February 25, 2011

Kitchen Tour

Filed under: Kitchen tour — by Carla



I’ve always been a voyeur of sorts. As a child, I loved to ride in the back seat of the car at night peering into brightly lit homes while making up stories about the lives of the people who lived there. I’d wonder if those bright yellow walls in the living room made for a happy home or if the pink bicycle on the porch belonged to a girl about my age.  I still like to peek into houses at night, so close your blinds if you have anything to hide. There are lots of us out there looking in.

Now that you know I’m a peeping Tom (and I suspect that you are as well), I thought I’d give you a peek at my kitchen. Like most houses, it’s in the back of the house so looking through my windows as you drive by won’t quite do it for you.  But before I show you more pictures of my kitchen as it looks now, I want to show you my kitchen as it looked 5 years ago before the remodel.



What a difference a remodel can make! Since I essentially live and labor in this space it was the gift of a lifetime to be able to upgrade it from the 1960’s and fast forward to the 21st century. People often ask me what I consider the important working facets of a kitchen. So, even though you haven’t asked, I thought I’d show you the best things, from my perspective, about my new-ish kitchen.


My very favorite thing is my dual fuel Wolf range. It could be about having enough btu’s to rival the sun, but  it’s probably the simmer feature since I like to cook stews and braises stove top. And I love the big, big oven. And convection. I love convection. It’s really hard for me to roast or bake in conventional mode when testing recipes (but I do). Convection is great because it cooks fast and browns ever so evenly. If you have this feature on your oven, try it. You’ll become addicted.

Next up on my fave list iskitchen_131 my KWC faucet. It’s all metal and has terrific heft. It pulls out so it’s easy to fill large pots  or to rinse out the sink. The single handle makes it easy to turn on or off with a bump of my wrist. It will last forever. I also love my instant-hot because it gives me hot, hot water in, well, an instant.

Another plus is the extra counterspace my designer wrangled for me by moving the refrigerator to a back/side wall. I finally have space to roll out doughs and spread out.  I fell madly in love with the handmade green tiles I used on the backsplash. It was a splurge, but thankfully they still make me happy every time I look at them. I’m sure the design professonals on tv would tell me that it is too much green and if I wanted to sell my house that buyers wouldn’t be into it…but I don’t care. Each tile has a crackled finish and a deckle edge so they look old and a bit worn in 6 shades of green. They inspired me to collect old crockery in the same colors. I use those bowls all the time.


I always wanted a couch in my kitchen so that people could sit and talk to me while I cook, so I managed to fit one in the old eating area. Leroy, my little dog, likes to sit there when he’s not in my lap, but when the kids come home there is always someone on the couch, which is a good thing. In the winter when the sun is low I get really nice light there and in the summer the light is dappled by the enormous trees outside. It’s a favorite spot.


kitchen_175I didn’t expect to like my sub-zero fridge as much as I do. I looked into the counter depth refrigerators and thought I’d just go along with the less expensive option, but I got a super deal on the sub-z and now I’m glad I went the extra mile. I was needlessly afraid that the shallow space wouldn’t offer me enough storage, but that shallowness makes it so much easier to organize and find things. Plus the ice cubes don’t get funky because they are made with filtered water and the crisper drawers keep veggies fresh for days longer than my old behemoth of a refrigerator which now chills wine, beer and pop in the garage.

That about does it for the short list. And now for the thing I wish I had done differently; I wish I’d put in the soapstone countertops that I truly wanted. I was talked out of it by a salesman who told me that soapstone is soft and chips so I went with the granite for no fuss maintenance. I don’t like the shinyness of it, but my husband loves it, so there you go.

The Nosey Nellie  in me wishes I could see all your kitchens. After all, kitchens are where life happens. Why don’t you send me a picture of your kitchen and tell me what you love about your space? I’ll post some of the pictures in the coming months and we can all be voyeurs…together.

February 10, 2011

Quince pound cake with Ginger

Filed under: Desserts — by Carla


I don’t miss summer, but I do miss summer fruit. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the mounds of apples and pears in all their glorious colors and shapes, but the winter is long and options for seasonal fruit forward desserts can become kind of ho hum. The solution: If you look hard, chances are there’s a bin of exotic, local fruit at your market just waiting to be discovered. It’s green and round with a funny little stem end that protrudes like an outie belly button.



