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 jalapeño 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.