Monday, April 30, 2012

Demolition of Kitchen and Deciding on Colors

Our kitchen remodel- Demo phase
We have several cabinets, a few walls, and the soffits torn out of our kitchen. We found we will need a bit more dry wall repair than we had hoped. There were also some problems with wiring that we thought may require an electrician but my husband now thinks he will be able to handle it.  We are about a day or two behind though. We had hoped to have the recessed lights put in by today.

I would like to share the colors of our counters, backsplash and cabinets.

Our cabinets are from Scroll’s cabinets. More on them later. All of the perimeter cabinets will be painted oyster- a cream color. I don’t have a sample of oyster.  Our island will be painted in prairie skye, which is an interesting light blue, green, gray that seems to change with the light or with other colors placed near it.

The counters are granite, called Blue Pearl, which is warm gray with black and blue accents.  It is more neutral than it may seem.It makes me smile.

Our backsplash combines a warm beige/gray field tile, which will set on the diagonal, accented with squares of small glass and stone mosaic tiles. The window bay will be surrounded by the mosaic tiles.

Here you can see the counters, backsplash and the cabinet colors.. You can see the small sample of the island color-praire skye. The chair is pretty close to the oyster of the cabinets. The wood color is just the table :-) our floors will be darker.

Looking at these colors helps me remember how much I am going to enjoy the finished product. I know some people may not like my choices. They are not the safest and the most neutral. We love blue and even though I felt like perhaps I should choose something more neutral  we decided to go with what we wanted.

My kitchen is not looking so great right now but I am confident it will.

 I am thankful that my husband can figure out all the issues that come up!

Please let me know what you think of everything so far!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

We begin our Kitchen Remodel

I will not be doing as much cooking for the next four weeks since my kitchen will be undergoing renovation. I will still post some recipes here and there but I asked on facebook if people would like to see what we are doing with the kitchen and there were several positive responces. So I hope you will bear with me as I share our progress on our mostly DIY kitchen redo.
Let me know what you think. I do realize what we do may not interest everyone but I hope this will be somewhat entertaining and/or educational in place of the recipes. The kitchens we use do have a huge impact on the food we make and how much we enjoy making it. I know I have readers here from around the world and I would love to hear about your cooking spaces too!
Okay, back to the kitchen renovation.  I am still not sure how it happened but we have decided to completely re-do our kitchen.  The seeds of this began when I cooked my first meal in our new home, 20 years ago and realized I had a very small oven. The usable oven space is only about 18 inches!! I could not fit several of the pans I owned in the oven and on holidays, had to cook two smaller turkeys (one the day before) just to have enough for our guests.

My husband has several friends at work who have remodeled their kitchens lately and one family purchased an oven he really thought highly of and wanted to buy for me. But that would mean tearing out cabinets and counters to put it in…which led to the idea of new cabinets, and new counters…which led to the idea of refinishing our wood floor with a darker stain. In addition, our old, cheap cooktop was almost ready to die so we would need a new cooktop… on and on.

  I had already been looking at new paint and lights. When we moved in, we had to quickly choose light fixtures and paint. We were trying to save money so we went with the cheapest options. The builder would include white or off white paint without extra cost so we stayed with off white. The light fixtures were the least expensive but I never really liked them. We thought we would repaint and replace the lights in a few years, but with young children to provide for and vacations to take; we never got around to it. I have to say, decorating has never been my passion or gift even though I adore seeing well decorated spaces! I just have trouble choosing for my own home so it has always been a matter of sort of falling into a style and collecting mismatched bits to throw together. To be honest, I have never wanted to spend money on decorating.  But somehow, here we are, buying new everything for our kitchen. I have been frugal for 30 plus years so a little spending now is not unwarranted but I do still feel twinges about it.

