Tag Archives: Joe Yonan

Hating on the Vertically Challenged Pizza Oven

A chef is coming over to dinner tonight.  I’d imagine most people would crumble in culinary fear, assuming that nothing would even hope to turn out properly — OMG! The salad even fell like a souffle!

Me, I know the chef doesn’t really care one way or another if something is over-salted or underdone. They’ll notice, sure, but they also just appreciate someone cooking for them, making the effort for them, no matter how it turns out.

But a dull knife can really frustrate a chef.

And my knives are dull.

And as far as tonight goes, my pizza oven is still sits about 1 foot off the ground. Generously. If you came over and measured it, you might say 8-inches. OK, I measured it, it is 8 inches.

My chef friend will be cooking pizzas in an oven a mere 8 inches off the ground.

Seems hella worse than a dull knife.

A few weeks back, Grant and I started the several weeks long, pain-in-the-ass project of moving my new wood-burning oven from it’s original home to my backyard.  One trip involved moving the stove itself.  The next was to break up and move the stone base.  The third was to move the last two layers of base, fused into a solid mass of stone.  A concrete pad was laid and cured.

And then it rained a cold rain, even snow, and the whole thing sat out back in a heap of stone and waiting stove for a few weeks.

And when my meetings were over yesterday, I dashed out into the yard to get the base assembled myself.  Heaving stones into place. Or what I thought was “place” and them moving them again. Referring again and again to the picture.  Cursing my crappy markings. Moving them again.

I am convinced I am missing stones the way I am always convinced I am missing puzzle pieces.

So, I’ll be inviting my friend AVH over because she is a puzzle whisperer. When you look at her looking at a puzzle, you can swear she sees a computer animation of pieces and their corresponding places being highlighted. If I suggest a trade of pizza dinner in exchange for her figuring out the puzzle that is the base, she’ll assume she hit some kind of crazy puzzle jackpot and likely giggle with joy the whole time she is here.

That said, there’s dinner tonight. No matter how mad and embarrassed I am by the vertical challenge that is the pizza oven.

Charcuterie Board of Bessie Lomo, Head Cheese, Housemade salami and Rillettes. Served up with Picklee Plums and Toast (if I have the energy to go get the bread).

Pizzas featuring ramp-bourbon smoked paprika chorizo from a recipe I adapted from the blog From Belly to Bacon. Delicious stuff. I had some last night with goat yogurt sauce.

Fresh sausage is a good beginner bit of charcuterie.  Firstly, it is insanely easy (as Mark S’s directions on his blog quite wittily showcase). Second, it is incredibly forgiving. Third, if you make your own fresh sausage and serve it to friends, they will assume you so brilliant that you could also, say, survive the apocalypse with your mad survival skills.

Mine basically involved the following:

  1. Pick and clean ramps. This, actually, is the hardest part of the recipe.  Especially when it is raining and has been raining because the ramps grow in thick parts of the forest and are generally filthy and your collection bag will likely be full of rotting leaf bits.  I suggest a mesh bag and a good rinse with the power spray of the garden hose outside.*
  2. Cut off and mince green bits. I used about a cup, but then again, I am spatially challenged so it could have been two cups. I am sure it was not a half cup, though.
  3. Dump ramp greens, about 2 pounds of fatty ground pork, about 1 tablespoon each of hot pimentón, Bourbon-Smoked Paprika and Bourbon-Smoked Pepper and a healthy dose of kosher salt into the stand mixer.
  4. Mix until it comes together.
  5. Cook up a bit and taste.  Adjust.
  6. Easy peasy.

I also made a batch of olive oil-pickled mushrooms to have for future parties. Basically, you make pickled mushrooms and sub in olive oil for some of the vinegar at a 1-3 ratio (oo=1, vin=3).  They are best when they sit in the pantry for a few weeks, but I vacuum-sealed part of the batch for tonight’s pizza and they’ll do fine.

I am topping this off with an attempt at homemade Campari. It is my first attempt. And it isn’t one of those miraculously brilliant first attempts that brand one a Campari Savant.  It is the bottom of the hill and the climb up seems precipitous and steep. But, I try.

