The Wood-Fired Blog

Stale Bread, Panzanella, Dutch Tomatoes and the EU

I was writing about food waste and bread storage the other day, and mentioned that many traditional recipes call for stale bread — including panzanella. Like many wonderful Italian dishes, it relies on a short list of high quality ingredients. In this case, tomatoes, bread, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt. If each ingredient is great, then the dish is great; it’s only as good as the weakest links, etc.

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So while I was making panzanella this evening, I found myself thinking about tomatoes. It’s barely spring in the northern hemisphere, so the outdoor tomato crop has not kicked in, and we (on the west coast of the USA) have to rely on what seems to be an improving supply of hot house tomatoes from Mexico, California, and Holland. Yes, Holland. Cold, wet, northern Holland. The land of gouda, windmills and Heineken. I had been wondering for a while why Holland was such a large supplier of tomatoes, and I finally found the answer. Basically, good IT and good business practices. The story behind the Dutch tomato business was covered in the European edition of Time Magazine that I read on an airplane, and while I cannot link to the article itself — here are two Blogs that covered the article.

Believe it nor not, Holland is Europe’s largest tomato exporter. From Greek Reporter:

When comparing the tomato production and export of the Mediterranean countries (Greece, Italy and Spain, which have traditionally been the largest European producers and exporters of the product) it’s Holland which has managed through the use of technology and good organization to become Europe’s largest tomato exporter.

The report prompted the European south to imitate Holland in order to become more competitive. The Dutch producers use high-tech greenhouses, electronic temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide control systems. This is why they have managed to produce 70 pounds of tomatoes per square meter, at the same time when a producer from southern Europe produces at most seven pounds, 10 times less.

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As an interested spectator of international business, the EU, the Euro, Italy, Spain, Greece and Holland, the European north-south divide, and food, panzanella with Dutch tomatoes is the great intersection. Hopefully Spain, Greece and Italy (and perhaps Cyrpus) can get their collective acts together, and we can see even better tomatoes in the US that were grown in the Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, you can still buy Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar imported directly from the producer in Italy through the FB Store. Our dinner tonight was wonderful. Great Extra Virgin Olive Oil hides many food-related sins.

Massive, Open, Online Course (MOOC) — on Food, Physics and Engineering

There is a huge change coming to education. Massive, Open, Online Courses have the potential to fundamentally change the way everyone learns new things — from high school and college kids, all the way up to older types. The industry is exploding, with new online institutions and classes emerging every day. Among the more interesting ideas is that massive class sizes and online teaching and testing infrastructures will give educators vast amounts of real-world data to analyze how we learn and what works.

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This is really cool stuff. Never one to miss a new trend, I have jumped in. I am taking Introduction to Computer Science from EDX, a group of leading universities who are collaborating to deliver top courses online, led by MIT, Harvard and Cal Berkeley. My class is called 6.00 (pronounced six hundred) and is basically the first class taught by the computer science/EE department at MIT (6 is the number of the department, and the .00 number for the class); those engineers are nothing if not well organized.

I’m a little less than half way in, and holding on. My only computer class was in college (over 33 years ago), so I’m a little rusty. But I am enjoying the process, and having a lot of fun seeing MOOC from the inside. My class has hundreds of thousands of students from all over the world.

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All of which brings me to a new class that is going to be taught in the fall. Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science. It’s a Harvard class; here’s the description:

Science & Cooking brings together top chefs and preeminent Harvard researchers to explore how everyday cooking and haute cuisine can illuminate basic principles in physics and engineering, and vice versa.

During each week of the course, you will watch as chefs reveal the secrets behind some of their most famous culinary creations — often right in their own restaurants. Inspired by such cooking mastery, the Harvard team will then explain, in simple and sophisticated ways, the science behind the recipe.

Topics will include: soft matter materials, such as emulsions, illustrated by aioli; elasticity, exemplified by the done-ness of a steak; and diffusion, revealed by the phenomenon of spherification, the culinary technique pioneered by Ferran Adrià.

To help you make the link between cooking and science, an “equation of the week” will capture the core scientific concept being explored. You will also have the opportunity to be an experimental scientist in your very own laboratory — your kitchen. By following along with the engaging recipe of the week, taking measurements, and making observations, you will learn to think both like a cook and a scientist. The lab is also one of the most unique components of this course — after all, in what other science course do you get to eat your lab?

