Stovetop Cook 101: Since the fire’s on, try making dinner

I’m not a caravan, happy or otherwise. The only time I sleep outdoors is in a backyard hammock on a lazy summer afternoon. Therefore, I did not really give myself the opportunity to become a good cook in the open culinary field.

However, since my chimney cleaning gave me everything last fall, I wanted to try the wood-burning flames of one of the eight working stoves in my house. Since the house was built in 1806 and cast iron wood-burning stoves didn’t become common in homes until the beginning of the 20th century, I’m certainly not the first cook to double down on campfires to get rid of the cold. This old bustling place to serve dinner too. If you’re spending on fuel (in our case wood from maple trees that have been cut down in our yard due to the electricity company’s power line requirements) and releasing environmental impact into the air, you’d better make as much of that energy expenditure as possible.

I would be irresponsible at this point in this column if I didn’t remind people that cooking shouldn’t be done on a natural gas or propane gas stove. Grease or other food particles can easily fall onto logs causing them to not function properly at best, or cause a fire at worst.

To support your mid-winter cooking adventures, I have a recent feature on custom Supaflu liners that are poured into old chimneys for safety and airflow. Additionally, we reconstructed our exterior chimneys last summer. I know enough about the history of the Dunning-Hawthorne House (named after Aaron, architect and Nathaniel, Frontier’s most famous) to try cooking in the deep fireplaces only on the first floor. The rooms in the upstairs bedrooms are shallow as they are meant to house the hot coals carried from the downstairs fires when it is time to sleep.

“Food cooked in the hearth tastes great, better than food cooked in the most traditional methods today—charcoal (grill) included,” Susan Goldenson writes in the introduction to her book, “The Open-Hearth Cookbook: Recapturing the Flavor of Early America.” With a few exceptions—large cakes, soufflés, and other delicate desserts—Goldenson says just about anything one would like to eat can easily be made in the fireplace.

The most obvious starting point for me was roasting marshmallows on a long-handled, multi-sided metal fork for s’mores. If s’mores stay in mind as a summertime treat, replace the chocolate with Nutella or a peanut butter cup and regular graham cracker for a cinnamon or chocolate fudge, but still have wipes ready because the stickiness factor doesn’t diminish from the inside.

The same fork can be used to roast sausages, but to avoid flaring from dripping pork fat, it’s best to simply heat precooked sausages such as red snapper in Maine or smoked sausages like kielbasa from Smith’s Log Smokehouse in Monroe in this way.

Another entry point to stovetop cooking is roasting Maine potatoes. It is washed, pierced and salted before wrapped in protective aluminum foil, and placed in charcoal under a flame for 45 to 90 minutes depending on the size of the blister and the temperature of the charcoal. I blinked about whether or not I’d wrap it, but since the ash-roasted potato skin can’t be eaten, and the skins are my favorite part, I rolled it up.

If you clean the stovetop wide scoop, it can double as a cheese melter to pour over both sausages and potatoes you’ve cooked on the stovetop. Add a few pickles to the table and you’ll have a party.

Cast iron equipment may be required to expand the stove’s cooking repertoire. The fireplace in my living room is equipped with a cooking ‘lever’ – a rotating metal rod attached to a fireplace wall that swings over the fire. It has an adjustable hook that can hold a cast iron pot over the stove to cook everything from soup to chestnuts (cue Mel Tormé). Lodge Cast Iron sells a variety of Dutch ovens that have a wire “bail” handle that can hang from the lever and clever little legs so they can stand over hot coals. Those cost between $55 for a 2-liter capacity and $110 for a 10-quart capacity.

Still doing my best, I posted a message on Facebook: “Hey guys, Brunswick…Does anyone have a cast iron dutch oven with a handle that lets you hang to cook over a fireplace in a fireplace that I can borrow?” I recorded an antique one that my friend’s brother-in-law used for this very purpose.

The chestnuts were raised first. Soaked in water for 30 minutes and opened carefully at the ends, I put them in the borrowed Dutch oven, and grilled plump, hot and fragrant in 20 minutes. If you don’t have a winch or legged Dutch oven, you can pull out the aluminum foil and cook it in a bundle as you did with charcoal-roasted potatoes.

Thanks to the chestnuts’ success, I made the transition to sausage, tomato, and bean soup quickly. I learned two important things from this experience. I’m not brave enough to cook beans from scratch on the stove because organizing a slow boil over an open fire is a skill that takes time to develop, and I haven’t been able to develop it yet. Second, I now know that cooking in the living room requires something good situation Habits. Prepare all your ingredients and arrange them on a tray that you can take from the kitchen to the fireplace, ready to go when you need them. Chopping garlic on the coffee table is bad for your back and the overall smell of the room.

If you also want to try your hand at a one-pot heated meal, this recipe is quick, easy, fragrant, and delicious. My next stovetop cooking experience will be Jim Lahey’s famous bakery bread from Sullivan Street Bakery in New York. The trick is to find a spot in this windy old home that stays at 70 degrees Fahrenheit for a full 18 hours during the winter in Maine.

Kristen Burns Rodalaveg is a food writer, recipe developer, tester, and cooking educator in Brunswick, and author of “Green Plate Special,” an Islandport Press cookbook based on these columns. She can be contacted at: [email protected]

Warmhouse spicy sausage and bean soup Photography by Kristen Burns Rudalvig

Warmhouse spicy sausage and bean soup

The flavors blend in this soup within 30 minutes. But if, like me, you need it to sit down and simmer a little longer to accommodate a pre-dinner nap by the fire, add an extra cup of chicken broth to keep it loose. This recipe could extend to feeding eight if you tossed some potatoes into the coals and used the soup as a cover for the potatoes instead of as the main event. If you don’t have a penchant for playing with fire, this soup can easily be prepared on the stovetop.

Serves 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 hot pork sausages
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
2 cups cooked white beans
1 (15 ounce) can chopped tomatoes with their juices
1-2 cups chicken broth
2 bay leaves
1 beef parmesan

In a hot Dutch oven over a flame, add oil and hot dog sausages on all sides, then cut into bite-size pieces. Add onion and salt, stir, and cook until onion is translucent, 4-5 minutes. Add garlic and rosemary, stir, and cook for 1 minute. Add the beans, tomatoes, a cup of chicken broth, bay leaves, and Parmesan peel.

Simmer on low for at least 30 minutes, but up to 90 minutes, adding more broth if needed to keep the soup bubbly while it’s cooking.


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