Cooking Outside Is So In
Something magical happens when you cook food outside. Nothing illustrates that point more than the “Hobo Dinner” many of us prepared as children during summer camps or scout outings.
We chopped our potatoes, place them in the middle of a square of aluminum foil. We threw in some ground beef, a bit of ketchup, a sliced carrot if someone other than kids were in charge, and perhaps added a bit of onion, salt and pepper. After sealing all the ingredients tightly in the foil, we threw the whole contraption on an open fire.
After waiting patiently for several minutes, we pulled the charred foil out of the fire and burnt our fingers opening the package to discover the amazing transformation of a few simple ingredients into an incredible feast. It’s easy to get hungry just thinking about it.
“It’s a completely different way of cooking,” says Christine Kaufman, who spent many childhood weekends camping and fine dining around a fire.
“One of my greatest tricks that I can recall from way back was that I would cut an orange in half, remove the orange sections so that I just had the rind,” she says. “I’d crack an egg inside the rind, place the whole thing on the fire. The rind would burn, but I’d end up with a perfectly poached egg—that maybe had a slight orange taste to it.”
It’s memories like this and the desire to create similar experiences for her children that spurred on Christine and her husband Matt’s decision to build an outdoor kitchen in their Dublin back yard with help from the design and construction team at Wood Landscape Services.
Although their new gathering spot—with its deluxe grill, pizza oven, lobster boil, refrigerator drawers, sink and more—is generations removed from the tent and fire pit experience of their childhoods, the end result is still the same. “Cooking outside is just a great family thing we do together,” Christine says.
The pizza oven is a particular favorite for the couple’s two children, 8-year-old Billy and 10-year-old Maria. Both Matt and Christine love to cook and are thrilled to have their kids join in the fun when the family prepares wood-fired pizzas as often as once a week. High temperatures turn the creations around in as few as 90 seconds.
Thinking outside the box
Even though it is technically a pizza oven, the stone structure is much more versatile than even the Kaufmans originally knew. When they purchased the oven from the California based Mugnaini Imports, the company’s founder, Andrea Mugnaini, listed a variety of ways the oven could be used. Both Matt and Christine were intrigued enough to take a trip to Healdsburg, California for a cooking class taught by Mugnaini while the Wood Landscaping team was wrapping up construction.
“Andrea realizes that not everyone knows what they are capable of doing with their pizza oven,” says Christine. “It’s much like your regular oven where you cook different things based on the temperature. When the oven is fired to its maximum, the roof temperature is 900 degrees and the floor is 650 degrees.”
Mugnaini taught the couple to cook “on the way up and on the way back down.” This means as the oven fires up to its maximum temperature, which takes about an hour, Matt and Christine prepare toppings for the pizzas—roasting red peppers and asparagus, caramelizing onions and preparing appetizers. The pizzas go in when the heat reaches its peak. Then as the temperature begins its decline, they braise meats, bake their main and side dishes, and sometimes even bake cookies for dessert.
With that diversity of purpose in mind, last spring the Kaufmans prepared a filet, roasted potatoes and sauteed green beans for an Easter celebration with their family.
“When we sat down to dinner that night, none of us could believe that the meal didn’t come from a restaurant. The wood fire made everything taste incredible,” says Christine.
Come on over!
Since its completion in 2008, the Kaufmans have had plenty of fun with their exceptional outdoor space. Whether it’s preparing a quiet meal with their kids or entertaining a group of neighbors with whom they are especially close, the kitchen is fully equipped and stocked and ready to go. Flatware, plates, glasses, knives, and linens are concealed in the weatherproof storage cabinets and things like ketchup, mustard and beverages stay chilled in the refrigerators.
Resort-style lights hang over the whole space from the first day of spring to the last day of fall as a visible sign that the Kaufmans’ outdoor kitchen is open for company.
“I’d say every other Friday and Saturday night, at least, every one of those barstools has a neighbor sitting in it,” says Christine.
And to top it off, the house next door has a fabulous pool for after dinner dips. What lucky neighbors!
The spiced rub on the shrimp is balanced by sweet peach salsa in this fantastic summer appetizer.
Click on the photo to the left for the complete recipe.