Thursday, October 29, 2015

Throwback Thursday: How many servings will a 12-inch Dutch oven deliver?

This article was originally posted on Tuesday, March 25, 2008.

The topic of catering large groups often surfaces on Dutch oven discussion boards, like the IDOS forum and Conversation rarely centers on the business side catering. It's the culinary side of feeding large groups that draws most of the attention. Questions about menus, portion sizes, amount to prepare and equipment are among the most common.

The last discussion that I joined in on began with a question from a Dutch oven group in Porterville, California. Dutchin' Dave, a member of the Sequoia Dutch Ovens, asked this question at
Got a problem. We've been asked to do cobbler for 300 folks at a fancy fundraising dinner for our Cancer Camp for children. We're thrilled to do it, but the problem stems from the fact that the majority of our Sequoia Dutch Ovens chapter is already committed to another function and there will only be 4-5 of us left. Under the circumstances, it's going to be critical that our operation run as efficiently and streamlined as possible. We need to figure out how many ovens these 4-5 cooks are going to have to manage and so we need to calculate pretty closely how many servings we can get out of an oven.
Dave went on to explain his thought process on the issue. Even though he knows how many servings can be served from a 12-inch regular Dutch oven ("6-18 servings of a 'main dish' or 'to 30' servings of a 'side dish'"), he recognized that the number of servings per pot depends upon the portion size.

He planned to prepare one recipe in a 12-inch Dutch oven and scoop the cobbler out in 2- to 3-ounce portions. Dave estimated that the his recipe would yield about 15 servings. The results will, of course, depend on the volume of fruit and topping in his recipe.

To feed 225 guests, Dave figures it will take 15 (12-inch) ovens. He believes "approximately 3/4 of them will want dessert." The remaining 25 percent will avoid dessert due to health concerns or personal taste, said Dave.

Number of cobbler servings per No. 12 Dutch oven
Let me answer Dave's question in two parts. I'll address his immediate cobbler question first since that's the main point of his discussion. Then in a couple days, I'll address the broader question of catering large groups out of Dutch ovens.

I always work from volume, not some generalized table of servings per Dutch oven. Most Dutch oven food is semi-liquid or semi-solid. It spoons or ladles out very well. The key is to calculate the volume each Dutch oven holds for a particular dish and divide by the serving size. That's the basic formula for determining portions per Dutch oven.

There are other factors, like toppings and the number of pieces (of meat, chicken, potatoes, etc.) in the pot. It's hard to serve 20 (1-cup) servings out a pot of pork chops and gravy when there's only 15 chops in there to begin with. Toppings will also limit the number of servings. A pot pie or cobbler that's topped with 15 biscuits will only give you 15 servings.

I like to work out of 14-inch oven when cooking for a crowd. They're lighter than 16-inch ovens and holds more than a 12-inch oven. The 14-inch is a happy medium between lugging heavy 16-inchers and having to wrestle lots and lots of 12-inch ovens. I recommend that you locate as many 14-inch ovens as possible.

I don't recommend using deep-style ovens for recipes that use a topping as a key component of the dish. Deeper ovens are best reserved for bread loaves, large cuts of meat and soups, chili and stew.

The problem with baking a cobbler or crisp in a deep-style oven is it can hold a larger ratio of filling to topping. You'll run out of topping long before the filling is gone. The people at the head of the dessert line will get all the topping.

For the cobbler, I use 2 or 3 (14-inch) Dutch ovens to serve apple crisp to 150 campers. A 14-inch regular oven holds 8 quarts full to the brim. A good working volume is about 2/3 of the oven capacity, or about 5-1/3 quarts of product. Divide that by 1/2-cup into 5-1/3 quarts and you get about 42 servings per 14-inch regular oven. I round to 40. My recipe (below) uses three 14-inch ovens to feed 100 campers.

You can get 50 servings if you push the volume to 6 quarts. Just make sure you leave enough head room for the crisp topping to brown. But remember, to get 50 (1/2-cup) servings per 14-inch oven, you need about 6-1/2 quarts crisp/cobbler in each oven. And don't forget my caution about the filling to topping ratio above.


Dutch oven instructions are located in the notes.

