Stuff Happens & Fried Green Tomatoes with Chipotle Crema

It started about four years ago. I desperately wanted to re-do my kitchen and began saving my pennies. However, since a bathroom renovation had turned into what seemed like an endless saga, I needed reassurance. I needed a timeline. Bruce, my eternally optimistic contractor, provided me, the eternally optimistic client, with the magic number … three weeks.

In case you think these two optimists are crazy, Bruce had a plan and I bought into it 100 percent. Here’s how it worked. Week one Bruce tears everything apart. Week two, he puts it all back together. The cabinets are installed, the appliances arrive and the plumber, electrician and painter make their magic. On Friday of week two, the countertop guy draws up the template. Week three is busy with a long list of odds and ends until the grand finale on Friday. The countertops are installed.

For my part, I insisted that demolition would absolutely, positively not begin until everything was ready to go. Cabinets, flooring and appliances had to be stacked from floor to ceiling in every available nook or cranny. At bare minimum, materials had to be on a truck and headed my way. There would be no delay because the refrigerator was on back order.

As we neared the start date, there were a few hiccups. Throughout the process, a few more setbacks demanded solutions. In spite of our optimism and mostly careful planning, stuff happens and lessons are learned.

Sorry, those floors are no longer available. In fact, the company has gone out of business. Bruce got on the phone and online. His favorite supplier got on the phone and online. Nothing. I got online and then in the car. Nothing until I fell in love with plan B, a kitchen-friendly cork. That said; the lead-time was three weeks. Anyway, stay flexible.

Speaking of floors, that old linoleum is not coming up without a fight. There were actually two layers of linoleum. The first ripped out easily. The second was put down with super glue or some other miracle adhesive invented by a super-secret government agency. In the end, it was no match to Chuck’s resolve. Tenancy is good.

There is working time and waiting time. You see both during a renovation. As promised, it took less than a week to install the new floors and cabinets. The only problem, it didn’t happen until week three. Blame it on the new laundry/half bath and mudroom. Installation was delayed a week while these two, itty-bitty spaces were framed and drywall was installed, mudded and sanded. Be patient.

Wait a minute, that’s a joist exactly where the flange should go. When the plumber went to install the flange for the toilet in the new half bath, he discovered a floor joist in just the wrong spot. However, within minutes, a return/exchange order was in the works for a new toilet to fit the tight space. Yes, a big box store would have taken the return but I’m very glad I didn’t need to cram a toilet in the back of the Mini. Thank goodness, I bought local.

Now, the confession – in spite of my sunny disposition and optimism, I knew from the start that the kitchen would take more than three weeks. You remember my eighty-twenty rule: just when you think you are eighty percent done; you have eighty percent more to do. Well, I figured the first eighty percent would happen quickly, in about three weeks. I was hoping the second eighty percent wouldn’t take more than a week but realized another two, okay maybe three weeks, was more likely.

I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll be cooking again this weekend. Bon appétit!

My temporary kitchen – microwave, hotplate and toaster oven on an old door in the garage.

Fried Green Tomatoes with Chipotle Crema
With September winding to a close, it’s time for a favorite early fall treat. Fry up some of the green tomatoes that won’t have time to ripen on the vine. Enjoy!
Serves 8

3/4 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 large eggs
Vegetable oil
4-6 large green tomatoes, sliced 1/2-inch thick
Chipotle Crema (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to its lowest setting.

Put the cornmeal, flour, salt, cumin and pepper in a shallow bowl and whisk to combine. Put the eggs in a separate bowl and beat well.

Generously coat a heavy skillet with oil and heat over medium-high.

Dip the tomato slices in the egg and then dredge in the cornmeal mixture. Working in batches, carefully, place the tomatoes in the skillet and fry until golden, about 2 minutes per side. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels. Arrange the tomatoes on a sheet pan and place in a warm oven. Adding more oil to the pan if necessary, continue with the remaining tomato slices. Serve hot with a dollop of Chipotle Aioli.

