Thursday, September 30, 2010

Deal flash: Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Essentials app

Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Essentials app is now available for free on iTunes.

It includes over 100, well, essential recipes from the book, as well as some of the snazzy features that come with the full version. If you like Essentials, you can easily upgrade to the complete HTCE app (the entire book for $4.99). 

This is a phenomenal deal. I purchased the hardcover version and thought I'd gotten a fantastic price at $21. Yes, I'm on a huge Bittman kick at the moment. Kitchen is (almost sorta kind of) done. Cooking is fun. Food is great.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mark Bittman's spicy escarole with croutons and eggs

I have never eaten escarole.

Escargot. Yes. Bien sûr. Escarole. Non.

I googled escarole and learned that it was a form of endive (which I have eaten) or common chicory. Well hello again, chicory, my old friend. Before my decades in the land of cowboys, I spent several wonderful years festooned with Mardi Gras beads and bemoaning the then-hapless Saints. Coffee done New Orleans-style blends coffee with roasted, ground chicory root. The chicory root adds a flavor that has been likened to dark chocolate. I'm craving beignets and a muffaletta.

But I digress.

Escarole looks like a lettuce, visually similar to a head of romaine. Bittman's escarole recipe calls for wilting it with some garlic and topping it with a soft-boiled or poached egg and homemade croutons. Easy. Relatively healthy. Can't get better than that.

The result? So delicious. I think I've developed an unhealthy obsession with escarole. Or is an obsession with escarole always considered healthy? The only downside...and it was a major one...was that I had not washed the escarole well enough. So the dish was very gritty. Sandy. Earthy in a not so good way.

My tip of the day: wash your escarole thoroughly. Swirl it in a bowl of clean water. Gently lift out escarole. Discard sandy water. Repeat until the water remains clear.

For this recipe, I used a really good loaf of rustic bread and one large head of escarole. That loaf was enough for croutons and lots of garlic bread. Despite my hopes, my children would not touch the escarole. I, however, have become an official Bittman follower (see my sidebar for a link to his site).

Spicy escarole with croutons and eggs
From Kitchen Express by Mark Bittman

Cut good-quality bread into one-inch cubes; toss the bread with two tablespoons of olive oil, salt, and pepper and toast them until golden, about three or four minutes. Cook a bunch of chopped escarole in two tablespoons of butter for about five minutes, or until wilted. Toss the escarole with the croutons, a pinch or two of red chile flakes, freshly squeezed lemon juice, olive oil, and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Serve the greens and croutons in bowls with a soft-boiled or poached egg on top, along with more Parmesan.

New cookbooks for a new kitchen

I expected to jump right back into cooking. Like a hog to mud. After all, I was beyond happy to get a working kitchen back. And maybe some people do. Maybe for them, that backlog of uncooked recipes builds pressure, and they're relieved to finally cook again if only to release some of that pent-up steam.

Not me.

My pantry was bare. My mind was barren of any and all inspiration. I browsed my usual haunts...allrecipes and epicurious and cooking blogs. Nothing. It was as if cooking had become a foreign language.

So, in desperation, I turned to these. New cookbooks. I'd wanted to buy them for some time, but put it off, knowing that a kitchen reno was around the corner. I didn't need anything more to put into storage, thank you. But now, maybe new cookbooks would give exactly the inspiration I needed.

Last night, I devoured Mark Bittman's Kitchen Express, and compiled a very long grocery list. It included some items I'd never bought before. Firm tofu and escarole and anchovies. Nothing expensive. Actually, nothing that exotic. Just things that had, for whatever reason, never made it onto my family's menu before.

I'm relieved to have escaped the cooking doldrums and excited about cooking out of these books. Inspired, even. And maybe...just children will actually eat escarole and anchovies.

P.S. If you're ever in the area, New England Mobile Book Fair in Newton has a phenomenal selection of books, including an extensive cookbook section. I could browse in their remainders section (not just aisle...its own section of an enormous building) for hours. They offer 20% off all hardbacks and paperbacks. More importantly, they give 40% off over 50 current cookbook bestsellers. An excellent deal for your wallet and your kitchen.

Monday, September 27, 2010

A few of my favorite things

"Cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudels;
Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles;
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings,
These are a few of my favorite things."

Large Franke Orca in beautiful stainless,
Wide and so deep as to hold all of my mess.
"Ledge grid for drying, oh yes," my heart sings.
This is but one of my favorite things.

Dishwasher near to the drawer that holds
Plates, large and small, and our cereal bowls.
Ease of unloading proximity brings.
This is but one of my favorite things.

A grilled cheese sandwich that's evenly done;
Speed and control, they both make cooking fun;
All of this joy that my new kitchen brings;
These are a few of my favorite things.