The other factor in our remodel is that in 15 years or so, we probably will want to sell our house.  The last house we lived in had an atrocious kitchen. We kept saying we would remodel it when we had extra money but then we had to sell it suddenly and remodeled it just in time to move out. We never want to do that again! Putting in a nice kitchen which will still look good in a dozen years is a good investment.  Our kitchen is very dated, not that it really matters to me but getting nice counters, better appliances and updating cabinets that our worn will be helpful. The shelves inside really need replacing and several doors would need refinishing. The lighting actually gets comments such as,” So have you thought about getting new lights?” yes they are that ugly. We have had three floods in our 20 years here- two from plumbing pipes and one from a natural flood which ended up pouring water through my breakfast nook ceiling  and we  have never fully repaired or repainted…oh long over-due.

Last but not least, I think my husband wanted to keep me busy so I would not start on my other spring project. I was hoping to have him build me a chicken coop so I could get some hens. He is not opposed to it but worries that the foxes will eat my chickens and I will be sad. Well, that is what he says anyway J Who wouldn’t want a backyard of chickens? A few months ago some friends did have a chicken massacre in their backyard so the fox thing is a real issue.  But I suppose we are safe for another year because we will be busy working on our kitchen and painting the whole house. And if we paint we ought to put in new carpet in the rest of the house and new window treatments. Yes, no time or energy or money for chickens…this year.

Okay so we need some before photos.  Tonight we start demo!!
Our Kitchen, basically the same as when we put it in 20 years ago with lots of oak that has reddened with age.

The table and chairs in the breakfast nook stay. They are recently purchased from Ikea and they inspired the color on our new cabinets, which will be oyster.

Basically I had a hard time choosing so I made everything various shades of cream and beige with white appliances and oak wood since these were cheapest choice at the time.

I still like the counter, but admit it is boring. The cooktop however has seen better days!

Chickens? What are chickens doing here?

Monday, April 23, 2012

White Chocolate Bark with Cherries and Almonds

 Here is an easy recipe for a white chocolate with cherries and almonds. I made this for the party last week. It is something I often make for Christmas. The taste is great and the texture is a wonderful blend crunchy, chewy and creamy. The tart dried fruit help balance out the sweet white chocolate. 
By the way, feel free to adjust the amounts, I don't measure. Also feel free to use different fruits and nuts, it is a nice flexible recipe! 

White Chocolate Bark with Cherries and Toasted Almonds

1 cup sliced almonds
About 1 ½ cups dried cherries
½ cup dried peaches or apricots, chopped
12 oz or so quality White Chocolate
1/2 tsp almond extract, optional

Toast almonds in 325 degree oven for about 8 -10 minutes
Line a large rectangular baking pan with heavy foil or parchment paper.

Melt white chocolate in a double boiler or in metal bowl placed over saucepan of simmering water.
Keep heat low and stir constantly until chocolate is smooth and creamy. Remove from heat.

Add the extract, if using.

Spoon white chocolate into an even layer that is not overly thin or thick.
Immediately sprinkle with cherries, almonds and peaches.                                                           

Pat everything into the melted white chocolate and lightly cover with foil. Refrigerate for  at least an hour.
Break into pieces and enjoy.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Sweet & Spicy Party Pecans

Sweet & Spicy Party Pecans     

  Last night I threw a party—the last one in the “old “kitchen. We are remodeling it starting next week! I will be posting more about that since people do seem to be interested in seeing photos of the process. But this post, as promised to the party goers, will be to share the very simple recipe for Sweet Spiced Pecans. These crunchy little morsels of addictive goodness are so easy to make.  I think of them as Party Pecans because if you roast them you will want to eat them all up yourself, which could be too much of a good thing (and they are a good thing!!  )so,  it is best to make them for a whole party of people!  

      The National Pecan Shellers Association say that pecans provide 19 vitamins and minerals we need, they can play a role in lowering cholesterol, are a great source of antioxidants such as vitamin E and can help with brain health. Pecans can be useful in weight loss, according to the site, but let me caution that eating too many, as this recipe can cause, is still a high calorie endeavor!

