Tuscan Style Grill

A Work in Progress, but another Rustico Design

This is an idea that came about from my sudden interest in Tuscan outdoor cooking, where a fire is built on a hard surface, and then a grill is placed above. I thought, why not make it as flexible as possible? Also, I had a number of leftover bricks to do something with. So Rustico decided to make a multi level open hearth grill.

How Firm a Foundation

The foundation may not look like much, but that is one hundred pounds of concrete. The grill is behind my wood burning oven, and next to my rustic cabinet. No worries, there will be a brick wall between the fire and the cabinet.

Grill in Progress

Eventually the inside will be lined with slate, as soon as I find an adhesive that can take the heat. I’ll probably go with thinset mortar mixed with fireclay, and buy a couple of grates to go along with my Lodge ones. Then it’s off to a dream project–Stew Stoves like the ones in the kitchen at Monticello. Old school is the best school.

Barred Rock Chickens

Barred Rocks in the Chicken Fortress, with Oak Leaf Hydrangea and their Red Wheelbarrow

We chose Barred Rock chickens for our flock, as they are an heritage breed with a sterling reputation. All six have made it through their chicken childhood, and are now chicken teenagers. I will detail my crack brooder design in a later post.

Here’s a chick at about five or six weeks (They don’t come with a birth certificate). I put them out early as the weather was so nice.

Birds enjoying their Wheelbarrow

They grow fast, and Barred Rocks are well behaved for chickens, becoming almost like pets. One chicken, that we call Big Tail, falls asleep when you rub her back.

12 to 13 Week old Rocks

Raising chickens from tiny peeper chicks is a definite change from when I was a teenager, and our ten thousand fully grown chickens arrived on the back of flat bed trailers. These birds will destroy anything green that they can reach, and they love to eat Virginia Creeper. And before someone tells me that Hydrangea is poison to chickens, they won’t eat it, but they will pull the leaves off that they can reach. The one thing they won’t touch at all is Yaupon Holly, which was the source of the vomit inducing “black drink” concocted by native Americans. You’ll have to find your own recipe for that.

Taters, Precious

New Potatoes, Precious

We have bought new potatoes three weeks in a row at the Festhalle, our local Farmer’s market, and they really don’t resemble supermarket potatoes in taste, even expensive organic ones. So don’t cook them like supermarket potatoes. Those in the picture are regular Red and Yukon golds.

My favorite cooking method for these: frying. Shocking to hear that from a Southerner. Cut into small cubes is best. These are especially good in the classic Farmer’s Omelet.

Next in line is the classic boiled new potatoes, served in a giant pool of butter and salt. For god’s sake don’t peel these–cook them as is.

In another week or two, I may turn into Mr. Potato Head.

Steamed Sponge Cake with Fresh Berries and Cream

That’s a Spring Dessert

We have wild blueberries in the woods, and fresh strawberries at the Festhalle, our local farmer’s market. How about a spring dessert?

Just cut up the strawberries, and add some sugar. The blueberries don’t need anything but their own fine selves. Whip up some heavy cream and steam a sponge cake.

Ingredients for the Sponge Cake

2 organic Eggs

1/2 cup organic Sugar

Vanilla

Meyer Lemon Juice

1/2 cup Flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Separate the eggs, and turn the whites into a meringue with the sugar. I used our thirty year old Kitchen Aid, but a whisk will do as well. Add the yolks, vanilla, and lemon juice, beat for a minute or so, and then slowly fold in the flour and baking powder. Butter a baking dish, and get to steaming.

San Fran Wok with a Homemade Lid

I bought a USA made wok from the Wok Shop in San Fran, but made my own lid out of an old mixing bowl. The knob is dogwood that I turned on my lathe. The lid is exactly the right size. It accommodates a steaming rack and a cake pan.

Cake passing the Toothpick Test

The steamed cake has a wonderful texture and taste. It better, as it has all that juice to soak up. The last bite, which is nothing but cake mush and berry juice, is the best.

Wild Blueberries

The Caviar of Berries

The first wild blueberries are ripe here, which is the cause for some serious noshing (see the next post). These tiny buckshot sized berries have a mind blowing sharpness of taste.

Every other year I will spend an hour or so picking enough of these little devils to make one of my favorite sauces. Here it is: Wild Blueberry Sauce. Serve it on crepes or any pastry.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon Butter

1 cup of Wild Blueberries

2 tablespoons of Honey

Juice of 1 Key Lime

2 drinks of Brandy (One for the dish, one for the cook)

Cook the blueberries in the butter, and then add the other ingredients. More or less honey may be needed depending on the tartness of the berries. Lemon juice can be substituted for the limes, but I always use what I have (my wife grows Key Limes and Meyer Lemons). A crepe is really just a thin pancake, but once again, everything sounds better in French. You could use cognac instead of brandy, but they’re just different priced versions of the same thing.