Thursday, March 27, 2014

Popover Puff Tart

This elegant but relatively simple dish originated with a Pampered Chef recipe.  Let me say right up front that I like a lot of the Pampered Chef merchandise, and if you were to take inventory of our kitchen, you would find many pieces of Pampered Chef equipment--some of which are used very regularly.

However, I have a couple of little problems with Pampered Chef recipes.  One is that because Pampered Chef is out to sell their merchandise, the directions for each recipe are made so complicated by them telling you in bold print which of their products you are to use to complete each task.  Second, Pampered Chef recipes often include the use of a pre-packaged or pre-processed ingredient such as canned biscuit dough, etc.  I don't mind a bit that their recipes use these things, but I wish that they would also include a "from scratch" version for a couple of reasons.  To begin with, many people are trying to cut as many of the pre-packaged, processed foods from their diets as they can.  Furthermore, I've spent a lot of time poring over vintage recipes, and nothing frustrates me more than when a recipe says something like "a box of marshmallows" or something like that.  The size and contents of packages change over time, and a recipe that calls for a "package" of something is then rendered useless.

Thus, the recipe that I'm sharing here originated with a Pampered Chef recipe, but I drew on my great-grandmother's from-scratch recipe for cornstarch pudding to modify it so that it is completely from scratch.

This recipe is particularly timely if your family is like ours and experiences a rise in the consumption of eggs in the weeks before Easter.  We poke holes in each end of the eggs and blow the egg out of the shell so that when we dye Easter eggs, we are only dying the empty shell.  This is a great system because sometimes the weather on Easter forces us to hold our egg hunts indoors.  You have to understand something about our Easter egg hunts, though: they are a competition, and we hide the eggs so well that sometimes we don't find them all.  Thus, hiding only the shell prevents us from having a rotten mess on our hands.

It's a timely recipe for other reasons too.  We had a huge apple crop last fall, and we've still got bushels of apples in our utility room.  It is quite cool in there, and the apples were Jonathans, so they've been keeping quite well.  We need to get them used, though.

Since the cookstove is being fired almost constantly still, I added small pieces of wood to make a brisk fire in order to bring the oven temperature up to around 400 F.

Here is what you'll need to make the popover puff crust:

3 Tablespoons butter
6 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
First, melt the butter in the bottom of a cast iron skillet.  I used a #8, but I think the next size up would have been better. 
I didn't measure the butter for this particular tart, and I think I got
a little too generous.  This resulted in a puff that wasn't as pretty as
it usually is, so I guess this is one time when more butter isn't better.
Remove the skillet from the heat and tilt and turn it until butter coats the entire bottom and goes part way up the sides.  Set aside.
Combine the eggs, milk, and flour, beating well.

Add the melted butter from the skillet, beating it in quickly so that if it is a little hot yet, it doesn't cook the eggs.  The batter will look a little lumpy.  Pour all into the skillet and put it in the hot oven to bake.

The popover puff is supposed to bake in a hot oven for about twenty minutes.  Then, the oven heat is to be reduced to moderate for another fifteen or so minutes to finish the cooking.  I've found that reducing the heat is not really necessary.  All you need to do is be sure that you've accomplished your hot oven by burning small pieces.  Then, don't refuel the fire as quickly as you would if you were maintaining the high oven heat.  Rather, let the oven gradually cool down to a little hotter than 350 before you add fuel to the fire. 

Of course, you'll want to occasionally take a peek in the oven to see that everything is progressing as it should.  This is particularly fun during this recipe because the popover part changes so dramatically.

The popover puff about midway through its baking.  This is not
nearly as pretty as some that I have made.

While the popover puff is baking, begin working on the fruit filling.  You'll need the following:

4-5 baking apples (I think Jonathans are best)
1 orange
3 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 c. raisins
1/4 c. dried cranberries
2 1/2 Tablespoons cornstarch

Core and slice the apples into a skillet.  I use Granny's large Saladmaster stainless steel frying pan for this step.  Add the raisins and cranberries.  Zest the orange, putting the zest in the pan with the fruits.

