Saturday, January 30, 2010
Remodelista has a whole article on sliding barn doors and I am drooling at the thought. In fact, I am thinking about doing the same thing on the opposite foyer wall for our coat closet. It could be a nice way to add a design element that is functional.
Friday, January 29, 2010
With our kitchen renovation going on, I am a bit strapped for cooking vessels. No stove, no sink, no ovens. I do have a microwave in the garage, and I kept out Butcher Son’s electric fry pan, the rice cooker, the crockpot and the toaster. But with no good way to wash dishes other than in a bathroom sink or tub, and with me disinclined to wash dishes at all during this time, I’m trying to limit the use of these appliances.
While many people have offered up their kitchens to me, it’s kind of nice to have a reprieve from cooking, not to mention that all my foodstuff is packed away in the shed, unreachable to even take to someone’s home. (But I do appreciate all the invites people!) I might change my mind in a week or so if the progress of the kitchen is slower than anticipated, but I have faith and I am hoping to make my next full meal on my new Bluestar range.
On Sunday Mr. B and I walked the aisles of Safeway looking for food that could be cooked easily. I am amazed at the amount of microwavable dehydrated and frozen foods—none of which looked appealing but I was willing to give a few a try. Hate to make snap judgments without meeting a food first and giving it a fair
shake taste. What I realized during this somewhat futile exercise is that I am really a food snob. Not a highbrow, I-need-caviar kind of gal. I am just partial to fresh food; simple ingredients that I combine myself. I like meals with ingredients that I can pronounce and that do not prolong the shelf life of a product for one year.
The first few days I found myself just making toast or cold cereal for breakfast. Easy, no real cleanup but the knife or spoon. I’m not a huge carb fan, so I knew this would have to change. I’ve picked up sandwiches at Whole Foods, but that can get expensive. We sprung for pizza one day for the work crew, but I can only eat pizza a few times a year. Dinner was the worst. We tried a Harris Ranch beef stew that I found in the meat section of the supermarket. Now I love Harris Ranch meat and we often stop at their restaurant when traveling I-5—so much better than fast food. But their prepared stew was awful. There is no other way to put it. It tasted like the plastic pouch had leeched flavor into the stew. I could barely choke it down. We also tried several frozen dinners. A bit more palatable, but barely. We splurged on sushi Wednesday night and that was great, but at $60 for the 4 of us, not exactly economical, especially when we need to be saving money for the remodel.
I still have some kind of dehydrated soba noodle thing to try, but I’m thinking I need to be desperately hungry and exhausted to go that route. I have several cans of Progresso soups, which aren’t bad in a pinch and which we will definitely try, but I was really in need of fresh food, good food, not really expensive food. Leaving my one-on-one training at the Apple store, it hit me as I glanced across the street and saw…Trader Joes.
I have been a fan of TJs since it first opened in SoCal. I remember my brother and I going to that first store with its tiny parking lot. We now have 4 TJ stores within a 15-mile radius. I favor their nuts, pastas, and cheeses, but I also buy their fresh juices, the Fage yogurt that I love, breads, teas, salsa, and the occasional convenience food. I grabbed my recyclable bags and a cart and started to troll the aisles. I found cut up fresh fruit and yogurt for breakfast, sliced cheese and salami for lunch, falafal-hummus-pita fixings, prepared green salads complete with dressing. I even bought their mushroom tortellini with asparagus, pulled BBQ chicken, and chicken enchiladas to try for dinner. Everything looked fresh, had a good ingredient list, and seemed palatable. We shall see.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
It's amazing how little time it takes to deconstruct a room. After 8 hours, everything in the kitchen was gone, including the majority of the drywall and part of the ceiling. All that is left is the interior framing, subfloor, and pipes.
Only one small mishap. Cutting into the wall where the sink used to be yielded a nick in the water pipes. Small geyser ensued. Good thing we had a plumber handy. He made short work of that mistake.
Mr B spent the day taking the remnants of the kitchen to the dumpster on the street. He then proceeded to practically fall asleep in the hot tub. Needless to say, he slept very well last night but is sore this morning.
