Friday, May 19, 2017

Designing a Kitchen that Works

Photo by Craig Sheridan
Before you ever think about the reality of a new kitchen, focus on the way you cook. Everyone cooks differently. It's important to work through how you will use your kitchen so it becomes a room that is the most efficient and as functional as possible. After building a house and spending much of my time on the kitchen design, I thought about this all-important room differently and much more than I ever had before.

Do you use your stove, your oven, or your microwave the most? I cook on my stove the majority of the time so it’s best in the very center of my kitchen. I use my microwave most often for softening butter and cream cheese, so it’s under my biscuit counter where I work on baking recipes.
You may rework your plans tens of times. That’s a good thing! The more time you have to think about it, the better. We changed appliance placement several times on the plans and the cabinet design was in constant motion for a few months. 
If at all possible, don’t let an inch go to waste. When planning out cabinets, think of where you will be in the kitchen when you cook certain types of recipes and what equipment you’ll need for those. I planned for a knife drawer near my stove and then placed a cutting board storage area below it. I keep baking sheets in a drawer under my ovens and the cooling racks within arm’s reach. 
Plan out where you will come in to the kitchen with grocery bags. Place the pantry and refrigerator as close to that location as possible. I have my pantry a few steps from the back door and right at the entry into the kitchen. I don't need any excuse to avoid putting up groceries, so if I walk right up to the pantry, I'm more likely to put them away in a timely manner. The bags don’t have to go far into the house. The refrigerator is at the entrance to the kitchen so chilled items can be put away without extra effort.
Traffic is a huge factor in how a kitchen functions. Is the main walking path in front of the fridge or the ovens? I have double ovens so I moved them to a location in the kitchen where there isn’t a lot of traffic. I chose French doors on my refrigerator because it’s in our path to and from the back door. One large door would have been been an expensive barricade to little people running in and out. 
Plan for cabinets to hold plates, glasses, and silverware close to your dishwasher. These everyday items are the most likely to be in the dishwasher more than anything else. If they are stored nearby, it’s faster to unload. 
Deep drawers are more space efficient than small cabinets. I took the largest pot I own to the cabinet shop to make sure we had drawers deep enough to accommodate it. I also did the same for my gigantic mixing bowls. You ultimately want a kitchen that has a place for everything to be put away neatly. If you have any unusual sized items, make a good home for them by planning.
You can’t have too many outlets. I have 12 outlets in my kitchen. All areas of the counters should be within reach of an outlet. 
Plan for a grilling area outside that is a direct path from the kitchen. We added another door to the patio so I wouldn’t be running through the den with raw steaks. Try to think through worst case scenarios (like a steak falling on the sofa) and plan so they can avoided.
Involve an expert when choosing ventilation and the specifications needed. No one likes to wake up to the smell of last night’s supper. We purchased all of my appliances from The Cook's Warehouse in Atlanta. They worked diligently to make sure every detail of my hood (and all the other appliances) was perfect. I was lost when it came to ventilation pipe diameter, degree of turns, and CFMs, but luckily they were experts.

My appliance installation company was Beautiful Installations. Unlike a lot of appliance installers, they made a site visit before we even ordered the appliances to make sure that all was in place and I didn't need any non-standard accessories. It also made the installation day much easier because they already knew the logistics of the kitchen (and to be ready to hang a enormous hood on a brick wall). They registered all our appliances and even provided binders with all the owner's manuals neatly organized and tabbed.

Lighting is so important! When planning lighting, make sure work areas are well lit. A dark spot in the kitchen is a waste of countertop.

It is impossible to overthink the planning of your kitchen. You have one chance to make it just the way you want it, so take your time. Cooking in a kitchen that's personally made for you makes every minute of construction worth it.

Resources that made my kitchen a reality:
Architect: JP Curran
Builder: Athens Building Company
Designer: Lauren DeLoach Interiors
Cabinets: Smith Cabinets, Athens, Georgia
Appliances from The Cook's Warehouse
Appliance Installation: Beautiful Installations

(c) copyright 2017 Rebecca Lang Cooks, LLC. All rights reserved. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Fennel Love


Add fennel to weeknight meals for a hint of fresh springtime flavor. A cousin of parsley, fennel is a slow growing crisp bulb that is reminisce of anise is normally purchased whole complete with feathery fronds and a very long stem. Larger fennel bulbs are often more tender than smaller, skinnier ones. Garnish with fennel flowers and use the fronds like you would dill.  
Choose fennel that is firm with no wilting and cut the fronds off the bulbs before storing. The core on the bottom of the bulb should be tender when pressed. Store the bulbs separate from the fronds in an open bag for up to one week in the refrigerator.