3 (#10) cans sliced apple
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2-3/4 pounds sugar
8 ounces cornstarch
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon salt

3 pounds brown sugar
1-1/4 pound rolled oats
1-1/4 pounds all-purpose flour
1-2/3 teaspoons baking powder
1-3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon salt
2 pounds butter, softened

Arrange 4-1/2 quarts apples in each greased 18x26-inch sheet pan. Sprinkle juice and zest over apples. Combine granulated sugar, starch, cinnamon and salt; sprinkle half over apples in each pan.

Combine brown sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and butter or margarine; blend to form a crumbly mixture. Sprinkle an equal quantity of the mixture evenly over apples in each pan.

Using a convection oven, bake at 350 deg F for 30 minutes or until top is bubbling and lightly browned on low fan, open vent. Cut each pan 6 by 9. Serve with serving spoon or spatula.

Yield: 2 sheet pans

Serving ideas: Serve 1 piece or approx 1/2-cup per portion. Acceptability is approx. 100 percent.
NOTES: Use 3 #10 cans sliced apples per 100 portions. Use two 18x26-inch sheet pans per 100 portions. Three lemons will yield 1/2-cup juice. Two pounds flour (total) may be used in place of rolled oats.

For 14-inch Dutch oven, use 1 #10 can of canned apples and a 1/3 the remaining ingredients per oven. This will yield approx 33 (1/2-cup) servings per oven.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Barbecued beef shepherd's pie in 14-inch Dutch oven

Crossing Mother Lode Drive at
Mile Post 136.8.
Last Friday, the El Dorado Western Railroad maintenance-of-way crew crossed Mother Lode Drive in Shingle Springs, California, to clear culverts and cut brush along a one-mile section of of the former Southern Pacific rail line. The crew also begin repair of a major washout. The goal is to prevent further washouts on the right-of-way and adjacent trail by ensuring proper drainage.

Since I haven't cooked for the railroad in nearly two years, the crew boss and thought this would be the perfect opportunity to treat the hard-working crew to a Dutch oven lunch. With plenty of room to safely fire charcoal briquettes, I set up my kitchen on the tracks. The first charcoal chimney was fired around 9:30 a.m. The crew enjoyed lunch three hours later.

I wanted to change the lunch entree for this cook date. Over the past 10 years, I have often prepared some form of chili con carne for the railroad crew. For over a week I had been working on a Dutch oven version of shepherd's pie. Instead of a traditional shepherd's pie with lamb, shredded beef chuck road, braised in beer and barbecue sauce formed the protein base. Since the biscuits, cobbler and coffee are crew favorites, I left them on the menu. The menu consisted of:
  • Barbecued beef shepherd's pie in 14-inch camp oven
  • Cream coleslaw
  • Buttermilk biscuits in a 14-inch camp oven
  • Mixed berry cobbler in a 12-inch camp oven
  • Railroad coffee

We let the rail cars pass first as they were going to be working the area behind the camera. I set up my firepan and chuckbox between the rails to keep a safe distance from the brush.We don't cook with charcoal on the right-of-way in the summer months due to the fire danger.
The first thing I did was to bake buttermilk biscuits. To ease preparation on site, I weighed the dry ingredients and cut in the shortening at home on Thursday. The biscuit mix was stored in the refrigerator to keep the shortening cold. I added the buttermilk and cut large biscuits (3-1/2-inch diameter) once on the railroad.
    With the biscuits on heat, I turned to the coleslaw, berry cobbler and shepherd's pie, in order. To prepare the meat for the shepherd's pie, I braised a 3-1/2-pound chuck roast in beer and barbecue sauce on Thursday. After cutting the roast into large pieces, I seared them in bacon fat in a cast iron skillet. The braising liquid consisted of 1-1/2 cups IPA beer, 1-1/2 cups barbecue sauce, 1/4 cup chopped parsley, 2 bay leaves and 1 teaspoon dried thyme. The braising liquid was poured over the meat in the skillet. After covering with aluminum foil, it was placed in a 300-degree oven for about 5 hours. Once the meat tender enough to pull, I placed it in a zipper lock bag and in the refrigerator. The braising liquid was strained and placed in the refrigerator as well.
    As the biscuits were baking in a 14-inch camp oven, I cooked 5 pounds red potatoes in the stockpot. Once mashed, the potatoes would be used as the topping for the shepherd's pie.
    To prepare the shepherd's pie, I shredded the chuck roast by hand and placed it in the 14-inch camp oven (see picture above with the peas). I then skimmed the fat off of the braising liquid and poured it over the pulled meat, along with 8 ounces frozen peas. Next a thick layer of mashed potatoes was spooned oven the meat and peas. I baked the pie with coals for around 375 degrees until crisp potato peaks had formed and the sauce was buddling, about 45 minutes. I used 1-1/2 rings of charcoal on the lid and 8 coals under the pot.
    The finished meal. Lunch was served to 8 crew members around 12:30. I was able to send cobbler, biscuits and shepherd's pie home with several crew members. We could've easily fed 12 to 15 with the 3 pots.