Today the rest of the ceiling will come down and they are moving one wall 2-3 inches, so that my refrigerator will fit properly. Not sure what else is on the agenda, but that makes it exciting.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
This kitchen has seen a lot. It’s been through a semi-major renovation when we moved in (new tile counters, paint, linoleum floor, stove, hood, dishwasher and refrigerator), as well as little upgrades here and there over the years (paint, new fridge and dishwasher, FLOR carpet tiles). It has weathered myriad mishaps, misuse, and mistreatment. It has been the setting for business meetings, cooking lessons, canning parties, and tears.
This kitchen is the scene of approximately 4,600 loads of dishes, 4,000 dinners, and 360 batches of cookies. I sliced off the outside of my right pinkie finger in this very place, necessitating a trip to the ER, 6 stitches, and an unusable hand for a week. I have baked children’s birthday cakes, made soup for sick friends, and roasted 15 Thanksgiving turkeys. My canning kettle has perched precariously on the gas burners, boiling away with jars of pickles, lemon curd, jams, jellies, onion marmalade. I have churned out pounds and pounds of homemade sausage on these counters.
My children learned to cook in this kitchen. I have tested an untold number of recipes for my blog and food column here. This kitchen has nourished our family, our friends, our co-workers. It has been a welcome hangout for friends of all ages. Its life is coming to an end, never to look the same again.
For the most part I will not miss it. But there is one very special piece of this place that will pain me to lose. I’ve already confessed to a friend that I will shed tears upon its removal. It is our chalkboard. This 4x6 foot chalkboard has been the communications center of our household for 15 years. Phone messages, reminders, shopping lists, To Do lists, funny drawings—this board has seen it all. Every holiday it is decorated with a festive message. Every party we’ve ever had yielded funny bon mots from our guests, which could get downright X-rated after a night of serious debauchery. My new kitchen will not have a wall to accommodate the chalkboard and so we must sadly bid it adieu. In fact, last night I asked Brilliant Daughter to write a farewell message on behalf of the family.
And so we say goodbye. I will gladly take the sledgehammer and knock out the first cabinet and then go back to my temporary office in the guest room and get to work, while my busy bees make short work of the existing kitchen. In less than a month everything will be brand new, and I will start making new memories in a new kitchen.
Monday, January 25, 2010
Here is the status of the project:
Demo: Starts today.
Dumpster: Delivery tomorrow. Redwood Debris Service.
Cabinets: KraftMaid Huntington in Maple Praline, purchased from Grand Tile. Includes a whole new run of cabinets with pantry. Lots of extras, like spice inserts, pull out pot drawers, glass fronts for my tea pot collection.
Counter: Giallo Fiorito granite from Brazil, purchased from Grand Tile. Three slabs of 2x8, plus a 4-inch backsplash for the stove run. We also may order one more slab to use as a bar that would sit on top of the 4 inch backsplash and extend into the office/dining room.
Sink: Ticor SS3510 Undermount 16-Gauge Stainless Steel Kitchen Sink. 30-inch single-bowl stainless steel, with rinse grid and cutting board, purchased online from Galaxy.
Range: BlueStar stainless steel 36-inch all-gas range., with island trim and 6 burners, purchased from Davies Appliance. This puppy can cook—22,000 BTUS but can simmer on 130 BTUs. Gonna make canning easy. Oven is huge and will accommodate commercial cookie pans.
Backsplash: there are 3 elements to the backsplash. The bottom 6 inches is made of 2x2 tiles in a beige textile. The there is a 2-inch band of cristallo retro desert glass tiles (varying sizes and colors), then comes the 12x12 beige textile tiles. Purchased from United Tile.
Permit: Our friend, and hubby to our realtor, Loren Dakin, walked me through the whole process, making it painless. Filled out the form, showed up at 7:30 am at the city office with him and I was out within a half hour.
Lighting: While I have not purchased this yet, we will replace our 3 center cans with fluorescent cans and add two undercabinet fluorescents. This will satisfy the Title 24 requirement. In addition, I will keep the two small existing cans over the sink. We will also replace the halogen fixture over what was the eating area. NOTE: Our fan hood also has 4 halogen lights.
