Kitchen Invasion, Part Three–The Storage Wars

This is how the Kitchen always Wins

The shelf under my baking bench was meant for baking equipment, but guess again. Three cast iron pots and a brass/ceramic beauty walked in and said–out of the way, jokers.

So we now have three Dutch ovens and a French/ American double boiler ruling the shelf. One Dutch oven is an eight quart Lodge model, and as heavy as a sea anchor. The other is a Franken Oven, made of a Dutch oven bottom and a skillet lid top. An old Creuset enameled Dutch oven hides in the back. The best, however, is the double boiler.

The Bazar Francais double boiler is a gem, with a French made copper body and a lining from Hall Pottery in the USA. I had a brain infarction, and decided today this would be perfect for keeping mulled wine hot during Xmas.

Wait, there’s still wall space.

Yes!

What, actual baking equipment? These dudes are serious. The cherry French style pin was made in Kentuck, and the bad mother Dogwood one made in my basement, though everyone thinks it is Walnut. I know Walnut, and this is no Walnut.

A fifty/fifty split. The pins are used more often than the interlopers. But I can’t get that mulled wine off of my mind.

Boeuf Maison

Winter in the Southern Appalachians

Though the Appalachians extend all the way up to the northern sections of Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada. and actually into the French territory of St. Pierre, off the Canadian coast, we are already seeing signs of spring down here on the distant southern end. High temperatures are in the sixties and seventies, and the wild blueberries are blooming along our riverfront. It’s time for some outdoor cooking.

Perhaps in honor of the French end of our mountains, I gave this dish the somewhat ridiculous name of Boeuf Maison, which is best translated as “Home Cooked Beef.” It is better when cooked outdoors. It is also ludicrously simple, which is why I gave it a fancy French name, to make it sound difficult.

Ingredients

Lard

Beef Roast (I always get local grass fed, when available), marinated in Salt and red Wine

Onion, chopped

28 ounces of whole canned Tomatoes (If I don’t have home canned, I use Cento Tomatoes from Italia)

Seasoning–Salt, Thyme, Oregano

That’s it. Here’s a perfect example of when the quality of ingredients and the cooking method make all the difference. It helps to have a really heavy Lodge camp dutch oven as well. The first step is probably the most important. PETA members, stop reading at this point. If you want to find some people who make PETA look rational, check out the website of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). They liberate things like pet bunnies.

Roasting Hot

The sear is the most important thing for me. I have a hot fire of hardwood and hardwood charcoal, and put the dutch oven directly above it. Add some home rendered lard, and sear away. Be brave with the brown of the sear.

Now We’re Cooking

Sear both sides of the roast nicely, and add the rough chopped onions. Rough chopped is fine, as this sauce will be strained after the dish is finished. When the onions begin to soften, add the marinade, and the tomatoes, and then the seasoning. Time for it to cook low and slow, for two or three hours.

Anticipation

Move the pot to a cooler spot in the fire, if cooking outdoors, or the lowest heat on a stove top. When the meat is completely tender, strain the sauce and nosh away. Mashed potatoes are the perfect sauce soaker.

On a serious note, and I am rarely serious, this fire pit survived the super tornado outbreak of 2011, though it was mashed completely down into the ground by a giant pine tree that fell and smashed into it. A larger pine tree was blown onto our house, and I cut it off using a German crosscut log saw. I lost a half of one roof shingle; 238 people in Alabama died, most in Tuscaloosa, the home of one of my Alma Maters.

Lodge Commemorative and Wildlife Pieces

More Cast Iron

A trip to the Lodge Factory Store in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, is a dangerous thing, if you have more cast iron cookware than every other kind combined. My wife Melanie Jane and I went there in December with the purpose of buying Christmas presents for her family, and we came back with seven pieces of cookware, and only four of those were presents.

Pictured is a commemorative skillet for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in Tennessee and North Carolina. It’s the most biodiverse park in the country, and the most biodiverse temperate area on the planet. It’s also surrounded by some of the worst tourist traps in the world.

We bought as presents some of the Wildlife Series skillets, which had Mallards on the back of them, some real cast iron ducks at that. The link will take you to a complete set of the most useful pieces.