Skirt Steak with Fennel Slaw

Fennel brings a light and bright flavor to a grilled skirt steak. Skirt steak is packed with flavor and is super-tender after marinating. It’s a mainstay at our house. Try adding corn tortillas on the grill for impromptu tacos.

Serves 4

Steak
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. table salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 lb. skirt steak

Fennel Slaw
1 1/4 cups thinly sliced fennel bulb
1/4 cup sliced green onions
2 Tbsp. thinly sliced celery
1 Tbsp. mayonnaise
2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
1 tsp. diced jalapeƱo pepper
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
1/8 tsp. table salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Prepare Steak: Preheat grill to 350° to 400°F (medium-high)
heat. In a large zip-top plastic bag, combine the vinegar, olive oil,
garlic, mustard, salt, and pepper. Shake to combine. Add steak to
the bag, seal bag, and marinate 30 minutes. Remove steak from
marinade, discarding marinade.
Grill steak, turning once, 10 minutes for medium-rare. Let
steak rest for 10 minutes before slicing.
Prepare Fennel Slaw: Combine all ingredients. Chill until
ready to serve.
Slice each strip of steak in half to make 2 shorter strips. Slice
down the long side (across the grain) of each strip to create
1/2-inch-thick slices. Serve with slaw.


All photos by Iain Bagwell from The Southern Vegetable Book by Rebecca Lang (Oxmoor House, 2016).
Copyright 2016 Rebecca Lang. All rights reserved. 
Please visit rebeccalangcooks.com for more information.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Best Thanksgiving Recipes Ever


Bacon-Covered Roasted Turkey

This recipe gives you triple insurance against the dreaded dry bird: You brine the turkey, rub butter under and over its skin, and lay bacon on top. Choose a fresh turkey—and read the label to make sure it hasn’t been injected with a saline or flavor solution—to ensure a juicy and perfectly seasoned holiday centerpiece.

2 cups medium-flake kosher salt 
2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
3 Tbsp. black peppercorns
1 Tbsp. mustard seeds
1 (12-lb.) whole fresh turkey
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage
1/2 tsp. table salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
Kitchen string
6 bacon slices (not thick cut)
Garnishes: roasted carrots, fresh bay leaves

Combine first 4 ingredients and 2 qt. water in a saucepan, and cook over
medium heat 5 minutes or until salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove from heat.
Divide liquid between 2 large (10- to 12-cup) bowls; add 4 cups ice cubes to
each bowl and enough cold water to make 10 cups of brine in each bowl. Stir
until ice melts and both mixtures are completely cool (about 5 minutes).
Remove giblets and neck from turkey, and reserve for another use, if
desired. Place turkey in an 18-qt. food-grade plastic container or stockpot.
Pour brine into cavity and over turkey, covering turkey completely. Place in
refrigerator. Cover and chill 24 hours, turning turkey once halfway through.
Combine butter and next 4 ingredients in a small bowl.
Preheat oven to 350°. Remove turkey from brine, discarding brine. Rinse
turkey well, including cavity.
Starting at neck, carefully loosen and lift skin from breast and drumsticks
using your fingers. (Do not totally detach skin.) Rub 3⁄4 cup butter mixture
under skin; carefully replace skin. Tie ends of legs together with string; tuck
wing tips under. Place turkey, breast side up, on a lightly greased rack in a
roasting pan; rub remaining butter mixture over skin.
Roast turkey at 350° for 1 hour and 45 minutes, basting with pan juices
every 20 minutes during last 45 minutes of cooking. Remove from oven, and
lay bacon slices, crosswise, over breast and drumsticks.
Return turkey to oven; roast 45 minutes to 1 hour or until a meat thermometer inserted in thickest portion of thigh registers 170°, basting every 15 minutes.
Let stand 30 minutes before carving. Garnish, if desired.

Makes: 8 servings 
Hands-on Time: 50 min. Total Time: 4 hr., plus 1 day for brining


All Things Sweet Potato Casserole

When I was growing up, the sweet potato casserole landed on the table right beside less kid-friendly foods like Brussels sprouts and green beans. I always thought someone had forgotten that it wasn’t time for dessert. I never spoke up to correct the “mistake.” I simply devoured as many helpings as I could fit on my plate.