For the pizza oven’s future, I of course first plan on getting it properly off the ground.  Along with, I’d like to tackle some other homemade pizza-on-the-spot things, like red pepper flakes, Italian hot pepper sauce, salt-cured anchovies and a hard cheese made from raw milk. But for now, I’ve got sausage, mushrooms and a few things assembled over the weekend.

For those who need to know the full details of a meal, the balance includes:

  • No-knead dough from Ideas in Food.  I am partial to Joe Yonan‘s Miraculous Jim Lahey No-Knead Pizza Dough but because I just read Ideas in Food the other night and I was completely freaked out by how brilliant the book is (and desperately want them to do a Modernist Cuisine-size version of their book), I decided I had to try it.
  • Mozzerella di Bufala, which I bought because I didn’t think in advance enough to buy some rennet to make the cheese here.  But I do plan on having a make your own mozzerella option for future pizza dinners because, well, you’ve obviously never had freshly made mozzerella, still warm from the whey, if you even have to ask.
  • Homemade goat cheese, because I can make it blindfolded. And it is good.
  • Homemade pizza sauce which is basically home-canned tomatoes cooked down with pizza-sauce things.  This batch has ramp pesto from the freezer, a few garlic cloves and dried herbs because I need to get rid of them before the summer gets in full swing.


* You know that garden hoses contain a lot of lead, right? Which means that if you are watering vegetables with your hose, filling up the dogs bowl or you’re letting your kids play on a Slip and Slide, you are dousing the very things you love with lead. Lead-lead. The kind that causes permanent learning and behavior disorders in children. This is another one of the head-shaking stupid things that really makes you question the efficacy of capitalism.  Here is a source for lead-free garden hoses.

Sorry to end on a downer.

Variations on a Seder Plate Theme

I’m not really an entirely reliable source for all things Passover, being Catholic and all.  But I love traditions. Likely because my family never had much use for them growing up, as far as I can remember, and seems to have lost all respect for them now that we are all growed up.

But I can find a reason to start a tradition without so much as a holiday to hang it on.  Like the Ceremony of Garlic Planting in October or Great St. Patrick’s Day Pea Ritual, or, lest I leave out a nearly weekly tradition I have, The Festival of Sunday Morning Pancakes. And yes, I have some holiday traditions, such as my on again – off again Christmas tradition of watching the 8-hour Jesus of Nazarath Mini Series over the coarse of the day, interspersed with making a day-long Roman Feast of Fancy Christmas Foods.

And it seems I have a budding tradition of celebrating all the requisite Jewish Holidays with my friend JST, her family and a few rotating friends.

In years past, I brought the wine.  Mostly because I had a large wine dungeon in my basement that I filled with wines that could be classified as either fantastically exciting or hackneyed and predictable, depending on which crowd of my friends were nearby.  But I drank, gave away or made vinegar out of most of the wine a few years ago when I realized “Wine Collector” was actually not something I aspired to be.

So, now I bring food to JST’s.  And this year I am bring the Seder Plate.  Only, I am not one to just wanna toss a hard-boiled egg on a plate and call it a day. I tend to want to flash some jazz hands and mount a production. And lo, I came up with my own personal Variations on a Seder Plate Theme.

The Karpas are supposed to signify the coming spring. Basically, most people dip parsley in vinegar (or vinegar, depending on which tradition you follow) and eat that. Hum. Not precisely what I imagine happening to the parsley I struggled to grow in my windowsill this early spring.

So I found a recipe for a gin-based drink with balsamic and parsley garnish.   The gin they used is Leopold American Small-Batch Gin, which has a hint of floral that supposedly pairs well with the parsley. But rather than clobber the thing with balsamic, I opted to riff on that floral aroma, pairing it with homemade honey vinegar I made with local honey last fall.

Note: this killed the vinegar honey, which was a sad moment I commemorated by having a drink of Maple-Rye Hooch before putting up more honey and water to cure. One should always have honey around for these situations, as well as some sort of seasonally appropriate and easy to grab hooch.