     Tonight’s festivity was a Tapas Dinner Party, meaning mostly that dinner would consist of lots of small plates- basically snacks, appetizers and “finger food”.  Here is the menu for the evening:

Spanish Tortilla – eggs with potato and onion and roasted tomato topping
Artichokes with lemon and garlic butter
Spicy sausage in crust
Kalamata Olives
Peppadews  filled with goat cheese
Baked Artichoke cheese dip with crackers
Hummus with roasted red pepper and green olive with pita chips, veggies
Marinated Mushrooms
Cucumber yogurt dip with veggies
Sweet Spicy Pecans
Spicy BBQ flavored pepitas
Sangria, beer, soft drinks, lemonade, iced tea
White Chocolate bark with cherries, peaches and roasted almonds

People also brought: Potato Bollani, guacamole and chips, chicken skewers, potato rounds with salmon and cilantro , cheese and fruit with crackers,  ice cream, , brownies, cheesecake, cheese biscuits, strawberries muffins( gluten free) ,  cookies, various drinks

Many items on here are vegan, since we had gluten-free, dairy-free and vegetarian guests. Let me know if you want any other recipes!  I will tell you, the peppadews with goat cheese were my favorites of the evening, along with these pecans. Peppadews are little piquant, mildly sweet peppers from South America. They are so delicious filled with creamy goat cheese! So easy.

Okay back to the wonderful sweet pecans.  While I have made this often, I want to share that I most recently was reminded of it by seeing a similar recipe to mine on another blog- I like to bake and cook. M.J. posted a similar recipe for spiced pecans last fall. Go check out her blog!

Here is my version with slightly different spices and sugars-

Sweet & Spicy Party Pecans   

1 egg white slightly beaten

1 tablespoon water

1 lb. pecan halves

About 1/2 cup sugar- I use 2 TBSP brown sugar, 3 TBSP white sugar and 1 TBSP maple sugar(NOT syrup) but any combo is fine

1/2 tsp. salt

1 -1 ½  tsp. cinnamon

Other spices may be adapted to whatever you like-

¾  tsp. ginger

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

½ tsp coriander

Whisk egg whites and water in a bowl and stir in pecans until well mixed.

Mix together the sugar, salt and spices and sprinkle over pecans .Blend well until all pecans are covered with the mixture.

Preheat oven to 300. I prefer to line a baking sheet with foil. Spread pecans on a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake  for about 20 minutes then stir them well and put them back for another 10 minutes, checking after 8 and leaving them in until crisp but not too browned. Let them cool a bit before serving.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Confetti Pasta Salad

Weather here in Colorado has been wonderfully warm and sunny! I have been enjoying more walks around my neighborhood and in the park across the street as well as other spots around town.
Many people have been out picnicking in the park. I was hoping to plan one for us but the weather went from sunny in the 80’s to snowy in the 30’s. I am not complaining because we really need the moisture or the wildfires will be bad this summer.  Still, I am looking forward to the end of the week when it is supposed to be sunny and warm again! If we do pack a picnic lunch, I will make this salad again to take with us!

This is kind of a vintage pasta salad. I remember eating macaroni salad similar to this when I was a kid. The macaroni salad did not have as many veggies as mine does so this one is updated vintage J
Since this is a vintage salad, I put it in my antique bee-hive bowl which was handed down
from my great grandmother to my mother to me.

Confetti Pasta Salad

1 box ditalini pasta or small elbows or small shells
1 small red onion
2  bell peppers of various colors, I used half a pepper of each red, yellow, orange and green
2 pieces of celery
2 TBSP olive oil
¼ -2/3 cup reduced fat mayonnaise, begin with 1/4 cup and add more if needed 
2-3 tsp mustard, Dijon, honey or whatever you like
1-2 TBSP white wine vinegar
1 tsp salt (more or less to taste)
½ tsp parika
½ tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp lemon pepper

Start to boil a large pot of salted water. Once it reaches a rolling boil, add pasta.
Clean and chop all vegetables into small cube-like pieces of somewhat equal size.  

