Friday, October 19, 2007

Woodstoves, Purlieu Stew, and Carmelized Onions

One of the things we most love about Purlieu is the rawness of it. I realize I have some romantic ideas about farming, simple living, poverty, and the "olden days", but man, do I ever love cooking on a woodstove! Really, there's nothing pretentious about this cabin; it's very simple and practical and I think those things make it beautiful though it's not fancy at all. Of course, I also grew up coming here and can't remember not loving the cabin and everything about it. Unknowingly, growing to love the same land my dear Paul does.
Chris, who built this cabin, has two woodstoves. The little one in the pit is the primary heat stove. Paul stoked it several times each night to keep us cozy. It is great to put a big kettle of water on top of this stove for dishes, bathing, or hot drinks. We also cooked potatoes and squash right on the coals inside. Yum! We fuel it with wood that Chris mostly chops from downed trees on the property, and the ashes go into the outhouse, completing the cycle. If we lived here, I bet we could use those ashes to make soap and fertilize the garden.
There is nothing like sitting in front of a roaring fire on a chilly rainy day, which we had plenty of.

I don't think of it as roughing it, though we sure have more amenities at our home in the cities, because if I could, I would prefer to live like this.
This range has gas burners, powered by a propane tank, plus an oven and hot plates heated with a fire box. I loved cooking on it! We had hash browns, pancakes, and a killer squash stew:

Bake squash (we used a small butternut) and potatoes in the oven or fireplace if the fire's going.
Dredge lamb stew meat in flour (pancake mix also works just fine!) Saute in olive oil or butter with chopped onions till onions are tender and meat is brown.
Continue to saute gently whilst seasoning with whatever's around: I used dried tarragon, parsley, garlic, salt, pepper, and bay leaves.
Add squash, potatoes and water and continue cooking and tasting until it's just right.
For a vegetarian version, I would simply omit the meat and use a bunch of fresh basil.

Another smashing success I had on the range was the carmelized onions. These would be a fine garnish for a plain soup or stew, and are great on burgers, vegetables, or baked potatoes, and are very simple to make.
Carmelized onions:
Saute chopped onions (they're in season right now here, and available from local farmers) in butter, without browning until tender. Pour a decent glosh of water in the pan and stir as the water evaporates. Repeat until onions are brown and delicious.

This works like magic. I don't know why, but pouring water on the onions makes the sugars in them carmelize. It seems counter-intuitive that they would get all brown and sweet with the addition of cold water, but it works! They are especially good for giving depth to mild foods, useful when converting a meat recipe to a vegetable-only one, or when cooking a soup or stew without a good broth base.
I've only ever cooked these, like I cook almost everything, in a heavy cast iron skillet. I don't know if it would work as well in an aluminum pot.

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