    Tuesday, October 20, 2015

    Pasta salad with golden cherry tomatoes & fresh mozzarella

    Pasta salad with golden cherry tomatoes and fresh mozzarella twice graced our table during our recent camping trip to Upper Blue Lake in Eldorado National Forest. Early Friday morning, my sister and husband left camp to pick up his aunt. Shortly after their departure, his nephew and wife arrived for the weekend.

    With three additional campers, we though a simple buffet lunch would be in order. The menu (pictured above) included a cheese and salami board, pasta salad, salsa ranchera with tortilla chips and clam dip with potato chips. The salsa and clam dip were prepared at home for the trip.

    The seven campers only ate around half of the pasta salad. The prospect of taking leftovers home concerned me until I heard the five families in the campground had planned a potluck dinner that evening. I quickly threw the pasta salad in as our contribution, along with my secret barbecue sauce and leftover salsa.

    My sister contributed campfire roasted tri-tip. Our neighboring campers contributed cowboy sushi roll, fresh abalone, fresh canteloupe and a big tossed salad, plus a few miscellaneous items. Some 20 campers devoured the food.

    I mixed the ingredients for the pasta salad in my 10-inch Griswold cast iron skillet. To expedite preparation in camp, the pasta was precooked at home. I also pre-prepared the sherry vinaigrette with sherry vinegar, Dijon mustard, garlic, dried basil, salt, pepper and olive oil. 
    Dishes like the pasta salad are often thrown together on the fly. You can substitute red cherry tomatoes or dice fresh tomatoes for the golden tomatoes in the recipe. If desired, add 8 to 12 ounces diced cooked chicken or cuded salami to the salad.

    You my want to cut this recipe in half for a smaller family.

    12 ounces penne regate
    1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
    2 tablespoons fresh sliced basil
    1/4 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
    1 (8 ounce) container fresh mozzarella cheese, drained and sliced in half
    1 (10-1/2-ounce) container golden cherry tomatoes. sliced in half
    1 (4-ounce) jar capers, drained and rinsed (optional)
    3/4 to 1 cup vinaigrette or Italian salad dressing
    Salt and ground black pepper, to taste.

    AT HOME: Cook pasta according to package instructions. Cool under cold running water. Drain and place inside a 1-gallon zipper-lock bag. Prepare or purchase your favorite vinaigrette or Italian dressing. Store in refrigerator until you are ready to pack for the trip.

    IN CAMP: Slice the green onions, parsley and basil. Place inside a large bowl. Drain mozzarella cheese. Slice each cheese ball in half. Slice tomatoes in half. Place cheese and tomatoes in bowl with the herbs. Drain and rinse capers. Place in bowl.

    Lightly toss pasta, herbs, tomatoes, cheese and capers with the salad dressing. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover. Place in cooler until needed for the meal. Serves 8 to 10.

    Tuesday, October 13, 2015

    Navy bean soup at Upper Blue Lake

    Last month I prepared Navy bean soup for my sister and her husband at Upper Blue Lake in Eldorado National Forest. This was the fifth year that Debbie and I joined them at the lake. They camped at the lake several years before us.

    In the weeks leading up to the trip, my sister and I coordinate the menu. We split the dinners and breakfasts. Each family is left to its own devises for lunch. I usually pack too much food. My original thought was to prepare Navy bean soup for lunch. The planned meal (sauteed chicken breast with cilantro cream sauce) remained in the cooler.