Squeeze the juice from the orange and add it to the 1/2 c. of orange juice.  Add enough water to make a cup of liquid. 

In a medium bowl, combine the rest of the filling ingredients and whisk until smooth.  Pour over fruit.

Place the fruit mixture directly over the firebox.  Stirring constantly, cook until thick and fruit is coated.

By the time I inherited Granny's frying pan, the bottom was warped
enough that it doesn't make contact with the stovetop except in the
center.  Therefore, I remove the stove lid beneath it to speed the cooking.
While you are cooking the filling, the popover puff crust will probably finish baking.  Remove it from the oven when it is golden brown and appears to be firm all the way through the bottom.

As the popover puff cools, it will contract and make a nice "bowl" to receive the fruit mixture.

This is what the fruit filling looks like when it is finished.
Pour the fruit filling into the popover puff crust, dust lightly with powdered sugar if desired, and enjoy!  I think that it is delicious.

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Blog Reader's Cookstove - IV

Late last year, reader Rebecca contacted me with information about her family's cookstove.  I have been too busy to blog (as you can tell from the single, solitary posts in January and February), so I feel very guilty about taking so long to post this information--especially because Rebecca's cookstove is a Flameview, and this blog has fielded lots of questions about Flameviews.

Rebecca's Flameview cookstove.
The story of Rebecca's cookstove is one that is not only a testament to how great a woodburning cookstove is, but it is also a testament to what a difference proper insulation can make.  Rebecca and her family live in southern Manitoba, Canada, where temperatures during the winter days can run about -4 F and the nights are generally -31F.  Before purchasing the Flameview, they had been considering installing a masonry stove when they renovated their house.  However, a 48 hour power outage, which ended up causing them to have to temporarily vacate their home, prompted them to decide that a stove which could not only heat their house but also heat their water and cook their food would be a better choice.

The Flameview fit that bill.  They installed their stove in a four-seasons sunroom which is two feet lower than the rest of their house, thus facilitating the transfer of the heat of the stove (and the sun) up into their living quarters without the use of fans.

What's truly impressive is how much of their home heating the Flamview provides, and part of this amazing ability is due to how smartly Rebecca and her husband completed the renovation of their home.  I'll let you read her words:

"When the sun is shining (even if the weather is bitterly cold) I can do a good burn in the morning, something small for lunch and then nothing more until 4:30 pm. When the sun is not shining, then I need to burn more in the morning.  We go through about two large Rubbermaid 68 liter [18 gallon] totes of split wood a day total for heating and cooking. When it is sunny maybe only one tote.

During the renovation we built out the existing walls of the house and added 10" of Ruxol insulation so that our walls in the main house are about R60. We also added new triple-pane windows throughout and more blown-in cellulose insulation in the attic. Unfortunately we only put double-pane in the sun-room. We have 6" walls in the sun-room with pink insulation that is R22 plus thin foil insulation that is R5. If we did the sun-room again we would make the walls thicker and do triple pane windows!

Because our house is well insulated, once we heat it up, the heat stays for quite a while. Even now that it is so cold at night, if we get the house up to 22 degrees celcius [72 F] before going to bed then bank the fire, the furnace only comes on at 5 or 6 am (we have the furnace set at 18 degrees celcius [64 F])."

With this system, the Flamview is able to provide nearly 100% of their home heating unless they are away from home for over twelve hours.


A vew of the firebox side of the Flameview.
In response to my question about what they like best about the Flameview, Rebecca's husband responded that he liked being able to see the fire.  Rebecca, on the other hand, mentioned that she is most impressed by how "crispy and golden" everything looks and tastes from the oven.  She specifically mentioned the oven fries had a superior quality to them that she had not been able to produce in the oven of her modern range--which she still has but rarely uses now that she has figured out how to control the heat of the wood cookstove.
The only drawback that they mentioned is that, in their experience, quite a bit of smoke escapes into the house when the firebox door is opened.
Below, you will see two photographs of the back of the range.  The top one shows how the rear-mounted water reservoir is connected to the coil inside the range.  The bottom one shows the thermostatic control option which is available on Margin stoves as well as the optional electric blower which helps circulate the heat from the range.
Rebecca added some very valuable information about the Flameview in general and the use of the blower on my post entitled "Purchasing a New Woodburning Cookstove," and I'm looking forward to having her chime in quite frequently to help out with a Flameview owner's point of view.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

First Fire from Scratch Since Nov. 9, 2013

I am not dead.