Chipotle Crema
Makes about 1 cup

2-3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon or to taste pureed chipotle in adobo*
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Grated zest and juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon cumin
Sea salt to taste
About 1/2 cup or to taste sour cream

Put the mayonnaise, chipotle, garlic, mustard and lime zest and juice in bowl, season with cumin and salt and whisk to combine. Add the sour cream and whisk until smooth. Cover and chill for an hour or more to combine the flavors.

Cover and store leftover crema in the refrigerator.

* Toss a can of chipotle peppers along with the adobo in a small food processor and process until smooth. Transfer to a clean glass jar, store in the refrigerator and use as needed.

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One Year Ago – Pork & Black Bean Stew with Salsa Verde
Two Years Ago – Applesauce Scones
Three Years Ago – Homemade Bratwurst Bites with Horseradish Mustard
Four Years Ago – Fettuccine with Fresh Corn & Tomatoes
Five Years Ago – Lemon Rice Cakes with Spinach & Manchego
Six Years Ago – Apple Crumb Cake
Seven Years Ago – Ginger Scones
Eight Years Ago – Curried Eggplant Soup
Nine Years Ago – Braised Beef Bourguignon

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

Do you have any reno advice to add? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017

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More Kitchen Reno News & End of Summer Soup

I didn’t have a lot of renovation news to report last week. In case you forgot, we’d just finished off a week of drywall, drywall and more drywall. It was not the best week for it. Damp and rainy, the drywall mud was in no big hurry to dry. Out came the fans and air conditioner because, when in doubt, add more noise to the dust and commotion. As planned, I’ve been spending time with brushes and roller. The ceiling now has a clean, white coat. The walls are a soft and friendly OC-96. Benjamin Moore® Gentle Cream in case you’d like to know.

Once the drywall and painting was done, carpenters, plumber, electrician and tile guy were back in force. They wasted no time; didn’t even pause to tell me how much they loved the Gentle Cream. In what seemed like an instant, Bruce and Chuck had the new floor down … and promptly covered with a protective coat of heavy-duty paper. Peeking around the edges, the cork looks beautiful.

Yes, the kitchen floors are cork. No,it’s not made up of several months’ accumulation of popped corks. Perhaps I should have thrown a big party in July. That might have done it. Anyway, the floors, or what I can see of them, are wonderful. They are both good-looking and promise to be gentle on my back. The new tile floors in the half-bath/laundry room and front hall are perfect; thank you Dave. More thanks to Max for installing the half-bath and Bill for illuminating it all.

However, the absolute best part of the new kitchen is the cabinets. I am all agog. After a lot of back and forth and forth and back, I circled around to my first choice – red. Yes, red. I spent weeks agonizing and second-guessing. White cabinets are all the rage these days. Or so I’ve heard. I tried to convince myself to go with white. The kitchen faces north. It is not a sunny room. White would be light and bright. I tried to be reasonable; I tried to persuade myself that white was it.

I dithered and perused and checked them all – linen white, white pewter, snowflake … there are a lot of whites out there. I’d pick one and then, after a day or two, decide … no, it wasn’t quite right. This white was too cold; that one was too gray. It wasn’t the paint samples, it was me. All that cajoling and trying to convince myself, it didn’t work. Latest trend or not, beautiful or not, white was not for me. (To all my friends with white kitchens, believe me, I love them, they’re beautiful.)

I thought about compromise. A lovely buttery yellow hit my radar for a couple of days. Emphasis on a couple; it came to nothing. I couldn’t help it; I kept circling back to red. The name on the back of the sample was Red Delicious. What could be better for a kitchen?

And that’s not just me talking. Julio was here on Thursday to create the template for the granite countertops. He gave his approval. I’ve posted a few photos on Facebook and several friends have given a big thumbs up. A few have gone so far as to voice enthusiastic appreciation, even envy. The rest? Well, they’re keeping mum. You know what our mothers taught us, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” No, that couldn’t be it; they must be too busy with work, life and other stuff to comment.