4 1/2 cups mashed baked sweet potatoes (about 4 lb. whole)
2 large eggs
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and divided
11/2 cups crushed gingersnaps (30 cookies)
3 cups miniature marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350°. Combine potatoes, eggs, next 5 ingredients, and 1/2 cup melted butter in a large bowl; beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Spoon into a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking dish.
Stir remaining 1/4 cup melted butter into crushed gingersnaps. Top potato mixture with marshmallows and the gingersnap mixture in alternating crosswise rows.
Bake at 350° for 28 minutes or until marshmallows are lightly browned.

Makes: 12 servings 
Hands-on Time: 20 min. Total Time: 1 hr., 33 min.

Note: To bake sweet potatoes, place on a baking sheet. Bake at 375° until
tender, about 45 minutes for small potatoes, 1 hour for medium potatoes, or
1 hour and 15 minutes to 1 hour and 25 minutes for large potatoes.




Layered Carrot Cake

Pineapple and freshly grated carrot sing of spring sweetness. Nothing is
sacrificed in this lightened-up cream cheese frosting; it’s just as decadent
as you always remembered.

Batter
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
3 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/2tsp. table salt
1 1/2 (8-oz.) cans crushed pineapple in juice, drained
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
3 large egg whites
1 1/2 Tbsp. vanilla extract
4 1/2 cups grated carrots
Vegetable cooking spray

Frosting
1 (8-oz.) package 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 tsp. vanilla extract
6 cups powdered sugar
2 to 4 tsp. fat-free milk (optional)

Prepare Batter: Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl; make a well in center of mixture. Whisk together pineapple and next 4 ingredients; add pineapple mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Fold in carrots. Pour batter into 2 greased (with cooking spray) and floured (8-inch) round cake pans.
Bake at 350°F for 22 to 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on a wire rack 10 minutes. Remove from pans to a wire rack; cool completely (about 1 hour). 
Prepare Frosting: Beat first 3 ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Gradually add powdered sugar to butter mixture; beat at low speed just until blended. (Do not overbeat.) If desired, beat in up to 4 teaspoons milk to desired consistency. Place 1 cake layer on a serving plate; spread with 2/3 cup frosting, and top with remaining cake layer. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake.

Makes: 16 servings
Hands-on Time: 30 min. Total Time: 2 hr.

Copyright (c) 2106 Rebecca Lang Cooks, LLC. Recipes from Around the Southern Table (Oxmoor House, 2012) by Rebecca Lang and The Southern Vegetable Book (Oxmoor House, 2016) by Rebecca Lang. Photo credits to Jennifer Davick and Iain Bagwell.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Cooking with Rheumatoid Arthritis

I fried over 80 chickens in my backyard over the course of the snowiest winter in decades in Georgia, and on into the steaming hot summer months. I cut up chicken by hand nearly daily. Testing recipes for my fifth cookbook, Fried Chicken, was a physical challenge like I had never experienced. By the time I finished, no wonder my hands hurt. My pain started that spring, in 2014, when my hands would be so sore and cramped by the time I went to bed, I would tuck them under my pillow to encourage them to flatten out and rest.
            That year, my 8-year-old son and I would throw the football in the yard a few afternoons a week while the weather was warming. We gradually went from a leather ball to a toddler’s foam football because the impact of the ball on my hands was so uncomfortable.
            My right hand was mainly affected and I truly thought I had just overdone it in the kitchen. I didn’t take my discomfort too seriously until my left hand began to hurt. Within a couple of months, the joints on my big toe on my right foot started aching. My hands began to be stiff for a while after I woke up each morning. “Can I have a braid?” or “I need help with my buttons” from my daughter before school became dreaded questions to hear. I went to my general physician and learned that when pain is mirrored on both sides of the body, it raises some red flags. She drew blood and I waited.
            Her nurse called when I was with my children at a local indoor trampoline facility where I had promised I would take them all summer. I sat there in that loud and pretty unpleasant atmosphere (for adults) and first heard the words that I needed to see a rheumatologist. It had been an extremely long time since I was in a public place trying not to cry. From the first ring of that call, that changed.
            After several weeks of waiting for my appointment, I met my husband at the local rheumatologist’s office and got there just a few minutes before he did. As I sat in the waiting room, the youngest person by at least 30 years, I was in disbelief. I heard the words rheumatoid arthritis several times that day, but a few tests had to be run to start to narrow the answer down to one we could treat. I needed to let go of more blood than I thought must have been flowing in my veins.  I then left with prednisone as the icing on this ironic cake.
            I managed to get out of the office and into the car with my sunglasses on, my lips quivering. When the car door closed, I wept in the way that only loss brings about. All I could think was, “If my hands won’t work, I can’t work. I’ve loved to cook nearly my entire life. It’s my income, my hobby, my identity, and the way I feed my family.”
            I’d seen elderly women with disfigured hands from rheumatoid arthritis and always felt so sorry for them. My hands are in every cookbook I’ve written and are often in close-ups on camera.  I’ve served as the hand model for television commercials you’ve probably seen. I truly kept thinking I would wake up one morning and realize I dreamed it all.
            After much prayer and a lot of time to wrap my brain and determination around my diagnosis, I’m now ready and relieved to talk about it and share my journey.  It’s one that’s just beginning, but at least now I have answers to so many of the physical issues I’ve had over the years. Since that first doctor's appointment, I've written my sixth book, The Southern Vegetable Book, and my work and my life in the kitchen are continuing in full swing. Rheumatoid arthritis is going to be with me for the rest of my life. But, I’m determined my ability to cook anything I want will as well.