(Sorry, my friends. I had a heavy-water-bottle-meets-big-toe incident this afternoon. Apparently, I burst into rhyme in my post-painkiller delirium. Good night from the girl with the vivid blue toe.)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Watermelon lemonade

Summer's making a last hurrah with temperatures in the mid-80s here. A perfect day for watermelon lemonade, and a perfect day for a lemonade stand. The girls had been begging for a lemonade stand for almost a year. After patiently waiting through the kitchen renovation, they finally had their day.

This was so delicious that it almost didn't make it to the lemonade stand. It would be a perfect summer party drink. With vodka for the grownups. Without for the kids. (Note: This is not a drink for kids with texture issues. The blended watermelon has a slightly pulpy consistency. I might try this as a granita next summer.)

Watermelon lemonade

8 cups 1-inch pieces seedless watermelon (from about 4 1/2 pounds)
1 cup fresh lemon juice

3 1/2 cups water
1 cup sugar
Ice cubes
Lemon wedges

Working in 2 batches, blend watermelon and lemon juice in processor or blender until smooth. Transfer to pitcher.

Bring 3 1/2 cups water and sugar to boil in medium saucepan over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add hot syrup to pitcher with watermelon-lemon juice. Refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours. Fill tall glasses with ice. Pour watermelon lemonade over ice and garnish glasses with lemon wedges.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

...and you've got a margarita.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend casually dropped that it was time to seed the lawn and add lime.

To which I almost replied, "Add tequila and Cointreau, and you've got a margarita."

I managed to bite my tongue in time. Because, you know, ditzy Texan party mom is not an image I have to try to cultivate. Sometimes it comes just a little too naturally.

Later, a very nice man at Needham Garden Center set me straight on the lime business. It has nothing to do with citrus at all. New England soils are acidic and are made even more so by precipitation, decomposing leaves, grasses, etc. Lawn grasses lose their appetite in acidic soils, turning puny and starved and thin. Very much like the ragtag survivors in my lawn. So to add alkalinity to the soil and restore the pH to something more neutral, lime is added.

Ironic, isn't it? In Austin, limestone was everywhere. It lay underground under a thin scraping of soil. It was heavily used as a native building material. The Austin soil was so alkaline that one couldn't grow azaleas without peat moss-swathed contortions. Now, I've moved to a place where the soil is so acidic, I have to add lime every year or so. Just so the grass can grow.

Austin and Boston. As different as chalk and cheese. I've literally moved from chalk to cheese.

Why all the lawn angst? I've just realized that our reel mower no longer cuts well. It's no fault of the mower. It's because we no longer have grass. We have sedge...and violets...and some densely matted, low groundcover with tiny flowers. I'm no suburban green grass fanatic, but I don't think the haunted, abandoned house look carries over past Halloween.

So this is my task before leaves fall. (And they're already turning so I'd better hurry). Seed and fertilize my blighted lawn. Add lime in two weeks.

(P.S. After all this lawn work, I may need a margarita. Here's my recipe. It's yummy.)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

One potato, two potato, three potato, four...

Did I tell you about our Yukon Gold potato? The one I lost in the depths of the pantry this past spring? By the time I rediscovered it, it had begun to sprout. Pretzel Boy insisted that we plant it. So we did.

We cut the potato into pieces. Each piece had one shoot. Will planted the pieces about two inches deep. The plants took a while to grow. We thought they'd died. But grow, they did. And look what we got from just two of the plants.

Talk about accidental gardening at its best!

For dinner tonight, we roasted the potatoes with garlic. They were moist with lovely, slightly crisp edges. Agatha did a wonderful job. Yum.

Roast potatoes with garlic
2 lbs potatoes
5 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 425F. Chop potatoes into 1/2" thick pieces. Slice garlic cloves about 1/8" thick. Toss potatoes and garlic with olive oil in a baking pan. Salt and pepper to taste. Bake for around 30 minutes, stirring potatoes once or twice.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Agatha cooks

Ahhhh...Two pots of gnocchi and sauteed chicken in garlic. At the same time.

How I'd missed cooking with gas. That fine, instant control. No waiting for the electric burner to heat up. Then scorching the food because the burner becomes too hot and doesn't back off quickly enough. The two outside 15K burners are hot. Maybe not the 22K of Bluestar, but they boiled water quickly enough.

Sorry. No recipes to share. We're still getting back into the cooking swing. Most of our pantry items are still in boxes. When Agatha was connected, we gathered around her and gaped. What do you do with a range? How do you cook? Amazing how rusty you can get in two months.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Gack! I think I goofed.

The electrician put up the lighting today. This time, I think I took eclecticism a step too far. Each light is beautiful on its own. Together, they don't look like they belong in the same kitchen. The overhead lights are too big, and the pendants are too small. I'm channeling Goldilocks and the three renovating bears. The old breakfast room light's size is just right, but it adds yet a third discordant element.

Oh well.

At least we have lighting. We can do things in the room after dark without rigging up work lights!

