Thursday, January 28, 2016

Five Years After

I was surprised when I realized that it has been over 5 years since I had posted to this blog. That's a lot of pizza, paella, bread and tapas under the bridge, so to speak. We have been cooking a lot more Spanish cuisine in the last year, looking forward to a trip to Spain where our hosts have a bread oven!  Here is a photo of Larry doing a little winter baking from last year. Hopefully, it won't be 6 years before I post again.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Winter Baking

We have been doing some winter baking, but no blogging! Today the weather is sunny, if cold -  18 degrees F now at 11:30. Larry has the fire going really well, with a good bed of coals. We're firing with oak today from a load of 2 cords that we bought before Christmas. Most of our other wood this year we have got for "free" - meaning we just have to work like heck for it. Even this purchased load comes with a lot of work - the chunks are so long and so big around. Larry splits nearly all of it - I can't make a dent in these big chunks! 

Today's breads are: baguettes, olive rosemary focaccia and whole wheat boules. It's my most ambitious baking day yet, but the young'un is out of town for the day, we got an early start and nothing else to do but please ourselves and take care of the cat. Ahhhh! 

Above picutres are: the hearth in winter; a sponge that I started for the baguettes; the rosemary olive focaccia dough before its first rise.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Cookbooks & Recipes

We've cooked a lot more than bread in the bread oven.
The following are cookbooks and their recipes that have worked well for us.

La Tivola Italiana by Tom Maresca and Diane Darrow
Pizza Dough

Baking with the St. Paul Bread Club
Pane di Como
Summit Beer Brown-Again Bread
Honey Whole Grain Bread
Whole Wheat Bread
Finnish Cardamom Braided Bread

Roasting, a simple art by Barbara Kafka
Sea Bass with Fennel
Simple Roast Turkey
Simplest Roast Chicken
Pork Tenderloin

Joy of Cooking
Chicken breasts in Becker chicken marinade
French Bread
Pumpkin Pie (using a pumpkin baked whole in the bread oven)

Caroline Conran's Under the Sun: French Country Cooking
Tomato, Onion and Potato Gratin with Thyme and Juniper

The Cook's Encyclopedia of Four-Ingredient Cooking

We've also cooked a pumpkin (whole); lots of different variations of vegetables in olive oil and herbs; pea soup; beef burgandy. It's all fun; all delicious. Haven't burned anything yet!

St. Paul Bread Club

Barbara Kafka


Thanksgiving. What a wonderful word; what a wonderful day. We have so much to be thankful for - all the blessings that God gives us out of his abundant love: our home, our family, the dignity of meaningful work, our glorious earth.

We cooked two turkeys (9 and 10 lbs) in the bread oven instead of one large bird. It was a brilliant idea - 4 turkey legs to chomp on instead of two! We were hosting nine people for our feast and a larger bird wouldn't fit in the 9" tall door. We had cooked in the oven last weekend (Friday: roast pork tenderloin; Saturday: 2 batches of bread- french baguette, Summit Beer Brown-again bread; Sunday: roasted sea bass with fennel) Most of our roasting is inspired by a book from Barbara Kafka. She is my roasting guru. The roasting method is simple and obviously fool-proof: 500 degrees and an hour for a whole roast chicken. Our turkeys took 1- 1/2 hours at 500 degrees.

On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we fired up the oven to over 400 degrees. That fire burned for about 5 hours. The next morning, we fired it up again before church and by 1:30 it was at 540 degrees. When we started the fire the day before, the temperature was just under 100 degrees. That was all residual heat from three days prior. The weather has been rather warm for a Minnesota November, with temps in the 20s and 30s at night, but we were still awed by the level of heat our oven maintains for days!

Larry put the birds in at 2:00 for a 4:00 dinner time. They were in separate roasting pans - uncovered. And, yes, they did have stuffing in them, despite all the health warnings. In the indoors woodstove, we had a pot of Indian pudding bubbling away for 4 hours. We tried to cook two pumpkin pies in the bread oven first thing Thursday morning, but transferred them to the indoors gas oven when it appeared that the crust was melting, not baking! (the temperature was too low - before we lit a new fire Thursday morning, the oven was at 300 degrees - too cool for pies)

Alas, we have no pictures of our turkeys - you can imagine how hectic it was in the final moments before we gathered at table - two turkeys to carve, the potatoes to mash, the gravy to make (and defend!), drinks to be refilled, never mind the green beans, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry relish and chutney, whew! Elizabeth, Madeleine and Chad were here as was my mom (the cement worker - see first post); my sister, Phyllis and her boyfriend Ed, his lovely daughter, Ann. One person missing was our dear friend Bernard who is with his family again in Kenya. We miss you! After dinner we played games; Boggle and Taboo (love that buzzer!). Friends Letha, Scott and Emily stopped by to play games and sample some raspberry-infused wine from St. Croix vineyards. Thank God for 20-somethings with their amazing energy level! The 50-somethings were beat! And full and happy. And thankful.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Sourdough and focaccia on a Sunday night

On Sunday, we attached roofing felt and metal lathe on three sides and the roof to prepare for attaching the slate, stone and stucco to finish the outer oven cladding. So far, it has taken us two months - since Labor Day - to get to this point. Larry says this is the funnest thing he's ever built. I'm glad we get to build another oven at our property up north.