The science sounds scary — but the class sounds really interesting. We’ll see. It starts in October. If I don’t pass 6.00, I might take it again to get my certification. Whose says you can’t teach an old dog a new trick.

 

Bread Storage

We bake and eat a lot of (good, healthy) bread. But there are only three of us when our older daughter is away at college, so we don’t make it through the 2lb loaves that I typically bake in a day or two — so bread storage really matters. Do it wrong, and you end up throwing away of lot of stale bread that could be avoided.

Here is a nice whole wheat, oat, honey loaf and a banana bread. We aren’t going to eat all if this tomorrow. haha.

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As a complete aside, I can see why there are so many traditional recipes that call for stale bread. Back when everyone baked and there wasn’t a supermarket, everyone had lots of stale bread, and they had to figure out something to do with it.

Luckily, the solution is really easy. Amazon carries a nice acrylic bread storage container that works really well. It expands to match the size of your bread, it’s clear so that you can see what you have, it doesn’t take a lot of counter space, and best of all — it really works. We have two and they are in constant use. They cost $13 each, and we have easily save more than $26 by not throwing out stale bread.

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Sorry. But I have one more aside. There is a great TED talk on food waste in the developed world. We throw away about half of the food that we produce, and the presenter has some good ideas on what we can be doing about it.

So, bake, eat and enjoy!

The New Fornobravo.com Navigation Comes to the FB Store and FB Forum

Quick update on www.fornobravo.com.

We have rolled out the new navigation, header and footer to the FB Store and the FB Forum. I really like the way it looks and it makes it much easier to find interesting stuff on fornobravo.com.

If you find anything that doesn’t work for you, be sure to let us know.

More application updates are on their way.

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Baguettes Follow Pizza

This is becoming a good habit. Baguettes follow pizza, and this time it was particularly fun because I got to see how the Central Milling flour works in bread. You know what happens  — you make 9 pizza balls, and you only make six pizzas. So you roll your extra dough into a ball, and refrigerator it overnight, and then bring it out in the morning to take off the chill.

My dough started to come back to life by early afternoon, and I shaped my baguettes, let then proof for about 90 minutes and then slashed and baked them in time for dinner. Despite my best attempt at properly scoring them, they still exploded! One of these days I am going to get it right.

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Much like the pizzas, the Central Milling flour gave my bread a nice crunch in the crust, and a dense, flavorful crumb. The loaves were not as light and airy as a traditional French baguette, but the overall effect was very good.

 

Pizza with Central Milling Tipo 00 — very nice

Our older daughter is home for spring break, which is a real pleasure. She’s relaxing (and not in Florida), and it’s great having everyone together. Which is as good a reason as there is for a pizza party.

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I used Central Milling Tipo 00 (rather than our usual Molino Caputo Pizzeria flour) and really enjoyed the different. The Central Milling flour is very fine and it’s a pleasure to work with, and the pizza crust has a nice crunch and a lot of texture and flavor. It’s a real manly (muscular) pizza, if you know what I mean.

That’s the good news. The not so good new is that I made a 1.5kg patch of dough in my KitchenAid stand mixers, and just about killed it. It made that burner gear small and shut itself off after about seven minutes. Though it came back on later.

The formula was 65% hydration, so 1.5kg flour, 30 gr. salt, 15 gr. yeast and 975 gr. water. I still have three 275 gr. dough balls left — so I get to make bread tomorrow.

Enjoy your spring break if you have one coming.

And Now, Something Completely Different

I’ve been talking about doing a triathlon since last year, and the time has come. The tendonitis in my heels is getting better slowly, but I still cannot do the training load that I would like, so rather than cutting back, or continuing to push all of my athletic output through that weak link, it’s time to spread the load. I’ve signed up for the Vineman Ironman in Healdsburg, CA on July 27. Hopefully this will fill the slot last year where I ran the 50 mile ultra last summer, and I will come back stronger than ever for a fast winter marathon. Well, we can always hope.

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If you have read our blog, you know I really like this stuff, and I am already enjoying the triathlon training. The Ironman is a 2.4 mile swim, 112 on the bike and then a 26.2 marathon. 140.6 in total. I’m a slow swimmer, so I’m not sure how competitive I’ll be. We’ll see. It’s different from pure running, but so far so good. I put a stationary bike (with an iPad strapped to the handle bars) in the garage, I still run out on 17 mile drive, and the local gym/pool is about a mile away. Last week I ran 45 miles, biked 125 and swam 4.4. It’s a different, whole body tired. And I’m always hungry.