And it's fairly easily changed. Just expensive. And/or time-consuming. And I feel stupid for goofing up.

At least it's not the cabinets, counters, or backsplash, right?

Do you want to see my goofs? Here they are. Be kind.

Restoration Hardware's Optic semi-flushmount in polished nickle. I have two of these down the center of the room. I love the prism glass, and it throws fantastic light. But they're just so darn big. It seems to compete with the hood. It's not quite the right look either. Too vintage American and not vintage English?

Here's the verdigris pendant light from Sundance Catalog. I have two of these as well, one in front of each window. Love its shape and beautiful industrial vibe. But too small for the space. And weirdly at odds with the RH light.

So keep what? Change which? We're keeping everything for now. There's still so much work to be done. Waterlox the floors (again). Prime and paint the rooms and trim. Prime and paint the exterior new shingles.

Speaking of work, I had four different trades in my house today at the same time. It was a madhouse. But look. Grout! More photos tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Welcome to the 21st century

It's about time. Our kitchen now has running water and electricity. Not everywhere, but where it counts: dishwasher, refrigerator, and microwave. Time to wipe down surfaces and start moving back!

Not a moment too soon, by the way.

With three children in three different schools with three different schedules, I'd pretty much accepted that sooner or later, I'd forget a child. I didn't appreciate just how soon it would be. Of course, it was the littlest who was the forgotten child. I'd ordered breakfast à deux at a local diner with my husband. Just as I was exhaling gratefully, the teacher called to tell me that my child was waiting. No, it was not her first full day. In fact, I was already twenty minutes late. I bolted, stranding Will in the restaurant with two omelets and all the trimmings. No, he did not eat it all.

The rest of the day was just as frenzied, and I came home again too late to take any photos. So here are a couple of oldies. They make me happy. I hope they make you smile too.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The kitchen sink

They had me worried. They really did. No plumbers by school drop-off. No plumbers by mid-morning. But arrive they did. They used odd-smelling stuff and made loud noises, and here are the results of their day's labor.

This afternoon, I washed grapes for the girls with my new faucet, and I felt like a queen.

(And for you sharp-eyed folks, yes, that's Agatha you see just in frame in the middle photo. She's awaiting a new gas line and installation. Who knows when that will be, but heck. I have running water and a deep sink! I'm one content gal.)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Promises, promises

Tile, tile, tile! We have tile, tile, tile! Sorry, no photos yet. Monday is our crazy day. It was too dim to take pictures by the time I got home. I'll take some tomorrow. Promise. Maybe by then, there will be even more progress!

(Knock on wood. Fingers crossed. No poultry or egg countin' going on here!)

Meanwhile, here is part two of the Nantucket photos I'd promised earlier. If you're in the area, maybe the sunny photos will warm you up. Such a chilly, rainy night. Where did summer go? Not that long ago, we were lounging in tank tops and flip flops. Now the strappy tops and strappy shoes have been packed away, and we're in jeans and jackets. New England weather.

From the top of Great Point lighthouse in the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge, you can see how undeveloped Nantucket remains. I grew up vacationing on Florida beaches where I was sandwiched between water and miles of condos. In Nantucket, I was stunned by how unspoiled the beaches remained. One could walk forever along the shore and see no one but gulls, curious seals, and sanderlings. Seeing nothing but ocean to one side, sandy bluffs on the other.

Sunset at Madaket Beach. It's amazing how swiftly the sun sets. One second, it glimmers, perched on the horizon. An eyeblink later, it's gone. A new restaurant steps away from Madaket Beach opened this summer. Formerly the Westender, Millie's offers indoor and outdoor seating, live music, and absolutely phenomenal soft tacos. Sitting at a picnic table with a really good margarita, ocean breezes ruffling your hair. That is the life.

Sunset at Madaket again. I love the bird. I don't know why.

She sells seashells by the seashore.

Pure and simple. Joy.

Friday, September 10, 2010

So there's good news and bad news...

The bad news is that I came home this afternoon to find only the short wall of tile up. The back story. The tiler said he would come yesterday. He did not. He declared that he could do the entire job Friday. This morning, it was amended to installation today, grouting tomorrow. And this know the story.

This seems to be a recurring reno pattern. A really, really annoying recurring pattern.

The tiler, plumber, and electrician were all scheduled to get their work done this week. One-third out of three isn't the greatest batting average. You'd get sent down to the minors for sure.

I'd been telling my friends that we should have a working kitchen sometime next week. Was I crazy? Tempting fate? Not knocking on wood? Counting my chickens? Ugh.

Good news? Well, I think the backsplash looks good.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The floor that ate my husband

or "Why you shouldn't lay two floors in one month (a cautionary tale)."

Here's the guilty party.