After working on the oven for a while, I was half tempted to NOT start a fire to prepare for baking bread (late in day, getting dark, blah, blah, blah). And then friend and neighbor, Sue, stopped over. She has just made the first two loaves from some new sourdough starter and wanted to know if our oven was going. So of course we started it up and told her it would be 2 hours to bake time.

I whipped up some focaccia dough (recipe from Cook's 4-Ingredient cookbook), but before we cooked the bread, we cooked some chicken breasts. They were FABULOUS! The oven was at about 500 degrees F, so I marinated them for less than an hour in Chicken Becker marinade from "The Joy of Cooking." I placed them (with some olive oil) in a large iron roasting pan and slid it in with the fire going and the door off. They sizzled and smelled wonderful and they were cooked in about 7 minutes. A simple salad and some whole wheat bread that I had made a couple days before completed the meal. After dinner, we cooked Sue's soudough (shown). It turned out great - maybe a shade too done.

Next day, the stove was at 315 dome and 285 sole, so we put a pork roast in for the day and went to work. The fire had been out for about 12 hours. The whole process (from splitting wood to eating) is SO much fun! It really makes me spend WAY more time outside than I usually do this time of year. And so I am a happier camper!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Time for Bread

After a few pizza parties, I was ready to bake some bread.
It was a rainy day, so we put up a tent. I baked pane de como, my favorite recipe from the book "Baking with the St. Paul Bread Club."
The thermocouples (oven dome and floor, or sole) read about 500 F.
The bread was perfect. It had great oven spring - I wished I'd slashed it even more.
I then put a cast iron pan into the oven with tomatoes and basil, olive oil, salt and pepper. We had wine, bread, tomatoes and herbs shared with 2 good friends - Italy in St. Paul! (in my imagination, since I've never been to Italy!)

Friday, October 3, 2008

More pizza!

Here are some more pizza party pictures. We had a second party but we were too busy cooking the pizza to take pictures. Here are some of our dear neighbors, helping us enjoy our new oven!


Monday, September 29, 2008

First pizza - heaven!!

We had our first pizza party Saturday night - what a blast! The food was great, but it was just so much fun having a group of people around the oven, listening to music, drinking wine, sharing the communal plate of pizza. We made pizza with basil pesto, with sun-dried tomato pesto, with Italian sausage, with roasted peppers, with onions and basil and with of course cheese! We stoked the oven for three hours, and then cooked for about another three. The pace was perfect - we cooked one pizza at a time, passed the slices around, raked the coals over the sole of the oven and when we were ready for another pizza, we cleared out the embers, pushed the fire into the back of the oven, swabbed off the firebrick and slid another one in. Can't wait 'til next weekend! Party pix will be posted as soon as I get them from Larry. And how about a round of applause for the man who makes ALL my dreams come true!

The photo shows the steel studs in place before the cladding goes on. We're putting stone in the front and stucco on the sides.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The chimney rises

This weekend, after many discussions about the shape and size of the arch (and an abandoned template or two!), the chimney throat was finished and the chimney flue went up. It was important to finalize our plans for the arch before the flue went in. The rest of the brickwork behind the chimney was cemented into place. Then the box was built around the oven in preparation for the cement pour today. We will clad the oven in about 3 - 5" of portland cement. We read somewhere about adding sand to this mix but we can't remember what kind of sand, how much or why. So a little research is in order before we really begin this pour today. (and before we go the Menard's!) Hopefully, at the end of the day, the cement is on and we will mortar the bricks into place for the outer arch. 

We lit a few small fires in the oven this week to dry the mortar out. Last night Larry, Elizabeth and I enjoyed sitting in the back yard with a fire glowing in the oven. It felt intimate and warm and magical. 

With luck and good weather (and God willing), we plan on cooking pizza next week!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

First Fire!

Last night we started our first fire. We'll be having fires from now on to dry out the mortar - but we must keep them small so we don't develop cracks. The first shot is one my mom took before we had our fire. It's a good view of the arch inside. Next: the 3" of concrete cladding, then the vermiculite. We still haven't decided on the exterior cladding, but we have a good sense of the chimney and facade structure.