about caring for an enamel cast iron pot.

Here are some basic tips:
• Hand wash your Dutch oven. Although most enameled Dutch ovens are dishwasher safe it’s still recommended to wash it by hand with minimal soap and warm water. Why is that? Well, the repeated use of the dishwasher may damage your Dutch oven causing the dulling of the enamel finish. So, once in a while you can use your dishwasher, don’t do it very often. After all, it takes just a minute to wash it by hand!

• Make sure that before you begin washing it, your Dutch oven has cooled down because the contact between the hot pan and the cold water will cause thermal shock and crack the enamel. Once your enamel has cracked, you will have to replace your Dutch oven.

• When washing it don’t use metallic pads and abrasive cleaners. Even though enamel cast iron can withstand more thorough washing than bare cast iron, do not exaggerate. Abrasive cleaners and metal pads will damage the enamel, so use sponges and brushes. If, after you have finished cooking, there are some food residues left, fill the vessel with warm water and then leave it to soak for 15 to 20 minutes. After that, wash it in the usual way.

• After you’re done with the washing, dry thoroughly your Dutch oven. You can use a cotton or paper towel to wipe the excessive water or moisture. Don’t drain dry or store away while damp. Store your Dutch oven in a dry and clean location with the lid off or ajar to ensure air circulation.

Follow the above and your Dutch oven will last for years and years. High quality enamel Dutch ovens are not quite cheap, so taking care of one in a proper will ensure its durability. 

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Stuffed artichokes

A few days ago I wrote a post about my favorite 10 Dutch oven dishes. You can read it here. Here is yet another post that refers to the list.

On my list I put the stuffed artichokes as one of my favorites. I usually make this dish in the summer because artichokes are basically a summer vegetable. But, since you can find artichokes  at your market all year long here is the recipe for this delicious dish.

Stuffed artichokes are typical for Italy, Greece and all the countries in the Mediterranean region. The ingredients are few, and the recipe is very easy to make. It can be a ice warm appetitizer, side dishes or even a main dish (on those days whe you decide to skip meat).

The ingredients are :

• 6 whole artichokes
• 1  1/2 cup of bread crumbs,
• 1 minced clove garlic,
• 1/8 cup fresh parsley chopped,
• 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese or Pecorino Romano cheese,
• 5 tablespoons olive oil (but you can use vegetable oil as well),
• salt and pepper to taste

1.Wash the artichokes and then  snip the pointed tips of the artichoke leaves. Cut off the stems as well. Open the arichokes by  firmly rapping the top of it on a hard surface.

2. In a  bowl mix the bread crumbs, cheese, garlic, parsley, 2 tablespoons of oil, the salt and pepper. Now you have your stuffing. 

3. Press the stuffing into each artichoke. Put the  stuffed artichokes in a Dutch oven or large heavy saucepan. Add enough water so your artichokes are halfway in it. Then add  3 tablespoons of oil.

4. Bring the artichokes to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 1 hour (cover the pan) or until leaves pull out.

Sometimes I make this dish without the cheese and it’s delicious anyway.  Buon appetito!

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The No-Knead Bread Recipe

I’m one of those persons who just love bread. I eat it even when I’m on a diet. I just love it soo much! I love all kinds of breads but especially those with a crunchy crust and with an airy and light inside.

I like making my own  bread and people often say to me “Why bother” or “Who has time to bake bread”. My usual answer is that  it’s easier than you might think and it take literally a few minutes to make it.

So, what is a No-Knead Bread? The recipe for this bread was published in The New York Times more than 4 years ago and it became one of the most popular bread recipes among bread bakers. The bread is really easy to make. It’s a hands-off bread so you won’t get your hands sticky and messy (and your kitchen as well) and there is no kneading.

So, let’s start. The list of ingredients is very short and it includes:

- 3 cups of all-purpose or bread flour (you will need a little bit more for dusting),
- ¼ teaspoon of instant yeast,
- 1¼ teaspoons salt
- 1 1/2 cups warm water.

In a large bowl mix the flour, salt and yeast. Add the warm water and then stir until the mixture is blended.  The dough should be sticky and shaggy. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rest  at warm room temperature for at least 12 hours (even better 18 hours). I usually make it in the afternoon and bake it the next morning.
You can see that the dough is ready when its surface is covered with bubbles.

