Sunday, January 2, 2011

Kitchen refinements and recent additions

Another bits and pieces post...


Foil-wrapped stove pans

This is something I used to do years ago, before I got into kitchens that had gas stoves, and didn't have to/ couldn't do this.

It seems that it's almost inevitable that the pans underneath the electrical elements on the stove will get full of burnt on crap. And it's pretty much a given that they'll never, ever look good again. Even Tolkien couldn't adequately convey the heartbreak and despair.

(That could be a mild overstatement. You'll have to forgive me, we just watched the LOTR movies this weekend.)

So, rather than go through the Shakespearean tragedy that is the cleaning in vain of the stove pans, I wrap mine in aluminum foil before the mess renews itself. Not only does the nice new foil look a lot better than the carbon-scored surface that was there before, it allows you to cover the hole in the bottom that drains more crap into the space underneath the stove top, thus saving you from even more cleaning. And cleaning them out next time is a simple process of throwing out the aluminum foil, and re-wrapping.


The Zen of the 3-tier hanging basket.

I've hated these damned things for years. Hung normally, they never really sit at the right height, so one tier is always just out of reach... or in the way. But I was also getting really tired of the top of the work island looking like this:

I never really found a good place to store non-refrigerated perishables like onions, potatoes, garlic, citrus fruits, and so on. Bread also needed a place to hang out, etc... and the end result was that my work space had become the default crap catcher. It was a real problem. At one point I added a rectangular tray to the rear right corner to try to corral everything, but that ended up holding the bottom layer of what turned into an ever-growing pile of crap. And after a while, I wasn't really cognizant of what was going on in the tray, I was only aware of the visible layers. I'm sure you can all see where this is going.

So, I revisited the idea of the hanging baskets. I found a set at the hardware store. They cost a little more than I wanted to pay, and a little harder than the regular collapsible ones I'm used to seeing. I'm not convinced that I like them yet, but they'll work, and that's really all that's required.

To deal with my primary cause of frustration, (awkward height of the baskets, or the whole thing being in the way) I put in a small pulley system to raise and lower the baskets, so I can get to them when I want, and get them out of the way when I want. The 4 primary points of contact are, the ceiling where one end of the cord is fastened, the pulley on the top of the baskets, the ring near the ceiling that the cord goes through, and the cleat I mounted on the window to tie everything off. I also made a loop in the end of the cord that would hold the basket at a comfortable height, and tied that off around the cleat, to provide a point at which the basket will lower no further... I don't want it to bottom out and dump everything.

I'm not saying this is ideal for every kitchen. And our high ceilings definitely help with vertical room for them to go away. But I think that even in a kitchen with normal ceiling height, mounting the baskets this way would probably be helpful.


One recent addition to our stable of kitchen equipment is a Kitchen Aid Pro-Line coffee grinder. I'm an amateur coffee snob. I haven't gotten into espresso making, and I'm not too obsessive, I don't think. But I do enjoy a good cup of coffee, and I'm getting more and more discerning, I think.

My old grinder was a Mr Coffee burr grinder that had been with me for 5 or 6 years, and it worked well enough, but it was incredibly hard to clean well. Recently we started using coffee beans from Trader Joe's, and they're more oily than the scoopable beans I've picked up elsewhere in the past. The result was a cement of coffee dust and coffee oil that was clogging the other grinder up on a weekly basis, to the point of serious frustration. Cleaning the old one out meant taking it to the work area, dumping the beans out of the hopper, and digging around with a metal pick around the sides of the burr, which was mounted in the very bottom of the hopper. It was really difficult, and the density of the cement that had been produced was surprising.  So, one of our registry items was a new grinder.

The Kitchen Aid grinder is superb. We're still getting used to it, but so far, there's a smoother taste to the coffee. The old one did have a dial to adjust quantity of coffee ground, which made it easier to the right amount... which is something this new grinder lacks. I haven't used it for espresso, or for french press, (yet) but I will say that I think the slower grind speed has something to do with the different taste. For starters, slower cutting means less dust generation, and a better grind. But slow speed grinders are also known for not burning the beans, which can be an issue with high speed grinders. The last real factor that I can think of is cleanliness. And after cleaning the new one this morning, I can say for sure that it's a hell of a lot easier to clean. Rather than fishing around in the bottom of a hopper, the front of the machine opens up, the front burr comes out, and the rear burr is very easy to get to. And, the mess dumps right down into the hopper, so the whole machine doesn't need to be moved somewhere else for a serious procedure. That part alone makes me VERY happy. Machines need periodic maintenance, and I get that. So it's nice when the manufacturer designs them to be easily maintained.

Lastly, the grinder comes with an instruction manual that actually makes sense, and has a lot of helpful advice on brewing coffee. It's helpful.


Kitchen Expansion

So, the kitchen remains too small for two people to effectively work, unless one of them is working on dishes. Simultaneously, I was clearing off a high table that I've been using, in theory, as a desk. But in general it's been nothing but a crap-catcher. So, it's been re-purposed as a work table that's just outside the doorway of the kitchen.

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