Sunday, 15 January 2012

Cooking in the wood-fired heater (Ξυλόσομπα)

Our new wood-fired heater has been in use for just over a fortnight. It heats the house very well, at the same time as keeping the interior walls warm. The outcome is a warmer house all day, with less heat loss than using liquid energy powered radiators. The downside is that a slight smell of wood smoke is discernible in the open spaces where it escapes to, even from those few seconds that it takes to open the heater door, stoke the fire and add another log.

The biggest bonus of this heating system for me came a week after we installed it, when I started using the oven compartment. The trick with this kind of cooking device is that you have to maintain the temperature at a constant level. There is a temperature gauge on the oven, although it isn't exact; this isn't really an issue as I never use exact cooking temperatures or times even with a conventional oven. An experienced cook tends to know how hot an oven is by the heat of the air that punches their face as the oven door is opened, or by placing their hand in the oven. What I had to learn to do was to pile the appropriate number of logs in the correct way onto the already burning embers, so that the fire wouldn't choke or go out, and it would give me the heat that I wanted.

The oven compartment is smaller than my conventional oven. Luckily, I had appropriately-sized baking tins and trays, otherwise, it would have meant buying new accessories (more money).

My first experiment involved cooking lunch. I make papoutsakia in the summer with fresh aubergine and mince. These filled aubergine shells were taken straight out of the freezer and placed in a roasting pan with potatoes, with some tomato sauce, olive oil, water and seasonings. The meal took about an hour to cook - this is less time than what I usually need when I use the conventional oven! The potatoes came out very tender, but not as golden as I'm used to getting in a conventional oven. Practice makes perfect.

While lunch was cooking, I mixed up a batch of ladokouloura. As soon as our lunch was ready, in went the olive oil biscuits - so much value for so little cost. But the piece de resistance was the leek and onion pie made with home-made filo. I felt like my grandmother at that moment - yiayia's food really was the best. My yiayia is more likely to have made kalitsounia, something I always make in large culinary sessions and store in the deep freeze. In a hot wood-fired oven, they only need about 15 minutes to cook - that's really fast!

The wood-fired oven has given my family a chance to experience the past.

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