Monthly Archives: October 2016

Fall Recipes – Halloween Spice Cookies

shutterstock_488924494

Happy Halloween!

Are you planning on dressing up tonight and dropping into a party? Or will you be home shelling out treats to all the kiddies? Whatever you decide, one things for sure. Tonight’s the night to take a break from the sound of that range hood fan. Indulge in a little fun, and leave the cooking for another night!

The recipe today is all about Halloween. But, don’t worry if you don’t have Halloween-themed cookie cutters. You can improvise by cutting the top and bottom of a can of tuna until you’re left with the metal circle. Wash it out well. Dry it. Then place your thumb and fingers on either side of the metal circle. Squeeze. You’re trying to achieve a shape that looks something like the ghost from the movie Scream. Failing that, use a glass to cut out round cookies. It’s all good!

Halloween Spice Cookies

I’ve been baking these cookies for so long that I no longer remember where I found the recipe originally. I have, however, changed up the ingredients over the years. Sometimes, I use pumpkin spice (my favorite variation). Sometimes, I use a combination of whatever spices I happen to have on hand. One year, I used cinnamon alone. They were as delicious as ever. Go ahead and experiment!

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup butter, slightly softened
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350°F.
  2. Mix dry ingredients together. In another bowl, beat butter; add egg and vanilla. Gradually add dry ingredients. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.
  3. Roll out dough to about 1/4-inch thickness. Cut cookies with cookie cutters, shaped tuna can, or a glass. Refrigerate cookies for about 30 minutes.
  4. Bake cookies for about 20 minutes. Spread the top of the cookies with white, black, or orange-colored icing.

Monthly Pick – Range Vs Cooktop

Thurs. range vs cooktop

Here’s the dilemma: do you opt for a cooktop or for a range for your kitchen? Do you know the difference? Hmm, let’s deal with that last question first.

Very basically, a cooktop is built right into the counter (like in the photo above). It can be wired to use gas, electricity, or induction. Cooktop sizes vary, but standard measurements are typically 30 inches and 36 inches.

A range, often simply referred to as a stove, is a stand-alone piece that comes with its own cooktop and its own built-in oven. Standard measurements are the same as the cooktop, but it, too, can come in a variety of styles and sizes.

So, now that you know the basic difference, how do you decide which one is best for you?

The answer to that lies squarely in your own personal tastes and circumstances. The cooktop, for instance, is just that. You’ll need to install an oven in the wall somewhere in your kitchen. If your kitchen is on the small side, and all the walls are taken up by cupboards, finding a place to install that oven might prove a bit of a headache.

A range, on the other hand, is an all-in-one appliance. The only consideration you’ll have to make is whether the cooktop and oven are large enough for your cooking needs. Do you love hosting parties where you need six burners going at the same time. Maybe roasting a large turkey along with five different side dishes is your thing. Yes, you can find cooktops and separate ovens that fulfill those needs. But, for a small kitchen, choosing a large one piece range might make more sense.

The one benefit of the cooktop over the range, as far as I’m concerned, is that the cooktop is typically built so that it abuts right against the counter. That means that there’s no gap for crumbs, drips, or anything else to fall through. Pulling out the range to clean along that crack is inconvenient at best and dangerous at worst. Ranges are not always very light weight. Moving one might cause some uncomfortable muscle strain!

Have you had to choose between a cooktop and a range? What helped you make that final decision?

Fall Recipes – Deep-Fried Polenta-Gorgonzola Sticks

Tues. fried polenta

These polenta-Gorgonzola sticks are delicious at any time of the year. But, they’re especially perfect in the fall when temperatures begin to dip. Enjoy them as an appetizer, a side dish, or a snack. Making them can be a little time-consuming, but don’t be put off by that. The effort is well worth it. You can also prepare them a day or two in advance, then reheat them in the oven at 350°F. Because these sticks require frying, be sure to turn on your range hood fan. Any grease and smoke will be exhausted to the outdoors, so you won’t have to look forward to hours of scrubbing down the walls!

Deep-Fried Polenta-Gorgonzola Sticks

Filling

  • 1 1/4 lb spinach
  • 1/4 lb Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Polenta