Wish me luck.

I’m still running Boston (April 15) and Big Sur (April 28) this year, but they are basically training runs with friends. Which sounds like a lot of fun. Plus our older daughter is still in Boston, so I alway have that to look forward to.

Spring is almost upon us, and this is such an exciting time of the year. Forno Bravo is buzzing, and we’re looking forward to hearing from you.

 

Steel Cut Oats and the Wholewheat Brick

I have talked about this before — but there is a certain amount of pressure on you if you bake a lot of bread for your family. The family relies on you, and kids vote with the feet (or mouths in this case), and if your bread isn’t good, they won’t eat it; and your wife tries to be nice at eat the mistakes, but at some point you wear out your welcome. Plus, while virtually all homemade bread is better than virtually all store bread, you can create a situation where everyone’s taste are turned against store bread — so that your mistakes stand out even more.

Yesterday I made an old mistake and I should just know better by now. I added steel cut oats to my final dough, after an overnight pre-ferment, without soaking the oats. I know that you can get away with this when you use old fashioned oats, but the steel cut oats just suck all of the water out of your final dough, and no matter how long you give your final loaf to rise before you put it in the old — it’s still going to be as dense as a brick. And that’s exactly what happened.

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I know that you are supposed to soak steel cut oats (and other whole grains) for 24 hours before you add them to you bread. But the oats were just sitting there calling out to me. I added the final flour, some molasses, honey and olive oil, oat bran, flax seeds and sunflower seeds, and then the steel cut oats. I might have been able to improve my bread by adding water and continuing to knead the final dough, but momentum got the best of me.

Live and learn. But I need to focus on the learn part.

Here is my very dense whole wheat, multi-seed loaf. We’re eating it, but I have used up some of my well-earned baking capital with the family.

Vancouver’s Most Famous Chef Loves His Forno Bravo Oven

Here’s a fun story from the Vancouver’s The Globe and Mail.

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David Hawksworth owns and runs what is often recognized as Vancouver’s best restaurant, but he keeps his favourite kitchen toy at home. Six months ago, he bought himself a Forno Bravo wood-burning pizza oven, and he has been playing with it ever since. “I get it really hot with three types of hardwood: maple, alder and birch,” he says gleefully. “It makes a great pizza!”

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Here’s some fun background information on David from his Hawksworth Restaurant website. Wow, what a talented guy:

David Hawksworth

Chef David Hawksworth realises his culinary vision at his first eponymous restaurant, in the very heart of downtown Vancouver. At Hawksworth Restaurant he has created the ideal setting to deliver compelling contemporary Canadian cuisine; a demonstration of his European-trained technical ability, deep appreciation for local ingredients and an absolute insistence on only the very best quality.

A native Vancouverite who spent a decade honing his talents in Europe working in Michelin-starred kitchens such as Le Manoir aux Qaut’ Saisons, L’Escargot and The Square, David Hawksworth soon emerged as one of Canada’s leading culinary talents upon his return in summer 2000. With Hawksworth at the helm, Vancouver’s West restaurant became a perennial winner at the Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards and drew attention from international media who immediately recognized his talents.

In 2005, Hawksworth was named Vancouver’s Chef of the Year and in 2008 he was named to Western Living’s ‘Top 40 under 40’ and became the youngest chef inductee in to the BC Restaurant Hall of Fame. Hawksworth has travelled extensively as a guest chef, most notably to the James Beard House, in New York City , Masters of Food & Wine, in Carmel as well as Sevva in Hong Kong. Hawksworth has donated his time to a number of charitable causes and continues his long-standing commitment to Fishing For Kids the West Coast Fishing Club’s annual charity tournament benefiting the Canucks Autism Network and BC Children’s Hospital.

The New Forno Bravo Showroom

We’re looking forward to seeing you at our new office and factory at 251 W. Market St in Salinas, CA. We have come a long way in 9+ years (I can still remember meeting customers at our first small warehouse in Windsor, CA), and we have lots more planned in the months ahead.

Here is a photo of our new showroom — the colors are really nice, and there is lots of space to look around and get a good idea of which oven would work best for you.

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