Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Kitchen Remodel: Office Space Bonus

In the course of remodeling the kitchen, we inadvertently remodeled the adjoining room. Initially designed as a dining room, the previous owners had used it as a family room, dark with paneling, recliners, TV and shag rug. We renovated the space when we moved in, tearing out the paneling and carpet, retexturing the walls, and making it into my home office (that also did double duty as a guest room).

For several years early on this room served as the unofficial office for the small publishing company I worked for, with three of us busily tapping away on keyboards. Then the room became the bedroom for Electrician Son, the one we “adopted” in high school. Most recently it has served as my primary office, as I am a freelance writer and editor. It’s pretty handy, being right next to the kitchen to test recipes, cook dinners, and bake cookies. Closed off enough to work without distraction, but near enough to the heart of the home. Now that has all changed.

This new space, designed to be the dining room when we eventually put the house on the market, is open to the kitchen. We tore out one wall, moved it 5-6 inches into the adjoining room and rebuilt it as a pony wall. The original plans called for a granite countertop bar to sit on the pony wall and extend into the adjoining room. We found the cost to be prohibitive. While the granite itself was only $190, it would be $400 to mill the four edges and another $250 to install. Plus we would have had to pay for a deck to be built, making the total cost about $1000. Not in the budget. So we went for a black IKEA countertop with a stainless steel edge that only cost $99. It really blends well with the granite and black and stainless appliances and we were able to install it ourselves.

So now we have what they call a great room, combo kitchen/dining/living space. I no longer have any privacy but I do get to see my brand new kitchen as I work from my new desk, which puts a smile on my face all day long. My old desk, a cheap Office Depot model, fell apart when we moved it. Since the budget was limited, I got creative again and headed to IKEA. I found a black 6-foot desk top for $45 and some brushed stainless legs. The legs were actually too wide for the desktop, so we angled them, adding a bit more visual interest.

I also purchased a large cubed bookcase from IKEA to fill up one wall. They replace two sagging bookcases, which we found a new home for. We even added frosted window film to the large 4x8’ window in a decorative pattern, so we don’t have to look at the neighbor’s wall. It still lets in a lot of light but allows privacy. And given the cost of window treatments, it was the best option. Two boxes of Gila window film (4x6.5’) and an install kit cost less than $100, whereas shades or drapes would have been three times that. I really didn’t want to use drapes anyway, as the window is framed in the Craftsman style, with a wide 5 .5” header and 4.5” sides. It matches the kitchen windows and not something I would want to hide.

So my previous office space now houses a countertop eating area, desk and filing cabinet, my husband’s small leaning Crate and Barrel desk, the bookcase and a couch (which still converts to a bed for nieces and nephews). You can sit on the couch and talk to the person(s) working in the kitchen. You can sit at the bar and watch the kitchen wizardry that goes on while you nosh on cheese and swill some wine. You can smell the aromas of simmering stew, chaidoodles baking in the oven, or even the dirty dishes in the sink. (Oops!)

While I lost all privacy, I gained light and beauty (because it really is a beautiful kitchen) and a more efficient office. I have a great space for friends and family to hang out in while we cook, and it expands the area in which to use when we throw parties. So now the question is: When is the next party?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sunday Dinner, The Slow Way

I am finally getting back into the swing of things in my new kitchen. When Sunday rolled around, I had a hankering for pork sugo, a comforting dish that makes me wish I were Italian. I imagine a kindly looking nonna, bustling around the kitchen, chopping up vegetables, stirring away at the stove, rolling out her fresh pasta in front of an open window, all in preparation for the family meal. She probably has a sugo recipe handed down from her own nonna, and it isn’t written down, just something she does instinctively.

I am not so lucky. I am not Italian, did not marry an Italian, and have had to teach myself how to cook my own sugo. (A sugo is a very-rich flavored, long-simmering sauce traditionally served over pasta.) I found a recipe some time ago for a pork version that I really like, thick and redolent of herbs and wine (and it was good enough to put in the cookbook I put together over the holidays). It takes about 8 hours to cook from start to finish, but don’t let that keep you from trying. Most of that time is just simmering away on the stove, perfuming the house in a most heavenly way. The main prep can be done in less than an hour, and the rest of the time you can curl up on the couch with a good book, getting up now and then for a cup of tea and a quick stir of the pot.

