Outdoor Kitchen, Old School, Part Four–A Shrine to Italian Flour, and Pizza Dough

“00”” in Italy Means Extra Fine

Now that the brick oven just needs just needs some trim and a little more paint to be completed, we dedicated the prep end to Italian flour, in particular the style that Naples made famous. That’s a cover of a bag of extra fine Italian flour, that I framed and painted with homemade gold glitter paint, in true shrine fashion. I just happen to come from a county that has a convent, a monastery, and a huge shrine, which has its own television and radio networks.

At any rate, this flour makes the best pizza dough, and is required by the city of Naples if you want to call your pizza authentic.

Pizza Dough

1 1/2 cup Italian “00” Flour

3/4 cup Water

2 teaspoons Yeast

Olive Oil

I always cheat by leaving a little of the water out, and dissolving the yeast in it with a touch of sugar, after I have mixed up the dough (flour, water, and olive oil) with our Kitchenaid. The dough hydrates while the yeast is rising. Let rise, and this will make two large pizzas. For large quantities, I use one cup of flour per pizza.

Just last weekend I cooked five pizzas in less that an hour for a ravenous horde of folks. They would have been more impressed if I had had a portrait of Pope Francis back there, instead of a flour bag. Maybe I should email the Vatican about that.

Outdoor Kitchen, Old School–Part Three, Recycled Fire Pit

The words Fire Pit and Outdoor Kitchen have become such a cliche when put together that CNN had one of their homepage top ten lists, just on Fire Pits, last week. Strangely, they left off my heavy steel pit in favor of a bunch that were made from sheet metal. It could be that because you have to be related to the guy who makes these in order to get one–I am.

My best estimate is that this was made from the end of a 150 gallon propane tank, as they are usually 30″ in diameter, as this is. The handles and rim are made of rebar, and the legs and cooking crane are heavy steel bar and pipe. The crane works like a crane found in Colonial kitchens, so this is made to cook.

How tough is this thingie? A dead and quite large oak tree blew over in a storm, and made a direct hit on this pit. The impact was so hard that the tree mashed the pit into the ground to the top of the legs. After I cut the tree off, the only damage was that it bent the crane slightly, which had no impact on the performance of the pit.

Further evidence that it was designed to be a fire pit and a cooking machine:

Great Grate

The rebar grate can be used to stack logs on, or sit a pot on, or taken out so the things can be cleaned or used only as a fire pit. Likewise, the crane has a swivel hinge which means it can be moved completely out of the way. or even taken off altogether.

I did drill four holes in the bottom for drainage and to add a little air circulation. I will drill more eventually, but drilling through this steel just about destroys a drill bit. At least the thing isn’t full of water and mosquito larvae. This state was originally nicknamed “The Yellow State” because of the prevalence of malaria. A case of that will definitely ruin your meal.

Outdoor Kitchen, Part Two–Magnolias and Moonlight

An outdoor kitchen dedicated to the natural world and natural materials needs a specimen plant. My philosophy of the whole enterprise is go big or go home. That’s why I chose Big Leaf Magnolia for the role, the Latin name being Magnolia macrophylla.

With leaves up to 36 inches long, and flowers up to 14 inches wide, this is about as impressive a deciduous tree as there is. It will occasionally get as tall as 70 feet. The range is from DC to Texas, though there is a subspecies found in NE Mexico. The densest population of these trees is in Alabama and Mississippi.

This angle gives a better idea of the magnitude of the leaves. This is still a young tree that has not bloomed yet, and when it will is a known unknown. I can never resist a reference to Rummy Rumsfeld.

Outdoor Kitchen, Old School, Part One–A Brick Oven, and a Curtain of Green

Ms. Eudora Welty came up with the Curtain Line

No stainless steel grills here, just bricks, camp stoves, and the end of an old propane tank, made into a fire pit. Welcome to old school, part one.

Our primary fuel is wood, mostly dead fall from our 5.5 acres of forest. The brick oven can take a couple of logs at once. It makes one mean pizza, or two. I need to get back into baking big loaves of sourdough bread.

Twenty two years and a few more days later, I am ready to do the trim work on this multi ton beast. Here’s the side view.

Egg Tempera Paint

That’s homemade paint, that came out very well. The siding was made a few miles from here. I have to buy some wood for the trim. Now for the back, which will be the center, or workplace, for the rustic kitchen.

Hobo Kitchen

Four more fuels available here, which I will get into later. The camp stoves burn alcohol, kerosene, and white gas. The blackish paint is flour paint. The wood grill on the right is my riff on a Tuscan style outdoor grill. The whole thing is as rustic as can be. I might even finish it one day.

A Curtain of Green is a great book by Ms. Welty, and the title of an equally great short story. It’s what happens here in this part of the South in the spring–the forest becomes so thick that a person cannot see through it. A great metaphor is forever.

Optimus 45–Rehab and Refurb Time

Over Half Way to the Full Monty

Even a Sherman tank requires the occasional repair, and so does the Optimus 45 kerosene stove. Two legs fell off this stove, and I just started with some super glue, and then did the real work with some solder.

Then I over-pressurized it, and blew out some solder in the seam around the tank, and made a great kerosene geyser. I have that about 90% repaired, but still get to solder some more. Could this be an excuse to buy an actual soldering gun?