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup polenta (coarsely ground yellow cornmeal)
  • 2 Tbsp butter, unsalted
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/2 lb ball of mozzarella, cut into 1/2 inch thick slices
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  1. Rinse the spinach, making sure that all dirt is removed. If using frozen spinach, thaw and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Cook spinach in a pan set over medium-low heat until wilted, about 4 minutes. Drain away any liquid that the spinach expels. Chop spinach and place in a bowl. Add the crumbled Gorgonzola, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Toss and taste for seasoning. Set aside.
  2. For the polenta, combine water, stock and salt in a large pot. Heat until it reaches a simmer. Pour polenta slowly into the simmering water, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to low. Continue to cook and stir until the polenta comes away from the sides of the pan, about 20 minutes. Stir in the butter and Parmesan. Remove from heat and set aside.
  3. Rinse a 6×9 inch pan with water and shake out the excess. Using a spatula dipped in hot water (do this every time the polenta starts to stick to the spatula), spread half of the polenta into the pan. Distribute the polenta evenly along the bottom of the pan. Spread the spinach onto the polenta. Lay the mozzarella slices over top the spinach filling. Pour the remaining polenta over the filling making sure it is evenly distributed over all the filling. Cover with a towel, and let rest in the fridge for between 2 and 24 hours.
  4. Cut the polenta into 1×3 inch slices. Heat oil in a large pot to about 4 inches deep. Oil should be about 375°F. Place flour into a bowl, and egg and water into another bowl. Stir egg and water until evenly combined. Place bread crumbs into a third bowl. Dip polenta slices, one at a time, into first the flour, then the egg mixture, and finally into the bread crumbs. Shake off excess coating before moving polenta sticks from bowl to bowl. Carefully place polenta sticks into the hot oil. Deep fry until golden, about 5 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Repeat until all polenta sticks have been coated and fried. Serve as is or with a tomato sauce dip.

This Is How To Integrate Technology Into Kitchen Design

Fri - tech integrated kitchen

The Internet of Things isn’t the future of kitchens. It’s the now. Digital technology is revolutionizing how we define every aspect of that room we call the heart of the home. Range hoods with built-in computer sensors is one thing. But, how about a whole kitchen full of computer technology.

Kitchen design used to be about fitting in the usual appliances plus working out the best traffic patterns to make the space functional. The last consideration (though equally important as the rest) was deciding which finishes would complete the look.

Now, kitchen design must factor in our growing dependence on technology. From finding a recipe based on the ingredients in your fridge and pantry to turning on your oven while stuck in traffic, technology is going to inform not just how our kitchens look, but also how we understand tasks like cooking and cleaning.

Sync your appliances. Let’s say you’re running late. You want to have dinner on the table at a certain time, but you know that you won’t be able to. Wait a minute. Maybe you can. With a simple app, you can connect all your appliances to your phone. Turn the oven on and monitor how the food is cooking. That’s just two of the benefits of synching an app on your phone to your kitchen appliances.

Smart cooktops. Sometimes you want to boil a big pot of water, and other times, you just want to warm a small pan of liquid. Unfortunately, standard cooktops are all the same size. Yes, you can vary the heat from a simmer to maximum power, but the end result will always be the same. The burner will not be able to heat the entire bottom of the large pot evenly, and even the lowest heat setting is too much for a small amount of liquid. Smart cooktops can adjust to the size of pan or pot ensuring even cooking over the entire surface area.

A place for all devices. There are so many recipe apps available today. Whether they allow you to upload your own personal recipes or help you search the Internet for exactly what you’re looking for, smart phones and tablets have worked their way into a special place in our lives. Forget about storing cookbooks. One app can provide you with many books worth of recipes. You can buy a stand to lift your device off the counter so that the recipe is easy to read. You can also buy special covers to protect the device from fingerprints and splatters. Let’s say you’re cooking up a series of recipes off an app on your tablet. Let’s say, too, that you don’t have an outlet handy. You know your tablet will be on for a while, and you don’t want the battery to die before you’re done cooking. You can actually have a special charging station installed in your countertop. Some rise up like elevators from beneath the countertop surface. All you need to do is prop up your device and it will charge it within view or not.

Motion sensitive on/off switches. We’ve all been there. Your hands are covered in whatever you’ve just been handling – oil, batter, flour, egg whites. You need to turn on the tap to wash your hands. But, grabbing the tap means gunking it up with whatever’s on your hands. Argh, yet something else to clean! Well, now you can install motion sensitive on/off switches. Wave your hands in front of the tap and, voilà, water pours out.

Over to you: what kind of kitchen technology would simplify your life?

Monthly Pick – Kitchen Lighting Tips

Wed-kitchen lighting

Lighting isn’t just functional. If it was, that old ceiling light centered in the middle of the room would be enough. After all, it sends light off in all directions, right? Except that it isn’t really all that functional.

It’s a good thing that range hoods come with their own light source. Otherwise, cooking would be a very dark task indeed.

Luckily, we’ve come a long way from the days when we’d rely solely on that central ceiling light fixture.

The first change is the look. Central ceiling lights are no longer indistinct covers for a bulb. Now, they take on personality. Designers incorporate colorful and fancy chandeliers that, at another point in time, would have been found only in hallways or dining rooms. But now, the kitchen has really become the heart of the home. We not only prepare meals in that space, we also hang out there. Most people who have the kitchen space will place a couch or comfy seating there so that the kitchen also becomes the family room.

