Firing up our pizza oven

So once we'd filled our gabion baskets, we needed to lift the pizza oven onto the top of it. Something that was easier said than done. It comes to pieces - the base which is very heavy, the interior dome which is less heavy and then the outer dome, which is heavy and an awkward shape. 

It wasn't something I was looking forward to, even though I knew it was essential. The bruises we'd both encountered carrying it through the house (oh how we wished we had side access!) were still there, but healing and I wasn't that keen on adding to them.

As it turns out having the smaller gabion baskets to the side of the larger metre high one was a good plan as lifting kilos worth of a clay oven a metre off the floor is hard work. Less hard work if you can clamber onto a half-metre high block in the process. After a lot of sweat and tears, it was in place. Actually there were no tears, but a lot of the other stuff and some effing and jeffing all round. 

And it looks great, but it needed to do more than just look great.

Our pizza oven on top of the gabion baskets

It seems we've put it in a great spot, it gets the evening sun but is sheltered enough by the laurel tree to avoid the rain. That's brilliant as there'll be no excuse for MOH if we fancy pizza in the rain, well apart from having to get to the end of the garden!

It's heavy - and lifting it a metre into the air was hard work

Before we could use it in earnest, the inner dome needed curing. To do that MOH lit small fires around the inside and waited for the temperature to reach about 200, which was the most angst-ridden and most precise thing ever, according to MOH. And tricky, so tricky that he decided he needed an infra-red thermometer, which had I know how pleased he'd be with this I think we could have started with that and progressed to the pizza oven, it's such a good boys toy!  

Seriously if you're looking for a gadgety gift for your OH then an infra-red thermometer could be just the thing. Just be prepared for him to tell you the temperature of everything close by, including yourself. It's kind of addictive though.

Back to the fire. Look. Fire.

FIRE...

FIRE...

As the oven was starting to cure properly - it needs to be done over four days - I decided to make a start on dough for our 110th party. There was a lot of dough, and boy did it rise. In fact it didn't stop rising and took on a life of its own. 

THE PIZZA DOUGH ROSE MORE THAN I EXPECTED IT TOO

THE PIZZA DOUGH ROSE MORE THAN I EXPECTED IT TOO

I like bread dough though, and while MOH tended his fire, and told me I'd made the pizza dough all wrong. I know, give him fire and a pizza oven and suddenly he's a grand master, even when I'm the one that makes the bread in this house...

Thankfully though it wasn't long before the fire needed a good close look at...

KEEPING A CLOSE EYE ON OUR NEW TOY

And our first pizza wasn't far behind either. We started simply; tomato sauce, torn mozzarella and topped with some torn basil (clearly we hadn't got to that bit for this photo!) and as you can see the lively pizza dough continued to bubble in the oven too.

OUR FIRST PIZZA - IT PASSED THE TASTE TEST

It tasted great. Way better than any shop-bought, oven-cooked pizza and just like the ones from our local pizzeria. We just need to master slightly bigger pizzas now, and to not annoy our temperamental neighbours with the smoke...  I guess we could always offer to cook them a pizza!

I've some more dough to make - perhaps just half of what I made before, and the plan is to freeze it before it's second prove so that we're never that far away from a decent pizza.

What do you have on yours?

 

Creating an Al Fresco Dining Area

This summer my plan was to use the barbecue more than the oven and while the jury's still out on whether I did or not, it also meant that we planned (and mostly managed) to eat outside too. I mean after giving these chairs a revamp, I had to use them didn't I?

Eating outdoors is one of life’s little pleasures, so whether your space is large or small, your focus should be on making the most of it. Don’t rule out outdoor dining if you only have a small space rather than an extensive garden; make the space work for you and you’ll be grateful of the extra ‘room’.

The dining area

Tables and chairs work better on patio or decking, which is great news if you do have a paved area only. Rattan furniture wears well and as such remain many people’s go-to choice for outdoor furniture. Long tables and matching benches made from reclaimed wood are becoming more popular as people look to make garden parties less formal. If you’re worried how your garden furniture will stack up against the weather be sure to treat any wood and cover with a protector when not in use.  If you’re space poor you could choose a table that folds up against a wall, many of these come with storage space for chairs underneath too.

If you have room, having an outdoor ‘bar’ can be a nice touch. This could be as simple as a table laid out with ready-filled plastic wine glasses or colourful jugs of cocktails. If you’re more of a wine drinker, think about buying a few wine cooler stands so that you don’t have to keep popping back in doors to the fridge. Purchasing from an industry specialist like Lockhart Catering or Nisbets is a good way to find these a little cheaper than you would on the high street, particularly if you’re ordering a few.

If you are working with a small area, easy access indoors with bi-fold doors can help open the space up and give you extra room. Creativedoors design bi-fold doors with wooden finishes that blend in better with your garden compared to other plastic styles. 

And remember it's not always warm (as if you need reminding after the last week) so we won’t always have the weather to complement the Spanish villa vibe you might be aiming for. Think about adding a good-sized umbrella to provide cover for your table area and if you have space, a gazebo gives you a reason not to go indoors if it rains a little.

The cookery kits

You might be yearning to build your own pizza oven or smoker and for those with the room (and time) there are kits out there to help you construct what amounts to your own outdoor restaurant. Thankfully, there are also a lot of temporary options too, so if you’re space and time poor, smoking kits that sit on top of the barbecue or smoking guns are great gourmet gadgets. Pizza stones used on top of the barbecue will help you tap into that fresh-baked taste too and for a fraction of the cost and effort. This video from Weber shows how their pizza stone, which retails for around £50, can be used on even small barbecues.
If you’d prefer not to be away from your visitors tending the barbecue, you might want to explore the idea of using barbecue tables like this one from Jamie Oliver which allows guests to grill their own food. Fondue kits are another great social sharing food option that are perfect for outdoor occasions, and the host!

Setting the scene

Making your outdoor space look party ready in the evening can be as simple as hanging strings of solar fairy lights to frame your garden or yard, though citronella candles will help you keep insects at bay. For daytime dining think about using the natural features of the space – flowers are very decorative after all. If you really don’t have time to garden, check out these pre-planted hanging baskets from Garden Wants. Consider comfort beyond the outdoor table and think about adding a fire pit or Chimenea for guests to gather around in the evening when things get cooler, and don't forget to keep blankets to hand too.

So, as the barbecue season draws to an end - or has it? - what were your successes? For me, it was delegating the cooking to MOH and that cauliflower cooked in foil with butter, seasoning and some Parmesan. Delicious!

 

This is a collaborative post.