Sorry.  I've done so little blogging lately that I couldn't resist the temptation to borrow the above line from Alice Walker's The Color Purple. 

Life has been so busy here that I haven't had time to do much blogging--a fact which I find very discouraging because I've got a lot to tell you.  However, I just wanted to write a quick post for documentation purposes. 

Nancy and I just arrived home a few minutes ago (a little after 10:00 p.m. CST) after spending the day at the Iowa High School Speech Association's Large Group All-State Festival in Ames.  Two of the speech groups that I co-coach were honored there today, and we are very proud of their success.  We actually stayed in Ankeny with the kids last night so that we would be able to arrive at C.Y. Stephens Auditorium on the ISU campus before 7:30 a.m. without having to wake up long before the crack of dawn.

This brings me to the point of this post.  Tonight I had to do something that I haven't done since Nov. 9 of last year: start the fire in the kitchen cookstove from scratch.  By my calculations, that means that the last fire that we had burned for 103 days straight: a new record for us. 

When Nancy came home early from work yesterday, she loaded the stove and shut all the dampers and drafts, and I honestly thought that it would hold fire better than what it did.  There were a few small embers in the ashes when we came home tonight, but not enough to start a fire.  The thermometer in the dining room read 49.5 degrees Fahrenheit since the furnace was set at 50, and the range boiler was completely cold to the touch.  Both fires are started again, and we are already into the fifties.

Anyway, I've got to get to bed now.  We've got a really busy week ahead so that the speech team can be ready for district individual contests next Saturday.  I hope to get caught up with all of you soon.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Sweeping the Chimney: A Task for a Warm Winter's Day

In our corner of the world, the temperatures in January were a real roller coaster.  We've dipped below zero a few times, and we've been up near sixty.  Fortunately, the warmest days have landed on the weekends, and we've taken advantage of them. 

So what do wood cookstove owners do on those warm days?

We cut, split, and stack firewood, and sweep the chimney, of course!

When we were using the Qualified range, I only swept the chimney once per year in the fall, and really there was never much to sweep out as long as we were burning good, seasoned hardwood.  However, the Qualified wasn't airtight, and though we would load it up and shut it down during the day and at night, it couldn't hold a fire long, so it was consistently burning hot.

The Margin Gem is a different story, though.  When we are home, it is burning hot, but during the days and at night, we load it up and shut it down, too, and it actually holds a fire for a long time (our record is over 24 hours).  Since it has the capability of a slow burn, creosote naturally does accumulate more than it did with the Qualified.

As most of you probably already know, the creosote that I'm talking about is a product of the incomplete combustion of wood.  This black or dark brown substance clings to the inside of a flue, and unfortunately, it is flammable.  Thus, it is what is responsible for the dangerous chimney fires that wood burners want to work hard to prevent.

A couple of weekends ago, we swept our chimney for the third time this heating season.  The process is fairly simple.  The first thing that I usually do is disconnect the stovepipe from the chimney and cover the flue opening with a plastic grocery bag held in place with the elastic band from a discarded pair of underwear. 

What?  Too much information?

The reason I cover the chimney opening is twofold.  First, the soot is prevented from falling all over the stove and the floor as it falls down the chimney.  Second, this helps stop the regular draft of the chimney, so less of the soot is flying into my face while I'm on top of the roof.

