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Iron (Oven) in the Fire

Delicious dutch

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Ruth Woods, a retired motorcycle cop, calls herself the "Iron Maiden." Cooking in Dutch ovens--heavy iron pots with tight-fitting lids placed over an open flame--is her passion, and she's hell-bent on getting others involved, so she started the Dutch Oven Grubbers (DOGS) of Garden Valley. She also organized the inaugural Sportsman's Challenge Dutch Oven Cook-Off at the Meridian Sportsman's Warehouse last month.

In the parking lot, Woods prepared jambalaya. She whipped up a dense, sweet beer bread using a bottle of Shock Top's Honeycrisp Apple Wheat. If pedestrians stopped in front of her pop-up tent, she enlisted them to help her make chile relleno.

"We're in a rut in our recipes," one couple said.

"Well, you won't be in a rut anymore," Woods replied. "But you might get fat."

Four teams spent the morning cooking their best for the competition, traveling from Nampa, Garden Valley, Weiser and American Falls.

One team recently took seventh place in the world championship for Dutch oven cooking. Another team, headed by Jim Watson, had never cooked in a Dutch oven before.

But Watson isn't new to cook-offs--he participated in 36 chili contests one year. He vividly remembers buying his worn black cowboy hat with a snakeskin band with the winnings from a chili cook-off in Nevada in 1994.

By mid-afternoon, each team presented its spread (one main course and one dessert) for the judges. When Woods asked me to judge, I had no problem saying yes.

Team One prepared a short-rib dish with red sauce and mushrooms, garnished with potatoes. The meat: perfectly cooked. The sauce: nothing extraordinary. The dessert: an immaculate blueberry lemon cake with icing.

Team Two came up with chicken slathered in barbecue sauce and an incredible apple pie with a sugary crunch to the crust. Team Three's baby back ribs could have used more seasoning. The pecan caramel apple pie was too sweet for a second bite.

As for Team Four, Watson filled his Dutch oven with--you guessed it--chili. Spectacular chili. The dessert, however, was a mushy peach dumpling.

Team Two won first place, but the group collectively decided to give the prize, a new Dutch oven, to Watson.