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EVOO Cooking School

Wine and Food Tour under the Tuscan Sun with EVOO

Note posted 8-24-16: This tour has been postponed until 2017. Please watch for update.

Would you like to come along?  Our itinerary is a nice blend of Tuscan Wines with Tuscan Food Culture and we are going back to the first villa we stayed in on our first trip with guests to Italy.

Click through here to read the details of the trip. 2016 Tuscany with EVOO tour lenore’s revisions


WFO Project

See a the first flame
Bob keeping good notes while he fires up the oven
Olivia was quite chatty over the new oven

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, finally we are getting closer to being able to use the oven. Being careful not to make any mistakes has taking longer than expected. The last hang up was waiting for help on what the chimney pipe should look like. It was days getting to the decision, another day installing and trimming the apple tree so branches didn’t get close enough to get too hot. Yes, tree branches were trimmed. So sad since is starting to look like best apple season yet for this tree. But better now than after the mature apples weigh it down till they touch the exhaust pipe. Could make for a nice apple sauce.

The first day for lighting the fires in both the oven and grill started early. Bob, Lenore and Olivia went to the back yard, gathered the fire extinguisher, some long handled tools, oven mitts, and something for notes. Have I said yet that we are happy we added a gas starter? We may have been all day instead of the 45 minutes it took to get a good flame on the wood in both apparatuses (or should that be apparati). Anyway, the oven gas jet provided a powerful flame to ignite the smaller pieces of oak inserted near it. Soon the pile was powering itself, so gas shut off, and we moved the pile to the opposite corner.

We then moved to the grill, where the wood is stacked on an iron rack inside the chimney , perched above the gas started. We turned on the gas, and it worked well enough to get the wood above it lit, but everything seemed too slow. About that time our neighbor, Dwight, popped up with a proper way to place the wood for best coverage–his stack was vertical not horizontal and more like the teepee shape we strive for making a beach fire. It worked.

We then realized that our food safety thermometer scanner keep shutting off when the surface reached a temperature it thought was hot enough! It flashed HI, we wanted to know if it was 500 yet.  Dwight again to the rescue–just happened to have an electrical scanner in his truck that demonstrated we were reaching very close to 500F on the grill itself. Just right to cook staff lunch.  A few rib eye steaks and the skilled hands of Florencio and in a few minutes the steak was done.

 


WOOD FIRED OVEN PROJECT, continued

The grill turned and put together backwards, making the chimney on the right side as desired. But...
Here is the view of the base which the oven is to be built on--this our contractor built and we haven't even opened the oven kit yet.

Okay so we bought a wood fired oven kit! It is a 2000 pound puzzle and one might think my Lego building past might come in handy with this. Sadly, we have already run into a snag–we ordered the wrong version of the wood fired companion grill. Little did we know there was a right and left side version of said grill. This is even more disturbing because we have already set the base of the oven in place and are learning the grill with left sided chimney that we purchased is not the one we wanted with a right sided chimney. After several reconfigurations we decided we could build it backwards, and access from the back instead of its proper front.  Well that was a great idea, but as soon as we realized it required cutting some of the puzzle pieces, a move that might be fatal to the project, we went back to building it the way it is intended. Alas, we will live with a left sided chimney and like it.

I defer to Lenore in design areas like this. From a usability standpoint it is functional, especially with the proposed table top prep area and under counter storage. But visually Lenore is concerned it may be visually out of balance and somewhat awkwardly lopsided with the chimney in the way. And it is entirely possible we are both overthinking this! In the end I am confident it will provide an awesome addition to our current cooking options.

Oh, and Lenore wants me to tell you that the reason we didn’t just opt to get the kit with the chimney in the desired place is that there are none available in the USA and we’d have to  order one from Italy and wait for it to be shipped. Could be months. I for one am not good at deferred gratification.


BACKYARD KITCHEN EXPANSION–THE PROJECT BEGINS

Todd is the engineer on this project
Laying concrete to hold the weight of these two monsters
2800 pounds of pieces to our oven and grill

Yes, we are finally putting in the wood fired oven I have always  wanted. It has landed, all 2800 pounds of it in our driveway, now covered to keep dry. It is in multiple pieces and goes together like a puzzle. It comes all the way from Italy via a company in Portland. What a lucky find–we saw the same ovens many places in Italy when we were there. It is not quite the biggest one, but it is large. We decided to put in its companion piece, the wood fired grill. This is the same set up we saw so many places thorough out Italy. The grill will replace our current stainless steel model gas grill, pretty typical of around here. Both new pieces are to be fired by both wood and gas. This way we conserve the wood and time it takes to fire up to the maximum temperatures we need for breads and pizza. In the process of making this all come together, I am journaling to make sure I don’t forget anything; I’ll be posting some photos as I go.

