Post # 83 Kitchen Nightmares pt 1 The Challenge

January 11, 2013 at 12:33 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 83 Kitchen Nightmares pt 1 The Challenge

Okay, this is the first in the series of the kitchen design.  I’m calling it kitchen nightmares, not because it’s a nightmare-ish process, but to play on the Chef Ramsey’s tv show.  Actually, the kitchen is set up really well, but it’s not a gourmet style kitchen at all.

First, a picture of the kitchen in its current glory:

kitchen 01

As you can see, it’s a galley style kitchen.  It’s about twenty feet long and about eight feet wide.  It’s got counters on the right side as you look in from the dining room.  The laundry room/mud room is at the far end.  The stove and oven are gas and across from the fridge next to the door into the laundry.  Cabinets and cupboards at attached along the right wall all the way down.  The sink is about midway under a skylight with a window above it.  The window looks out on the covered carport.  When we first looked at the house, the wall facing the cabinets and sink had a trestle dining table and three chair.  It created a nice seating/eating area and extra work surface.  The laundry room has more cabinet and counter space.

So here’s the challenge:  How do we make all our stuff fit?  It’s not an easy task as both Partner/Spouse and I were decent home chefs before we met each other.  He concentrated on one type of cooking and I on another.  He came with 3 fondue sets; me with one.  We both had the standard block knife sets as well as complete utensil sets for 12, plating and flatware for 8, etc.  Additionally, all the pots and pans, and extra equipment to handle the kinds of cooking that we liked.  In the five years we’ve been together, we’ve added to that without subtracting anything.  We always had room for our stuff.  Then there’s the whole question of cookbooks and cooking magazines.

When we packed up this time, we had fifteen medium/large boxes marked kitchen apart from the three that I packed that said “Open First” on them.  We still have six to open.  I think.  Might be more.  Some of the boxes we’re opening haven’t been opened since Partner/Spouse moved from Las Vegas to Northern Virginia over five years ago.  It’s neat finding things, but difficult figuring out where they go.

Here’s just a small example of what we’re facing:

drawer

This drawer is currently holding a mishmash or hodgepodge or whatever else you want to call it of our kitchen speciality items.  It holds wooden spoons, lemon zesters, microplanes, plastic measuring cups, measuring spoons, fondue forks, citrus reamers, cocktail muddlers, metal spoons, ladles, scoops, whisks, apple wedgers, spatulas (wooden and metal), brushes, egg slicers, egg separators, pastry scrapes, and all sorts of arcane single-use paraphernalia we’ve collected singly and together.

When we open a box, we have to decide quickly “What are we going to do with this?”  We have to decide quickly, because there are more boxes to open and little time to do it.  We initially wanted to have all the kitchen stuff unboxed before he started the new job.  We missed that deadline.  To get things out of the way so we could continue actually using the kitchen, the smaller items went into the drawer.  First prize to anyone who can correctly identify everything showing in the picture.  You win a free round trip ticket to Tucson to stay at our house and work on the kitchen and the office and the TV room.

The first problem we dealt with in our kitchen was lack of counter space.  We re-purposed (don’t you love that word?  Don’t you love HGTV for teaching it to us?) our bedroom furniture.  We had bought from IKEA two shelved box units to use as night stands, and a long shelved box unit to use as a TV stand and DVD storage.  It all matched and looked good.  So we put them together in the kitchen to create storage and work space.

kitchen 02

It works great and looks even better!  It will get refined over time.  The next problem we looked at was the cookbooks.  You may recall that we had two full bookcases of them.  Well, not anymore.  The obvious solution to this type of problem, I’m talking the larger problem, is to donate everything you can’t use or recycle or repurpose (there’s that word again!).  So, we went through all our cookbooks and kept only those we truly wanted and donated everything else.   Here’s what we’re left with:

cookbooks (2)

Pretty impressive, huh?  The ones on top are those we use every day – ish.  The others are those we refer to constantly or have some sentimental attachment to.  All the rest are donated to Goodwill who were thrilled to see them, plus the 300 other books we culled from our personal library which we haven’t finished with yet.

