Browsing Posts tagged pizza

The recent warm spell is continuing, and down at LEAF, we’re loving it.

Of course, not a Big Lot gets done, but given all the hard work we do at most other times of the year, we don’t feel guilty in the slightest.Wall-to-wall sunshine.

The sun was shining all day, and despite liberal, repeated slatherings of Factor 20, my shoulders, back, neck, face, and arms are glowing this morning.

This is a view of the sky yesterday morning from my allotment.  I went down there briefly to check the greenhouses (Sweltering!) and to catch a few rays on my own.  Because there were children and small animals up at The LEAF Plots, it was here I managed to get my top off and get burned, quietly sat on my own, thinking, while listening to Classic FM on the little transistor radio we have down there.  Only half an hour or so, but well needed.

So yesterday was another chance for us to get to grips with our new, improved pizza oven.  New and improved because the two extra layers of clay/straw and clay had made it a totally different animal to cook with.

As I’ve previously said, last year it was all about getting it up to temperature and keeping it there -meaning loads and loads of wood, almost constantly feeding it.

Now it’s all about getting it up to temperature and completely resisting the urge to throw more wood on!All fired up!

This is it before all the ‘fun’ started as it’s getting up to the correct heat.  Later, as the wood died down, and the oven appeared almost empty, I had to physically stop myself throwing in more fresh stuff.  Whenever the urge came upon me, I’d take my gloves off, and try to put my hands near it.  This proved that even though it didn’t look like much was happening, the heat was certainly there to cook with.

Both Sara and Matt had made dough for the pizzas, and it goes without saying that both mixes were excellent.

Because we had so much dough, we were able to make ‘proper’, thicker bases for the pizzas, and that, coupled with the lower cooking temperature meant that nearly all of them came out with everything cooked, without the ‘doughy’ centres we had last weekend.

During the madness/fun that was the actual cooking, Jon came up with an excellent idea.Cooking!

He had made a pizza, and had me cook it for him, but just before I would have considered it ready, he had me take it out and fold it over like a calzoné.  This enabled half of the pizza bottom to lightly brown.  A couple of minutes later, we turned it fully over to allow the other side to brown.  The resulting pizza was superb.  I think you’ll be hearing much more about this style of pizza in the coming weeks!

After all the pizzas (..there were about 15 in total, I think…), Pam had brought down a freshly baked rhubarb crumble with custard.

I’ve kind of run out of superlatives here, but you get the idea:  Gorgeous!

Not to be outdone, Jon the made some fresh rhubarb and ginger drop scones.Jon's rhubarb and ginger scones before cooking.

As you can clearly see, these little beauties looked excellent before they went in, but I’m afraid we’re still getting used to the fierce heat of this oven.

This is another way of saying that it was too hot!

Whoops!  Drop scones a little overdone!You can see them here to the right, and as you can see, the heat was way too much for them.

In hindsight, we should have let the oven cool down for another half hour or so before we put these in.

Still, like a science experiment, we don’t class it as a failure.  I was a learning experience!

Next time (…for there most definitely will be a next time!..), we’ll wait that bit longer.  Also, just as we did with Matt’s pie last week, we’ll put them on Ian’s groovy stand, and we’ll put them in the doorway to cook, turning them at regular intervals, just like we did last week.

As I keep banging on about, this Wednesday is our big Open Evening, so we have to get everything spot-on for that.

The fact that we have to keep cooking and eating food just to make sure we’ve got it absolutely correct, is a happy coincidence.


Not A Big Lot of work done down our Plots today, and what little was done was in preparation for today’s ‘main event’ which was for the first using and cooking with the pizza oven in its 99.999% finished state.  I say 99.999% because Matt wants to add a taller chimney, and of course when its all cooled down, we need to patch yet more cracks in the outer layer of clay.Aaaargh!  Cracks in the clay!

As I arrived today, Ian (no relation) was busy by the oven, at work building a metal stand for use inside it to sit dishes on.  This would be to lift them off the extremely hot bricks and ash, allowing a ‘cooler’ airflow to cook dishes more slowly.

In theory.

To make this stand, he used a very old plastic and metal chair, some heavy-duty wire meshing we had, a hacksaw and a lump hammer.