We couldn’t do this without help of a rather knowledgeable builder, and luckily we have secured services of Todd, friend and  owner of his contracting business. The first day of construction he began digging up the place that the concrete will go.

 


SOURCING OUR INGREDIENTS

It occurs to us that while there are many signs of progress in the area of using ones food dollars to vote for the more sustainable and even humane production of food ingredients, the progress is still very slow. In fact I for one have not always put my money where my mouth is, and so I am not being critical, as much as I am wishing to influence my colleagues and our customers to catch up.

The subject for this blog was prompted by a recent copy of  “Mise En Place, ” the alumni magazine from my alma mater, the Culinary institute of American, Hyde Park, NY. It makes a strong statement that chefs must lead in the effort to connect the so called farm and fork. It is a nice validation for Lenore and me because it comes from that very respected institution.   That said I see colleagues still too often choosing a “sometimes stance” rather than “all or nothing.”

I confess Lenore and I did it too in the beginning, as we began to know the local farms and vendors, we learned of people (farmers) who were changing to all sustainable practices, but didn’t have certification because of cost. After a time, we decided that organic is the only way to ensure sustainable food practices in the world, so we changed to ALL organic.

Still it wasn’t easy. And we do sympathize with chefs in more typical restaurants who try to purchase responsibly. Besides the obvious, higher cost, most restaurant menus are static, and so if a chef wanted to serve only sustainable ingredients, they end up using the unsustainable alternatives just to deliver what their menu says. That we own our business, we can be fully true to our own convictions as long as we are willing to pay more for those products, and as long as our customers are willing to pay for it, too. As a result, we are tracking pretty close to our desired sustainable, green, clean mantra. Restaurants that commit and advertise their sustainable practices have only benefited, especially now since the general public is becoming more and more aware.

Some restaurants are practicing the 100 mile radius sourcing of ingredients, which is admirable, but difficult to strictly adhere.The reality that we live in a global economy has led us to practice some latitude in our commitment, latitude that is also responsible we think. Truth is we want to participate in the world of commerce knowing we don’t want to give up bananas, coffee, or chocolate either; so our guiding principle is to stick with the 80-20 rule, meaning about 80% of our products are local and 20% global. This in no way applies to those ingredients that for us must be humanely raised and harvested, where our commitment is  “all or nothing.” Oranges in season in California is a reasonable exception, despite the shipping distance, since we most likely will not be harvesting oranges in Oregon. Would we include shipping sustainable lobster from Maine cross country for our menu, not likely, and probably not from Japan either, but we also leave it open for case by case discussion with the 80/20 rule.

Today is all about sharing our self-imposed rules for sourcing our ingredients.

Produce: First we buy in season in the PNW. We apply the belief that local in season ingredients produce the best results, besides being more sustainable. That means we have given up tomatoes out of season for good. There is simply no substitute for a tomato that is in season and grown in the earth without benefit of green house. This rule right now only applies to tomatoes for us, because we do sometimes bring in strawberries before they are in season here, but are in season in California. We argue (or rationalize) that when a bride wants strawberries on her menu, we will make that happen! So the majority of our purchases are, of course, organic, in season produce, and as for local we go to Oregon first, Washington second, Idaho, Alaska, BC Canada, California and Mexico third.

Beef: We look for pastured, antibiotic free grass only fed and finished beef. We prefer processing to be nearby the ranch so animals do not experience the trauma of long travel. It was important for us to weed out those companies that pasture for grass feeding, but who also provide grain in bins out in the field. It is like they are conflicted about why grass feeding is important not just for us, but for those animals that by nature cannot eat grain. And lastly we ask for full term cattle, in other words, those that have been raised as long as it takes to reach market weight, creating a better tasting meat.

Fish & Seafood: We frequently check what the Monterey Aquarium Seafood Watch recommends. This is the first organization that rated the harvesting of fish whose numbers are dangerously low or that are temporarily in short supply. They let us know which species are caught or farmed in ways that supports the health of the ocean and fish, now and for future generations. We choose “best choices” and if not available we look for “good alternatives” or eco-certified options found on their app and website.

We also know our vendors here on the north coast of Oregon. And they know us. So by now, when we ask for fresh salmon, they might just say not yet available, even though we see it in the markets. This is because we opt only for line caught fish, so fish have not been traumatized by nets that trap and hold them till they perish before pulling them in. It is obvious to me every time I see a fish caught by trolling–there are actual bruises and tears in the flesh. That also creates off taste in the meat.