I traditionally make this in a heavy All Clad stew pot, but this time I was able to use my new Le Crueset oval doufeu oven. A generous gift from friends over the holidays, everything just tastes better in a pot like this. While I have used it before (with the ice cubes on the lid and everything), this time it served as a stovetop Dutch oven. It cooks evenly and looks darn good doing so.

I had every intention of making my own pasta as well, but I had a tea date with Brilliant Daughter and a friend, so left the stirring in Mr. B’s capable hands and purchased some fresh egg pappardelle from Sergio’s Pasta Shop in San Mateo w hile I was out. Seems kind of like cheating, spending 8 hours on a sauce and only having to boil fresh pasta for 2 minutes, but I wasn’t going to resort to dry pasta if I could avoid it, and I really like fresh pappardelle with this sugo.

I used two pounds of pappardelle for this recipe. I mix about two-thirds of the sauce with the drained pasta and serve that in a bowl, with the extra sauce on the side. One thing to remember is to adjust the salt content when you add the cream. You want it to be just on the salty side to act as a counterpoint to the pasta.

Serve this with a generous amount of fresh shaved or grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, a big salad, some rustic bread, and…of course, some good red wine.

Pork Sugo

1 carrot, trimmed
1 onion, peeled
4 stalks celery
2 cloves
2 peppercorns
2 ounces dry porcini mushrooms, soaked in 2 cups warm water, liquid strained and reserved
1/4 cup olive oil
2 pounds ground pork
salt and pepper to taste
1 bottle red wine
4 cups beef broth
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 cup crushed tomato (fresh or canned)
1 cup cream
2 pounds pasta

Chop the carrot, onion, celery, and mushrooms in a food processor. In a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, grind the cloves and peppercorns until fine and set aside.

In a large Dutch oven or stew pot, sweat the vegetables and mushrooms in the olive oil over medium heat until they become soft, 5-7 minutes, then add the pork, stirring until cooked through. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Add the wine, broth, herbs, spices and mushroom liquid. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and reduce by half, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Stir occasionally.

Once reduced, add crushed tomatoes and simmer on very low for 5 hours, stirring occasionally.

Add the cream and allow the sauce to simmer gently until has emulsified, about 15-20 minutes. Serve over a heavier, thicker pasta, like pappardelle with fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

YIELD: 8-10 servings

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Canning in the New Kitchen: First Up, Lemon Curd

My Meyer lemons have been waiting patiently out on the bush for my kitchen to be finished, and while it isn’t completely done, I could no longer ignore their stare. They were so ready to be picked, beckoning me day after day, begging to be transformed into lemon curd. This last week of sunshine convinced me that it needed to be done, particularly since Brilliant Daughter calls lemon curd “sunshine in a jar.”

So it was that yesterday I took my basket out to the back yard and removed all the best, juiciest, ripest lemons for use in our batch of lemon curd. The first canning project of 2010 and the first for my new kitchen. Also new to our repertoire is Butcher Son’s girlfriend, who was ready to learn what lemon curd was (poor deprived child) and what it means to “can.”

Given that we got quite a late start, 4pm to be exact, we chose to only triple my recipe, as we had a long-awaited surprise in store for us at the end of the project. The girls set to work zesting, while I easily juiced the lemons. Even with the kitchen windows open, the lemons perfumed the whole space, bringing smiles to our faces. And oh how easy it was working together in the new space, utilizing the extra counters, the heavy-duty stove, the big sink. Several times throughout the process, Brilliant Daughter remarked how much she loved the new kitchen. I, myself, am still in awe. Lovingly cleaning counters, amazed at how much I can fit into the sink, and how quickly my kettle whistles on its new burner, it has turned out well. (And I promise to get pictures up soon! Still waiting on a few items for install.)