Lightly flour a work surface and pour the dough on it. Sprinkle the dough with a little more flour and fold over all ends towards the middle. Before doing all this remember to wet you hands! With wet hands the dough won’t stick on your hands and you’ll keep the water and flour ratio even (since more flour is added from the working surface). This bread is so light, airy and crispy because it has a high amount of water in it. So you want to keep it that way.
Cover loosely the dough  with a plastic wrap and let it rest for some 15 minutes. After that  shape the dough into a ball. Gently move the dough in a floured cotton towel, cover it and let it rest for about 2 hours. The dough will double in size.

Before your dough has finished resting preheat the oven at 450 degrees. Then put the covered pot you’ll be using for baking your bread in the oven. Choose a cast iron, enamel, ceramic or Pyrex pot.  I use my enamel cast iron Dutch ovens because they can withstand high temperatures (450F). The pot you choose must be tall enough (at least 4″ tall).

When your dough is ready remove the preheated pot from the oven. By sliding your hand under the towel, turn over the dough into the pot, with the seam side up.  Take the pan and shake it once or twice. Cover the pot with the lid and bake it covered for 30 minutes. After that,  remove the lid and bake for another 15 to 30 minutes. Cool on a rack. And that’s it! You just got a nice and fresh 1½-pound loaf.

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Wiener goulash recipe

Yesterday a wrote about my favorite Dutch oven dishes. Among the ten dishes that found a place on my list was the Wiener goulash.

For those of you who are not familiar with this recipe, goulash is a simple beef stew that has two particularities:  a lot of onions and some Hungarian paprika.

The ingredients for 4 to 6 servings are:

2 lbs. (or 1 kg) of stewing beef
1 lb. (500 gr.) onions
Oil (you can use lard or rendered beef fat as well)
1-2 tablespoons Hungarian paprika
Beef broth, enough to cover the meat
1-2 tablespoons of tomato paste
a pinch of caraway seeds
a spring of fresh marjoram or thyme
Salt and pepper

A spoonful of flour mixed with some water

Preparation:Cover the bottom of your Dutch oven with  oil (or cooking fat). Cut the beef in cubes and brown them on all sides. Set the beef aside. Chop the onions and using the same pan, gently sweat them until they are golden and soft. Add the meat to the onions, the salt and pepper and mix everything gently. Leave the meat and onions to simmer together and then sprinkle it with paprika. I usually add 1 tablespoon of paprika, but if you like the taste of it you can go with 2 as well. After a minute or two add enough beef broth to cover the meat. Add the tomato paste, the caraway seeds and marjoram (or thyme).
Cover your dutch oven and  simmer it on low heat for about two hours, until the meat is tender. You can do on your stove or in the oven on moderate heat (180C/350F).

A couple of minutes before serving add your flour and water mixture.  On the other hand, if your goulash is too thick add just slurry to the pan, a spoonful or two at a time, to give the sauce a some water.

Goulash is served warm, with noodles or knödel (bread dumplings). I like combining it with mashed potatoes too.

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My top 10 Dutch oven dishes

With this cold weather outside I tend to use my Dutch ovens very often. I can say that I use them almost every day. I make soups in it, stews, various cassaroles and my favorite risottos. This is definitely the season I use this type of cookware the most. So, I was thinking today about all the  dishes I make using my Dutch ovens and I came to the conclusion that this is the most used piece of cookware (alonside with my fry pans) in my kitchen. So here is a list of my top 10 dishes I make using my Dutch ovens:

1. Leek and potato soup: a great winter soup that will warm your body and prepare your stomach for other  dishes (eventhough sometimes the soup is just enough for a meal). It’s even more delicious if you add some sour cream and toasted bread. I make in on my stove top and finish it in my oven.

2. Lentils and bean soup: another great winter soup. I absolutely adore it. For more taste I add smoked meat and celery. To make it more dense you can add a potato  and to add some color to it use a chopped carrot or two.  The Dutch ovens are ideal for making lentil soups because they use  medium or low temperatures, preventing the lentils from overcooking.

3. Stuffed artichokes: A great dish. I stuff the atichokes with bread crumbs, parsley, chopped garlic and olive oil. You can add parmesan cheese as well. The cocotte is ideal because with slow cooking the artichokes tenderize and the sauce doesn’t dry out.  You can use the stuffing for tomatoes as well.

