Sunday, February 28, 2010

Kitchen Renovation, Part III

The last item on our to do list for the much needed kitchen face lift is the backsplash. The old mirror backsplash simply had to go. I didn't mind it much, because it made the kitchen appear larger, and no grout lines meant easy cleanup. But the countertop professionals said they could not do their job with them still attached to the wall.

In a perfect world, I would use glass tiles on our new backsplash. However, they can easily run over $10/sq ft (some even over $20/sq ft), so they are far from budget friendly. Although my eyes are drawn to dreamy glass tiles, I had to stick to reality.

So plan B was subway tiles - they have been around forever, have a classic look and are making a come back. To take it up a notch from the plain white ceramic variety, my husband and I decided to go with white/grey marble. The marble variety we found cost less than glass tiles. Although they are more expensive than ceramic tiles, the cost differential will be minimal since we have less than 20 sq ft of wall that needed to be tiled. Between the granite countertop and marble backsplash, I hope there's no such thing as too much natural stone. Come to think of it, I hope there isn't too much pattern going on between the two to the point where it becomes overwhelming.

Out with the mirror backsplash, and in are the marble subway tiles! Here's a sneak peek at the backsplash that's work in progress.

The look to our backsplash will be classic and clean with the use of white grout. I'm not a fan of white grout as it is not forgiving when it comes to dirt and grease, but that is the only color that will work with the existing kitchen color schemes. I also learned that marble can absorb color, so a colored grout may not be ideal.
We're having both the grout and marble sealed, so hopefully they'll still look good years from now.

Stay tuned for the big reveal!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Kitchen Renovation, Part II

For our kitchen face lift, we worked with the existing grey floor tiles and grout. I flipped through plenty of magazines to get inspirations. I knew I wanted a classic, timeless look with some modern elements, and I was mostly drawn to kitchens with carrara marble - there's just something about subtle grey combined with bright white that look so classic and clean. Knowing I shouldn't blow my budget on carrara marble, I decided to just use the color scheme of white and grey, with blue accents for a pop of color.

We went to this (so far):

from this:

Almost everything had to be worked on, from the cabinets, countertops, walls, ceiling, appliances, cabinet hardware, sink, faucet, electrical to lights. And I won't leave out the scrubbing that I did throughout the kitchen - grout, cabinet interior, floor and hinges. What's left to do now is the backsplash. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Kitchen Renovation, Part I

As you can tell from my recent posts, I've been busy cooking in the kitchen. Our kitchen is currently functional, but not 100% complete as we're still missing the backsplash. When we bought our house, we sorta knew what we were dealing with. We knew we didn't have to gut the kitchen, but what we didn't know was that the cabinets smelled and the kitchen had a roach problem. One of the two problems was easily fixed, thanks to several roach bombs, but we're still trying to figure out the remaining one. Apparently, baking soda doesn't cure all.

The L-shaped kitchen had a good layout and the cabinets had good bones, so we gave it a huge face lift. We had the "putty" colored cabinets (thanks to my sis for naming the color of the cabinets when I failed to find a color to describe it) painted white, replaced the dingy, what used to be white but is now yellow appliances with stainless steel ones, replaced the fluorescent light boxes with modern track lights, replaced the cracked corian countertops with granite, painted the kitchen from a dirty pale green to sky blue, and lastly, I gave it a deep cleaning since the previous owners appeared to have never cleaned.

We went from before:

to during:

Here's a sneak peek of the painted cabinet doors:

Stay tuned for an almost finished kitchen!

Monday, February 22, 2010

My Second Roast Chicken Attempt

I was determined to roast a perfect chicken after my first attempt that didn't go exactly smooth. So when Stew's had a sale on chickens, I didn't hold back. This time around, I abandoned using the convection function in my oven, and am one step closer to my goal.

I followed Julia Child's recipe once again, but I had to make modifications. After cooking the chicken for the stated time, I wasn't satisfied with the color I got, so I increased the heat to 425 degrees and roasted it for another 20 minutes. The results? Nice color, and perfectly cooked! My only criticism is that it wasn't as tasty as last time, possibly because I didn't stuff the chicken with as much garlic and onion as I did last time. I definitely see a third attempt in the future.

