23 July 2010

A Year in Review

We've been in the remodeled kitchen for a year; by and large, we can declare the remodel a success! Here's some thoughts after a year in our new space:

My favorite part of the kitchen was and still is the end-grain butcherblock. Here is how it looks on an average day. We oil it whenever it starts to look dry, which is once every 2-6 weeks (clearly, it is starting to look dry now). I wanted to take "real" usage photos so I didn't oil it up for this post. You can see the areas of our heaviest use in the lighter "L" shape.

My least favorite part of the kitchen, by far, is our main sink faucet: KWC Systema. I loved it when I bought it. I selected it because KWC puts real quality into their faucets, and I liked how the spray head felt in my hand, and the simple style of the faucet overall.

I hate it after a year of use. It has broken once (and KWC provided excellent customer service to supply free replacement parts). What I hate the most, however, is how the spray head never docks in place. Granted, we have a lot of plumbing underneath, so the hose sometimes catches. But even if the hose doesn't catch on something, this thing still never docks cleanly. The head is too light -- it feels lighter than the hose itself -- and although it's not logical, somehow this seems to affect its ability to dock easily and completely. The normal docking state is the large photo on the left. The best state, if I purposefully try to get it docked, is the smaller photo at the top right. Another reason I do not like this faucet is because the spray, at its widest, is still very narrow (smaller photo bottom right). I want a wider spray.
On a contrasting note, I LOVE the KWC Edge on my prep sink (photo below - love that wider spray), and the KWC Systema Pot Filler. Yes, I love and use my pot filler, and I am not too proud to admit it. Snicker if you must (and trust me, many do). Yes, it only helps with filling pots. Yes, I have to lug the pots to the sink to empty them out. But I love it. If anything, the only annoying part is that I often have the pot filler extended from the wall instead of neatly folded back out of the way.

Here is my husband's favorite part of the kitchen: our 24" wide flat gas-powered griddle. This sucker was a gamble. It's the VGGT240 from Viking, and I could not find ANY reviews of it, nor could I find anyone who had used it. I hate spending lots of money on things without a proven track record. So I "gambled" (on Viking's mostly good reputation) and figured it was a pretty simple appliance so really, how badly could it go wrong? Well, the good news is that the griddle performs like a champ. My husband LOVES the big wide expanse of space and he can churn out a weekend breakfast of pancakes and sausage lickety split. When you use the griddle a lot (even a little) it starts to look nasty pretty quickly. I had a custom cover made out of walnut for the griddle. The cover is on almost always on weekdays (barring the occasional panini). It makes a nice extra bit of prep space, especially for staging ingredients to be used on the adjacent induction. More importantly, it hides the very unsightly griddle surface. As a bonus, we've found the griddle useful for mass freezer meal preparation (you know, make a gazillion servings of a meal at once and then pack it in the freezer; remove a few servings at a time for faster weeknight meals). If you have to brown a LOT of ground meat (e.g. for taco soup!), the big wide griddle is the way to go.

My husband declined to pick his least favorite part of the kitchen (of my design). Wise man!

Best design decisions:

  • Removing some storage in favor of wider aisles and an open stairway. It both feels and functions so much better.
  • Reconfiguring the island from long and skinny to short and wide. Now we can walk around it and it's truly useful on both sides.
  • Relocating patio doors to the living room, in favor of a breakfast nook table in the kitchen
Worst design decisions:
  • Not including seating directly IN the kitchen at the island, for an extended conversation with the cook (we have seating in the nook, but it's not really close enough)
  • Not redesigning our living room at the same time (it is part of the same "great room" space)
  • Locating the wall knife rack right above the griddle. Looks cool. Very functional 90% of the time. The knives heat up really fast, though, if you're using the griddle
We are still loving our soapstone. The honeymoon has worn off somewhat. I do still love it, but not with the same intensity of emotion as I did in the beginning. I would still select it again, in a heartbeat. I have difficulty imagining boring, soul-less counters in any future kitchen of mine. But -- it does show a lot more spills and water rings than I expected. Yes, I like to see signs of use. But I don't like it when those signs continually mock me, that I am a bad housekeeper. On the flipside, these counters are certainly cleaner on a daily basis than any counter I've had in the past, which is a good thing when you have kids.

The signs of use that I do embrace are chips, dings, signs of wear. Here is the biggest chip in my kitchen (and I only know of 3-4 total). It's pretty small.

Recommended without any reservations
I like Cook's Illustrated magazine when I want to understand a particular cooking technique or when I want to find reviews on kitchen implements. Their highest review rating is called "Recommended" while the next is "Recommended with reservations". Here is my list of the best products for a kitchen remodel, from my own personal experience with this kitchen. No reservations here.

The List:

  • Custom cabinetry, measured and sized to fit perfectly in your kitchen with useful inserts, dividers, etc. Custom is not much more, and is sometimes even cheaper, than semi-custom. Take the time to figure out what works best for you and GET IT. Get exactly what you want for door style, species, stain, construction quality, fitments, etc.
  • Blanco Silgranit Sinks. AWESOME
  • Instant hot water dispenser. Not everyone needs one of these, but if you even THINK that you might, get it. You'll use it far more than you expect. I now usually clean my kitchen only with hot water from this tap.
  • dimmable warm CFL lights. I guess some people think these are on their way out. I can't pay for the LED fixtures, everywhere, though. These provide great light and low energy usage. Don't let your electrician talk you out of these. Old school electricians are scared of new things, probably with good reason. These are a proven product. Don't back down! Yes, you can find dimmers that work with CFLs.
  • Kichler undercabinet LED lights. OK, so I sprung for LED on my undercabinet lights (a much smaller area to cover). They illuminate the counter really well and can be installed BY YOURSELF. So easy. Save the money on the electrician. The end result is a wash of cost that does allow you to spring for LED.
  • Schaub hardware. Love my heavy rustic iron door pulls. The weight in my hand is a real quality feel.
  • Amerock hardware. OK, so this is weird... because I'm recommending both high-end pulls as well as fairly inexpensive pulls. I used Amerock on my painted cabinetry and it cost only a third of the Schaub. But, it was the right color and design for my cabinetry.
  • GE Monogram oven and speedcook oven appliances. Fabulous -- not a single complaint, really.
  • Miele dishwasher. I had a very tricky hidden dishwasher installation and the only reason it worked, I am convinced, is because the Miele dishwasher is so precise with installation measurements. I still feel like a novice with my Miele though. It cleans wonderfully and is super quiet. I had my doubts about the cutlery tray but I AM A CONVERT. It opens up so much space in your primary dishwasher area and really is not a pain to load, like you might expect.
  • If you are buying a Ventahood liner, get it in black! It is cheaper than stainless steel. No one will see the liner anyway -- that's the point of a hood liner -- so why pay extra for stainless steel? I didn't even know they were available in black -- it's not something that is well advertised. Search it out.

I am NOT putting soapstone on the list because as much as I do love it and would do it again in a heartbeat... I don't think it's the right surface for a lot of people.

03 July 2010

The Making Of... Cherry Ice Cream

Today was my second kid's first birthday. After buying some beautiful Bing cherries at the farmer's market last week, and seeing my son down pound after pound of cherries, I figured that some cherry ice cream was in order to celebrate his special day.

Cherry ice cream -- or cherry dessert of any sort, for that matter -- is something of a labor of love. To prepare, you must stem and pit the cherries, which is a fairly monotonous task. I, however, am a pro at delegation. :)

The first picture of this post pretty well summarizes a key aspect of my kitchen: a communal gathering spot to share in a family cooking activity. I definitely had a vision of an "all hands on deck" approach to meal prep when I designed the kitchen.

In the case of cherry ice cream, a well-captioned photo essay does more to describe the journey than words could possibly do. So without further delay, here is our fresh Bing cherry simple ice cream:

On the right, my 3yo daughter stems two pounds of cherries. On the left, my 78yo mother pits them with a chopstick. She is pitting them over a bowl to catch the cherry juices. Waste not one bit of cherry goodness!

Two pounds of cherries, plus their juices, are coarsely pureed using one of my favorite appliances: my Kitchenaid food processor. This guy is about 10 years old.

In a pot, I heat 1.5 cup of heavy whipping cream to just under boiling on the induction, then remove it from heat. Then I mix in 1 cup of sugar, until fully dissolved. (I actually just turned on the hob to heat up the cream, and in the scant time it took me to measure 1c of sugar, the cream already just reached boiling. I immediately shut it off when I came back with the sugar.)

In a wide glass Pyrex bowl, I mix the cream/sugar mixture with the pureed cherries. Pink goodness. Store this in the fridge, covered, for 8h or overnight.

If you don't add plastic wrap to the surface (which I don't), then the cherry that is exposed to air will slowly darken to an almost cocoa-like appearance. This is rather inconsequential; a quick stir returns the cream mixture to the bright pink color.

Pour into ice cream maker and process per your appliance directions. We churned ours for 30 minutes. The ice cream maker is really loud, so I put it in the appliance garage and closed the door while it was churning. As the cream incorporates air, the color gets lighter.

Scrape ice cream into freezer container for storage (if you don't just eat it right away...)