The next change to lighting in kitchen design set its sights squarely on functionality. If you’ve ever tried to cook in a kitchen with poor lighting, you’ll know how hard it can be. The shadows cast by the light, usually a centered ceiling light, make it hard to see what you’re doing. That’s definitely a drawback when you’re chopping quickly with a sharp knife!

When you’re designing your kitchen, think about where you will be doing most of the food prep. That’s where you’ll want to install under-the-counter lights or ceiling track lights that can be moved and angled according to your needs. You’ll find that focussed lighting actually reduces your overall need for lighting in the kitchen. One small bulb aimed at your work surface might provide enough lighting so that you don’t even need to turn on any more lights. Remember: task lighting is key.

Kitchen traffic patterns are built into the design. Are there two entrances to your kitchen? The type of lighting you choose will encourage people to move through the kitchen in particular ways. Place a pretty chandelier, perhaps with dimmable lights, over a table or island. That ambient glow will direct family and guests to station themselves there, share a drink, eat snacks, all while you continue to prep the meal.

Over to you: have any lighting ideas or questions? Let us know!

Fall Recipes – Almond Pumpkin Loaf

almond pumpkin loaf

You will definitely want to turn on that range hood fan for this one. Open up the windows, too. The delectable aroma that wafts from your kitchen out to the street will have your neighbors’ mouths watering. Be prepared to find them lining up at your door. Everyone will want a taste of this yummy loaf.

I must say that I’m not a huge fan of the cooler temperatures that come with fall. I really do crave the super hot temperatures of summer. But, if there’s anything that makes me look forward to autumn, it’s the wonderful bounty of harvest fruits and vegetables that weren’t available during those hot summer months.

Pumpkin and almonds are now coming into their own. We’ve been harvesting the earliest varieties since late July. But, now is their time to take the spotlight. I’m happy to allow them to do just that with this sweet bread.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Almond and Pumpkin Loaf

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup ground almonds
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp each baking powder and baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp each ground nutmeg and salt
  • 1 cup pumpkin purée
  • 1/3 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 up unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp grated lemon zest
  1. Combine flour, ground almonds, cinnamon, ginger, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine pumpkin and ricotta cheese.
  2. Beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time. Beat in flour mixture and pumpkin mixture alternately. Pour the loaf mixture into a 9×5 inch loaf pan.
  3. Bake at 325°F for 1 hour, or until cake tester inserted into loaf comes out clean.

Enjoy!

 

Monthly Pick – Inspirational Kitchen Design

european kitchen

Recently, a friend of mine who lives in the Czech Republic sent me a magazine article that featured photos of a beautiful kitchen. It turns out that the kitchen featured in the story was actually hers! She worked with a designer to turn her small kitchen into a large and very modern space decked out with top design elements, like a glass range hood, glossy white cabinets, and natural wood flooring.

European homes can be outfitted with very small kitchens or large ones depending on the size of the home or apartment. So, like North Americans, Europeans need to apply the right design concepts that maximize whatever kitchen space they have.

Europeans love mid-century modern design (which actually got its start in Sweden and its neighboring Nordic countries). So, clean lines and pieces that are both functional and beautiful are essential. European kitchens incorporate a lot of natural colors and elements, like wood and stone.

 

Photo: Maddox Photography

Photo: Maddox Photography

Glossy finishes help make small spaces look large and clean. Notice the ample storage available in the kitchen pictured above. Just because you live with a small kitchen doesn’t mean you can’t own a lot of kitchenware!

Photo: trendir

Photo: trendir

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: just because you’re designing a kitchen doesn’t mean you have to stick to typical kitchen furniture. Repurposing and reimagining furniture that usually lives in dining rooms or offices will go a long way in personalizing your kitchen space. Don’t discount professional equipment, too. There’s no reason why you can’t put a professional level sink and stove in your kitchen.

Photo: Arendal Kitchen Design

Photo: Arendal Kitchen Design

Sometimes, your kitchen doesn’t seem to want to cooperate with your dream plans. Many homes – old and new – seem to have been built in ways that forces the kitchen into strange size dimensions. Maybe your kitchen isn’t perfectly square or rectangular. Regardless, you can still have what you want with just a few adjustments. Change the size or shape of your counters and cabinetry to accommodate your storage, work, and space needs.

Over to you: what feature do love most about European kitchen design?

 

Fall Recipe – Chicken Shawarma Stir Fry

chicken shawarma stirfry

World Food Day is coming up on October 16th. It’s an annual effort to focus everyone’s attention on the issue of hunger. So many people around the world and in our own country go hungry every single day. There are lots of ways to address the issue in your own community from fundraising to food drives, and lots of ways for everyone to get involved. Turn on your range hood fan, read up on hunger on the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations website, and do your part!

