Our big celebration for 2016 was a Family Reunion celebrating Grandpa Jim’s 80th birthday. Family members gathered in Island Park, Idaho, for a week of bonding time that included everything from kayaks to cupcakes, hot pots to hot tubs, and at least one late night game of The Great Dalmuti (This game has always been favorite with the cousins, and we play it every time we are together).
Our Sunday Evening family gathering featured a dutch oven dinner, along with a fireside chat with Grandma and Grandpa where everyone had an opportunity to tell a favorite story about Grandpa or ask him a question about his life. We recorded his responses so we’ll have them forever.
Other than its size, you may come to the conclusion that our family isn’t particularly unique, but we know that many families aren’t able to gather regularly, and don’t have the consistent opportunities to connect, reminisce, and create stories together. Grandma Joyce has always made it a priority to create these kinds of events. We are, quite literally, a Table for Fifty, and that’s part of what makes us a family.
For this dinner, we created a twist on the meal preparation that turned making the meal into an event. Part of the evening’s entertainment included a Dutch Oven Dessert Cook Off that we dubbed “The Cast Iron Chef” competition – intended to be a twist on the popular reality TV show, Iron Chef. Developed during the 1990s, Iron Chef featured chefs battling the clock and using a “secret ingredient” to create culinary masterpieces.
This competition was surprisingly easy to coordinate. All we had to do was provide some common dessert ingredients, 3 dutch ovens, and organize teams. The rest was purely impromptu, and the results were delicious enough to publish here as TableforFifty 5-star recipes. We were willing to accept the possibility of failure, but luckily, the results were mouth-watering. Here’s how it worked:
Cast Iron Chef Cookoff Ingredients
We started out by choosing 3 team captains–men from the family who are known to have at least some degree of cooking prowess: Dave, Jon, and Scott. All the rest of the men and boys in the family were randomly divided into three teams. Next, we laid out an assortment of dessert ingredients. We also provided what we considered to be some “basic” ingredients that anyone in the group could select from to use. These included, flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, eggs, vegetable oil, and salt. Tools for each team included a mixing bowl, a spoon, and a Dutch oven. One group managed to scavenge a cutting board and knife for chopping pecans. We also had a can opener and measuring cups and spoons on hand.
The real fun happened with the list of random ingredients:
Our list of options to choose from included the following, but you could substitute almost any dessert-related ingredients:
- Canned pie cherries
- Mini marshmallows
- Sour Cream
- Chocolate chips
- Brown sugar
- White baking chocolate
- Oreo cookies
- Yellow cake mix
- Toffee bits
- Salted caramel brownie mix
- Sweetened condensed milk
- Phyllo dough
- Slivered almonds
- Apple pie filling
- Cocoa powder
- Cream cheese
- Pudding mix
Cast Iron Chef Competition Rules
After teams were divided, each team took turns selecting one ingredient from the “random ingredients” table until all of the ingredients were gone. Think of it as the NBA Draft for dessert. We made up the rules as we went, so for this competition, we allowed bartering between groups, and although we divided up ALL of the dessert ingredients, the team was not required to use everything they selected. We also allowed each group to use one “secret ingredient,” which could be any ingredient they could provide that was not included in the basic stash. The main rule was that every member of the group had to participate somehow in the preparation of the final product, and women could be consulted for advice but could not assist. No advice was needed. The men had it under control.
Next came the planning stage…
Actual preparation time went fairly quickly once the ingredients were divided up. Many hands make light work.
Participation Points – Everyone Gets to Play!
Dessert in a Dutch oven: Preliminary Results:
There are a few secrets to dutch oven cooking, and fortunately, each of the teams was able to produce at least one member who had enough camping and Boy Scouting experience to know how many coals were needed, and how long to cook their concoctions.
Placing coals for dutch oven cooking can be an art form, and this photo was snapped before the coals were placed. Dutch oven purists would probably not use aluminum foil either, but this cook off was about having fun, not attaining perfection. The number of heated coals under and on the lid of the oven helps determine the cooking temperature. 350 degrees is a good temperature for most baking. A simple formula is to take the size of the Dutch oven and multiply by 2. For this 12″ oven, that meant we’d need 24 briquettes all together. About 2/3 of them go on top, (16) and the remainder underneath (8). While dessert baked, we enjoyed hearing stories about Grandpa’s life.
There was only problem that we didn’t anticipate. Everyone wanted to try all three desserts, not just pick their favorite. Fortunately, there was enough everyone could have a taste of each. We’ve posted the actual recipes as well. Click the links below. You may not have 80 years-worth of memories, a warm summer evening, and a roaring campfire to mix in for your event, so results may vary. We recommend that you give this fun family cookoff a try though, even if no one is turning 80. It just may become a tradition.
Find the full recipes here: