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September, 2010:

Pie Shots

Pizza is one of humanity’s most perfect foods.  It’s delicious, flexible and easy to make.  Luckily for those like me who want to create photo-heavy blog posts about it pizza has nothing to hide.  Here are some pictures of my favourite pizzas from the first month and a half of wood-fired oven cooking in the backyard at our cottage.

The top photo is the first pizza out of the oven.  Tomato sauce, cheese, basil and maybe a little olive oil.  A simple Margherita pizza.  Most times when I’ve made pizza in the oven I make this the first topping combination of each round.  It’s a little jarring for some but this minimalist combination helps introduce the idea that pizza really is about the bread phase.  As you can tell I like my basil added after cooking if it’s the leaves going on but I sometimes put basil oil on the raw concoction.

Pizza and a roaring fire

An active fire is important for creating enough turbulent hot air to cook the cheese, toppings, and top of the crust.  The one here is probably a bit too vigorous and I could have waited another ten to fifteen minutes or so before sliding in this pie. (more…)

Thorah Island Punch

My respect for Alton Brown does sometimes border on idolatry.  Along with Harold McGee, Jeffrey Steingarten, Julia Child, and John Thorne his work is part of what I consider the essential canon for those wanting to know more about the science of cooking from a North American-European perspective.  Good Eats is one of the last respectable Food Network shows and I can’t count the number of techniques I have learned from it that I realise I probably would have had more difficulty learning from a book.  Everything from crepes to brining.

Sometimes Alton puts out episodes that are obviously more about satisfying one of his side interests than a clamouring demand for information on a critical food topic.  All his cocktail episodes (ones with “raising the bar” in the title) fall into this category.  I have used and enjoyed his eggnog recipe and was particularly intrigued by the recipe for Cape Fear punch on the most recent installation in the Raising the Bar series.  To go with the appetisers (smoked salmon on homemade bread) that I made for my Terry Fox meal on Labour Day weekend I decided to slightly adapt this recipe in a fashion appropriate for the cottage’s island. (more…)

Mushrooms and Pea Soup

The pizza oven we built tops out above 1,000°F.  That is with a very hot fire and sniper-like manipulation of the IR thermometer’s red laser target pointer to measure the floor’s temperature.  This is both amazing and useful for cooking pizza but its a fairly easy characteristic to understand and use.  It basically just means that this oven has twice as many little hashes around its (theoretical) temperature dial.

What I’m still getting used to is how long the oven holds heat and has it available to be used for cooking.  Even without an insulated door the floor and dome of our oven are still above 200°F the day after a moderate fire.  Right now I’m looking for ways to use this heat.

I’m approaching this technique with caution but it seems to me that as long as the temperature does not drop below 140°F and into the so-called danger zone food will be just as safe in the oven for extended periods of time as it would be in the refrigerator.  Safety is one thing but there are a limited number of dishes that are more delicious after an extended period of cooking.  But, I guess it’s really “limited” only in the strictest sense of the word. (more…)

Foodbuzz 24X24: Terry Fox

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My memories of school assemblies from my early years are a blur of secularised holiday celebrations and faux cool jingles designed to keep us from doing drugs.  Not very influential with one glaring exception.  I remember being blown away by the story of Terry Fox a twenty-one year-old Canadian who set out to raise a million dollars for cancer research by running across the country.  Terry had been diagnosed with bone cancer in his knee, undergone chemotherapy and had his right leg amputated.  Images of Terry running, with his artificial leg, along remote and lonely stretches of the Trans Canada Highway are I think a fairly universal early memory for Canadians of my generation.

I have spent much of this summer building a wood-fired oven with my family at the cottage and since this year is the thirtieth anniversary of the Marathon of Hope it seemed appropriate to mark this occasion by cooking a meal in the oven.  The September Foodbuzz 24X24 is special because it is dedicated to raising funds for ovarian cancer research and I was happy to have my proposal to write about a meal honouring the Marathon of Hope accepted.  Throughout its course the Marathon of Hope was about connecting with the small communities and individuals across Canada and I hope that by cooking a meal (with the help of family and friends) which represents the culinary traditions of these people and places I can honour this memory in my own way.

I can’t complain too loudly about how cliched the description has become because I have written it more times than I want to count but this summer has been a remarkably hot and sunny one. Unfortunately, August’s weather rarely influences September’s and for the day of the big meal we had stronger winds than anyone could remember for Labour Day weekend.  When building the oven we were careful to face it away from prevailing winds but I still had some difficulty getting the oven lit on Saturday.  In a world of electric ovens with digital controls it’s difficult to imagine the havoc caused by 30 km/h winds when cooking in an outside brick oven but now I understand.

On April 12, 1980 Terry started his journey across the country at the Atlantic coast near St. John’s, Newfoundland.  His course took him through all four of Canada’s maritime provinces and these early stages were filled with the challenges of running a marathon every day in what can often be wintry weather in April.  He was supported by his brother and his best friend and was I’m sure buoyed by the isolated recognition and public support he received along this part of the route. (more…)

Peach-Nectarine Butter

By all accounts the sunny and hot summer of 2010 has been a banner year for Niagara peaches and their cousin the nectarine.  I can’t remember a disappointing peach from the ones I have  picked up from farmers’ markets.  Though the smaller, wan ones in the new see-through tubs from the grocery store are a much less exciting story.

A good peach is, to me, four things: colourful (that is aesthetically pleasing in ways that don’t necessarily pertain to how certain colours indicate ripeness), juicy, sweet, and fragrantly peachy.  Juicy is difficult to preserve and the aesthetics can be managed but really only with whole or halved fruit preserved in syrup or spirits and I’ve already tried those methods this year with strawberries and cherries.  I considered another run at chutney like the one from last year but while tasty the problem there is that the spices dominate instead of the peaches.  Also, chutney is best made with under-ripe fruit and that’s impossible to find at this point in the season.  Peach jam would be good but what I finally decided on was peach-nectarine butter. (more…)