In case you’re concerned that I’ve gone overboard, now might be good time to mention that the pantry is not red but a lovely honey colored cherry. Delicious or not, even I can figure out how much red is too much.

As we head into week four of the renovation, I’m hoping the eighty-twenty rule doesn’t apply. In case you’ve forgotten… just when you think you’re eighty percent done; you’re bound to have eighty percent more to do.

Bon appétit!

End of Summer Cod, Corn & White Bean Soup
This delicious soup takes advantage of the end of summer tomato and corn bounty. Enjoy!
Serves 8

About 2 pounds (enough for about 3 cups chopped) tomatoes*
Olive oil
1-2 carrots, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon hot sauce or to taste
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 cup dry white wine
2-3 cups fish stock juice or broth
2-3 cups chicken stock or broth
5-6 cups small white beans, rinsed and drained**
2 pounds cod, cut into bite-size pieces
About 4 cups (4-6 ears) fresh corn kernels*
Fresh, chopped chives

Bring a pot with enough water to submerge a tomato to a boil. Fill a bowl with enough water and ice to submerge a tomato. Carefully drop the tomatoes, one at a time, into the boiling water and leave each for about 10 seconds. Remove from the boiling water and immediately submerge in the ice water. Using your fingers or a paring knife, remove the skin from the tomatoes. Core, seed and chop the tomatoes. Reserve.

Lightly coat a stockpot with olive oil and heat over medium. Add the carrots, celery and onion, season with hot sauce, paprika, salt and pepper and cook, stirring from time to time, until the onion is almost translucent. Add the garlic and cook 2-3 minutes more. Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half.

Add the fish and chicken stock, tomatoes, beans, thyme and bay leaf, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Add the fish to the pot, season with salt and pepper and simmer on low for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature. Cover and store in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight, to allow the flavors to combine.

Bring the soup to a simmer over medium heat. Add the corn and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Ladle the soup into mugs or bowls, sprinkle with chives and serve.

* You can use canned, diced tomatoes and frozen corn if the fresh, local versions are not available.
** You will need about 10 ounces of dried beans to soak and cook or 2 (15-ounce) cans.

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Two Years Ago – Applesauce Scones
Three Years Ago – Roasted Beet Tatin with Goat Cheese & Walnuts
Four Years Ago – Fettuccine with Fresh Corn & Tomatoes
Five Years Ago – Chicken Parmagiana with Spaghetti Marinara
Six Years Ago – Lemon Roasted Salmon with Beurre Blanc
Seven Years Ago – Wild Mushroom Soup
Eight Years Ago – Rustic Apple Tart
Nine Years Ago – Oktoberfest Sausages & Sauerkraut

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

Do you have any reno advice to add? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017

A New Kitchen Adventure & Cheesy Polenta with Fresh Corn

My forty-something year old kitchen is about to be transformed. With any luck, this adventure will take about three, maybe four weeks. I am filled with excitement, enthusiasm, fear and dread. Fear and dread because of my last foray into renovation. It was a simple job – transform two dated bathrooms into timeless classics. However, there were a few ugly diversions. The sills were the biggest calamity. Not the windowsills, I’m talking about the part that joins the house to the foundation.

The sills had rotted. Renovations came to a grinding halt. To make the repair, the siding had to come off the bottom third of the house. Almost forty-years old, the vinyl siding was very brittle. Instead of coming off in neat lengths, it crumbled into a thousand pieces. Except for the few stray odds and ends in the attic, it was no longer available. So, you guessed it, all the siding had to be removed and replaced. Then, to avoid future rot, a new ventilation system was installed in the crawl space under the house. Heck, since you’re down there anyway, let’s add some foam insulation.

Oh well, the bathrooms are beautiful and I never liked that vinyl siding anyway. The house is now clad in cedar and stained a lovely gray-beige.

