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.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Day 6: Progress!

Well, the rain ended and we were able to lay a few more bricks for the front of the oven dome and the throat of the chimney. The outer stone hearth is now in position. Next, we finish the dome and start some small fires to dry everything out. 

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Day 6: Rain rain go away

Earlier today (while I was grocery shopping) Larry attached the stone hearth but now it is raining out and the oven is covered with a big blue tarp. Instead of working on the oven today, I'll make bread using an earthenware cloche, which is a bell-shaped contrivance that yields bread that is supposedly as close as you can get to wood-fired oven bread. The cloche certainly produces spectacular bread - I'll take pictures of that instead!

Day 5: Making the outer hearth

We bought a beautiful piece of rock yesterday - NY Bluestone. It is such a gorgeous hunk - I felt like we had a VIP in the back of the car when we driving around town! It will be used for the outer hearth. Before we could cement it in place, we needed to bring up the level of the front wall (on top of the cement blocks). We made a plywood form, attaching it to the block with some tap-cons, then poured concrete over some old bricks. We stuffed polyester stuffing (used for making toys) into the air space between the concrete block wall and the floating hearth slab. I used my new favorite thing - aluminum tape - on top of the stuffing and against the firebricks bricks to help release the form.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Day 4: Laying the hearth - the sole of the oven

Here are a couple views of the oven after Larry laid the firebricks in a bed of Heatstop (a sand and clay mixture). There is no mortar on the sides of the bricks that form the hearth. They are laid tightly together; they can be replaced if broken. The darker color red bricks are old St. Paul "capitol" pavers; they will used for the throat of the chimney and the outer arch. In the photos, you can see the plywood form for the arch. Larry was fitting the firebricks for the arch before mortaring them in place. After the first arch set up, he removed the form and positioned it to build the next arch row, and so on. After the oven dome is complete and the throat of the chimney is built, we'll be covering everything in Portland cement, so this is the last stage where we'll see the arch of firebrick from this angle.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Day 3: Pour the Hearth Slab

After building the walls on Saturday, Larry cut the 3/4" rebar that holds the hearth slab on top of the block walls. The hearth slab is poured so that there is an air space all around it to minimize the heat lost from the oven to the concrete blocks. The hearth slab is actually suspended above and between the block walls by the rebar. Usually, the longitudinal rods are the ones embedded into the block wall. We embedded the rods on the side walls, so that the weight was not supported primarily by the rebar rods over the front opening.

Larry then built a form for the insulating layer and the hearth slab. These are poured one after the other.

It all went like clockwork. This has been so much fun. And there's still a lot of work to do! I love working with Larry. He is intensely focused, but still a lot of fun to work with. This is our first oven - we plan on building more: one more on our property in northern Minnesota, but we'd love to build for other folks, too!

Day 2: Build the walls

On the second day, Sunday (after church, of course!), we built the walls that will form the support for the oven. This is an area that is used for wood storage as well. Some ovens are built with an ash slot so the ashes can be cleaned out of the oven without bringing them to the front of the oven. We decided against an ash slot and will use a metal can to collect them and them move them away from the oven. We have a small backyard and will be looking at the oven a lot. We didn't want to look at a trash can marring our pretty oven. We used ordinary 8" x 8" x 16" concrete blocks (with a few 8"x8"x8.") and mortar. Larry used the level throughout the building process to keep us level. We used leftover concrete (rubble) to core-fill the blocks. Two pieces of angle iron hold up the blocks above the wood storage opening. We did 2 thing differently then described by Alan Scott . We used one less row of block (His plans called for one row of 4" high blocks to make a 38" working height) We used 4 rounds of 8" block, figuring on making the final working height of the hearth around 36". That's the usual height for kitchen counters and it's a good height for gazing at a fire if we're sitting in our backyard.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Day 1: Pour the slab

  • We poured the concrete for the slab today. I floated it, not because it needed it, but because I'd never done it before. According to our plan, the exterior cladding of the oven should extend out to the edge of the slab.

The Oven is Begun

Earlier in the summer, we built a new fence in preparation for building our first wood-fired pizza oven. After that was finished, we dug the hole for the foundation slab and built the forms. We bought mixed concrete and poured the slab on Saturday, built the walls on Sunday and on Monday (Labor Day), we poured the insulating layer and the hearth slab. Look at my 84-year-old mom spread that cement! Way to go, Pat!

Our oven construction is based on the book, The Bread Builders, and also from a custom oven plan that I got when I took a 3-day course taught by Alan Scott at North House Folk School in Grand Marais.