Floor: Aztec Cherry, slightly darker than the cabinets, purchased at Lumber Liquidators. We will use this in the kitchen, office/dining and replace the hallway carpet.
Hood: SPAGNA VETRO 42" Island-Mounted Stainless Steel Range Hood - SV218Z2-I42. This is an affordable 42-inch hood that should work just fine. There certainly are cheaper models out there, but it will cost about one-third of the high-end hoods made by well-known brands.
Paint: No clue.
Faucet: We may be able to get a replacement head for our existing faucet. If not I have a few new ones in mind. Still cannot decide between integral sprayer or side sprayer.
Baseboards: Nothing yet.
Foyer floor: Really having trouble with this one. I found something I really like online, but I am afraid it might be too expensive. I’m hoping to go to the Daltile store in San Leandro next Saturday.
Door: We have a hollow-core, really cheap door that leads from the kitchen to the garage. I’m gonna go scour Urban Ore in Berkeley next weekend for a proper solid door to replace it.
Hardware: Our existing cabinet pulls are nice, but not practical. They are broad, meaning that food and spills get on them and they constantly need to get wiped down. I’m going to have to go look at new ones, but haven’t done so yet.
I’m sure there are a few things I have forgotten here. I’m not thinking too clearly as I have had a cold for a week that doesn’t want to vacate my body. I am hoping to throw it out in the dumpster with all the refuse. Wish me luck….
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Demolition is slated for tomorrow. D-Day. I’m looking forward to taking the sledgehammer and knocking out the first cabinet. But first I have to pack—the whole kitchen and my whole office. That’s a lot of dishes, pots and pans, and books. I’ve made room in the storage shed for much of it, as the garage needs to be kept open for the cabinet delivery tomorrow and for the guys to work.
I’m going to hijack our guest bedroom to serve as my temporary office. I figure if I stand the bed up against a wall, there will be enough room for my desk and paraphernalia. And it is at the other end of the house, so hopefully I will be insulated from the banging and cold draft.
The living room is turning into our mini-kitchen. The bar now holds the coffeepot, the wine fridge was moved into this room and has the electric fry pan and rice cooker on top. Two rolling bins which serve to hold our dishes and immediate food items (tea, snacks, spices, etc.) are topped with a toaster and a crockpot. Gonna have to make do with simple cooking and take-out.
I’ve got boxes and plastic bins full. I’m even using bags for books, and just went out to the laundry area to gather extra laundry bins to use for my cookbook collection. Running out of things to pack in, meaning we’ll need to head out to scrounge for boxes or to buy more re-usable bins. I’ve been saving newspaper to use to wrap the more fragile items. Not sure I’ll have enough of that either.
Twenty-four hours left…lots to do. Anyone wanna help?
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
The family recipe came from Grandma Julie, Mr. B and Gracious Aunt’s Lebanese grandmother (a tiny little spitfire of a woman who made cooking large feasts look easy). This version differs from the Greek baklava in that it does not use honey, but a simple syrup with orange blossom water that is boiled to the soft ball stage. This makes it slightly less sweet, but yields the same flaky dough and sugary goodness that we love.
There are a few tricks to making baklava:
· Do not use a glass pan. Do not use a dark roasting pan. Use a light nonstick or ceramic pan.
· Using a 9”x13” pan requires that you cut the phyllo to size prior to using. Just place the bottom of your pan on top of the sheets and cut off any excess. You can use a slightly larger pan that will accommodate the full phyllo sheets, but make sure that it is high enough so that the syrup won’t run out.
· The phyllo leaves or sheets dry out very easily, so you need to keep them between dampened tea towels (of the cotton or flourcloth variety)
· It is traditional to clarify the butter that you use on the phyllo, but you can omit this step (and decrease the amount of butter you use)
· The walnuts need to be ground, but not too fine. You don’t want a paste on your hands, you just want very small pieces.
· Once assembled, you must cut the baklava into its traditional diamond shapes BEFORE putting it in the oven.
Don’t be intimidated by this recipe. It is really very simple and does not require any fancy tools. I use a plain old paintbrush that I keep only for pastry dishes to brush the butter on the phyllo leaves. The orange blossom water is available in liquor stores, Whole Foods, and most international markets.