With three of us sharing the kitchen duties, the process went by fast and by 6:30 we had not only canned 20 jars of lemon curd, but Brilliant Daughter had made scones to taste test the lemon curd. You know, just in case it was bad or anything. : )

Oh, and the long-awaited surprise? We finally, finally watched Julie & Julia. I know, you are all wondering what took me so long. Brilliant Daughter and I tried to go see it when we were in Portland last year, but missed the show. Then it was the holidays (when BD got her very own Julie & Julia DVD), and then once the kitchen deconstruction began we made a conscious decision that we would celebrate at end of the process by watching the movie. Which we did, with big pots of tea, warm scones, and fresh lemon curd. Not exactly a French meal, but I didn’t have the strength to bone a duck anyway.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Kitchen Odyssey: The Final Stretch

We are sooo close to being finished. I am aching for the chance to fill the shelves, clean the one-inch dust cloud that has settled on furniture throughout the house, and cook on my new stove. I was so sure that Saturday would be the magic day (and one day ahead of schedule), but alas, it was not to be. Monday came and went as well and today, Tuesday, we have our fingers, toes, and eyes crossed that the end is near.

So what’s with the hold up? Meticulous and additional backsplash tile installation, extra plumbing and parts runs for the new dishwasher/disposal/sink configuration, missing part for the refrigerator water system, and extra prep work for the final paint coat.

We chose three types of tile to go on our backsplash, 2x2 textile, 12x12 textile, and 2x2 mixed glass. Add in the problem that the cabinet salesman measured the space incorrectly (he was off by 4 inches), and instead of using the full 12x12 tiles, all had to be cut to fit. Then there are also 4 outlets/switches along the sink run, making for more detailed cuts and you get the picture. Painstakingly slow, but better slow and steady without ruining any tiles. And the result is fantastic. The backsplash goes so well with the granite and the kitchen and adds a lot to the character. We found that the tile salesman overestimated by almost $200 worth of tile (really, I did give him the exact measurements), so now we are going to use the leftover tile to cover the wall on the pantry run of cabinets, meaning some finish work over the next two days. But it will be worth it.

As for the plumbing, we changed the configuration of the sink and attendant parts. We now have a one-tub sink, rather than a two-tub, and we added in an air button for the disposal, all necessitating different parts than we used originally. Two parts runs to get what we needed resulted in being about 30 minutes away from completion last night. But this morning, Tony will work his magic and we will have a functioning sink and dishwasher. I have not wanted to unbox the dishes and pots/pans until the dishwasher was running, as everything will need to be washed before load in. So tonite we will start on that.

Our refrigerator, only two years old, is the first we have ever had with an ice maker and filtered water system. When it was installed there were some glitches and the result was that the water pressure was never quite right. We ended up not using the filtered water unit, and the ice took too long to make. Tony tore out the rinky-dink set-up that Best Buy installed and has replumbed a (correctly sized) water line from the kitchen sink (under the house) to the fridge. One small part, which probably got tossed during move-out had to be found before we hooked it all up. Mr. B finally located the part yesterday at 5pm and it’s set to go in this morning.

We had primed all the walls early on. Our painter, Shane, came and did the first coat two weeks ago. Since then we have painted all the trim and baseboards, which Mikey installed for us. I then filled the holes and sanded. I thought that all that was left was to do one more quick coat of paint, but that shows how naïve I am. Apparently all the baseboards and windows should be caulked. So Shane spent most of yesterday afternoon caulking and painting the back door. This afternoon he will come back and do the final coat of paint on the walls and ceiling, and touch up any trim. I've included a before and after picture of the back door (altho not a great photoshop effort on my part). I always hated that door and didn't realize it looked so awful and tacky, even more so next to the new drywall. It is much improved after Mr. B took it off, sanded it down, filled in the nicks, and primed it.

Not much left on the agenda. The additional backsplash will get done today and tomorrow and then we have a few days rest while we wait for the scribe molding, top molding, thresholds, and stair nose to come. Then there will be one more round of detail work and the laying of the foyer tile. I still need to figure out a bar top and a barn slider, but those will wait until another round of funds become available, as will the new front door.

I’ll have a full round of pictures soon. So stay tuned…..