Monday, January 31, 2011

Cheese :)

On January 28th I stopped in to visit the Cellars at Jasper Hill in Greensboro, Vermont. The vast underground engineered caves contain an aromatic assortment of cheeses which are aging to perfection.
Zoe Brickley's tour of the caves and their unique aging practices reminded me that not all cheeses are created equal.

The classic pizza (or any other brick oven baked delicacy) would be catapulted into gourmet by an imaginative and careful choice of cheese.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Face and Mouth

Special attention is paid to the face and mouth of the oven. This brick oven was faced with 200 year-old brick and then stuccoed. In combination with the roughly cut cobblestone arch and keystone, I've created the impression of an oven that has already seen the ages.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Two Pros

Although chefs can cook extraordinary meals in conventional ovens, they 'light up' when given the chance to cook in a traditional brick oven. These two chefs, from Cinque Terre and Vignola restaurants in Portland, Maine are checking the slow-roasted Porchetti cooked in one of David Neufeld's brick ovens.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Common as Grills

In Italy, brick ovens are as common as grills are in America. In this small hill town in Tuscany, I saw a brick oven that was still usable after 500 years. Are there any grills that old?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Community Oven

Traditionally, a community would have one large brick oven to which everyone brought their bread loaves. Each loaf had a pattern of cuts that identified the household from which the bread originated and to whom it would be returned when baked.
One of the modern pleasures of owning a brick oven is the gathering of friends and their various kinds of bread for a bread-fest. Be sure to have plenty of butter and a healthy appetite ready when the bread emerges, crusty and piping hot.
A favorite recipe of mine is a no-knead bread from 'Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day'. Please note that the recipe can be memorized in less than five minutes and the bulk of the book is a copy and paste of the same recipe for dozens of breads (with minute variations).

Thursday, January 20, 2011

With a Little Help from My Friends

When I built my first brick oven, I had no idea how easy it would be to get a party together. Often, all it took was a few phone calls (emails, tweets, texts might work) and I had a group of people at my place with more toppings than most restaurants even stock.
Each person got to top their own (or partner up) pizza. The process of sliding it in on the peel and literally watching it bake made everyone a bit giddy.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Dome Building

Brick ovens can be built with vaulted ceilings or as domes. The advantage of domed brick ovens is the self-supporting nature of the shape. Each brick bears on bricks below in an evenly distributed way. During the firing, the dome expands equally and then returns to its original size (not drastically).
The dome shape also reflects the heat evenly to all parts of the oven.
Vaulted ovens, while easier to build, need an outer structure to support the 'sprung arch'. They tend to have 'cold' corners.
Because the differences are relatively minor, there may be instances where a arched oven fits the needs and space better than a dome.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Mussel Jim

Jim Davis, head chef at Stonehurst Manor in North Conway appears annually at 'Meet the Chefs', a May event part of the Northern New England Home, Garden, and Flower Show in Fryeburg, Maine.
His specialty, and my favorite, is Bang's Island Mussels flash-broiled in my portable brick oven. In less than an hour, he turns out enough of these delicacies to feed a hundred people.
Jim and I will be cooking again at the May show. (May 13, 14, 15, 2011)
Here's his recipe (thanks Jim)

Bang’s Island” Mussels
with Tomatoes, Basil and White Wine

2# Bang’s Island Mussels
(or Prince Edward Island Mussels)
1cup Grape Tomatoes
2oz. Fresh Basil
TT Chopped Garlic
½ c. White Wine
TT Salt and Pepper
2 tbl. Whole Butter
Olive Oil


Heat sauté pan and add oil. Add Garlic and allow to become aromatic, without burning. Add Mussels and toss in oil, the heat should instantly make some of the mussels’ pop open. When most of the mussels have opened, add tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Deglaze pan with wine and allow the rest of the mussels to open. Add Basil, and butter, stirring slightly to allow the butter to whisk into the broth. Serve immediately.

Note: discard any unopened mussels, do not eat them.

Serve with some grilled foccacia or sour dough bread.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Tuscan Room

We converted a seldom-used porch adjacent to the kitchen into "The Tuscan Room", adding detailing such as real hand-hewn timbers and stuccoed walls. This 7' by 14' room has been affectionately renamed by the owners, "The Smallest Restaurant in the World". It seats six comfortably and the fresh-baked food is an arms-reach away. The mouth of the oven doubles as a eye-level fireplace.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Front Loading

We roast vegetables just after the warming fire is started. The curling flames and the smoke flavor the food. The oven mouth, at chest-height, warms the cook and puts the action where everyone can enjoy it.