So, the next step is to get the rest of the boxes open and out into the kitchen somewhere.  Then, we have to decide what we’re going to do with it.  Is it actually going to stay, or is it going away?  Anything that there’s more than two of will be going away.  Anything we haven’t touched in over two years is going away.  Anything we don’t recognize is going away.  We have a smoothie blender that was given to one of us as a present that is still pristine.  That’s going away.  We have two blenders.  One is going away as soon as we decide which one.  Somethings we got because we liked the idea, but the practical use was less than desired.  I bought a donut maker that made donuts out of what was basically pancake batter.  Yeah, that went away quick.  I don’t think it even got packed.

So, there you have it!  Our kitchen nightmare, part 1.  We’re finally facing the challenge of the blended households (four in all, but that’s another story) and trying to make one reasonable household kitchen out of it for two gourmet cooks who want their cake and want to eat it, too.  Wish us luck.  As events transpire, I will keep you informed.  Any suggestions or assistance is gratefully welcome!

Post # 82 Pomme Frites

January 9, 2013 at 12:22 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 82 Pomme Frites

Otherwise known as French Fries!  French Fries aren’t really french, but they are fried, and I’m going to discuss how to make the best french fries you’ve ever made at home.

When I was growing up as a kid, french fries were a real treat.  We didn’t have them very often.  Usually only when we went to fast food places.  But, oh how good were those?  Crispy, hot, salty, dipped in ketchup.  For kids, the best food in the world!  Then mom started buying a new product, frozen french fries.  You fried them up in hot oil or lard until they were crispy brown and had great hot restaurant-style fries at home!  Only, mom would bake them instead of fry them.  It works, but it ain’t the same.  You have to do it right to get acceptable french fries from the oven and she didn’t do it right.

Shortly after microwave ovens appeared, so did the microwave french fry.  One word:  Yuck!  Microwaves work by exciting the water molecules causing heat which then cooks the food, usually from the inside out.  Microwave don’t brown things, and microwaves don’t crisp things.  So for a food that is best when crispy and brown, microwaves just don’t do it.  At least, not for me.  They come out soggy and messy and with a strange texture and flavor.  But that’s just me.

Once I took over the cooking in my house, I did french fries the way you are supposed to.  Mom had a huge cast iron skillet with two-inch sides that I’d put oil in and fry up the frozen potatoes.  The first batch was always the testing batch.  My little brother was constantly sneaking up behind me and stealing a fry from the bowl.  Every time I caught him I’d tell him the same thing, “I’m gonna break your fingers off if you do that again!”  Forty years later, I’m still telling him that.  Side bar:  I have no idea what happened to that skillet, but I’d love to have it back.

Over time, Mom and I started experimenting with making homemade french fries.  We met with resounding failures.  Merely slicing the potato into strips and frying them produces a gummy, sticky undercooked mess.  They brown nicely due to the sugars inherent in the potato, but they don’t crisp up very well.  By the time they’re crispy enough, they’re burnt.  Mom heard that if you soaked them in cool water, they worked better.  It helped, but not enough.  Then I figured that freezing them would work, since they came frozen in the bags anyway.  Yeah, not so much.  Keep in mind that the results were just okay.  The potatoes weren’t ruined, they just weren’t what I thought of as real french fries.

In college, I stumbled on the secret, although I didn’t know it at the time.  I decided to reheat some french fries that I’d made the day before.  Since the oil was still in the pan (I try to reuse oil as much as possible), I just heated it up, threw the fries in, and got the most amazingly crispy fries in no time at all!  I was too busy at the moment to consider what had happened, but a few years later, I took time to think about it.

Since I had nothing going on that particular Saturday, I sliced up a potato into french fry portions.  I rinsed the starch off of them and dried them off on paper towels.  While I was doing this, I was heating oil in a pan and when everything was ready, I put the potatoes in.  I was flying by the seat of my pants on this, so I watched the potatoes closely and guessed when they had reached the right stage of “doneness”.  I took them out and let them cool completely.  I reheated the oil, which I had turned off since I didn’t know how long I’d let the potatoes cool, and put the potatoes back in.  The potatoes quickly turned brown and crispy, much quicker than I was anticipating.  When they were all floating and sizzling hot, I took them out, salted them lightly, and bit into one.

The perfect french fry!