Grandma Julie’s Baklava
1 1/2 cups ground walnuts
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 box phyllo dough
1 1/2 cups butter, melted*
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
¾ cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons orange flower water
*or 2 cups of butter, melted then clarified
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Pull phyllo out of the box and place on damp tea towel. Cover with a second damp tea towel. Mix sugar and walnuts and set aside.
Brush a 9” x 13” pan with some of the melted butter. Place one layer of phyllo dough in the pan. Brush with butter. Continue to layer dough and butter until half of the phyllo leaves are used. Sprinkle evenly with the walnut/sugar mixture. Continue to layer with phyllo and butter until all the leaves are used. Pour any remaining butter over the whole pan. Cut rows diagonally in one direction and then diagonally in the other direction to make diamond shapes. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until well browned and crispy.
Forty-five minutes after putting pan in oven, begin the syrup. Mix all ingredients in saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook until 235-240 degrees on a candy thermometer or until it reaches the soft ball stage. Remove from heat.
Remove baklava from oven and pour the syrup evenly over all. It will sputter and bubble. Take care not to splash yourself with the hot syrup. Return pan to oven for 10 minutes.
Let cool thoroughly before re-cutting the baklava and serving.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
In and amongst family visits, we got to make a quick trip to the quaint and historic Old Colorado City. Wandering the main drag, we happened upon two wonderful little shops: Bernideen’s Tea Shop and Barbeque Mercantile.
I do love my tea, my teapot collection, and hosting tea parties of all kinds (for children and adults alike). Both Brilliant Daughter and I drink tea all day long, so we are always on the prowl for something new. I am partial to decaffeinated or herbal teas (although really fruity varieties like mango peach or blackberry don’t pass my lips).
Wandering through this store gave me pause, as Bernideen has put together a beautiful collection of tea cups and tea pots, as well as delicate linens, tea accessories and actual teas. Given that we had only 3 carry-on suitcases between 4 of us, and they were already full, we really didn’t have room for much, but I did manage to find a loose-leaf decaf Earl Gray. (I’m trying to switch to more loose leaf tea, as it eliminates extra packages for individual teabags and feels a bit more environmentally friendly.) I also treated my sister-in-law to a jar of clotted cream for her next tea party. Sorry to say I didn’t have room for the cute little children’s tea sets for my little Cora. Maybe next time. Check out Bernideen’s tea blog to get ideas for table settings, learn about teas, get recipes for tea cakes, and more.
The other find, Barbeque Mercantile, was a treat for Butcher Son and me. We have been thinking about investing in a smoker to make our own charcuterie products, like pancetta. We’ve heard varying reasons for gas vs. electric smokers, so we put tradesman Ed Bousquet to the test. He provided us with some great information, explained the differences in use, temperature control, byproducts, reliability, and showed us the variety he had in the store (all of which have been used at one time or another). He even turned us on to a reasonably priced electric smoker (Old Smokey).
We also wandered around the store looking at the marinades, sauces, rubs, grilling equipment, different varieties of wood chips, aprons, and everything else you can imagine. This shop really does “make barbeque seriously…fun!” Since room was limited, I only purchased one item: Hi Mountain’s Western Legends Buckboard Bacon Cure. I was intrigued by the recipe, which uses Boston Butt pork roast. But a funny thing happened on the way to the airport…or at the airport actually.
The intriguing bacon cure sent red flags to the TSA employees. Our suitcase was swabbed for trace explosives, various items (including said bacon cure) were run through the scanner twice, and then the bacon cure box was deconstructed by the TSA employee and each separate item swabbed again. Ultimately we were allowed to repack and keep the cure. Not sure what caused the commotion, but TSA is being extra vigilant. We had a similar encounter on the way out to Colorado. I had packed all the dry ingredients, plus the butter, to make chocolate chip scones in one of our suitcases. It got flagged by TSA at SFO, run through the machine twice and also deconstructed. Ultimately the TSA employee returned it and told us to keep it in our bag and hidden at all times. Nothing like a suburban family of four setting of red flags at the airport, huh!?! Cooks beware.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
We had to make a recent trip to Colorado Springs after a death in the family. While we were there we had some great concentrated family time, which also means some good eatin’. One such experience was a trip to our niece Alisa’s new home. Alisa is the third of four cousins. My two children are the oldest, then Alisa, then her brother Ryan (who is a chef in Germany). But Alisa beat them all to the altar, marrying her sweetheart Greg. They recently moved from Fort Bragg/Fayetteville to Colorado Springs and purchased their first home. Greg has since shipped out to Afghanistan, so we did not get to enjoy his company, but instead got to enjoy his raclette pan. Well…sort of.