Unfortunately I have no pictures of this yet, but I’ll get some next time I’m down.  We were too busy using it today, and I kind of had my hands full with the oven which at it’s ‘peak temperature’ we reckon hit more than 400°C.  You’ll agree, just a little hotter than your average one at home!

As you can see up to the right here, when I arrived, it was ‘Crack City’ across the top and sides, but we weren’t worried in the slightest!

I can vividly remember the first time we ever fired this oven up ‘In Rage’ last year for the open evening in Autumn and we’d just finished that first layer.  If you check back on the photos, you’ll see we just had the single layer and by the time I first lit it, it wasn’t even dry!

Now we have not one, but two layers of clay and clay and straw beneath this top layer, there’s no chance whatsoever it will collapse -as I feared that first evening last year.

As I started to fill up these cracks with some clay we had left over, I was joined by Jordan, Shaun and Matt.  Pretty soon we were all happily patching away as Ian worked nearby,  his stand now finished, working on a tool to easily get to trays and dishes while the oven is hot.

When we’d done most of the serious cracks, I lit it (…more to keep warm than anything else.  It was freezing today!..), and we carried on patching the smaller ones.Quickly up to temperature.

To the left here is less than an hour after we’d lit it.  If you click on the image you’ll see those two great chunks of wood I’d thrown in less than a minute before I took this shot.

Because it was just so stinking hot in the oven, when I put these two pieces in together, I timed it before they caught fire.

On a ‘normal’ fire, when you put pieces on like this, only the parts actually exposed to the flames burn straight away, with the ‘outer’ parts taking much longer to catch.  With these, less than a minute after they’d gone in, they totally ‘lit’ with flame licking all over them.

Yes.  That hot!

While these two great lumps of wood were burning down to hot cinders, Ian was busy making the afternoon’s first ‘dish’.  This would be a ‘starter’ of potatoes cut into largish chunks, parsnips, shallots and cloves of garlic, all roasted in heavy-duty tin foil with oil and herb seasoning.

Using Ian’s newly made baking tray to stand the packets on, these seemed to cook in no time at all.

Of course, they were delicious!

By this time, Sara had prepared the pizzas.  Using dough she’d made up earlier and left to ‘prove’ at home (…Awesome!..) and vegetables that Matt had been to the market for and some tomatillos he still got left from last year (!!!), Sara then invited LEAF volunteers to make their own pizzas for me to cook in the oven -much as we’d done so successfully last year and we plan to do a week on Wednesday for the Environment Weeks Open Evening.The year's first pizza.  Quickly, before it all disappears!

This seemed to work really well.  By allowing people to put their own toppings on, they were guaranteed to like everything that had gone on the pizza!

We made about 9 pizzas in total today, each one decorated and topped by a volunteer or Plot Kid, and everyone agreed, they were much better than the ones you buy from the supermarket.  Obviously.

By now, the oven had ‘simmered down’ a little, and Matt had brought a pie he’d prepared last night.  It was made with the year’s first rhubarb from his plot, a little sugar and he’d made a crumble topping.

The crumble just before it went in the oven.To the left is a shot of the raw crumble just before it went in the oven.

Now, when Matt makes one of these at home, it takes about forty minutes at a medium heat to cook.

I didn’t properly time it, but it certainly took less time than that in our oven.

At first, we put it in without a tin foil covering, and the top started to burn slightly, but I took it out and wrapped it, and kept turning it through 180° every few minutes to make sure both sides were cooking.

In not time at all it seemed, when I turned it round, the side that had been exposed to the full heat of the oven was already happily bubbling away.

It was soon cooked, but before I’d even had chance to get my camera out, it was being dived into by volunteers eager to taste it.

All I ended up with was this:-Whoops!  All gone!

Those two bowls were for Diane and Jon.

Needless to say, just like Sara’s pizza, Matt’s pie was ace!

Unfortunately, there’ll be no ‘Plotting’ tomorrow.  Diane and I have a Big Lot of paperwork to catch up with, and before that I have an important date with the electric bike and the PIC programmer back here at Wardian Towers.

But, the weather is set to improve greatly this next week.  Hooray for that!  We (…and our bees!..) love the sunshine and warmth.

