A new look at cooking and home decorating...with an attempt to add more greens to the plate, more vegetarian options & hopefully lots of new ideas to explore

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Kitchen Confusion

Yesterday, I spent the better part of my day at a kitchen design store. Once home I flipped through the glossy images of beautiful kitchens with granite countertops and wine coolers and under lit cabinets. A friend of mine is redoing her kitchen and she asked me to come along to help her. I am not sure that I am much of help but I am learning quite a bit about kitchen design.

What interests me most about all of this is the function of the kitchen. For some people it is a place to take refuge. A place to remember travels they may have taken to Italy, France or Asia. Some people choose a kitchen that helps them to dream of things which they have experienced or hope to experience in the future.

Others design a kitchen as a showcase. It is simply a place where they can show the world what they bought. That is fine too. There is nothing wrong with hiring a great designer to make beautiful room for your house. Even if you don’t plan to cook in it all that much. Maybe your family will spend time there, lingering over breakfast. Perhaps you just enjoy showing it off to friends at dinner parties – no matter. It is a place for gathering more that actually cooking.

There are those who want a practical kitchen. They want recycle bin stations; pull out garbage bins and bread baking stations. They want snack areas for the kids and places to store juice boxes.

Having spent a few months in the past, trying to figure out what style I want my perfect kitchen to be someday, I have turned a corner. In place of deciding on a set style such as “Old World” or “Country French” or “Tuscan” I see it differently. What do those labels really mean anyway? Now it is more about what the kitchen can do for me. Will it make me dream of the Italian countryside? Will it work for my entertaining needs? Will all of my kitchen clutter fit in there? (Probably not!) No matter. I no longer feel boxed in by a certain style and I have learned a lot in the process.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Weeknight Meals

Here is the thing; on the weekends we have time for fun cooking. Making dinners like Mario Batali’s seared tuna can be fun, relaxing and enjoyable. Try it during the week and its unlimited stress. Halfway through reading the recipe I realized that I needed at least 2 other recipes to make the dish- blood orange vinaigrette and a recipe for the garlic. OK, I can handle that on a Saturday, Monday night no way!

So for the past few days I have been cooking from some “weeknight meal” cookbooks. The problem with these is often that the flavors are meant mainly for adults not children, so then you still have to make 2 dinners. Another factor is that when you get right down to the actual cooking it may be fast but the prep time and cleanup is still a factor. Then there is taste.

Prompted by many e-mails that I have had from moms complaining that they make the same thing over and over again because it works, I thought I would give some Ideas about how to vary your dinner plans a little and still be able to feed everyone.

Soups on! - Make a soup, my kids love pea soup, other kids prefer a pasta soup, most soups can be make with pantry items like pastas, rice grains and frozen veg from the freezer
The super market prep cook- when shopping you can buy pre sliced mushrooms, peeled carrots, cut celery- it sounds lazy and expensive but, bear in mind that you do not have a helper in the kitchen and most chefs have a large staff. I find that I tend to buy only what I need when I buy food this way rather than buying extra which might go to waste.
Finding new flavors in old favorites- I introduce new flavors slowly to my kids for example, they love panko crusted chicken so this week I added a little fresh ginger to the breading. Not a big deal I admit, but if they like it they you have another flavor with which they are comfortable
Eggs and pasta- for these main courses you can keep them basic but I like to use them as a canvas adding in ham, chicken, and new vegetables. It is also easy to make two variations of a dish with 1 pound of pasta, just use different sauces. Eggs are great because you can go French in style and make different omelets, or Italian with different frittatas and Spanish with torte. Add in ham pr pre cooked potatoes and top with cheese and you have a very hearty meal.
Work in some fruit at dessert- stewed berries can be spooned over pound cake or fresh fruit over yogurt or use a delicious cheese like mascarpone – even Greek yogurt can be sweetened with a little honey – top the desserts with new fruits like poached pears and a little biscuit cookie or biscotti.
Roast a chicken- I love roast chicken and often season it with different flavors but during mid week the cleanup is a mess, so instead use a chicken that has been cut up by your butcher- it will cook faster and save you a lot of cleanup.
Stock the pantry- honestly there is nothing worse than having to run out mid week and for odds and ends- a well stocked pantry will save you a lot a of extra work
Use your freezer- I always keep mine stocked with pizza dough, frozen peas, pearl onions just to name a few things
Do Fondue- this sounds like a pain but actually I do it often, lots of cheese and chunks of cooked ham or chicken and fresh vegetables, or a nice chocolate fondue for dessert with fresh fruit- I don’t bother at all with the whole “light the fire under it to keep it warm” thing- just warn the fondue in a “le creuset” style pot on the stove and place it on to a trivet to serve. Many grocery stores now carry Fondue packets for both cheese or chocolate so there is really no work at all
Crepes- you can even buy pre-made crepes at gourmet store or make them ahead and freeze them- then just stuff and bake!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Feeling Inspired

After all the cooking that I do at Christmas, the days that follow are about relaxing. Plopping myself in front of the TV and watching Jacque Pepin whip up something tasty, or Lida travel to Italy. Afterward, I feel both inspired and rested, enough so that today I plan to get back in the kitchen and roast a duck.

My inspiration this week came not just from TV but also from a friend’s kitchen. My friend Maria has a lovely home and it is, I think, what you would call split level home. You walk in and then up a set of stairs into a bright open and airy space. Most notable is the kitchen. I affectionately call it kitchen stadium. Her countertops are black, she has a beautiful flat screen TV on which cooking shows are always playing, a very cool cookbook holder that hangs on the wall and a bunch of other nifty gadgets. I fell like Alton Brown will pop around the corner at any moment. Always, center stage is Maria cooking.

This week Maria invited me to sample some of her lentil soup. She makes lentil soup every Monday and serves it with pasta and fresh artisan breads. What inspired me here is that Maria has made her life simple yet very healthy. She uses a soy butter spread and whole-wheat pasta, the lentil soup is made in the afternoon with loads of carrots and other veg but with water in place of chicken stock so it can sit and simmer on the stove until dinnertime. She has mad a heart healthy yet easy dinner.

Another trick Maria used to save time is storage bowls. Something you might not think about spending money on, but Maria bough nice glass storage bowls in place of plastic so they can go from freezer to microwave to table- yes they are nice enough to serve a pasta course from! I ran out a bought some that afternoon.

I may never make as many heart healthy dinners as Maria dose (I think I smell duck fat..) but a few clever tricks sure makes it sound easy.