Thursday, July 29, 2010

Blazin' oven, Slow Food

The other morning I woke up and drove to a farm to make bread in an outdoor wood fire oven with a french baker apprentice named Johan and a 46-year experienced baker named Monica.  You know, just your average hum-drum Sunday.

The oven

The fiyuh

The masters

Monica had started the fire in the oven the night before, and the oven was still heating into the early morning as the doughs were prepared.  "Whenever the oven is on, it's like Thanksgiving," Monica explains.  "The heat runs all day, so why not take advantage of it all?"  

I read the line-up of all the baked goods that were planned to enter the fire hearth throughout the entire day; staggered according to prep time and desired baking temperature.  Since the fire is built in the actual oven (not below the stone) the burning wood is removed when baking commences and consequently the oven slowly loses heat as the day goes on.  You would think the concept of losing heat would be disheartening, but it is far from it.  All this means is that breads are first, then baked sweets like cupcakes, scones, and brownies are second when the scorching heat has passed, and stews are last to sit in the oven overnight in the low, residual heat.  The result?  A continuous flow of baked goods being made, baked, and removed from the oven all day long.  
Thanksgiving?  Sounds more like heaven to me.

Cornmeal Schiacciata dough (similar to a focaccia).  Walnuts to be added later

Mound of part white and part whole wheat dough for pizzas, loaves, and baguettes

View from the oven

The work station

The essential tools.  The canoe paddle was my favorite...ultimate multi-tasker

The cooks need a treat too...prep for the mushroom and pepperoni pizzas, with homemade tomato sauce and a touch of cream

Go Johan, go!

Not only was this opportunity special because it made me feel like the luckiest person to see all of this production go down, but a large portion of the breads made were going to a Slow Food fundraising event later that day.  It was an event to raise money to send Mark and Katie from Thistle Whistle farm (read more about them in An Unbeetable Meal) to Italy for the international Slow Food Terra Madre Conference this fall.  They were one of the few chosen to participate in this conference representing the United States, and their selection is undeniably deserved.  

Schiacciata almost ready for the oven

Nestled baguettes

Yes! The paddle put to good use, perfect for baguette transportation

Tasting a baguette 20 minutes after leaving the oven is something I hope everyone can experience in their lifetime

Bread pillows?

A mile high with an unbelievable crust

These were rising in their pans just as I was leaving for the can imagine the torture.

Not only this, but all of the food for the event was being catered by my good friend Megan.  Megan, a recent graduate from the Culinary School of the Rockies in Boulder, came for the first time to Paonia in May during her class' Farm to Table segment of their curriculum.  She fell in love with the area so much that she packed up her things after graduation and came back to live and work here!  An extreme testament to the impact this area has on the food world, and its rewards are having people like Megan come in and create even further masterpieces with the fruits of its land.  

The menu included:

An assortment of Haystack Cheeses from the front range

Our breads!

Our Cornmeal/Walnut Schiacciata topped with The Living Farm's braised greens

Desert Weyr bratwurst and thinly sliced roasted potatoes (from Mark) with Megan's homemade sweet, spicy, and addictive mustard.  If that's not a power team I'm not sure what is.

Mark's zucchini blossoms, stuffed with Haystack cheese, breaded and fried, to be dipped in the most summer-time, light tomato basil sauce you'll ever try.

Mark's red cranberry beans with sweet corn, cucumbers and herbs.  I could eat it every day.

Megan's handmade mini-empanadas, shaped with care

The traditional filling of beef, hard boiled egg, raisins, spices, enveloped in her handmade flaky crust....  Yes please!

Also the Living Farm's green salad mix and a delightful sesame vinaigrette

I seriously had a crush on this bean salad.

And finally, the pièce de résistance, Megan's Apricot Tartlettes; handmade crust, followed by a layer of pastry cream, topped with an apricot honey compote, and finally Cedar's chocolate mint to bring in the homerun.  Let's just say the last one was literally auctioned off.

The food artist herself!  Cheers to a successful event

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Cherry Daze

The 4th of July is arguably one of the best days of the year.  What's there not to love?  It's summer, it's hot, it's sunny.  Family and friends alike come together, all in the great outdoors, showing off carefully crafted outfits spewing with red, white, and blue.
You're compelled to grill every food, and not without a fresh cold one out of arm's reach  (Hydration is key in the heat, you know).  There are barbecues, picnics, pick-up games, parades, fireworks.
It's a birthday party for an entire country for goodness sake.  For AMERICA.  Celebration is necessary, and it's hard to not find a good time.