JST said the charoset is one of her favorite seder things, but I have to admit it took me a while to “get it.” According to Wikipedia, it is — a sweet, dark-colored, chunky paste made of fruits and nuts meant to recall the mortar with which the Isrealites bonded bricks when they were enslaved in Egypt.

Traditionally, it is supposed to have forty ingredients, representing the forty dessert years, not forty ingredients specifically put together to taste delicious. Although it is apples, figs, pomegranates, grapes and all manner of other things are used often together, it also seemed a bit culinarily random to me.

In sum, the task of charoset is to make something decent out of a random hodge-podge of raw ingredients that is supposed to remind people of mortar.  I’ll admit I felt a little challenged by this.

Thankfully, JST is a bit fast and loose with the rule of Jewish law so I opted for the cooked version I found a recipe from Epicurious of Black Mission Fig and Ruby Port. I subbed in Six Grapes Port. This is obviously just Jewish Chutney, and chutney is something I can get behind. I’ll assume the fact that I have cooked this mortar should be helpful in reminding all at the table of the guilt they should be feeling for playing fast and loose with the rules.

Which I intend to be a helpful addition for the celebratants.

A joint of lamb representing the lamb offering. Easy Peasy. Not just because it can be tossed in a slow cooker with some leavings from the vegetable crisper, but also because it is delicious, lamb ragout does the trick, served up on a fried polenta cake.

Before you go all ballistic on me, cornmeal is ok for some Jews and not others. I decided JST & Co were just gonna have to be the kind for which cornmeal is fine, mostly because I am never one to buy a certain ingredient, say matzoh meal, to sub in for something else, say wheat flour, it is supposed to kinda be but really isn’t even close.*

Totally in my wheelhouse, this dish is, by most accounts, a hard-boiled egg. But those accounts apparently don’t reference Wikipedia, where it is clearly noted that the egg is actually supposed to be roasted — not boiled.  Sacre bleu! Or, I guess, Mishugana!

But, dear reader, you can, in fact, roast eggs instead of boil them to, basically the same effect. Just roast them on a rack set on a jelly roll pan at 325F for about half hour.  Shock them in ice water and try to peel them without being reduced to tears.**

For my eggs, I am mixing up the deviled part with lots of horseradish. Points if you grow it yourself because it is more delicious, feels more holy and keeps in the fridge, in vinegar, from one fall until the next. So you never have to go buy any of the prepared stuff, which is never as sharp and purely pungent anyway.  And, you can use the vinegar over and over again, though I will admit to bringing it to a fast boil in-between batches.

Happy Passover to all.

Post-Scripts, In Order:
*Other examples of stupid sub in’s of which I absolutely do not approve: Margarine, I Can’t Believe (insert any of their products here), Fat-Free (insert baked good here), Skim Milk, Half ‘n’ Half, Sugar Cereal That Turns Your Milk Colors, Turkey Bacon, Veggie Burgers, Tempeh or any Other Substance That is Supposed to Trick you into Thinking you are Eating Meat, in fact I will throw in Portabella Mushrooms Cleverly Presented as Meat, Light Beer, Lighter Than the Other Guy Beer, So Light You Think it is Water But it Costs More Beer, Most Vitamins, Lipator for Gen Pop, Water Fortified with Anything you Should get in a Balanced Diet Anyway, and Crisco. That’s just off the top of my head.

For the record, I do embrace decaf coffee, served with milk, for the benefit of those around me and wine coolers, when made at home, can be a revelation.

**Actually, as a side note, Joe Yonan‘s Miraculous and Surely Pulitzer Prize-Winning Book, Serve Yourself, has a brilliant Hard-Boiled Egg recipe that blasts the shells off even the freshest of eggs (I actually tried it with eggs that were so fresh, they were still warm from the hen, just to test him). It worked beautifully. I am not posting the method here or telling anyone how to do it — even Grant! — go buy the book and support this kind of cookbook author!


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