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.

Optimus 11 Explorer–One of the Last of the Great Swedish made Multi-Fuel Stoves

Fire, Walk with Me

Sweden has also been overtaken by globalization, like everyone else, and the once mighty camp stove manufacturing centers have been reduced to one, the great Trangia company. Perhaps the saddest of all is the Optimus company, which manufactured some of the most sought after stoves on the internet. Even the most iconic Swedish stove, the SVEA 123, has had production outsourced.

Maybe I did over prime my Optimus 11 Explorer for dramatic effect, but that stove can take it. I’ve cooked literally hundreds of meals on this stove, and it is a hoss. Possibly even a boss hoss.

Old and New both get Happy

This is the stove before the conflagration. It has the classic Sherman tank of a Cobra silent burner, combined with a miraculously clever modern fuel storage system. No plastic pumps here–This one is almost all metal.

On means Ready to Cook

Strangely enough, the other side of the pump says “Off.” To turn off the stove, simply flip the bottle over. That system also allows all the gas in the fuel supply line to burn out, which means no spilling when the stove is disconnected from the fuel bottle, and packed for travel (The stand folds flat). And this stove is designed to cook, from simmer to blow torch.

The Classic Blue Flame

The stove burns kerosene as well as it burns white gas, and apparently is more than adequate at burning alcohol. It certainly puts out the heat, and is the hottest burning outdoor stove I have, other than my 30,000 BTU propane cooker, which will deep fry a twenty pound turkey–the difference being that the latter requires a giant tank of propane to do that. The 11 only needs that one small fuel bottle.

These stoves are somewhat scarce as they had a short production run, preceding the equally trailblazing Optimus Nova. One half-witted reviewer found the stove to have too many parts. If a writer can’t handle two main parts, a stand, a windscreen, and a regulating key, they shouldn’t be left alone with even a tent stake.

The review that sold me on buying this stove as soon as it was introduced, marveled at its bomb proof construction. It is also very simple to maintain and rebuild, after it has been scorched by a few hundred meals. The review concluded that this stove would be “a friend for life.” Those are always a good thing to have.

Optimus 45–The Boss of Kerosene Stoves

One Mean Cooking Machine

Being a gear head is better than being an alcoholic, in that the gear is still there after you finish playing with it. This Optimus 45 is technically my Christmas present, but Melanie Jane wanted me to test it out before it got boxed up until December 24 (yes, we are both of German extraction, and Christmas Eve is when the celebration really happens).

All I did to this ancient Swedish made device was lube the pump, and soak the burner in mineral spirits. No repairs necessary. And boom! It was burning in no time. And does it ever burn.

That’s just Priming

The stove is primed using alky-hol, but is powered with inexpensive kerosene. In many places, this was more of a household than a camping item. Elizabeth David, while she worked in Egypt in the 1950’s, had a Greek chef who did all of his cooking on two of the practically identical Primus versions of this stove. A great design is timeless. Strangely enough, this stove is engraved in English, Swedish, and Arabic.

Alas, these are no longer made in Sweden, but ebay has loads of them. This design is also popular throughout Asia, and near identical copies are manufactured in India and Malaysia. I am considering buying one of the silent burners for this made in India, but right now, I just love to hear this thing make noise. They don’t call the burner a roarer burner for no reason.

Mini Trangia Mash Up

Customize or Die

In my endless quest to be the greatest gear head in history, I created my own mini Trangia set. I bought the mini Trangia setup, and hated the little fiddly base that came with it. I bought a triangle base and a kettle, and hiddy hiddy ho, I have a fantastic three piece cook set, with stove. The new triangle base is even better than this old one.

And then it all packs up in this little package. Minimalists, read it and weep. If I get any more simple than this, expect to see me on an episode of Naked and Afraid. That would be your worst nightmare.

Brick Oven: Building and Maintaining a Fire

Fire Walk with Me–Twin Peaks

There actually is a process involved in building and maintaining a fire in a brick oven. Begin with completely dry soft wood, and then add hardwood if you want to build up a bed of hot coals. Here I start with yellow pine, and then go to a pine/oak mixture. We might as well start at the beginning.

More than Fahrenheit 451

Aristotle said a good plot had a beginning, a middle, and an end, in his Poetics; a good brick oven fire begins in the front, is pushed to middle, and then to the back. This is especially true for all applications involving cooking meat or pizza.

TV chefs will bring out something dramatic to light a fire, like a propane blow torch. I use two cardboard egg cartons and one match. The results are the same–fire.

All this with just One Match

Time for a break now that the fire has been pushed to the middle of the oven. This tool keeps me in firewood.

Sometimes Technology is Good

That’s a 24 volt electric chainsaw. I liked it so much I bought a 24 volt weed whacker, and a 60 volt lawnmower to go with it. I charge up the batteries with a solar generator, which is in turn charged by a single 100 watt solar panel. I’m inching toward sustainability, and did I mention the thirty percent tax credit on solar panels and batteries?

Mmmm. Vidalia Onions

Push the fire to the back, and sweep and mop for pizza. A pie with sliced Vidalia onions makes all the work worth it. And I get to play with matches, and a chainsaw.

Pizza

Green, White, and Red–It’s either an Italian Flag, or Pizza Margherita

The forecast for Sunday was for a high of only 93 degrees F, so I decided to build a 900 degree F fire, and cook a couple of pizzas. Why the hell not?

Speaking of Hell, Dante would have Loved this

Fortunately, I spent most of my time indoors, making the crust and sauce. I will do a step by step explanation of this process in a series of posts, but here’s an outline of what to do. I will also give an alternative cooking method, for those who do not have a bakery-sized brick oven. The following is for a Pizza Margherita, one of the originals, and still the best.

Ingredients

Dough for two Pizza Crusts–1 1/2 cups OO Italian Flour, salt, water, yeast

Pizza Sauce, preferably made with Italian or locally grown Tomatoes

Italian Mozzarella Cheese

Fresh Basil

The basil goes on after the pizza comes out of the oven. It probably wouldn’t look too sporty, otherwise, after a couple of minutes of this.

Out of the Saucepan, and into the Fire

Other than eating this, the best part is smelling the basil cook on top of the really really hot pizza, right out of the brick oven. Simple and complex–the heart of a good pizza.

Herr Orff, one of my German Professors at the University of Alabama, came to class one Monday, and said, “I had some of that food that you people eat every weekend. What do you call it? Pit-sa. It was very good.” That actually is the correct pronunciation of the word pizza-if you’re German. Good thing he didn’t eat one of these. He might never have gone back to Deutschland.