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Dutch oven

Cooking in a Dutch oven can be a year-round activity — and can make a special dinner a unique one.

Whenever the occasion arises, whether camping or in the backyard, I like to light the fire pit for an outdoor treat.

The weather has never been a factor — any time of year will do. My family agrees that a meal cooked over a campfire, grill or in a Dutch oven is simply irresistible.

For Valentine’s Day this year, skip the restaurant and make your own special dinner in your backyard. I like to prepare an Italian dinner, consisting of lasagna, green beans and garlic bread in the Dutch oven.

Looking for a romantic menu or just want out of the winter rut, there are several Dutch oven recipes to satisfy any craving, from pork chops, soup, enchiladas to salmon. Top off your special meal with a Dutch oven chocolate lava cake.

Don’t let the cold winter weather keep you away from your Dutch oven. With a few minor adjustments, your Dutch oven will conquer Old Man Winter.

Protect from the weather: Find a corner, covered porch, deep fire pit or build a shelter keeping the Dutch oven out of the direct wind and moisture. I found that an old rusty charcoal grill worked great, protecting the Dutch oven both from the snow and wind.

Start with a room temperature oven: Don’t take your Dutch oven outside until the coals are ready. Allowing the oven to chill to the outside weather will extend the cooking time and require more coals.

Add more coals: A typical Dutch oven recipe will suggest cooking at 350 degrees. I’ve found that adding two extra coals on the bottom and four on top of the lid will accommodate a cold outside temperature of 20 to 40 degrees. You can always add more coals on top. Be aware that adding too many coals below the Dutch oven may cause a burnt bottom layer.

Keep the lid tight: As we want our home windows and doors to be tightly shut to keep the cold out, having the Dutch oven lid closed tightly will keep in the heat.

Be patient: If you are like me, I’ve been salivating for hours in anticipation of a cast-iron delicacy. The food is in the oven, coals are placed, and now it seems to be an eternity before the food is done. Because your Dutch oven may be heating to a lower temperature in the winter, be prepared to allow for extended cooking time. My cakes, for example, may take an additional 15 minutes.

Do you love to cook outdoors, but don’t have a Dutch Oven? Cooking food over a campfire or grill is just as delicious. No boxed chocolates for this gal — a campfire roasted marshmallow with melted chocolate between two graham crackers will hit my taste buds.

Julia Plugge is an outdoor education specialist at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Contact her at julia.plugge@nebraska.gov.

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