I’ve only had raclette once, courtesy of Judy Ware, a contributor to my book , The World Is a Kitchen. During the book tour, she not only set up several events for me in her hometown of Boise, but provided me with accommodations and even hosted a luncheon with her writing group, which featured this tasty dish.
A meal typical to Switzerland and France, raclette is a melted cheese served with a variety of foods and condiments. A simpler version of fondue, if you will. Big wheels of a Swiss-type cheese are heated over an open fire and once the top layer is melted, it is scraped onto a diner’s plate to be eaten with boiled potatoes, meats, veggies, apples, or whatever is handy. It is typically served with cornichons and those baby pickled onions. Most people don’t invest in a whole wheel of cheese, or have an open fire to heat the cheese, so the raclette grill is used.
A raclette grill consists of a grill top to cook your meats and vegetables along with a second level of little serving shovels called coupelles, where you melt slices of the cheese. The cheese is then served over the grilled items. It’s a fun, interactive experience. Well, it would have been if the raclette grill had worked. Although Alisa and Greg had used the appliance before, it refused to turn on, no matter which outlet, extension cord, or swear words were used.
No worries, as a large electric fry pan was unearthed and centered on the table and worked pretty well in heating Saag’s Nuernberger Brats, potatoes and mushrooms, and melting the cheese. Just for fun Alisa brought out the brulee torch so we could add a bit of color to the cheese and hurry it along. (Quick thinking, Alisa!)
And so it was, that we enjoyed raclette and family, not to mention a good long round of Texas Hold ‘Em.
Thursday, January 07, 2010
I’ve spent the last year laboring on a special project for my family and friends. It’s been a long-requested item and something that I have been meaning to do, and I finally made the time. I worried as I wrapped each one and sent it on its merry way to nestle under Christmas trees across the country, thinking that it was too simple and unsubstantial, but those fears were unfounded, as it was well received, seeming to delight each and every recipient.
The project: A cookbook of my favorite recipes. The recipes come from a variety of sources—websites, newspapers, magazines, friends and family, as well as from my own experimentation—and all have become regular items at our table. Many have been featured on this blog. But to put them together in one place took a bit of effort, on my part and that of Brilliant Daughter.
The title came to us fairly simply. Last year I celebrated my 50th birthday (I know, you thought I was soooo much younger!). I did so in a rather lavish fashion by renting a hotel/retreat in the Sierras for 3 days of partying with family and friends. In planning the party, I wanted a theme that could carry through from the invitations, to the gift bags, to the party favors (embroidered aprons, what else?). We came up with a simple Eat•Drink•Merry because that is what we intended to do for 3 days together. The hotel had an amazing kitchen where we cooked about 65 pounds of meat, 20 quarts of chili, and six pans of Pain Perdu, as well as a beautiful 100-year-old bar where we managed to finish off 3 kegs of Gordon Biersch, two cases of wine, and an abundant amount of tequila while playing dice. The rooms were light and sunny and sufficient in number for all our guests, meaning no one had to drive anywhere. We definitely lived up to the Eat•Drink•Merry theme and it felt perfect for the cookbook: simple and easily conveying who I am. To further define it, we opted for a subtitle as well: Good Cooking & Good Eating with Mrs. B.
Identifying all the favorites was probably the most difficult part editorially, as we have so many. We spent several Sunday family dinners discussing what to include, debating the merits of each. We came up with 10 sections, nine of which are recipes and one which contains my favorite recipe resources. The sections include: Breakfast, Salads & Vegetables, Soups & Stews, Quick & Easy, Main Dishes, Desserts, Cookies, Miscellaneous, and Drinks (couldn’t forget the Merry!). I also took the time to include intros to each recipe and scattered sidebars throughout, which I think adds to the book and provides a little more of Mrs B. Then stepped in Brilliant Daughter.