It took a few years to recover but now I’m ready to tackle the kitchen. To calm my nerves, I’m thinking good thoughts, taking deep breaths and putting my hand on my heart. I might like to sit and watch the sunset but I’m too busy emptying cupboards to take a break.

As you may know or at least guessed, I have a lot gadgets. I love kitchen gadgets. Some women buy jewelry or shoes; I buy gadgets (and shoes). Between paragraphs, I’m dashing up and down the stairs to the kitchen to empty cupboards. So far, I’ve covered my dining room table with dishes, casseroles and 9”x13” pans. The coffee table too. Next, I’ll be stashing pots and pans under the both tables. At some point soon, I’ll need to branch out and put a bunch of stuff out on the porch.

Oh, that’s right, I forgot to mention. The new cabinets are stacked almost wall to wall and floor to ceiling in the living room. So, that’s not an option. But why so many? I can’t figure it out; the kitchen is not all that big. They are still in giant cardboard cartons. The mystery will remain until the grand opening next week. Perhaps a few stowaways are sitting in my living room.

Anyway, it’s a little like having a corn maze, only made of cardboard. I’d invite your kids or grandkids to come over to play hide and seek but I’m afraid they might get lost in the jumble. Or worst, wedge themselves between two boxes and be stuck for hours.

My trick for keeping track of what’s done and what’s not is simple. As soon as I empty a cupboard, I remove the door. Gaping holes dot my kitchen. Yippee, progress is being made. There are just enough gaps to spur me on. Then I realize; I haven’t touched the pantry, laundry room or front hall closet. In one way or another, big and small, each of these areas is also getting a facelift.

Not surprising, I’ve discovered that the eighty-twenty rule applies to clearing out the kitchen. In case you’re thinking of another version of this rule, let me clarify. Just when you think that you are more or less eighty percent done, you realize you have at least eighty percent more to do.

Back to work … and bon appétit!

Cheesy Polenta with Fresh Corn
While this dish is great with a delicious ragout or stew, if you are without a kitchen -all you need is a hotplate and grill to whip up this tasty side dish. Try it with grilled shrimp or spicy sausages. Enjoy!
Serves 6-8

3-4 ears corn
Olive oil
2 cups whole milk
2 cups or more chicken broth or water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup instant polenta
4-6 ounces grated or crumbled cheese* plus more for garnish
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh sage leaves
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons butter
Freshly ground pepper

Preheat the grill to high.

Lightly oil 1 ear of corn. Place the corn on the grill and cook for 2-3 minutes, turn and cook 2-3 minutes more. When the corn is cool enough to handle, cut the kernels from the cob and reserve.

Cut the kernels from the remaining ears of corn. You’ll need about 2 cups of raw kernels. Reserve.

Bring the milk, broth and salt to a simmer in heavy saucepan. Stirring constantly, slowly add the polenta. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring, until the polenta starts to thicken, 2-3 minutes.

Add the raw corn, cheese, herbs and butter and continue to stir until the corn is tender and the cheese and butter have melted, 2-3 minutes more. If the polenta seems too thick, add some more broth.

To serve: spoon the polenta into shallow bowls and sprinkle with grilled corn kernels and grated or crumbled cheese.

* Choose your cheese based on what’s for dinner. A mix of mozzarella and Parmigianino-Reggiano will be delicious with anything Italian. Think of France and add goat cheese for polenta and braised chicken or short ribs. Cheddar or queso fresco works well with a Tex-Mex ragout or spicy grilled sausages.

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Two Years Ago – Romaine with Grilled Corn, Tomato & Avocado
Three Years Ago – Savory Parmesan Shortbread with Tomato Jam
Four Years Ago – Chocolate-Orange Tart
Five Years Ago – Chicken Liver Pâté
Six Years Ago – Blueberry Crisp
Seven Years Ago – Death by Chocolate Sauce
Eight Years Ago – Lemon Cupcakes
Nine Years Ago – Couscous with Dried Fruit and Pine Nuts

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

Help! Do you have any renovation advice to share? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017