What made this 4th of July even more special this year?  All of the delicious food, of course.  And the fun activities.  In fact, Paonia holds a weekend long festival every year they call 'Cherry Days', since that is when the sweet cherries are usually ready to be harvested and devoured by the pound.  Needless to say I took advantage of this glorious holiday, that was this year centered around fresh and local produce.

First there was the Cherry Days parade.  Over the past month or so I have been helping with a program in town called The Kid's Pasta Project (more details to come in a later post about it all).  But mainly, every Monday this amazing group of kids - backed with an excellent staff of parents - make and serve a pasta dinner using as many local and fresh ingredients as possible, and donates all of their proceeds to a certain charity or local organization.  They even make their own pasta.  It is beyond impressive.

This year, though, it was proposed that the KPP actually have its own garden plot to grow the vegetables for their pasta sauce, instead of always getting the produce from various local farms.  We have been working on the garden since the beginning of June now, and it is looking fantastic.  It has been appropriately named 'The Sauce Plot', and I was proud to be one of the plot representatives in the parade in tangent with the KPP float.  And by representative I mean that Ana and I dressed up as large tomatoes.  The willow branch crowns really made the outfits.

'Pasta Farian'...rigatoni dreads in the hair...sauce pot tops as freaking clever

The theme:  Yankee Noodle Dandy

Since I thereafter had my 4th of July community gathering event checked off my list, I took on my next holiday requirement:  homemade ice cream.  Coming from New England, you just know homemade ice cream is a way of life in summer.  Finding and eating it almost daily is pretty much just like putting sunscreen on at the beach; it's expected and done often.  During these early hot months here out west I have had a hard time getting my fix (where's my Bedford Farm's purple cow chip??), so I finally decided to take it in my own hands.  With the help of Rusty's trusty ice cream maker (brought up all the way from New Mexico) we soon had two flavors waiting for us in the freezer to enjoy:  Coconut Cherry Frozen Yogurt and Buttermilk Peach Ice Cream.  After my first bites I think I finally realized what smoker's must feel after a long time without a cigarette.  Relief, familiarity, contentment, utter pleasure and enjoyment.  Ahh.  I got my fix.  Who needs cigarettes when you have ice cream cones?

Thanks to Elane's nifty cherry pitter, pitting them wasn't the pits.  

Buttermilk Peach; into the chillzone it goes

Coconut Cherry Yogurt at its consumption stage.  Delectable chunks of sweet, ripe Bing cherries.  The greek yogurt, coconut milk, and (shh!) almond extract rock out in this one.

...and paired with Rusty's brownies

Uh oh!...caught in the act of making the second batch.  Oops.

The next day, the real 4th, got even better as it started out with a beekeeping tutorial from Rusty.  The world of bees is incredibly fascinating to say the least, and I cant wait to keep learning.  Overall I'll just say that it took a lot of stamina to not rip off my fashionable bee suit hood and lick the honey right off the comb.  

Can I have some?

This was appropriately followed by a scenic drive up a trail that looks over all of Paonia.  All you need is a patch of grass to stop and have dinner.   
And a car full of fixins.

Who says you can't prep in the back of a 4Runner?

Had been craving grilled porotbellos for too long... a nice soak in lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, fresh thyme, and seasonings

Topped with red peppers charred and roasted on the grill top just moments before

Then topped with fresh Avalanche goat cheese medallions

Smoky, tangy, sweet, savory goodness.  See that slightly charcoal smoked color on cheese?  It'll rock your world.  
Followed by a snag of the last two glasses of cherry beer to come out of the tap at the brewery.  Phew!  Close call.  

And just as the holiday started with cherries, it ended with them too.  Sour cherries this time though.  That's right, our first harvest of the little bright red tart treats (we have to get 'em quick before the birds do!)  Now I can only brainstorm what to make with these new gems....

Seems like just yesterday they were bravely coming out of their blossoms...

Now they're all grown up!

Mmm you will make delicious juice

The End.