It kind of makes you feel happier inside when the sun’s shining, I think.

Oh, and talking of ‘Happy’, I presented Matt with his new camera today after I’d fitted the new screen to it.

And yes.  He was happy!



Mostly dry… 10/12/11

…but no sunshine!

Still, it is nearly the middle of December, so we couldn’t really expect anything else.  At least it didn’t rain heavily.  Any ‘spits and spots’ as the weathermen like to call them were easily deflected by the two gazebos we popped up.

With it being nearly Christmas, and what with the year finally winding down, yes, we could have done a load of digging to keep warm, but in the end I lit the pizza oven and Sara brought down a load of pizza dough, so while she and the rest of ‘the girls’ prepared for pizza, I got the oven going with some of the wood that Jon and Derek had chopped this morning.  As I’m still a real ‘Newbie’ with this oven (…and each and every one is different from another…), I was anxious to see just how it burned, how fast the wood was used, where the hottest place in the oven was, and a whole host of other ‘intangibles’ that enable you to get the ‘feel’ of it.

I know, I’m not being very clear here, but when you’re using one, it really is like a ‘living thing’, and it’ll take me quite a while before I’m fully confident in its use.

Anyway, before that all kicked off, I wandered around our plots, just looking and taking photos, but I’m afraid I’m not going to include any tonight, Dear Reader.

Why?Pizza oven in full flame!

Because they’re too depressing!

A grey sky over bare, grey earth, everything that just a few weeks ago full of life now thoroughly dead.

BUT, I will leave you with the only bright part of the day.

Our pizza oven in full flame in between the twenty (!!!) pizzas I cooked today.

Truly, a sight to warm the heart …and of course, fill the stomach!

A piece of pizza? 26/11/11

Okay, the weather’s not as good as we’d like, but at least its not raining.  Yet.

But never fear!

Today I plan to show Sara how to light -and keep lit- the pizza oven.  She’s dead keen on learning to cook with it, so I’m obviously only too happy to show her how.

AND, as a ‘Party-Bonus’, she’s bringing a load of pizza dough.

Diane will have been to get mozzarella cheese and stuff for other delicious toppings, so late this afternoon -just as its going dark- we’re going to fire up the oven and EAT!

BUT, before all the fun, I can really feel some hard digging coming on.  There’s loads to be dug over, and it’ll be a great way to keep warm and work up an appetite.  It’ll also be an excellent antidote to all the work I’ve been putting in on the bike circuits this week.  Clear my head somewhat.

So, on with the boots and off we go.

A great day’s ‘Plotting’ ahead, I feel!

One word: AWESOME

May I just say the BIGGEST, most HEARTFELT ‘Thank You!!!’ to everyone who helped make today sooooo special.

You were ALL completely, utterly BRILLIANT!

Now, I’m sure there are loads of photos of today -I’m sure, thanks to Sara, on our Twitter pages- but I only have a few from where I was, which was mostly doing the cooking.

And what fun I had!The new oven before firing up today.

Now, yesterday I mentioned that I thought all the cracks that had appeared in the top of the pizza oven dome would have contracted and disappeared, but I was wrong.

Yes, they’d shrunk somewhat, but there were still some pretty big ones still visible.

Sarah and I wasted no time this morning in patching them with left-over clay from yesterday, then I cleaned it all out and here you can see it before everything all kicked off.

I carefully checked the all important floor of the oven and found no cracked bricks, so the small fire we’d lit seemed to have done no damage.The fire is lit.

This shot to the left here is just after I’d lit it with kindling and rolled-up dry newspaper -in just the same way as I light a ‘normal’ fire on a Saturday.  You can also clearly see the still wet clay down towards the bottom on either side.  This didn’t last long.

The smoke cleared pretty quickly as it got hot and burned it all away, and after about an hour, it was ready to begin cooking on.

Unfortunately, due to a mix-up, there was a slight delay, but soon the pizzas were coming round the corner from the ‘prepping’ area at quite a lick.A pizza being cooked.

To the right here is one of the many (…we reckon about 35 were made today!..) pizzas just after I’d put it in.  You can also see that the wetness on either side had now disappeared.

