Friday, July 17, 2009

Why the front of my oven is black?

Right now my chimney looks different. It was redesigned. I use a barbeque starter from Home Deport. Stole the idea from master Mario. :-) I cover it with a ceramic tile, as I do not have roof, when not in use. I try not to forget to remove it before starting fire or I will get smoke in the face.

We have a lot of rain here and some times I even bake pizza when weather is far from perfect. Summers are good so.

As for black part: all wood burning ovens I saw have this. I believe it mostly happens when I start the fire: first there is no air flow yet trough the chimney and second I put wood very close to the mouth ( and under the chimney). So, when a with a still wet wood and no established fire and flow there are a lot of "fat" smoke. That make this black thing.

After fire is established and I move it to the back of the oven, there is virtually no smoke and you can even see "afterburner" fire going from the chimney if you load too much wood at once. :-) Dig in my blog, I should have some SPECTACULAR picture of "firing" chimney at night: it looks very surrealistic :-)

Talking about oven: this one use "Italian heart", special mold and it come with some steel chimney. So what you see outside is just mainly a decorations, that play a very small role in performance. They only thing about chimeny, is not make it too long or it will draw hot air and insulation of the oven is also a very important thing. If oven is not hot enough it will not bake a proper pizza and in cold weather it is very hard to keep a small oven hot.

So how big or tall the chimney is and if it "covered" with roof all have to be tried and tested, to get results you like. The key point is not have a chimney that sucks all hot air out and does not allow any smoke from front ( that may be very important for indoor - smoke can be nasty and very dangerous and if you ask me, I do not even fire my fireplace anymore; even the best design let smoke into the house if you use wood (gas do not have that problem). What you want to check if how good oven work when fire is established ( 30min-60min) and if temperature not dropping rapidly when oven is "ready".

If you see that fire is not burning right you need a bigger and taller chimney. If oven loosing heat and pizza can not be properly baked in 90 sec without burning ( fire should be calmer when you bake, just to maintain the heat) you need to reduce the flow.

Note, that door or "mouth" is used for air / heat control a lot. When you start the fire, it is wide open, hence this black on front. When fire is going up, you half close it, but you should still let air in, or oven will chock. :)

What I like to do for my oven: I have unusually big front table ( that I like a lot ) I put a door parallel to the mouth but about 5 inches from it. That reflects heat back to the oven, but air can still get from sides. With other models you may half close or put door at an angle to achieve same results.

Hope this helps :-)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Chinese brown sugar Orange Bols ice cream with Belgian chocolad and rum candyed zest

I was fantasizing about some cool taste to make ice cream for the party. After crazy Fireworks ice cream I made on 4 of July I was ready to a chalange.

I started with standard half-and-half milk and egg yolks custurd but used Blue Agave Syrup instead of sugar. In separate utensils I mixed Chinese brown sugar, that have to be dissolved from bricks and some Orange Bols liqueur with some Dark Rum and orange skin shavings and almost caramelized it on fire adding some pectin to the mix as well. I mixed it with custard and let orange skin shavings dry. Icecream maker did the job and I loaded chopped shavings and shredef chocolate to finish.

Result tastes nice, like Italian gelato, but with reach flavor twist and orange aroma. Chocolate and orange skins caramels adds some chewy surprise to otherwise very smooth texture.

I think it was (we finished it already - that say for itself) a nice and intriguing ice cream, definitely not boring and not one you can find on shelf in store :-)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

HotTop Roaster ROCKS!