I once ran into the top Lodge marketers, at of all places, Salt Lake City in Utah, at an outdoor trade show. In amongst all the ultra light weight camping equipment was a display of cast iron which probably came in at about a ton. I had to check out the Dutch ovens and skillets, which made up most of the display.

I identified myself as being a fellow Southerner, and asked them what the hell they were doing with all this cast iron at a high tech outdoor show. They laughed, and waited until every Western looking person was gone, and one of them said very quietly, “Half the people out here still think they’re cowboys, and have to have our skillets and Dutch ovens. It’s one of our biggest markets.” The new Lodge cast iron care brochure is in nine languages, by the way.

What did I buy in December? My fourth Dutch oven, and I have only had to chase cows on foot.

Lard Help Us, Part Three–Rendering Lard

Liquid Gold

We must have been particularly good last year, as we received $125 of gift cards for Christmas to our two best local meat producers, and then a real kicker, a giant cooler full of meat from cows and pigs grown by my brother and sister in law. We probably have about a six month supply of meats.

The first to go were some pork chops, which were the finest I’ve eaten since childhood. I made two into schnitzels (take that, Deutschland), and the other two are now marry-nating. And that was one fat hog, so I trimmed the chops and rendered down some lard from the fat.

Low and Slow

The key to proper rendering is to melt the fat at the lowest possible temperature, so I set my 6000 BTU burner at its bottom level. The lard is rendered when the fat turns into rinds, and stops sizzling.

A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever

After a night in the fridge, the lard congeals and is ready to use. Never make any beef dish without it, and never buy commercially produced lard, if possible.

Beef Stew Al Fresco

Is Al Fresco related to Al Pacino?

This is nothing but a simple beef stew, but it was cooked in a cast iron camping Dutch Oven over an open fire, which always makes everything taste better. I will disclose the small wrinkles which add layers and layers to the dish. First, marry-nate some cubed up chuck roast, in red wine, salt, and pepper. I left mine in the fridge overnight, and then browned it in some home rendered lard, over some blazing heat.

The One Spoon

It helped that I had the One Spoon to cook with, which I got from a small fellow with furry feet. He told me it was the one spoon to rule them all, and in the darkness bind them. Actually, I made that monstrosity out of some Carolina Buckthorn, a weed tree if there ever was one. It’s almost as long as my Amish made fireplace poker. It does keep your hands away from the fire.

Deglaze

I threw in a whole chopped onion, cooked it, and deglazed the whole thing with some apple wine that was mysteriously sitting next to my fire pit, and the red wine marinade. Who would have guessed?

Milled Tomatoes

The next step is to add milled tomatoes, and cook for an hour or two. Throw a lid on that thing, to conserve heat.

This is Merely Medium Sized

I’ve always thought of Dutch Ovens as something like primitive pressure cookers, because it takes some serious steam to leak through that massive lid. The last ingredients are salt, pepper, carrots, and naturally, taters, precious.

Ready to Stew

It would take another good hour to finish this, so I just went back to work on my great American novel, which is closing to a finish. If only it was as good as this stew turned out to be.

Soft Scrambled Eggs

A DIY Scrambled Egg Kit

Seriously, a post about how to scramble eggs? I would have thought the same thing a few years ago, before the great English food writer Elizabeth David caught my eye. Jane Grigson, an equally talented writer, gave me my first account of David, in what has become one of my all time favorite books, published under various titles, but now sold as Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery. There, Grigson discusses several of David’s recipes from her book French Country Cooking. I immediately bought a three books in one collection of her work, published by the appropriately named Biscuit Books. I now own four of her books, each better than the last.

David hated overly complex and pretentious food, and instead focused on the real thing, such as perfectly scrambled eggs. Her method is superb, taken from a French country cook. The secret is to cook the eggs at the lowest temperature possible, which is something of an antithesis to the more common get your stove as hot as a flamethrower approach. Here’s my paraphrase. This is a two person version.

Ingredients

2 Eggs, Beaten

Salt and Pepper

Heat up a skillet coated with olive oil–I like these Lodge carbon steel ones. Turn the stove down to minimum temp, and let the skillet cool off for a bit. Then pour in the seasoned eggs, and do nothing. Wait until the egg begins to set, and s-l-o-w-l-y stir the eggs with a fork. I always prefer wood utensils, so I made my own.