The cooking technique for this oven is to get the coals and burning wood as hot as possible, and leave them over the central cooking area for as long as possible until the first pizza is ready to be cooked.  Then you must push all the hot embers out around the outer of the oven leaving the centre cooking area as flat and clear as possible.

If there is much of an appreciable time before the next pizza is ready to go in, I found that raking the embers back over the central area again helped preserve the heat on the all-important central area.

At this stage, because the oven was so hot -many times hotter than a normal, ‘boring’ oven, they were cooking in literally seconds.  As I put them in singly, you could see the cheese starting to bubble and the crust rising.  In fact, just putting this one in and getting my camera out, taking the shot then putting it away again, and this pizza was done!

We also noticed that like at SAGE Greenfingers, the oven was that hot, the actual dishes bent out of shape quite considerably.  If this making pizza lark is going to be a regular occurrence (…and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be…), then we really must invest in some proper cast-iron pizza pans like they use in Pizza Hut and all the big pizza chains.  Yes, they may well cost us a small fortune, and yes, pizzas will take slightly longer to cook -because of all the iron in the dish that has to heat up, but I’m sure they’ll be well worth the investment.

We also need a long-handled pizza peel -that’s the long, flat thing you put them in and take them out of the oven with.  The hairs on my left arm are quite singed with all the heat from having to get so close to the thing armed only with a small gardening spade!

Towards the end of the pizzas, the oven had cooled down a little too much, so before we cooked the last few, I stoked up the fire and was amazed at just how quickly it got hot again.Roaring flames and bent pizza dish!

Here you can see one of the last batch cooking, and you can clearly see the flames round the outside and just look at how the dish has bent out of shape.  I’ll bet you can’t do that in your oven at home!

So, about two hours and many pizzas later, we’d run out of dough, but that was no problem.  We just moved down to the fire area instead!

I quickly lit it, got it hot enough, and we started roasting potatoes in our customary Saturday manner.  After using the pizza oven and learning some of its foibles, merely lighting a ‘normal’ fire felt easy!

And the potatoes were excellent.

Now, I couldn’t finish today without thanking a few people.

I’m sure I’ll miss loads of you out, so please excuse me if I do, but here are just some of the people who made today probably the best ever LEAF Day I have been to or taken part in.

Big thanks to: Pam and Sara for the pizza dough.  ALL the artists for your beautiful work shown all over the site.  ALL our fellow plot holders who so kindly opened up their plots to the artists so they could show their work and to the general public so they could see a little of what goes on beyond our railings.  To the band who turned up and played so excellently to much applause inside our Geo Dome towards the end of the evening.  To all the folks at Grow Sheffield for the bike-powered smoothie maker.  To Madame Zucchini for her excellent vegetable cabaret.  To PXI Nick for the loan of the fruit press.  To the architecture students of Sheffield University for the design and building of our new compost toilets.  To Cape UK for the help with the Geo Dome.  To Ruthie Ford for her brilliant organizational skills.

And lastly, and probably most importantly to Diane for the immense amount of work she has put in over the last few weeks.

You really have been utterly amazing.

Thank You.

Absolutely no problem!The LEAF Bike Train.

But first things first, and today was the first major outing of the ‘LEAF Bike Train’.  As I’d said yesterday, we all met for 10.00 down at The Plots.  Matt, Kyle, David and myself had all brought our bikes with ‘Fresh X Nick’, Gary, Pam and of course Diane all choosing to go by car.  Just as well, for there was quite a bit of stuff that needed ferrying over to SAGE Greenfingers for our lunchtime pizza session.

We ‘Bike Boys’ set off first, and with it only being a couple of miles away (…okay, with a couple of wicked hills in between!..), we arrived long before the rest, and wasted no time in finding the oven and setting to work.The SAGE Greenfingers oven.

Here you can see it before we started.

As I said yesterday, I was in more than a little trepidation of this beast.  I’d never fired one up before, let alone cook edible food for nearly twenty people!

Now as I figured it, cooking in one of these would be completely different from my previous open-fire experience, and I guess I was right.

The trick I found was to get the fire going in there as quickly as possible -the same as I do on an open fire.  This cuts down the amount of smoke.

