Now we’re talking! Last night I had the new oven stretching its legs. First up was some brown rice, simmering away on one of the back burners. Next I preheated the oven for some bread. From what I can tell with our little thermometer, the oven is calibrated almost spot on. Next up was some poached wild salmon on the front burner. Holy shlamoley! I guess I’ve gotten used to anemic gas burners, because this thing puts out a corona of flame that wraps around the frying pan and brings water up to boil in about 30 seconds. This is what you see on commercial ovens, when the very breath of Vulcan himself roars up from the range. And yet I could turn this burner down to a simmer that sent champagne-sized bubbles lazily up from the bottom of the pan. During all this prep, I had plates warming on the shelf above the rear burners. This 60-year old oven is the Jack LaLanne of the kitchen: still muscled and strong, ready for whatever you can throw at it. Go on, bounce a quarter off my chest. GO ON!!
Now I realize that I’m entering a whole new world (no, please don’t get that song in my head-LALALALALALA) of bread baking. I made a Finnish wheat bread, Hiivaleipa, and it came out with a nice medium brown thick crust. Whenever I made it in the old oven it had a very light and thin beige crust. Now I know that the old oven never got up to temp, while this new furnace can actually reach bread oven temperatures. My rustic bread will have the crackly crust I want! Ciabatta will actually brown! I can’t wait to see how all my familiar recipes become new again now that I have a true hot oven.
My wife got a DVD of The French Chef with Julia Child. Earlier this week we watched her rip apart lobster with her bare hands, truss up a chicken with a forearm-sized needle, and miraculously avoid slicing off her finger while she butchered a chicken. I haven’t had this much fun watching a cooking show in a long time. She’s so down-to-earth, funny, and above all, human. She makes mistakes, grunts when she has trouble cutting through something, delights when things work, and gets flustered when they don’t. She is the grandmother we all recognize, who instructs, loves, and guides us in the kitchen. As the first-ever cooking show, it still holds up remarkably well. She has pretty good timing, can fill empty space with funny banter, gets her tasks done and presents the food well. And she doesn’t have mise en place for every ingredient—it can be frustrating to watch modern cooking shows where every ingredient is pre-diced and placed neatly in a glass bowl. Yeah, sure, that’s how you can cook an entire meal in twenty minutes. Julia preps all her stuff herself, and ricochets between the oven (a chocolate brown electric range), fridge, oven, and sink constantly. She’s both humble and incredibly knowledgeable, and each show she almost seems to learn along with us. Plus that voice! I’ll always remember her from Tubby the Tuba, a 1970s symphonic story featuring the Boston Pops, a reluctant tuba, and a lyrical lumberjack of a narrator: Julia Child.
P.S. – I was unable to find the fantastic 1970s LP cover of the Julia Child-narrated Tubby the Tuba. It featured Tubby walking up a rainbow wearing huge platform shoes and was quintessential 70s style, balloon lettering and all. C’mon Internet, don’t let me down!