All photos by Iain Bagwell from The Southern Vegetable Book by Rebecca Lang (Oxmoor House, 2016).
Copyright 2016 Rebecca Lang. All rights reserved. 
Please visit rebeccalangcooks.com for more information.


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Building My Dream Kitchen

I've had the incredible blessing to be able to build the kitchen I've always wanted. Like most people that cook, it was something I've thought of for years. InSinkErator, Southern Living, and I have documented this fun and tedious process to share. Watch how it all started and follow along as the kitchen comes together!
Our builder, Tyler Davis of Athens Building Company, on set with me as we start listing kitchen must-haves.

The biscuit counter with windows above at the very beginning.

The wall of the soon to be hood and range.

The workings behind the fabulous InSinkErator Instant Hot Water Dispenser


Saturday, July 2, 2016

Cool Sweets for Hot Days




Watermelon Sherbet

8 cups chopped watermelon (about 3 lb.)
1 cup half-and-half
34 cup sugar
Garnish: mint sprigs

1. Process watermelon in a blender until pureed, stopping to scrape down
sides as needed. Transfer 412 cups puree to a large bowl. Reserve any
remaining watermelon puree for another use. (Or grab a straw for a cook’s
treat.) Whisk in half-and-half and sugar.

2. Pour mixture into freezer container of a 112-qt. electric ice-cream maker, and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to an airtight container, and freeze 4 to 5 hours. Let stand at room temperature 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Garnish, if desired.

Makes: 112 qt.
Hands-on Time: 20 min. Total Time: 5 hr.
Note: The total time for this recipe may vary, depending on your ice-cream maker.

Raspberry-Lime Frozen Pops

12 cup sugar
6 cups fresh raspberries
14 cup fresh lime juice (about 3 limes)
14 tsp. vanilla extract
Garnish: fresh raspberries

1. Heat sugar and 12 cup water in a small saucepan over medium heat until
sugar dissolves (about 3 minutes). Cool slightly (about 5 minutes).

2. Puree sugar syrup, raspberries, and next 2 ingredients in a blender until
smooth, stopping to scrape down sides as needed.

3. Pour mixture into 10 (4-oz.) plastic pop molds (about 13 cup mixture in
each). Top with lids of pop molds, and insert craft sticks, leaving 112 to 2
inches of each sticking out. Freeze 6 hours or until sticks are solidly anchored
and pops are completely frozen. Garnish, if desired.

Makes: 10 servings
Hands-on Time: 10 min. Total Time: 6 hr., 10 min.


Slicing a watermelon with ease
I'm always amazed at tools that make things in the kitchen much easier than before. The Grommet recently sent me i Genietti Watermelon Slicer and Server to try. I've been a believer that slicing watermelon is best done outside since juice tends to run in every direction possible. I can now slice and serve watermelon in the luxury of air conditioning! 


Recipes and recipe photo from Around the Southern Table by Rebecca Lang (c) 2012 Oxmoor House and Rebecca Lang Cooks, LLC.