When the fire is going well, you have to pay particular attention to the bricks on the floor of the oven, making sure they get as hot as possible as quickly as possible.  The first few minutes after the fire has caught should be spent stoking it up with as much dry wood as you can get into it.Stoke it up!

Here you can see it in ‘full flame’, and notice how little smoke there is.  This was quite important for this site because locals have complained about smoke on previous attempts to fire it up.  Today, we were lucky that the wind was at least blowing in the right direction, but even if it hadn’t, there was nothing to really complain about.

Now, we’ve been checking the ‘net for ‘how-to’ guides on wood-fired pizza ovens, and they said that the oven can take up to three hours to get hot enough.  Today, from first lighting it to putting the first pizza in took a little over an hour and a half.  That’s more like it!

When the oven was hot enough, I pushed the hot embers out towards the edges away from the central cooking area.  This left the central baking area clear for the pizza.Pizza before cooking.

Here you can see one that Pam masterfully crafted.

When cooking with this oven, thick gloves were essential to stop burns.  Also essential was one of those long things with a large round flat area on one end to move the pizzas in and out of the oven, but as we didn’t have one, a garden spade sufficed!

Also to note is just how quickly these things cook!  In a domestic oven wound up to maximum heat, you’re looking at about fifteen to twenty minutes.  In one of these things, you’re looking at between 90 seconds and two minutes.  Yes.  Fast!

You also have to turn them through 180° about half way through cooking as the front of the pizza nearest the centre of the oven cooks the quickest.Done!

Taste?  Well, Dear Reader, I could tell you that yeah, they’re kind-of okay, but nothing compared with shop bought pizzas.  I could say that they really aren’t worth the effort.

But then, I’d be completely lying.

Okay, as the ‘Head Pizza Chef’, you get hot, sweaty and dirty; and you’d better have plenty of water on hand to drink because its really dehydrating, but boy is it worth it!Fancy a piece?

So in short:  Today- Complete Success!

Of course, the question on everyone’s lips as I left was; “When are we getting one?!”

Soon, Dear Reader!

There’s a Big Lot more reading to do from the ‘net, then we have to decide exactly where its going to go and how big it will be, but when that’s all done, then my answer is:- “As soon as possible!”

Watch this space for more details in the coming days and weeks.

LEAF will have a Pizza Oven!

You can see all the day’s photos taken with my camera here.

I briefly popped over to The Plots today to pick some more beans.  I’d seen my Dad the other day and taken him a bag full of ‘normal’ runner beans and and another of the ‘red/purple’ French beans that I’m so fond of.Blackberries!

Luckily, getting hold of freshly picked beans at this time of year is not a problem.  Getting rid of them can be, there are so many to pick!

I noticed while there that there are still loads of blackberries that we’ll have to persuade the Plot Kids to pick this Saturday.

Runner Beans. Here you can see some of our beans down on the bottom Demonstration Plot by the driveway.  In just a few minutes, I’d picked more than three pounds of two different varieties, and tonight for dinner it will be ‘Scarlet Emperor’, and you can’t really get much fresher than that!

So tomorrow morning, I’m meeting Diane, David and hopefully Matt to plan out what we’re taking for our ‘Pizza Extravaganza’ over at ‘Sage Greenfingers’ for about 10.00.  When we’ve got all the stuff together, we ‘boys’ are going to cycle over while Diane takes her car and all the ingredients and some more fuel for the oven.

Now, I’ve never ‘fired up’ a pizza oven before, and to be honest Dear Reader, I’m more than a little nervous/excited.  Yes, I guess its something genetic about boys and fire, but more than that, its a whole step up from simply making a cooking fire for me.  I guess it’ll be a good introduction, because Diane is determined that we build one down at LEAF.

I’m maybe a little concerned that apparently they take upwards of three hours to get up to temperature (!!!), so even though we’ll arrive for about 11.00am, it may well be tea time when we can finally eat!

Anyway, not to worry.  There’s no rain forecast, so it’ll be a great day out and a marvelous chance to see old friends and see how their plots are getting on.

I’ll be sure to charge my camera and get some photos to Blog, hopefully tomorrow night.

Speak to you then!


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