We have been maintaining the same fire in the cookstove since Nov. 9.  (It would have been longer than that, but that was the day of our wood cookstove workshop, and we wanted our guests to have the experience of starting the stove.)  Therefore, even though we waited until there was only a small bed of coals in the bottom of the firebox, I skipped this step because I didn't want the smell of the burning coals to simply be escaping the stove into the house for that long.  Thus, I got a face full of soot.
Next, I climb to the top of the roof with my chimney sweeping brush and lengths of rod which screw together at intervals to push the brush down the chimney and pull it back up again.

The north side of our roof isn't that steep as roofs go, and it is covered with asphalt shingles which generally afford pretty good traction, but it still bothers me a little to go up there.  I don't really understand it, either.  When I was in junior high, my grandparents on my dad's side re-roofed the dairy barn here on our farm.  At the time, Granny was a spry 72 years old, and she was the one who had to do all of the high work, so it was she who straddled the ridge pole to nail the cap back on, and I remember getting up there and straddling it with her for a lark.  I don't know what changed for me, but you wouldn't catch me dead up there now, so I generally don't like to get up on the roof to sweep the kitchen chimney.  However, I learned something this year.  If I sweep the chimney on a warm enough day, I can do the job barefooted, and I don't feel at all like I'm in danger of slipping and falling down the roof.  Weird, I know, but I thought I'd tell you about it in case it will help any of you reading this.

As you run the brush up and down the chimney, the larger chunks of creosote fall down to the bottom.  Some chimneys have small square clean out doors for the removal of this refuse, but since our kitchen chimney is the original chimney of the house with a new stainless steel liner in it, the bottom of the chimney is now where the stovepipe enters.  Thus, the creosote must be raked out of the chimney there.

Another thing that I have learned in our second year of having the Margin Gem is that sweeping the chimney is made much easier and more effective if the fire which precedes the sweeping is a really hot fire of small, very dry pieces of wood.  This makes the creosote in the chimney very flaky and easy to dislodge.

Of course, if your cookstove is vented through a chimney which exits through the ceiling--like the chimney for our Jotul heating stove--this whole process is much easier and can be accomplished while standing securely on the floor in the house.

Sweeping a chimney is a little messy, and it does take some time, but it is one of those things that responsible wood burners have to do occasionally in order to keep the fire department from coming over for a visit.  I hope your wood fires are burning brightly and your chimneys are drawing well!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Christmas Card from Us to You

Merry Christmas!
Things have been very hairy here over the last few days as we made the last mad preparations for Christmas, so I'm late getting my Christmas blog post out to my readers.  I should have completed this earlier so that I could have posted it this morning before we spent the day away from home first at my parents' and then at Nancy's folks'.  I'll play the sick card, though, as I have been under the weather for a little over two weeks and still feel miserable.
As I blog tonight, I'm waiting for the fire in Marjorie the Margin Gem to burn down a little bit.  I loaded her up for the night, but got a little over-zealous, so the lids over the firebox didn't fit down snugly.  There is very little danger of fire when this is the case because the strong draft of our chimney generally pulls any sparks that the fire may put off away from the loose lids, but I'm not taking any chances.
Marjorie the Margin Gem has been a very busy lady.  The current fire in her was the one that was started on November 9th when we hosted our wood cookstove workshop.  We have not had to restart her from scratch since then.  Over the last two days, she has turned out several batches of candy, cookies, Chex Mix, and I don't remember what all. 
Marjorie the Margin Gem sporting the Apricot/Raisin
Tea Ring that I baked for Christmas Breakfast.
We have had a wonderful day with family on both sides, but now I'm ready for a long winter's nap. 

I hope you all have had a chance to reflect on the reason that today was special:

"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth."  John 1:14 KJV

Monday, December 23, 2013

Boiled Fudge: A Vintage Christmas Tradition

As we get close to Christmas, the people on my Mom's side of the family cannot help but think about our aunt Meme, who is mentioned in the "About Me" section on the left side of this blog.  As she is the one who really got me interested in cooking on a woodburning cookstove, I also wrote about her at length in the post about her toy cookstove.