Dairy:  We source pasture raised milk, antibiotic free, knowing that it is more humane and also grass translates to better nutrition for us and makes for better tasting cheeses. We prefer to choose cheese labeled  “farmsted,”  because it means the milk from which it is made comes from animals raised on the same farm. Transporting to a factory makes sanitation more challenging. It already requires enormous care making cheeses sanitary, especially for the cheeses which do not need pasteurization due to their aging process. In general, where food safety is concerned buying local and sticking close to home is one of the best ways to help prevent FBI. (food borne illness) And that is another topic for another day.

Staples:  For flours, (wheat, corn, whole wheat, rice, etc), cinnamon, sugar and chocolate, we ask for certification of GMO free and fair trade. It isn’t always possible to be sure just from a label so we ask the vendor to provide the proof. There has been lots of discussion around olive oils and other oils. We believe the Italian problem (improperly labeled as EVOO) has by now been taken care of but it is always a good idea to talk to the grocers about their products. If they cannot answer to the quality then shame on them. Most vendors want to please; they want you to return. If they don’t know something they most likely will try to find out. As customers our questions help shape what is carried in their stores. We find it difficult to find non-GMO oils. We therefore steer clear of the corn oils vegetable, and some canola oils, unless we know the brands or the label states GMO free.

 

Footnote: At EVOO we are not entirely where we would like to be on the topic of sourcing ingredients. It is not only the health of the animals, sea creatures and organic farming practices that are important to us. Yes, healthy products are healthier for people. Tastier too, and buying responsibly is the path to preserving quality and quantities for generations. We must also do what is healthy for the planet. Eating more of a plant based diet will enormously help the planet. Raising cattle and milk cows creates a very big carbon footprint; one that can be controlled by cutting the amounts we consume.

The entire world seems to have too large an appetite for beef, which means controlling farming practices alone will not be enough to lessen the impact on the environment. We all must decide to eat less beef. We would also add, that eating only the best cuts of beef is not sustainable no matter how little we eat.  We must equally consume the lesser cuts as part of our quotas. We enjoy raising awareness of our guests when we serve them grass fed/finished tenderloin of beef, but we know once we get that message across, we must show by example with menus utilizing all cuts.

And by example we hope to inspire a plant forward style of eating. Eating the true Mediterranean diet is the closest diet pyramid to this end. Making plant foods more prevalent on the plate and using animal foods under 3-4 ounce servings is going to make for good eating and reduce the demand for meat. Choosing other meats like lamb, goat, and bison is healthier for the planet, and yet they are still red meats that must be limited for human health.

Lots to consider, and yet we must consider how what we buy/eat influences our future. It is also important to be open to new technologies; ones tested enough before we jump onto the band wagon. We remain open to change, believe in education, and endeavor to make enlightened responses.


IN THE WORKS AT EVOO

With two months into the new year, we still have so much to do; things we wanted to have nailed down by now.

#1. Let’s see– our domestic tour to New Orleans. We are going most likely the first week in OCTOBER, and we are very close to finalizing all of our details. Shoot us an email at info@evoo.biz if you have the dates available and want more details.

#2–to pizza oven or not to pizza oven. That dance is finally over. Yes, Bob has finally won and there is a very good possibility this will happen by April of this year. For starters, we have purchased the oven. The important parts were all built in Italy and will need to be assembled and finished once they arrive in the backyard of the school. Looking for handipersons help for that!
#3 is to take a specialty food product to market. We already have our line of spice blends,  and our sea salt, and now we are hoping to add our Blackberry Catsup (Ketchup), as well as Bob’s Tomato Jam. Both products can be made from recipes posted on our website, but for the convenience of us all, these two items will be very useful additions to our pantries.

Bob and Lenore are all about up-scaling the pantry so that we take ordinary staple foods (i.e., rice, beans, pastas) to the next level with some very clean, green and tasty purchased ingredients.

Okay, yes, we have been going to do this for a few years now, but are learning how tough it really is to get foods to market. First to find a local manufacturer to partner with who will honor the recipe and concept is harder than one might think. Price is always a concern–even very good products can be priced out of reach and fail. It does makes sense to be as frugal as we can, but to change from a fresh garlic, for example, to a dehydrated garlic, can potentially derail a successful outcome.

Our plan is to keep the recipe the same as the “homemade” recipe. Happily we have found a co-packer who really cares about his business partners, preferring to help small companies like ours. He is willing to shop for price on our behalf. And he has good suggestions for substitutions that we can taste before deciding. Needless to say, though positive, it’s still time consuming.

 #4-– This year’s Oregon Red and White Chefs Blends are yet to be bottled. It looks like we have a date to do so in April so it should be ready by the time our 2012 runs out. It gets complicated, but we believe we can continue the “Chef’s Blend” brand with the reds for sure. Our current Chef’s Blend 2013 Oregon White is still plentiful enough we can skip a year.