4. Minestrone: the minestrone can be prepared in the summer and in the winter variation depending on the vegetables that are available on your local market. I sometimes use frozen vegetables as well but I prefer the fresh ones. In the summer variation I use fresh peas, carrots, spinach,tomato,  cauliflower, green beans and other vegetables. My winter minestrone contains potatoes, carrots, celery, beans, leek, cabbage, etc.  Great meal if you are on a diet!

5. Spinach risotto: since fresh spinach is a summer vegetable I mostly make this risotto during the warmer season. But If you use frozen spinaches you can make it a great winter dish, especially if you add pancetta and parmesan cheese. A great risotto everybody loves.

6. Spinach soup: like the spinach risotto this is an excellent recipe you can both make in  the summer using fresh spinach or in the winter using the frozen ingredients. Like leek soup I start this one on my stovetop and finish it in my oven. The sour cream and the toasted bread are a must!

7. Moussaka:  the mother of all cassaroles. I have two different moussaka recipes. The first one is made using minced meat, potatos, aubergines and Bechamel sauce. This is the moussaka they typically serve in Greece. The second recipe is the one my mother used to make and it’s without aubergines and instead of the Bechamel sauce I use a mixture of sour cream and eggs. Very tasty as well.

8. Wiener goulash: this is another recipe my mother taught me. I make it using beef meat  and the secret is in adding a little bit of Hungarian paprika (both for taste and color), caraway seeds and a pinch of marjoran (or if you prefer thyme). You can eat it by itself (with a loaf of bread)  or you can make a side dish with mashed potatoes or bread dumplings (or knodel).

9. Chicken stew: I like chicken stew very much. It’s a tasty and inexpensive dish.  You can make potato gnocchi to accompany it. This is one of my favorite dished and my kids absolutely love it. Don’t forget the parmesan cheese on the gnocchi.

10.  Chicken Nicoise: A great summer dish. I stuff the chicken with garlic, tomatoes, olives and various herbs. Then I saute the chicken in the cocotte, leave it for a while and then make a delicious sauce using the chicken juices in the pot and and adding some chicken stock.

Click Dutch ovens or Cocottes if you want to know more about this versatile piece of cookware.

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Breville gourmet electric wok

breville electric gourmet wokI really enjoy cooking Chinese dishes. If you are into this too then you know that having a good wok is essential. A traditional wok has a round bottom so it’s very difficult to use it on a stove top. Further more it must be made of materials that heat up quickly and are able to maintain high teperatures  for stir-frying. Stir-frying is the traditional Chinese cooking techniques in which the food is tossed in the pot with quick movements, so the vegetables stay crispy and juicy and the meat is nicely cooked or seared.

A year ago or so  I decided to buy a new wok and I decided to go with an electric wok. You might say that this is not true to the basic concepts of Chinese cooking but I thought it would have been more practical.

So, I decided to go with the Breville electric Gourmet wok. I must say that I’m vry satisfied with its performances.

It’s very sturdy and well engineered. The bad thing is that is quite heavy, it weights 12 pounds, so you will not be able to lift it and toss the food around.

How well does it perform in regards to stir-frying? Surprisingly well. It  generates enough heat for this cooking technique just like a stove top wok. This electric wok can get really hot especially when you put it on the maximum “high sear” setting.

Furthermore it responds very quickly to temperature changes.  There are 15 different heat levels to choose from!

This wok is wonderful for steaming as well. The wok has a glass lid with a  convenient steam vent. When you are finished steaming you can open the vent and let the steam out. This is great because you can  keep the food under the lid warm but without further steaming.

The wok’s surface is  non-sticky so you really need small amounts of oil for cooking. Just make sure you use the spatula gently so you don’t  scratch the surface. You can use the spatula that comes with the Breville wok but I would advise you to get another one. 

The wok is dishwasher safe. You must detach the wok from the base, which can be tricky in the beginning.  I prefer to wash by hand though, because this will make it last longer.

Overall, I have to say this wok is one of my favorite tools in the kitchen. I use it for all sorts of dishes and cooking techniques.  You can use it for deep frying, steaming, boiling, stewing, etc. and not just for Chinese cooking.

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