Christmas was definitely Meme's favorite time of year.  In the days before macular degeneration got the better of her eyesight, she would spend time making lots of Christmas crafts.  She anticipated Christmas presents in much the same way that a child does, and I never will forget how funny she was when our family was opening gifts.  You see, because she was born in 1895, she had been the oldest person in our family since 1962 when her older brother (my great-grandfather) died.  Unfortunately for her, that side of the family has the tradition of having the youngest person unwrap one of his gifts first; then the second youngest gets to unwrap one of his gifts, and so on and so forth until the oldest person gets to unwrap one of her gifts, after which the whole process starts again with the youngest.  Meme couldn't bear the wait, and very often we would glance over at her and catch her secretly unwrapping a corner of one of her gifts.  In fact, sometimes she would have all of the tape undone on a present by the time we got to her, and all that would be left for her to do would be to pull the paper away in one fell swoop. 

As we were making plans for the two geese that my brother purchased for our Christmas dinner this year, my mother and my aunt recalled how much Meme liked to have roast goose on Christmas because that had been the traditional Christmas dinner of her childhood.  She also was the one who made all of the old-fashioned Christmas candies for the family.  The three that she made most often were penuche, divinity, and fudge.

Meme started having me help her with the Christmas candy making in 1985.  I remember that specifically because for my fifth grade Valentine party later that school year, she and I made divinity that was flavored with strawberry jello, and I remember thinking that the plain old white stuff was better.  By that time, Meme had quit making penuche, but she and I made fudge and divinity together every Christmas from 1985 through 1991.  In the late winter of 1992, Meme had a bout of bad health that spelled the end of her ability to live on her own, so I have made the Christmas candy by myself since then, with occasional help from others.  Today, my sister was my helper.  She and I figured out that the last time we made Christmas candy together was in 1995--before I had purchased the Qualified range.  Of course, all of today's cooking was done on the Margin Gem.

Of all of the candies that we make, I think that my favorite is Meme's old-fashioned, boiled fudge.  I suspicion that the recipe belonged to her mother, so the recipe has passed the century-old mark some time ago.  Meme told me that when she and her sister were old enough to make the candy on their own, it became their responsibility.  Their mother didn't help with the candy making because she did all of the other cooking.  This fudge is not the creamy, buttery fudge that is common today.  In my book, that kind of fudge is okay, but the problem is that it often calls for chocolate chips.

WARNING: I'm about to write something disparaging about chocolate chips!  This may seem sacrilegious to some people, so I thought I'd give you fair notice.

I love chocolate chips in cookies and bars (and occasionally by the handful), but in fudge I don't want to be able to detect that old familiar, any-old-Tuesday-afternoon taste.  This fudge couldn't be called fancy or gourmet, but it is out of the ordinary.

Meme's recipe simply read as follows:

2 c. white sugar
1 c. half and half
1 1/2 squares unsweetened chocolate
2 TBLSP white corn syrup
1 tsp. vanilla

And here's the kicker: The directions for the recipe consist of one word--"Cook."

Well, it's a good thing that I had a few years to have Meme teach me how to make fudge.  Otherwise, I would have had a terrible time figuring out how to "cook" this.  Here is what you do:

Combine sugar, half and half, chocolate, and corn syrup in a heavy bottomed saucepan.  I use a 3-quart one.

Bring to a boil over medium high heat (I usually start this directly over the fire).  Stir enough to get everything evenly mixed.

When the mixture begins to boil, you can move it away from the fire.  You just need to keep it at a slowly rolling boil.  Meme always warned me to only stir it occasionally while it is cooking--just enough to make sure that it is not sticking to the bottom of the pan--because you don't want it to get sugary.

The fudge mixture boiling in the middle of the stovetop.
As the fudge cooks, you'll see the chocolate become more thoroughly mixed into the sugar, and of course, the sugar will begin to darken a little too.

You can see how the look of the fudge has changed by the time
this picture was snapped.  The fudge is just about finished cooking.