Marmoleum Click in the mudroom. It's installed in a checkerboard pattern with Barbados and Eternity. The gray is reminiscent of soapstone, a dark gray that leans the tiniest bit green. The colors work beautifully together and give the same classic, retro feel as a white/black floor, but in more muted tones.

Installation was very easy and swift once Will figured out the trick. Note: installation does not involve lots of furious hammering. We were both feeling quite smug. Finally! We had flooring that wasn't torn and stained sheet vinyl or plywood. Fantastic!

Then yesterday, Will woke up with non-working knee. He didn't call a doctor. He said it's okay, and it will probably just get better in a few days. Meanwhile, this is what I heard when he was up and about. Limp, limp, (muffled curse), pause, limp, pause, gritted teeth. Yes. You can hear gritted teeth.

So I, the sage veteran of two knee surgeries, leaped into diagnostic mode. Torn meniscus? ACL injury? Anyway, whatever it is, this is relatively severe. The knee can't support weight unless locked straight. So won't you please call the freakin' doctor?!?!?

A warning for you DIYers out there (especially those who are 40+ like us). Take it easy. I'd worried about all sorts of things from nail gun punctures to gory saw-inflicted gashes. A knee injury never crossed my mind.

Update: Severe bursitis. My husband has housemaid's knee!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Grilled brown sugar pork chops

This past week, I've slid quietly into an inspiration-free food funk. Takeout. Deli meat and crackers. Whatever is ripe in the garden. (Three cheers for overachieving cucumbers and cherry tomatoes!) My tolerance for living in renovation chaos is lower than I'd estimated. Okay. Yes. I'm a reno wimp.

So many thanks to Will for grilling up this delicious dinner yesterday. Sometimes takeout just doesn't satisfy. This is a great transitional fall dish and would be delicious served with root vegetables.

Grilled brown sugar pork chops
Adapted from allrecipes

1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons cornstarch
6 boneless pork chops (for best results on the grill, choose thick pork chops and not butterflied)

Preheat an outdoor grill for high heat.

In a sauce pan, mix brown sugar, 1/2 cup water, vinegar, oil, soy sauce, and ginger. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil over medium heat.

In a small bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup of water with the cornstarch. Whisk this mixture into the brown sugar sauce and bring to a boil while stirring. Reduce heat and simmer until sauce is reduced slightly.

Brush grate lightly with oil before placing pork chops on the grill. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes, turning once. Brush with sauce just before removing chops from grill. Serve with remaining sauce.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Creating a custom blend

yourself is c-r-a-z-y. Gibbering, hair-standing-on-end insanity, I tell you. Making the design look random (but not too random) while making sure that the colors are balanced throughout. I'm seriously thinking about fleeing to Home Depot and grabbing up some crackled cream subway tile.

We are not trained professionals. Do not try this at home.

To make matters more fun, it looks like we're just short on tiles. Last-minute road trip to New Hampshire with little kids! Because of the long weekend, we have to wait until Tuesday to find out if tiles are even available. Deep, even breaths. Whooo.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Counter dance

Like a table dance, only much more expensive and performed fully clothed.

Countertops were installed yesterday. BFR did a beautiful job with the fabrication and installation. The slabs were Beleza soapstone from Dorado on the Cooking Apple Green cabinets. Honed Mountain White Danby marble (a great deal if you're looking, by the way) on the Old White cabinets.

I don't think this photo captures the color of the marble. It is white with gorgeous charcoal veining. The veining has a very slight green cast that marries it perfectly with the soapstone. This Beleza slab has an unusual tone-on-tone movement. I was worried it was too wild, but in the space, I don't think so.

On a side note, our Rohl faucet is still on a truck somewhere so Yale Appliance gave us a loaner faucet to site the countertop holes. When I ordered the faucet, I was very specific about when it was needed. Obviously it didn't arrive on time. However, the mark of a service-oriented company is how it responds to issues that inevitably crop up. We're relieved that Yale agreed to a loaner. It was so helpful, especially because both our sink (the Franke Orca) and our faucet (we call it the "Dalek") are unusually shaped.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

From ACK with love

I'm catching a breath this afternoon after ploughing through a huge mound of work. After the leisurely pace of island life, jumping back into renovation and back-to-school craziness feels as shocking as plunging into the icy Atlantic.

So I'm sneaking a quiet moment ( quiet as it gets around here) and browsing through my Nantucket photos. Just looking at them relaxes me. I'd love to share some favorites with you.

The first few days of our stay were gray and chilly. It didn't stop us from riding the waves.

These damp, gray days made for light traffic in town...

...but any day was a good day for ice cream from The Juice Bar. Delicious concoctions, including Crantucket and Native Blueberry.

Finally, the weather grew sunny. We basked in the sun.

And so did the local wildlife.

Time to fly. I'm currently chest-deep in a PTO project and am ramping up for working in my youngest's preschool. More photos later. From ACK (and me) with love.