In a large bowl, mix the rest of the ingredients together starting with about a ¼ cup of mayonnaise and 1 TBSP of vinegar, you can add more later if needed. I like to use maynaise made with olive oil but any light mayo will work.
Once the pasta is done, drain it and rinse with cool water. Let it cool a bit and then add pasta to the dressing.  Mix well, if it is dry add a bit more mayonnaise and vinegar. I usually use about a 1/3 - ½  cup of mayo but it just depends. If you get to a half cup of mayonnaise and it is still not very creamy, try adding a bit more olive oil.

Add the vegetables and blend. Refrigerate for at least an hour but better for several hours.

Here are a few pictures from a walk we took near my husband’s work place. I hope to bring lunch with us on our next walk. I hope you have a picnic in your near future and perhaps you can take this salad with you!

Great Heron

Gadwell ducks

Turtles sunning

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Grilled Vegetable Kabobs with Sesame-Balsamic Glaze

The weather the last few weeks here in Colorado has been spectacular!  Most days have been in the 70’s with  a few past 80! I know for those of you in warmer climes this sounds uneventful but  normally in March, we are in the low 50’s so this has been fun. Usually it seems spring begins with a snow storm and a couple intrepid flowers making a debut until everything begins to green up in late April. But this year we are awash in green and there are flowers blooming all over.  Of course, snow is now in the forecast for next week, but hopefully it will be more rain than snow to protect the plants and trees! Still this weekend as been summer-like sunny in the 80’s so it was the perfect weekend to cook outdoors on the grill.

I decided to make vegetable kabobs with a nice rich glaze. It was perfect for the day.  I have made this kind of glaze many times and honestly I change what is in it and how much of everything just about every time I make it so don't feel like you really need to measure or use everything I have here. I usually make it with some balsamic, sesame oil, soy sauce and a bit of honey and any combination thereof so go with whatever you like and then just taste it. It should be strong and flavorful since there is not much on it. If you are staying away from sodium, you can skip the miso and just use a bit of light soy sauce. If you don't have toasted sesame oil, use more olive oil. This is just some inspiration to get you started. Grilled vegetables in a flavorful glaze can make a satisfying vegetarian option or a healthy side dish!

Grilled Vegetable Kabobs with Sesame-Balsamic Glaze

3-4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar or rice vinegar
2-3 TBSP toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sause
3-4 tsp. miso paste, (optional if you don’t have it, you may add another tsp  soy sauce
2 TBSP warm water
2 TBSP honey or molasses
2 tsp  ginger paste or crushed ginger
1 tsp. garlic minced
3 TBSP olive oil
A few generous splashes of sriracha or chili sauce

2-3 bell peppers of different colors cut into about 1 inch chunks
About 8 oz white mushrooms
1 onion cut into 1 inch wide chunks
1-2 zucchinis, halved lengthwise and cut into 1 inch chunks
Other possible optioins include eggplant, or cherry tomatoes

Prepare the glaze. Cut up the veggies. For zucchini or eggplant, parboil ( boil for 3 or so minutes) or cook for a couple of minutes in the microwave until soft but not too soft or mushy. Put all the veggies in a container with glaze to soak up the flavor for at least 30 minutes or up to several hours. I think you could even make this in the morning and get it out at dinner
I prefer metal skewers---so much easier to use and less waste! Skewer your veggies and place on large sheet or platter.

Heat grill to med –hot. I have a gas bbq so it is easy to control but these could be cooked over coals or wood. Once the grill is hot, lower heat a bit and place kabobs on racks, reserving the glaze. Check after a few minutes and turn carefully using tongs or heat-resistant pad.  I like to carefully brush glaze on after every turn. Don’t let glaze drip or fire will flare up. Continue turning till you get a nice browning on all sides. Remove veggies from skewers onto a platter or serve as kabobs.  Warm the left over glaze, if there is any, and put it on the table.

These grilled veggies go well with brown basmati rice and a nice salad with sesame soy dressing.

Here are a few photos showing some of the pretty spring flowers and trees around here!
Here are a few photos showing some of the pretty spring flowers and trees around here!