Off to making chicken stock now with the carcass. You really can't beat a $5 chicken that keeps on giving.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Popovers for a Low Key Celebration

My husband and I recently celebrated a low key 10yr anniversary with some bubbly, cheese, oysters and freshly baked popovers. I was first introduced to popovers when my husband brought me to a popover joint many years ago. Sadly, the place had closed down since.

The aptly named pastries are baked in specialized pans or muffin tins and pops over the pan once they're done. I found an easy recipe from Martha Stewart, and made half of mine savory and the other half sweet.
It didn't turn out bad at all for a first timer, except for that I didn't have enough batter for all twelve for some strange reason.

These delicate pastries are light - they are full of air pockets and can be filled with whatever you please. I believe when I had mine at the popover joint, it was filled with chicken, cheese and veggies. I'm not into filling them with such heavy ingredients, so I left the ones I made pretty plain. For the savory variety that I had baked, I added zest from half a lemon, freshly ground pepper and 1/2 tablespoon chopped parsley to the batter. For the sweet ones, I added 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 teaspoon sugar.

They are best when eaten hot. Just imagine the wonderful aroma and the gentle steam escaping out of these babies when you bite into them. Yum!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Hoisin-Marinated Chicken, Reinvented

We have left overs every night since I started cooking daily. Instead of eating the same dish the day after, I try to reinvent them. One night, I made Ming Tsai's delicious Hoisin-Marinated Chicken with rice and pea shoots. The next day, I shredded up the chicken and added a fresh crunchy cabbage slaw to make a wrap for lunch.

On a related note, when I cooked the chicken, I made a small substitute in the chicken marinade. The recipe called for red wine. I had none, so I substituted with white wine. The result was a less intense flavor. Although it was unnoticeable to my husband, I will stick to the recipe and use red wine next time.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Meet The Newest Addition to Our Family!

We are proud to announce the latest addition to our kitchen family - a beautiful potted basil. I just had to bring it home when I saw it at Stew's. I've had rosemary and basil before, but unfortunately, they didn't survive under my husband's care. Hopefully, our basil will flourish in the weeks, months and years to come.

Look how lovely our newest addition looks in our sunny kitchen!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy VDay and Chinese New Year!

Today is THE day to celebrate the color of red - for love and for luck!

I'm not that superstitious, but there are certain things I do each year to kick off the lunar new year to a good start. Some of them may sound strange, but tradition is tradition:
  • Don't wash your hair today
  • Don't cut your nails or hair today
  • Wear new pajamas to bed
Basically, the new year comes with good luck, and you don't want to get rid of it by washing or cutting it off. And of course you want to start fresh by wearing new pj's. Let's kick off the year of the Tiger right!

As for VDay, my husband and I aren't that into it, partly because it's a "greeting card day." But I'd make a special breakfast to set a romantic tone for the day, like:
Happy Valentine's Day and Chinese New Year!!!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Breakfast Smoothie

I had a lot of yogurt left over from baking Martha Stewart's Spiced Carrot Cake, so I turned to her trusty recipe vault and found a Superfood Smoothie that would put to good use the blueberries, oranges and yogurt I had in my refrigerator.

I'm not afraid of fat (hence my love for ice cream and potato chips - it all comes down to moderation), so of course I used full-fat yogurt. It was a delicious and healthy recipe, and was a very satisfying meal. I'd make it again any time.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ways to Use Carrots

I have a lot of carrots and was trying of ways to use them. I had used them in savory dishes - my turkey spring rolls, carrot soup and Vietnamese spring rolls, but I still have about 3 pounds left. So I turned to the trusty Martha Stewart recipe vault and found a sweet application for the carrots - Spiced Carrot Cake, which I made in mini bread pans.

The recipe wasn't bad, but it didn't have the combination of spices I had imagined - it called for only one spice: either cardamom or cinnamon. Personally, I would use both spices and add nutmeg, or just use all-spice. On the plus side, the cake was moist with the help of yogurt and oil. That said, I don't see myself returning to the Spiced Carrot Cake recipe again.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sell Out!

I thought Tony Bourdain was a straight forward, no nonsense kind of guy, a man of integrity and pride. So I thought his show (one of my favs, by the way) was independent - no product placements, no features on restaurants paid by management. I was wrong.