No, it isn’t a hybrid of a Granny Smith apple and a Bartlett pear. It’s a quince.

Though they’ve been cultivated for more than 4,000 years we Americans as a whole have not explored their many options. To be fair, I think it’s because most of us don’t know what to do with them. They haven’t been popular since the last century and must be cooked for an hour to be palatable, but to me, that’s part of their appeal. I’d like to make a case for the quince so I’ll begin with the fruit’s more obvious virtues.
     • Quinces are beautiful and kind of sexy. There are few fruits as beautiful nestled in a bowl or basket. They are usually a shade of Martha Stewart green when you buy them, but after sitting for a week or so, they turn yellow and ripe. I’ve had a bowl of quince on my kitchen counter for weeks and have enjoyed looking at them longer than I’d ever have enjoyed a flower arrangement.
     • Quinces have an interesting history. The ancient Romans considered the quince a symbol of love. When given to one’s intended, the fruit signified commitment or a form of engagement ring. It’s true that it does take commitment to bring out the quince’s finer qualities, but isn’t that true of most relationships? Go ahead and think about that for a minute.
     • Quinces are an unexpected ingredient, which makes them cool. After all, it’s interesting to play with an unfamiliar fruit and explore the many ways to use it. How fun to share the discovery and give others the chance to taste an unfamiliar food for the first time. When was the last time you had a slice of tender quince pound cake with quince syrup flavored whipped cream? Case closed.

So there you go. Think beyond the ubiquitous apple and pear. Pick up a few quinces and arrange them in a bowl to beautify your kitchen counter for a week or so. Hand one to your significant other as a sign of your love and then make this buttery, gingery, tart quince pound cake for your loved one’s first taste of quince. It probably won’t be their last.

quince-pound-cak_1871Kitchen Counter Point: Ginger makes its way into this cake in two ways. First the half and half is infused with fresh ginger. The longer the ginger sits in the hot liquid, the more flavor will transfer. Go ahead and get that process going after you’ve started cooking the quince. They’ll be done at the same time. If you can, let it rest while the quince cools for extra flavor. The second ginger infusion is with ground ginger which is sifted with the flour. If your ground ginger has been languishing in your spice rack for the last few years, think about replacing it with a fresh bottle for the best flavor.

Makes one 5 by 9-inch loaf

2 large quince
1 cup apple cider
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
15 peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick

1/2 cup half and half
2 thumb sized knobs of gingerroot, peeled and thinly sliced

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
Zest of 1 lemon

1 cup heavy whipping cream

Peel, quarter and core the quinces and slice them very thinly.

In a medium saucepan combine the quince, cider, sugar, honey, water, lemon juice, peppercorns and cinnamon stick and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer the mixture for 1 hour or until the quince is rosy and tender. Let cool in the syrup and then strain the quince, reserving the syrup.

Scald the half and half and ginger in a small saucepan over medium heat. Remove from the heat, cover and let the ginger flavor the milk for at least 30 minutes. Strain the ginger from the milk and throw it away.

Preheat oven to 350º

Butter a 5 by 9-inch loaf pan, and line on the long sides with a sheet of parchment that extends up over the top edges of the pan (you’ll use it to lift the cake from the pan after it’s baked) and butter and flour the parchment.

Sift together the flour, ground ginger, salt and baking powder.

Cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time and beat until completely blended. Add the vanilla and zest.

Add the flour and milk in 6 additions and beat on medium speed until fluffy. Spread the batter evenly into the pan and bake on the center rack in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. Lower the heat to 325ºF and bake for 1 hour 15 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted in the center of the cake is removed with crumbs adhering. Cool the cake on a wire rack until completely cooled. Lift it from the pan with the parchment paper and wrap it in plastic if not using right away.

When ready to serve, beat the whipping cream with 1/4 cup of the quince syrup. Serve the cake, sliced with the quince whipping cream.

February 2, 2011

Hobo Halibut Dinner with Fennel, Zucchini and Olives

Filed under: Seafood — by Carla


I think I’m on to something here.