Alexandria, my oldest, has worked in publishing for 7 years, since she was a college intern at the age of 19. In addition to having a degree in English and an Editing and Publishing Certificate, she has developed skills in both design and typesetting. We put those to the test with the interior design of the book, as well as the cover. Fortunately she knows her mother well and I only had to request minor tweaks to the initial design. The cover, however, was a different matter.
We found the cover to be the most difficult production task. We had been looking for cover images for about 6 months, in our own photo libraries and on stock photo agencies, including two separate days scanning through over 4,000 images. I was practically cross-eyed by the time I went to bed. We even considered staging the shoot ourselves, but time and energy made that impossible. In the end we narrowed it down to two. The family voted, and everyone was partial to the one I liked least. Of course. Since the cookbook was supposed to be a surprise it was hard to ask anyone’s opinion, but I finally broke down and sent the images to a publishing friend to weigh in on. Her answer: Pick the one you love. Her rationale: I was the one with my name on the front and I needed to be happy with the decision. So there you have it, a simple table setting that is bright and light and relaxed.
I had the books printed at Lulu, an on-demand self-publishing company. Lulu also provides a marketplace for books, meaning anyone can buy one in hard copy or download a version. While it was never my intention to actually sell books, some of my friends and family have bought additional copies to give to their family and friends, and you are certainly welcome to do so as well, should you be so inclined.
Eat•Drink•Merry: Good Cooking & Good Eating with Mrs. B
Saturday, January 02, 2010
Every time I look into a different aspect of the design, 27 questions pop up. I have a whole long list for my realtor and contractor. That’s probably first on my TO DO list. Meanwhile, here is an update on what we’ve been doing since the last post:
Kitchen Sink: As much as I would love a farmhouse sink, we are going to pass, both due to the higher cost and the install issues it can cause (modification of cabinet). I have decided on stainless steel and I want it to be a one-bowl sink. I’m pretty much sold on the Ticor SS3510 Undermount 16-Gauge Stainless Steel Kitchen Sink. It is a 30-inch square edged sink that comes with a rinse grid and the option for a cutting board and prep bowl. It will be perfect for my canning needs, cleaning veggies from the garden, and bathing babies!
CAD Layout: Brilliant daughter has been attempting to figure out the Sunset Kitchen designer CAD program to do a layout of the kitchen (incl electrical and plumbing). I bought a good book, Kitchens: A Sunset Design Guide, which came with a CD of a CAD program to layout your kitchen with cabinets, etc. and even do a 3D rendering. It has perplexed me, so daughter took over. Part of the problem was the loading of the CD the first time, so she reinstalled and is having an easier time of it. Hopefully we will come up with a usable plan that I can share with you.
Range: We are searching for a 36 inch, dual fuel, professional style range. I was shocked at the difference in price between a 30-inch range and 36-inch range, but the cabinets are ordered and I know that it will be a selling point, and that it will be well used by me. I’ve been reading reviews and have done some in-store browsing. The model currently at the top of our list is a Bertazzoni. I haven’t decided definitely and want to take a look at some others, but need to keep in mind my budget (it always seems to come down to budget!)
Countertop: If I were doing this kitchen for myself I would do anything but granite. But my realtor has strongly suggested that it is the wisest choice. Grand Tile, where we bought our cabinets, has some good deals and I brought home samples. The Giallo Fiorito granite from Brazil is the frontrunner. It is warm enough to tie into the praline maple cabinets but will also go with the existing black appliances.
Flooring: We made a quick trip to Lumber Liquidators this week to look for hardwood for the kitchen and dining room. So many to choose from! I should have brought the cabinet door so that we could find a complementary wood choice, but I forgot. That means we will have to head back in the next two weeks to make a decision and get the wood ordered.
I guess that’s it – which is actually a lot given that we‘ve had two holidays, one death, overnight guests, and multiple dinner parties since I last wrote. But time marches on and so will I.