Topic: Outdoor Kitchens

Date Posted: Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Posted by: Tanya Zanfa (Master Admin)

Cooks & Cocinas: Laura Lopez

Cooks & Cocinas: Laura Lopez

By Tracy Hobson Lehmann

A New Braunfels couple enjoys new and old styles of cooking in an adobe oven like those found in ancient civilizations.

Who’s cooking: Laura and Ramon Lopez like exploring their heritage and sharing it with friends and family.

“We wanted to duplicate something you would find in old Mexico,” Ramon said. “We like the bare basics.”

Laura, an avid cook, works as a supervisor of group homes with Hill Country Mental Health/Developmental Disabilities Centers.

Ramon, an AT&T retiree, said he’s “just the fire starter,” but he’s also the builder of their outdoor kitchen.

What’s cooking: When the Lopezes’ eight grandchildren come over, they often fire up el horno to make individual pizzas. Those cook in minutes, she said.

It’s more of a slow cooker for dishes such as carnitas. She recently placed a pork roast — double wrapped in foil and dampened burlap — over corn still in the husks. They placed it in the oven, sealed the cedar door with mud and left it for nine hours.

Though it takes the oven three or four hours to heat up, Ramon said, it maintains the temperature for a long time. “You can’t be in a rush for wanting to eat right then and there,” he said. “You plan.”

“It’s like a Crock Pot, but you get that primitive, rustic taste,” Laura said.

The outdoor kitchen will be the site of her annual holiday tamalada this month. “We entertain a lot. Every weekend’s a party,” she said.

In this kitchen: An episode of the Cooking Channel’s “Man Fire Food” inspired Laura to explore the more primitive form of cooking.

Ramon endured the worst of summer’s wrath when he built the adobe oven over about three weeks in August 2011. “I call it my act of love,” she said. “It was some horrible conditions.”

The space: The Lopezes established their outdoor kitchen under a gazebo a friend built about 20 years ago. The 20-foot diameter of the structure allows enough space for the beehive oven, a counter with propane burners and a table in the middle.

​A small wood-burning stove sits at the perimeter, heating the space on chilly days and providing fire for coffee making and marshmallow roasting.

On the surfaces: Ramon mixed clay and chopped straw to make the adobe. After setting out a base of fire brick, he sculpted the dome shape out of wet sand and then, working from the bottom up, applied adobe over it to create walls that are about 8 inches thick.

It dried in a couple of days and he shoveled the sand out.

Ramon built a cabinet base for the oven and applied stucco over it and topped it with a concrete counter. He flexed his artistic muscles with trompe l’oeil painting to simulate exposed brick.

The counter around the propane-fueled burners also is concrete, painted the same deep red.

Why it works: The dome-shaped oven cooks like a convection oven. “There’s no risk of scorching anything because you’re not cooking with direct heat,” Laura said. “You’re actually cooking from the heat of the dome. You push the coals to the side.”

A burner on the opposite side of the gazebo allows Laura to char chiles, tomatoes and other vegetables for making salsa without smoking up the house. It also accommodates her large clay pots and flauta pan.

Going whole hog: Before Laura hosts a gathering of food bloggers in April, she wants to expand her outdoor kitchen to include a pig-roasting pit and a volcano grill made from a plow disk.


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