I’ve found an easy way to cook a complete meal that virtually eliminates the pot and pan cleanup. And to top it off, it’s delicious enough to serve to company. This sort of discovery fosters images of Rumpelstiltskin spinning straw into gold but it isn’t magic that I use to get this quick meal on the table. It’s a French technique called cooking en papillote (ahn pah-pee-yote). Back in West Virginia where I grew up we called it hobo dinner.

You might have eaten a version of this hillbilly treat consisting of foil wrapped packages of vegetables and meat all scrunched up, sealed tight and cooked over a fire’s dancing flames.  Hobo dinner was our favorite meal back in the 60’s when my family spent weeks at a time boating and camping on an island on the Ohio River.  This song by Nat King Cole always takes me back there.


The dads motored thier dinghys to the marina and work every morning leaving moms and kids to days filled with swimming, fishing and generally lazing about. Our houseboats and cruisers  had small water tanks and even smaller sinks, so cooking over the bonfire with only a few dishes to cleanup was the only way to go. I remember the moms setting out canned potatoes, peas and carrots with the requisite kielbasa, hamburgs and hot dogs. Pandering to my tastebuds even as a child, I loved to assemble my own dinner creation just the way I liked it; with zippy mustard squiggled over the top.

This version, however, is decidedly more French than hobo. After all, we aren’t living on an island in the middle of a river with no access to fresh produce. So the plan for tonight’s dinner is halibut perfumed with the flavors of Provence. This “salad” topping of  zucchini,  fennel, garlic, lemon, thyme and salty olives and capers flavors the fish and underlying potatoes with thier juices as they tenderize on the grill or in a hot, hot oven. A sort of fancified tongue in cheek homage to hobo dinners from days gone by, if you will.

Now that I think of it, mom’s reasons for serving hobo dinner 45 years ago were much the same as mine…it’s a delicious, quick meal with minimal cleanup. No magic required.


Kitchen Counter Point: Fish is a natural when cooking with this method because the envelope in which it cooks traps the steam, maintaining a moist environment for the fish and vegetables. Remember that fish cooks quickly (about 7 minutes per inch) so be sure to slice the vegetables very thinly. You want them to be tender just as the fish is finished cooking.

If you’d like to serve this dish up for company go ahead and use the parchment for a more sophisticated presentation. But you must then cook it in the oven since the paper would combust on the grill. There are many how to’s online that show you how to wrap and fold the paper package into an airtight envelope. Just Google “en papillote and how to”.

Serves 2

1 small bulb fennel, trimmed, quartered and thinly sliced
1 small zucchini, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil plus more
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1/2 lemon zested
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
8 olives, halved
1 teaspoon capers, rinsed and lightly chopped
4 new potatoes, very thinly sliced
2 halibut filets, 6 oz each

Two 15-inch long sheets of heavy duty aluminum foil folded in half and then opened back up so that there’s a crease down the middle.

Preheat the grill to 450 degrees F.
Combine the fennel, zucchini, garlic, olive oil, thyme, lemon zest, lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon salt, pepper, olives and capers in a medium bowl and toss them to combine the flavors.

Arrange the potato slices in one layer on one side of each of the creased foil sheets. Sprinkle the potato with salt and pepper and lay the halibut filet on top, skin side down. Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper and top with the vegetables. (It will seem like a lot of vegetables, but they cook down and shrink as they cook.) If you’d like more flavor, drizzle a little  olive oil over the top. Fold the foil over the fish and roll up the edges, bottom up and over the top, to seal in the juices.

Transfer the fish to the grill, close the lid and cook for about 15 minutes. Carefully remove the packages from the grill (I use a large spatula), transfer them to two heated plates and open them at the table. A waft of steam scented with herbs and lemon will rise up from the package that you won’t want to miss.

If you’d like to bake the papillote in the oven, place a sheet pan on the bottom rack and preheat to 450 degrees F. Transfer the packages to the heated sheet pan (so they can start cooking right away) and bake the hobo dinner for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. It takes a few moments longer to cook in the oven since the heat isn’t as intense.

Variation: Use other vegetables you may have on hand like thinly sliced carrots, cauliflower, grape tomatoes or broccoli. Remember that the fish cooks very quickly, so cut the vegetables into thin or small pieces to insure that they’ll be tender when the fish is done. Other fish to try are salmon, cod, tilapia or trout. Swap out other favorite herbs as well such as basil, rosemary, or tarragon.