Well, how I start? I was roasting coffee for a few years. I got spoiled by fresh roast. Home roasting technology is a bit tricky so. You can get a nice grinder and nice espresso machine, but getting a nice home roaster is a challenge. I started with FreshRoast 8 that is essentially a specialized hot air popper :-) It has a strong points so: very simple and produce a nice and vibrant hot air roast. It is very cheap as well, so no brainer. It has a weak points and there are many. First it is not consistent. Second it depends on weather so much I stop roasting when whether is too cold: smoke banned it from indoors. Last issue is plastic body: it started to crumble after a few years: this is actually a very minor issue: I would readily buy a new one, as it did it job well for a few years and need zero parts or maintenance: like there is no filter to change. But I wanted some thing better. I did research again and while there are a new contenders like Behmor 1600, it looks like HotTop is the only roaster that will fit the bill for me: it is most expensive from the home line too. I prefer to buy pro-sumer equipment for a number of reasons and HotTop is very close to this category, but it can only do 1/2 lb - perfect size for me so. (FreshRoast was a bit too small). Anyway... HotTop is pricy and they have two models, with more expensive is not 100% superior to least expensive one. The only difference is in controller and while basic model allows you to change curve on the fly and save, top model allows to make a graphic profile and run it. It seems that you can not be as flexible as you are with basic, but basic only have 3 profiles to save vs 10 and no graphic UI. Anyway, I made my mind on basic model for more control that come with it and while controller can be swapped I knew I will not do it and will stick with just one I buy. All this considerations and thoughts about 1Lb capable Behmore (that may be problematic for small beans and hard to roast dark without making fire) made me forget about plan to upgrade and I also run out of green coffee and as much shame as it is to admit, switched to my lazy winter mode and Costco roasted beans.

But lo and behold! The Super Maya, the only person on my pizza parties who ever questioned my coffee and spend a few hours trying to teach my grinder and machine to "make it better" came to rescue and I was saved from my junk consumers coffee slumber. I think my coffee was kind of OK and to liking of my pizza party guests. It had enough kick for me, to wake me up. I know it is not a compliment, because most people like their coffee just like Mr. Wolf from Pulp Fiction: "more cream, more sugar". But I do love a reach taste of fresh roast, that no store coffee can match :-)

So, I was lucky to be shaken up and I also got a great deal from Maya's friend, that is a separate story altogether! Despite my original plan to get HotTop with a "smart controller" and do "curves" and "profiles", price was to hard to resist and I knew I am lazy and if coffee is fresh and nice I would enjoy it. I been told that this "manual" model does a nice and consistent roast and this is all I need, actually. Great beans from SweetMarias and 1/2 lb roaster is perfect combination for a great espresso. I would tell you more: I am lazy with beans too: I do get samplers and "workshops" once in a while, but I mostly buy two of my favorite espresso mixes: I know how they taste and I like it :-)

Anyway, if I knew how cool HotTop was I would get it much much earlier, before my FreshRoast 8 started to disintegrate.

Here is a video of first roast

Compare to hot air, it is very slow. It feels solid : made from steel and it hot. Like REALY hot. Like a hot iron. I been told, but I had to try it with my finger soaked in salvia. wow! Yeah! :-)

Seeing it working was impressive. I do not have any feel for it yet, but what it did on full automatic roasting, was great!

Now, here is a first shot coming down: NICE!!!

Btw, Maya would comment that there is no "oil", but I tasted beans and it was just right. Crispy and reach after taste. I think what make it roaster unique is it drop feature. It is super cool that it drops beans and cool it down outside.

Now, Maya was a bit snobbish about coffee, so I suspected it was not without a reason. When I saw her friend I understood why. While I am proud of my Expobar, this dude beat me to dust. He is a really SERIOSE about his coffee as he pointed out. Now I know where Maya picked this up :-) He got a HUGE two head PRO machine that seems too much for a house. Not only temperature and pressure can be adjusted and monitored by controller, but it can be done independently for each head. WOW!

This is impressive. His machine is definitely bigger. Now ... the only way to get even is to invite him to pizza party and show my oven. It is probably bigger than his machine, but mind you... just a little bigger. His machine is HUGE :)

A lot of thanks to Maya and Pier for waking me up and providing me with this great roaster we all going to enjoy.

Now, I just need Maya to teach me coffee art: I got a pitcher just for that :-)

Enjoy your coffee.