Here’s a very tasty recipe to get you started.

Chicken Shawarma Stir Fry

  • 3 Tbsp canola oil, divided
  • 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp each garlic and onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp each ground cumin and turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp Spanish paprika
  • 1/4 tsp each salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken stir fry strips
  • 2 cups broccoli, chopped
  • 1 cup cauliflower, chopped
  • 1/4 cup each carrots and snow peas
  • 1/3 cup each red and yellow peppers, sliced
  • 1/4 cup red onion, sliced
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  1. Combine 2 Tbsp of the oil with the vinegar, garlic and onion powders, cumin, turmeric, paprika, salt and pepper. Stir in chicken. Set aside for 15 minutes.
  2. Heat remaining oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet or wok. Add broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, snow peas, peppers and onions with broth. Cover and cook for about 4 minutes. Uncover and lift ingredients into a bowl.
  3. Add chicken and stir fry for about 5 minutes until the chicken is starting to brown. Add the vegetables and stir fry for 3 minutes until chicken is no longer pink.

Check out our other Fall Recipes.

Trend Alert – Designing Kitchens For Men

kitchen for men

Years ago, my husband and I shocked the contractors who were renovating our kitchen. They couldn’t believe that we were discussing elements that we each wanted to see in the kitchen. When I asked why that was so surprising, one of the tradespeople told me that, in his experience, it was the wife who decided what the kitchen was going to be like.

C’mon, I said. It’s the 21st century. Men cook at least as much as women. Why shouldn’t my husband have as much say in what our future kitchen might look like? He’ll be working in there as much as me.

So, in thinking about that role change, I wondered about what changes in kitchen design would need to happen for men to feel comfortable there. As it is, I often think kitchens in many homes are simply after-thoughts. Given a choice, there’s a lot about the way kitchens are designed that I would change. First is the fact that cabinets are placed so high up on the wall. Most people aren’t six feet tall. I’m about half that!

So, do you think there are differences in what men want in a kitchen vs what women want in a kitchen? Let’s see. A few months ago, The Wall Street Journal interviewed some interior designers to find out what elements of kitchen design their male clients preferred. Here’s the list:

  • Deep colors. Men seem to prefer dark colors that are then contrasted with black or white.
  • Stand-out hardware. Forget about classic chrome cupboard pulls. Men want brass and burnished bronze.
  • Room for gadgets. Have you ever met a man who didn’t love gadgets? Truth be told, I do, too! Men need room in a kitchen to house all the kitchen equipment they collect.
  • Tall counters. The counters we all see in practically every kitchen we’ve ever been in are typically built to a 36-inch standard size. Men tend to prefer countertops that sit at least two inches higher than the standard height.
  • Accessible sound system. Music and cooking kind of go hand-in-hand, don’t they. This is certainly true in my house. Apparently, men in general like to have their playlists in close reach while they cook.
  • High-set range hood. I’m not tall, but I totally understand this one. If you’re tall, you may find that your head and the edge of the range hood come into frequent contact. Vent hood manufacturers typically offer a range at which the hood can be hung. Go for the higher suggestion.

Over to you: what amenities would you really like to see in your kitchen?

3 Tips on Making a Small Kitchen Look Larger

small kitchen looks larger

Tall condo towers seem to be sprouting up everywhere now, aren’t they? The beauty of living in a towering building is the spectacular view. Density is also a boon to the environment because more people are living in a smaller area which, ideally, should leave more land for other uses, like agriculture.

The only drawback is that most condo units are equipped with very small kitchens, barely enough room for a range hood, in fact. You don’t have the option of renovating to increase your unit, unless you buy the one next door! So, how do you go about living large in a small kitchen?

Focus on function. Unfortunately, you can’t have it all in a small kitchen. You can, however, maximize the room’s functional space. Begin by paring down your appliance collection. Donate whatever you don’t typically use. Beyond that, look for a fridge, stove, microwave, and any other appliance that are designed specifically for small spaces. These will usually be less bulky while still functioning as they’re supposed to.

Knock it down. Even in a small condo, knocking down a wall is entirely possible. Sometimes, all you need to do is remove the visual block to increase the feel and function of the space. Hanging cupboards on a wall is traditional, but not necessarily the best type of storage for a small kitchen. Heavy-looking wood cabinets that stick out from the wall only serve to make the kitchen look smaller. Choose open shelving, then neatly stack your plates, cups, and everything else you have.

Choose the right colors. Keep color schemes to a solid monochromatic look. Large patterns will only make the space seem even smaller.

Over to you: What have you done to make your small kitchen look larger?