It’s all about the double cooking.  The first cooking session seals the potato and cooks it.  The cooling stage allow the sugars to rise to the surface and completes the cooking process.  The second cooking stage puffs the exterior, browns it, and bring the internal temperature up quickly so it’s a hot, crispy, brown french fry.  Through trial and error, and reading other cooks methods, I’ve developed the technique that works for me.

Slice one and a half large potatoes per person.  I typically use russet, but yukons or red skins will work, too.  Try to make the potatoes even sizes.  I leave the skins on because I like ’em that way, but you can peel the potatoes if you want.  To keep the potatoes from turning brown, soak them in cool water in the fridge for up to two hours.  This also helps remove excess starch which turns the potatoes gummy.

When you’re ready to cook, heat oil in a pan to about 325 degrees.  This first cooking stage needs to be done at a lower temp.  While the oil is heating, drain and dry the potatoes thoroughly since water in hot oil explodes.  When the oil and potatoes are ready, put one batch of potatoes in the oil.  The oil will bubble up quite a bit, so make sure there’s room in your pan for this.  Once the bubbling subsides, watch the potatoes.  When they look limp, and pale white, almost looking clear, take them out and drain them.  This will take from 6-10 minutes depending on how hot your oil is.  Continue cooking until all the potatoes are done.   It’s important at this stage not to overcrowd the potatoes in the pan.  Let the potatoes cool completely, but try to use them within two hours.

Just before serving, heat the oil again, to 350 or so, slightly hotter than before.  Again in batches, fry the potatoes until the outsides are brown and crispy and all of them are floating on the top of the oil.  This will take from 5-10 minutes depending on how hot your oil is.  Transfer to a bowl and keep at the back of the stove to stay warm.  Sprinkle with a light coating of salt.  When all potatoes are cooked, shake the bowl thoroughly to distribute the potatoes and salt evenly.  Serve warm with any kind of dipping sauce you like.

Like I said, good stuff.  Enjoy!

Post # 81 I’m Baaack! For Reals!

January 7, 2013 at 12:20 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Well, I’m back to the blogging routine and I’ve got some fun things in store.  Here’s why.  Partner/Spouse is a nurse for nearly thirty years.  In his career, he specialized in emergency care and rose through the ranks.  Recently, he’s been concentrating on troubleshooting ERs that have difficulties.  His company just promoted him to a higher position which required a move to Tucson, AZ.  We didn’t know about the move until around the first of December, and we wanted to complete the move before the holidays.  Knowing what this would entail, I decided to forego all my writing efforts (luckily, I had the novel completed and most of the rewrites done.)  Between the acceptance on Dec 6 and now we took a FAST weekend drive to Tucson from OKC to find a place to live, visit my family, visit the hospital he is now working at, packed up the old house, loaded a rental truck (hired guys for that), drove a three vehicle convoy from OKC (I drove the big truck, whee), unloaded at the new house (hired guys for that too), and started unpacking things.  We were lucky in many ways.  We were able to rent a house from my sister just a couple of houses down the street from where she and her husband and mother in law live.  It’s very reasonable rent, in a very quiet neighborhood and close to all the amenities we need.  We moved to AZ in the winter instead of the summer.  We were able to get to the holiday decorations quickly and enjoy the days with much wine and celebration.  The dogs settled in quickly.  We arrived on Dec 22 and were able to celebrate the solstice, Christmas, and Partner/Spouse’s birthday.  We had two weeks between arrival and start date to unpack and arrange things.  It’s been a whirlwind, but now, a month later, it feels very much like home.

We’re facing a unique situation in our kitchen.  We now have no room for all our kitchen stuff.  We have to economize and store things efficiently.  We are basically rebuilding our kitchen and donating or getting rid of everything we have in triples or quadruples.  Don’t laugh.  We have a lot of those.  Seriously, how many wire whisks does one home kitchen need?  So I’m going to blog about the solutions and decisions we make.  Attached below is a picture of the kitchen so far.  It’s a galley style, very light and airy.  I’ll blog more later about the kitchen.  We still have six large boxes of kitchen stuff to unpack, and have already unpacked ten large boxes of kitchen stuff.  We really need to trim down.  If anyone has questions or suggestions at any time, please send them along.  I’d love to hear what everyone thinks.

So, now to food stuff, which is what this blog is about.