    Since we snacked that day, I suspended a 10-inch Dutch oven over the fire at noon and began the soup. This not the first time I have cooked soup at the lake. In 2011, I prepared split pea soup for our mother, who was camping with us. You can view the recipe and the story behind the recipe.

    To begin the soup, I set the Dutch oven over the cooking fire. After it pre-heated, 6 ounces diced salt pork was rendered in the pot. One diced carrot and 1 diced onion went into the pot next. The vegetables and salt pork were stirred every couple minutes until lightly caramelized.
    One pound small white beans were added to the pot along with 6 cups cold water. The beans were seasoned with bay leaves, granulated garlic, coarse ground black pepper and cayenne pepper. I added 2 additional cups of water after the beans had cooked three hours. I spent most of the afternoon reading and tending the fire.
    Around 4 o'clock, I hiked up the mountain to this grove of Lodgepole pine trees. The is situated on a shelf on southern slope of The Nipple, a peak that overlooks Upper Blue Lake. During the hike, I left the soup over a small cooking fire. I added water to the beans and recharged the fire upon my return, about 45 minutes later.
    The pot of soup was suspended over the fire from on a tripod. I left the lid on the pot to aid in cooking the beans. Given the altitude of 8,100 feet above sea level, it took just over 6 hours to soften the beans to the consistence of soup. The soup was ready to serve around 6 p.m. The convertible fire iron set was built by Campmaster of Mesa, Arizona, in the early 1990s. The iron set can be set up as a bipod or trip pod.

    Wednesday, October 07, 2015

    Spicy Dutch oven breakfast strata

    Classic breakfast strata consists of cubed or torn bread, layered with shredded cheeses and bound together with whisked eggs. Meat and vegetables are optional. The mountain man breakfast is a common Dutch oven strata in camp. 

    My first thought was to replicate a breakfast strata that we prepared for Mercy Chefs last week in Middletown, California. (I deployed with Mercy Chefs to Middletown to provide quality meals for victims of the Valley Fire.) I was going to layer scratch buttermilk biscuits, sausage, cheese and eggs into the 10-inch Dutch oven and bake for dinner.

    Then I though why not use the beef taquitos from the freezer as the base? So, a layer of taquitos fit in the bottom of the Dutch oven. After spooning my salsa rachera over the taquitos, a mixture of crumbled chorizo with green chiles and onion went over the top. Ten eggs with cheddar and jack cheeses made up the final layer. After baking with charcoal for 35 minutes, we are ready to eat.

    Cut the taquitos to fit into the Dutch oven. I began by arranging them in the fashion of a wheel spoke, but quickly realized the taquitos would blend into the final dish. Settle on complete coverage, not presentation in this case.
    Mixing the eggs and cheese together gives you the best distribution of the cheese. Don't worry when the chorizo mixture rises to the surface. It's all good!
    Let the cooked strata rest for about 10 minutes. Resting allows the proteins and starches to set, making the strata more stable before you cut into it. 

    You will need to cut the taquitos to fit in the Dutch oven. Arrange them as desired as they will blend into finished dish.

    10-12 frozen beef taquitos
    1/2 cup salsa
    1 tablespoon vegetable oil
    1/2 cup diced onion
    1 (4-ounce) can diced green chiles
    6 ounces pork chorizo, casing removed
    10 large eggs
    1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
    1/2 cup shredded Monterrey jack cheese
    1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

    Lightly oil (or coat with pan spray) a 10-inch Dutch oven. Arrange beef taquitos in the shape of a wheel spoke. Evenly spoon salsa over the taquitos.

    Heat oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté onions and chilies until soft, 2 to 3 minutes. Add chorizo and cook, crumbling with a spoon, until browned. Drain off excess fat.

    Meanwhile, crack eggs into a bowl. Add cheddar and jack cheeses and season with salt and pepper. Whisk eggs and cheeses until blended. Evenly pour egg and cheese mixture over taquitos. Place lid on oven.

    Bake with coals for 350 degrees until puffed and golden, about 30 to 35 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. To serve, cut into 8 pieces. If desired, serve with your favorite hot pepper sauce or salsa and sour cream on the side.