Last, my best brain infarction. The cast iron Tilley cooking ring came completely unfinished, and as a cast iron expert wanna-be, I immediately thought–bacon fat. Two trips to the oven and the iron is now bright black.

A few more minutes of soldering, and this dude is ready to cook.

Optimus 45 Retrofit–Tilley Cast Iron Burner Grate

Hippy New Year!

Knowing that I have a not wholly rational obsession with camping stoves, MJ gave me this little ring of cast iron for Christmas. It came from South Korea, so I assume it was made there, or possibly nearby. If we ever get a day where the high temp is below 60 F, I will crank it up with the following top:

Exterminate. Exterminate. Exterminate.

The ultimate hand warmer, or possibly an infant Dalek. Only Dr. Who nerds will get that reference.

Moocher’s Compost Bin

Mooched!

The mooching lifestyle is far more under appreciated in the US than it should be. A person could practically live off of discarded items, and I am certain that many people actually do. There’s no tax on throw aways, either.

I am only a part time moocher, but I have dumpster dived and mooched in numerous locales. I pulled a fancy desk chair out of a dumpster, worth several hundred dollars, and then spend my time at the computer sitting in an old post and rung oak chair, that I mooched for $5 at a flea market. My latest mooch could prove to be my best: a flat bed truck full of cinder blocks, and the wood pallets this compost bin are made of.

The story is this. We have been have been showering the in-laws with free eggs, and one couple had just had a retaining wall replaced, and needed to get rid of the left over and used cinder blocks, more commonly known in these parts as “see-mint blocks” (cement blocks.) As my mooching has become a valuable reputation enhancer, they offered us the blocks, and with free delivery. We countered with an offer of thirty eggs. It was a deal.

The sweetener was that the blocks are to used in the construction of a smokehouse, and we offered free use of that as well, once it is completed. The blocks arrived quickly after that offer. I helped unload them, and they had been sitting on two pine pallets on the truck. My brother in law asked if I wanted them. He didn’t know I been looking to mooch two wooden pallets as well.

Three deck screws later, and I had a new compost bin, attached to the back of the chicken run. It is now being filled with table scraps, leaves, and chicken manure in various states of decomposition. It will be half full in no time.

Free Fertilizer

Next spring we will have mooched fertilizer as well. Which reminds me that it is almost time to grab a shovel, and get to work.

I’ve Been Framed! No, the Brick Oven Has Been Framed.

Framed!

My wife MJ barely knew me at all, when I spent every summer in high school framing houses. That experience made me want to go to graduate school, and stay as far away from construction as possible.

Now I spend my time cooking and building things–and writing. After a dozen years or so, I am framing in my brick oven. It was stupidly simple.

Here’s the rear view.

Needs a Cleanup

Easy work, that. I do need to de-clutter all that stuff, but it will be easier once the siding is put on.

Sideways! Kreuzweise!

Goodbye, Concrete

Admittedly, the old framer here used as many deck screws as nails in this project. It will take a kiloton nuke to bring it down.

Hot Stuff!

Can’t Get Enough

Like every addict, you have to eventually confess about your addiction. That plate tells you that I am addicted to pepper flakes.

This year I am drying my own, with a nice mixture of kinds hot and really hot. Really hot include Cayenne, Tabasco, and Royal Black. Serrano is hot, but not like the first three. The mildest is the old standard Cowhorn pepper. These are all local.

After they are dried, they take a couple of trips through the old Enterprise #602 grinder.

Pizza!

What does MJ do but dive into a scrap pile cabinet of hers, and comes out with a pepper flake shaker–THAT HAS PEPPERS ON IT. Nothing to do this weekend but fire up the brick oven.

Last Night I Dreamed About Tomato Sauce

I Really Did.

To quote my man Will Shakespeare, this is the “The stuff that dreams are made of,” as adapted by Bogey and John Huston in The Maltese Falcon. I woke up at six in the morning with the taste of tomato sauce in my mouth. It was then that I realized that I had been dreaming about it, possibly all night long..

It was a classic example of one part of what Dr. Freud said that dreams are made of, and this is not a particularly good translation, but it is the standard one: “the day’s residues.” For lunch the previous day I had a slice of leftover brick oven pizza, and it was still superb warmed up. It had Vidalia onion slices, Italian mozzarella, and a crust made from Caputo 00 flour from Italy. The star was still Melanie Jane’s tomato sauce. That’s what I dreamed about. Here’s her recipe, which will sauce two pizzas.

Ingredients

1 quart locally grown home canned Tomatoes–I believe these were Romas

1/2 of a diced Onion

Italian Tomato Paste in a tube–Tuscan, in this case, the brand being Tuscanini. (Aside–I had to buy this, as Toscanini is one of our favorite conductors of classical music, and his daughter married my wife’s favorite pianist, Vladimir Horowitz.)

Italian Pesto in a tube

Italian Garlic Paste in a tube–the secret weapon used by many pros

Oregano and Thyme

Salt and Pepper

This is considerably more complicated than what most Italians would make, but we aren’t Italian, at least the last time I checked. MJ then cooked it down to a concentrated strength, which gave me just enough time to get a roaring fire going in the brick oven.

Did it ever get hot. All I had was oak dead fall pieces, and they created an inferno. I didn’t burn the crust–I actually burned the sauce, as you can see from the little black line on my slice in the picture. I’ve never had that happen before.

It was still delicious. As I always tell people, don’t eat the burned part.