The eggs should cook slowly, so it is much simpler to serve it at the soft, creamy stage that is the goal of using this method. After a couple of tries, cooking this way will become second nature. It doesn’t hurt any to begin with quality pasture raised eggs, either.

Morel Omelette

Breakfast is Served

I may be the only person in North America who puts dried mushrooms on my Christmas list every year. First on the list are Morels, as they are something of an extravagance, and are five times more expensive than dried Porcini mushrooms.

I always get Morels from the Left Coast, from Pistol River Mushrooms in Oregon, and the quality is always superb. My two favorite Morel dishes are Turkey Breasts in Morel Cream Sauce, and this Morel Omelette. As it was a holiday this July 4th, why not go for the gold?

Ingredients

2-3 large Morels, rehydrated and chopped

Morel Water

1 sweet Pepper, chopped

3 Scallions, chopped

3 Eggs

1/4 cup diced Ham

1/2 cup shredded Cheddar Cheese

Parsley

Salt and Pepper

Diced tomatoes are also great in this, but I forgot to add them. Begin by cooking the pepper and the white part of the chopped scallion in olive oil. Then add the morels. In the meantime, mix the rest of the ingredients together, including the green parts of the scallion. When the veg is cooked, pour in the egg mixture, and have a 400 degree F oven ready. No omelette folding or flipping here.

After the egg mixture has started to set up, throw the whole thing in the oven. Have a cup of coffee and chicory, and listen to Beethoven or Wagner. Then take it out when it’s firm, and serve a couple of people with this. An English muffin goes well with it.

I never use all of the Morel water, as it is always full of grit from the wild harvested fungi. I should start using the method described by Marcella Hazan in the priceless Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. There she describes how Italians will filter dirty mushroom soaking water through paper towels or a fine strainer, and save it for soups and stocks. Now that’s what you call a food culture.

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.

Fire Pit/Outdoor Hearth

Dutch oven and “Camp” Dutch oven in the Outdoor Hearth Hybrid

This mammoth version of a fire pit actually doubles as an outside hearth, which can be used like a similar arrangement in many colonial kitchens. The key to the set up is the crane from which that dutch oven is hanging.

A Multi-tasking Fire Pit

The crane, like those in colonial kitchen open hearth fireplaces, makes all the difference. The cook can’t immediately control the temperature of a wood fire, but they can control the amount of heat that reaches a pot, by swinging it from side to side, or raising and lowering it up and down via an s-hook. Additionally, the rebar grid at the bottom allows the cook to sit a dutch oven directly over the fire, as in the first photo.

The Holes Drilled in the Bottom are Not Visible

So there are at least three ways to cook here–on the fire, close to the fire, or swinging in the air. And if you just want to use it as a fire pit, the crane is on a hinge, and can swing completely behind the pit.

This was made from an old industrial grade propane tank, so it is recycled as well. An oak fell on it once, and I mean a big one, and it knocked the pit into the ground up to the top of the legs. The only damage was to bend the crane support slightly. We pulled it out of the ground, moved it, and I twisted the support slightly around, and put it back to work. Now that’s rustic.

Brick Oven Tools–Pizza Peels

Traditional Peel–Sort Of

Pizza peels are handy things, if you want to keep the hair from being burned off your arms. The one above is the traditional wooden variety. It was too short, so I added a handle made from a broken hickory axe handle, making this possibly the sturdiest peel in the world.

Metal Peel

These aluminum peels are popular in the pizza industry, and they are light, thin, and durable. Not as long as my wooden one, but can live outside at the brick oven. Note the straight, not curved, front, which makes it easier to scoop up a pie.

Round Peel

These little round peels are surprisingly useful. I use mine to move pizzas around inside the brick oven, though a welding glove is a good idea if you go that route.

Peels are also good inside the house, especially if you have a pizza brick of some kind. I use one of those giant Lodge cast iron pizza pans as a hearth, and turn up my oven as far as I dare. Wait a few minutes for it to reach temperature, then use a peel to throw a pizza on it. The results are surprisingly good. And, of course, bakers use these for sourdough loaves, and other concoctions.