Last week, while I was watching the Prague episode with my husband, a scene showed Bourdain paying for a delicious meal with a card.
My husband and I both had the same thought and immediately turned to each other. What was it, what was wrong? It was a close up shot of a Chase Sapphire card! Not so subtle huh. Then a commercial followed, and what commercial was it? Take a wild guess.

Did you spot it too?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Making Ground Pork

I have trust issues, especially when it comes to ground meat. It is somewhat of a mystery to me what they put into meat that's been processed. What part of the pig or cow did they use? Did they add anything extra? Who knows?! So I decided to grind my own meat. That way, I know what went into my meat, and I can control the amount of fat that goes into the ground meat.

Since I've been dabbling into pork, I decided to make ground pork. I put my trusty KitchenAid to the challenge with the help of the food grinder attachment. It wasn't an easy or a clean task, but I thought it was well worth it for a peace of mind.

I got some pork shoulder and put it in the freezer for 30 minutes after I cut it into cubes. Briefly freezing the meat makes the grinding process a bit easier - the meat is more firm and less sticky. I started off the first pass with a coarse grind, and wanted to follow with a second pass with the fine grind. The coarse grinding was much easier than the fine grinding, which took a lot more time, so I decided to just do half of the meat in the fine texture. I then mixed the two evenly to make sure I had equal distribution throughout, and it came out well in the end. Instead of making the usual delicious Turkey Dumplings, I made Pork Dumplings with the ground meat!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The (no brainer) Pork Bun Debate

Japanese pork bun enthusiasts swear by those by Momofuku or Ippudo. My preference? Ippudo, hands down.

The Japanese pork buns of these two rivals have delicious pork sandwiched between so-called Peking duck pancakes (I don't agree with the pancake label, but that's another story). What makes Ippudo my pick? Their delicious sauce that makes the pork so moist and succulent. Ippudo's pork bun (Hirata Bun) is a slice of pork belly with lettuce, mayo and a spicy sauce wrapped in a steamed bun. The lettuce adds freshness and a crunchy texture to the soft pork belly. And as if the pork isn't rich enough already, they had to add mayo to seal the deal. While Momofuku's pork bun is good and its slice of pork belly is thicker, it didn't pack as much of a punch as Ippudo's. Ippudo's sauce kicked Momofuku to the backseat - it has a touch of spiciness and is flavorful but not overpowering, and there's just the right amount of sauce to perfectly complement the pork.

If you look at Momofuku's version above, you'll see a rather thick piece of pork that's pretty light on sauce. Don't get me wrong, it's good, but just not as good as Ippudo's. If there is a word I can use to describe what distinguishes Ippudo's pork bun from Momofuku's, it's harmony - it has that melt in your mouth goodness.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The End of the Great Ramen Debate?

My brother and I have been debating over which Japanese noodle joint in NYC is the best. We have visited both Ramen Setagaya and Ippudo, supposedly the two best picks in the city because they are ramen chains straight from Japan. Surprisingly, we agreed on most of the points, the biggest of which is Ippudo's delicious pork buns (to all the Momofuku proponents out there - David Chang's pork buns aren't THE best, and same for his ramen for that matter). Despite Ippudo's less than perfect ramen, we would be happy to return any time for its pork buns (more on the buns in another post).

Back to the Ippudo vs. Ramen Setagaya debate. Here is my assessment: on the noodle front, Ramen Setagaya wins; on the broth front: Ippudo wins. I've tried both the Akamaru Modern and Shiromaru Hakata Classic at Ippudo (bad photo below from a weak camera I borrowed). The former has a bolder flavor with the use of miso paste while the latter is a classic ramen, but both use the same house-made average at best noodles. I knew their noodles were off at first bite - the exterior was fine, but the interior I thought was rather gummy. It simply didn't have the luscious feel I was expecting from noodles.

However, I thoroughly enjoyed Ippudo's broth, which I thought was less greasy as Ramen Setagaya's. If it weren't for Ippudo's pork buns, I would not frequent Ippudo more than Ramen Setagaya. I do have to say that since making noodles is such a fine art, I would have to vote for Ramen Setagaya as having the best ramen in NYC. I know I'll continue to debate over these two ramen joints with my brother. We'll just have to agree to disagree.