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).
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:
- 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.*
- 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.
- 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.
- Mix until it comes together.
- Cook up a bit and taste. Adjust.
- 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.