Here’s a bit of whimsy that I never see anyone else do, and yet…
[edited. edits in [brackets showing additions and
First: the simplest home-made playdough I know is 2 cups of flour, one cup of salt, and 1 1/4 cup of water. If you want a slightly more plastic dough replace part of the water with cooking oil. Separate and put a few drops of food color in each separation, mix, and play.
The following is NOT a severe digression.
Have you ever baked in a salt dome or using a clay pot? In both cases a few things happen that wind up giving you a significantly moister piece of meat – and veggies if you’ve gone that way.
A couple of things happen. In both cases you’ve reduced the enclosed baking size, so any evaporation becomes well contained. In the clay pot you’ve pre-soaked it and it’s actually steaming your meal as much as it’s baking the meal. In the salt dome the first bit of steam creates a sealed shell while also transferring a bit of salt to the enclosed meal, after which you get not only the steam effect but a little bit of increased pressure.
Wait. You do know what I mean by salt dome and clay pot, right? Oh, what the heck, let’s make an honest digression.
Salt dome cooking is most often done to fish. Create a 1/2 to 2/4 inch thick bed of salt – or salt and egg-white mixture if you’re wanting a bit more firmness – that’s a bit larger than your fish. Now pack more salt (or salt-egg white) around the fish so it’s enclosed by a casing. When you bake this, you go about 10-20% longer than you’d do in an open pan. [You also want your oven a bit hotter – up the temperature by 50 to 100 degrees over what you’d normally use.] Pull it out, crack open the now-solid dome, and remove the meat.
For clay pot baking you start with what looks like a ceramic dutch oven — or maybe a ceramic pie pan with a big dome. The ceramic is un-glazed. You soak the ceramic in water for 20-30 minutes before cooking. Pull it out, put your item to be baked/steamed inside, and close it up. Cooking time goes roughly 25-30% longer than you’d do “normally” [and just like the salt dome the temperature is 50 to 100 degrees hotter].
Now you probably see where I’m going with this, but to be pedantic – your home-made playdough is a blend between the two. It’s more malleable than the ceramic while being a LOT less of a mess than a true salt dome.
Lay out your bed – and as small as 1/4 inch is ok – and put your meat or veggie on it. Top and close. Oh – a bit of advise here. One or two dockings is recommended if you seal the top to the bottom. That is, use a fork once or twice to make vent holes. Trust me on this, ok?
For what it’s worth, I either make certain I’ve a good lip or mound in the bed OR before I actually cook whatever it is I turn it over. That way if the meat (usually) develops broth it stays with the meat, not my oven.
Now personally, I like to be a little, well, sneaky here – or maybe it’s frugal. I like to cook individual clays and serve them to guests. For one thing, the dish (contents, I mean) stay hot a lot longer. When they crack it open they get ALL the fresh-from-the-oven smell… mmmmm. Depending on what I serve and how I do it I might even be cutting heavily into my dishwashing time. I mean, a plate of fish and a plate of corn on the cob and a dish of half an acorn squash.
Oh, acorn squash. Yeah, I need to mention this to you. Now obviously you can put down a slightly thick but small bed. Halve and clean a squash and put a half into that bed, pressing in so it forms a foot. Put a tablespoon each of butter and honey plus a quarter teaspoon each of salt and pepper into the cavity. Form a lid liner by covering the hole and sliced area with a bit of tinfoil, then cover it all up with playdough. Bake at [
350 425] for … well, it gets tricky as the usual thing is “till tender”. Tell you what, go for 40 minutes.
But I also want to stop after “forms a foot”. Think for a minute of all the meals you make that are in a roundish container: acorn squash, stuffed peppers, tomatoes, and mushrooms… For that matter, consider getting sorta fancy and making an egg custard that you serve in egg shells you’ve trimmed to cups. Voila, a stand.
Wrap a roast, or some potatoes and onions, and bake. If you don’t use it all (and you might not), give it to the kid to play with. Everybody wins.