It’s winter in the northern hemisphere.  Duh.  Like that’s news to anyone.  Even here in AZ, it gets chilly.  The days right now are mostly in the 60s and 70s, but as soon as the sun goes down, temps drop into the frosty/freezing range.  It’s the perfect time to make soup.  Soup is an almost magical food.  Soup can be made quickly, or can be left to simmer for hours.  It can be rich and hearty, or it can be mild and tasty, or it can be spicy as hell.  It can be cold for hot days, and hot for cold days.  Whenever I make soup, the aroma permeates the house and for a little while the darkness outside stays outside, and the house feels more like home.

I made soup last night.  It was hot and satisfying and delicious.  I made what I now call Leftovers Soup.  I decided to call it that because I realized that when I make this soup, I start with the base and then throw in whatever else I can find in the fridge that will enhance the flavor.  It’s seldom the same soup twice and that just adds to its mystique.

Here’s what I did.  I had a small chunk of roast beef that I had been planning to use for something else but that never happened.  I had to use it before it went bad.  There were several other things that I needed to use, as well.  I took out my stock pot and heated olive oil gently while cutting the beef into bite-sized chunks.  I didn’t trim any fat off it because to my mind, the fat add flavor.  However, if you’re watching calories or fat intake, leave it out.  I browned the meat in batches as I’ve described before, getting a good sear and seal on each piece.  Then I added a bit more olive oil and sweated up some onion and fresh garlic.  Once they started to release their flavors, I added half a small can of tomato paste which was leftover from a meal earlier in the week.  To me, adding tomatoes to almost any soup gives it a richer, deeper flavor.  If you don’t like tomatoes, leave them out.  Then I added two cups of beef broth leftover from a meal earlier in the week, as well as three cups of water.  I slowly brought this to a boil, stirring to make sure the tomato paste didn’t burn before it dissolved into the broth.  Once the broth was simmering, I added some cracked black pepper, a little salt, one bay leaf and a teaspoon of oregano.  I let that simmer for an hour, then added some leftover sautéed mushrooms, and a can of diced tomatoes.  I left it to simmer for another couple of hours, stirring occasionally to make sure it didn’t burn and to see how the beef was breaking down.  I decided by tasting when the soup was done.  I’ve always felt that tasting soup is the only way to know if the flavors are right.  What I was looking for in the combination of tomato, beef stock, and mushrooms was a deep, earthy flavor.  The herbs and spices contributed to that plus gave it a little extra zing.  The water simmers out of the broth leaving a semi-thick rich broth.  At this point, I put in some leftover frozen pearl onions to provide bites of onion flavor.  It’s hard to know when to stop adding things to soup.  A soup of simple flavors can be exquisite, while a soup of complex flavors can be just as.  I had some green beans I could have added.  I also had some celery and carrots I could have added.  I chose to keep the soup on the simple side.  One thing to note, as well, is how the vegetables will break down in the broth if left in to simmer too long.  Potatoes will disintegrate but add texture and depth and creaminess.  Carrots will go mushy and add sweetness.  Celery will go limp and lifeless with just a ghost of flavor left in them.  But these same vegetables added just prior to serving will remain crisp and flavorful and add great mouth appeal.  It depends on what you’re after in your soup.

The final thing I added was noodles.  Never ever ever put uncooked noodles into a hot sauce or broth.  It won’t work.  Cook the noodles first.  But here’s a trick.  Cut the cooking time of the noodles in half, drain them, and add to the hot stock.  They will finish cooking in the soup; they will remain firm and delicious; and they will pick up the flavor of the soup.  There are other things you can add instead of or in addition to noodles.  Cooked rice comes to mind.  Or you can leave starches out.  Sometimes, I will put the cooked noodles, or rice, or potatoes, or toasted bread in the bottom of the bowl and ladle the soup over it.  That ensures that they stay the correct texture for the meal.

I served the soup with the rolls I made from the recipe in the side list.  Good stuff.  Sometimes, I add cheese as a garnish, but last night it was just the soup and a roll.  Croutons also make a good garnish.  Hope you enjoy a good bowl of soup soon!

kitchen 01

Post # 80 I’m Baaaack! Well, Almost!

January 4, 2013 at 1:19 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

I will be back to posting normally on Monday, the 7th with news about the events since I last posted.  Hope everyone had a great holiday season!

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