The length of time that you cook the fudge is totally dependent upon what you desire the texture of the final product to be like.  Meme always made her fudge a little grainy, so she would cook it past the soft ball stage.  I like it to be more smooth, so I cook it only to the soft ball stage.  I use the cold water test, as I talked about in depth in my post about Christmas caramels.

As soon as it has reached the stage that you desire, remove it from the fire and start beating it.  Add a teaspoon of vanilla flavoring at this point.

Of course, the saucepan is very hot, so I always
cover my lap with a folded bath towel.
 Immediately, begin beating the fudge until it thickens and looses its glossiness.

You can see that the fudge is just about ready to be poured.

Pour the fudge into a buttered 8x8 cake pan and let it finish cooling and setting up.  Once it is cool, you can cut the fudge into squares and store it in tins.

I'll be the first to admit that this recipe for fudge is not for everyone.  My dad misses the fudge that my grandmother on that side of the family used to make (complete with melted chocolate chips and marshmallows), but this old recipe is what I consider my favorite Christmas candy.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Wood Cookstove Clearances

Disclaimer: I am not a woodburning expert.  I do not claim to know everything about the codes for installing woodburning appliances of any nature, so please consult with contractors, building inspectors, fire protection agencies, and your insurance providers before installing any woodburning appliance.

A longtime, faithful blog reader posted a comment this morning, and here is an excerpt:

"While I love the look of the older stoves, I have been leaning towards a new stove due to the smallish space I have in which to place the stove. It is my understanding that greater clearances are required for the older stoves. I note that the pic of the stove in your summer kitchen shows your vintage stove very close to the walls. Can you talk a little about clearances?"

She is quite right that the green and cream Riverside Bakewell is installed very close to the wall in our summer kitchen.  The picture at the top of this blog shows that it is basically up against the wall behind it.  This wall is protected by 1/4" cement board mounted to the studs with ceramic electric fence insulators used as spacers.  There is no drywall behind the wall protection.

This picture shows the wall protection behind the
stove in the summer kitchen better.
However, it is very important to note that we were only able to do this because we do not carry insurance on the summer kitchen.

For the installation of any vintage wood cookstove, the most recent requirements that I have say that the clearance from the stove to any combustible wall (or furniture, etc.) is 36".  The required distance between single-wall stovepipe and combustibles is 18".  These distances can be cut in half by using approved wall protection.

Furthermore, the reader is correct that newer stoves often need lower clearances.  This reason for this is twofold:

1. Most new wood cookstoves are tested and certified by Underwriters Laboratories.  They can establish different clearances for different sides of the stove, etc. 

2. Many new wood cookstoves are equipped with heat shields which are standard parts of the stoves' construction.

Such is the case with our Margin Gem.  The entire rear part of the main body of the stove is covered with a heat shield.  This makes it so that the rear clearance from the back of the Margin Gem to a combustible wall is only 6".  This was a major consideration for us as we chose our stove.

The rear of the Margin Gem.

The Margin Gem in place.
Our contractor fireproofed the wall behind the stove so that we could reduce the clearances to 3", but the stove actually sits nearly five inches from the wall to accommodate the bend in the stovepipe as it makes its way to the chimney.

As I mentioned before, most new stoves are UL listed.  Your home insurer may require that your wood cookstove be UL listed, which would then make it impossible to have a vintage stove, so be sure to look into that before purchasing.

If space is a concern, many great new stove options still exist, so don't give up the dream!

Readers: Please be sure to click on Stephen B.'s informative comment below for valuable additional information.

P.S. (12/28/2013)  It occurred to me to add that stove owners need to exercise some common sense, too.  When I purchased the Qualified range, the installation instructions that came with it said that only 8" of clearance were needed on the right (non-firebox side) of the stove.  This was not a concern in either of the places that it has been installed so far since nothing was that close to the right side of the stove.  However, after operating the stove, it became quite obvious that the 8" listing was for Qualified ranges which were equipped with a reservoir.  I don't believe that 8" would have been at all safe for that stove's right side.