Thursday 25 March 2010

Kitchen Design...

It's almost time to move into the new kitchen, up at Santa Caterina - a process I'm slightly dreading, but the result of which should be well worth the pain. A slight delay in the past few days, as we discovered that the new fridge which had bounced all the way across Europe in the company of the welsh slate was in fact five millimetres wider than advertised, which has meant demolishing and rebuilding one of the support walls for the counter tops, in order to fit everything in. Things could have been worse, I suppose; last time we did this, with the current kitchen, the stonemason blithely sliced ten centimetres off one of the slabs for the work surface, and we had to order a whole new piece all the way from Wales...
This is the fourth kitchen we've designed over the years, and from each one lessons have been learned and incorporated into the next version. Some very straightforward things, for example:
  • the advantages of having a deeper work surface than normal - generally, kitchens are designed with counters 60 cm deep, to match the depth of most under-counter appliances; in fact, if you have counters at 80 cm (or more) depth, it gives an enormous amount more space both to work on and to push things to one side which aren't immediately needed;
  • Make sure the work surface is at exactly the right height for your physique - for me, this is a couple of centimentres higher than in most kitchens; in my catering kitchen I had standard height work surfaces, and occasionally suffered from the most appalling back ache as a result
  • Don't put sinks in the corner of the room, as this makes them physically quite difficult to use;
  • Analyse exactly how you cook, so that the various storage units are in the optimal place for you, and you don't spend your life traipsing around the kitchen needlessly going backwards and forwards to get things - for me this means having a drawer under the hob with wooden spoons and spatulas, a chopping board on the work surface to the right, and immediately below that a drawer with knives, above a small fridge with things like milk and butter that I'm most likely to want to put straight into pans on the hob, and to the right again are stored all of the spices and seasonings I regularly use;
  • Again, think through how you work in practice, so that there are spaces available for putting hot cooking vessels when removed from either oven or hob; ditto spaces for plates, when serving;
  • Don't store pans in cupboards, where they're impossible to get at, but store them instead either suspended from hooks on the wall, or else on open shelves;
  • Incorporate appropriate storage space for all of things that generally, and needlessly, clutter work surfaces and get in the way - for instance, in the Italian kitchen, the food processor (along with all of the other electrical appliances) lives in a pull-out cupboard which has a socket within it, and so can be effectively used in situ; in the London kitchen, which is very small, the food processor is housed in a cantilevered cupboard and can be pulled down when needed, and then pushed up again out of the way afterwards (but this involves a system of counter-balance weights and wires which was one of the Technical Department's most successful brainwaves, and which I wouldn't advise you to do at home unless you have a degree in mechanical engineering!)
  • If you have the space, have a second dishwasher - if you only have one, sod's law says that it will always be full of unwashed things at just the wrong time!
Tonight's Dinner:

Papardelle with a sauce of Ragu and Rabbit Livers.

Bream, with braised Celery.

Apple Soufflé.

Tuesday 23 March 2010

One to read...

I thought this article was splendid - much to agree with.

Tonight's dinner:

Snails, dripping with garlic butter; freshly-baked bread rolls

Grilled Duck Breast, with Bay and Thyme; Lentils cooked with aromatici and tomatoes, in Duck Stock

Lemon Soufflé Glacé

Sunday 21 March 2010

Making Pasta - a revolutionary tip...

I've discovered a new trick in making pasta (instructions for which can be found here) which infinitely improves the quality of the finished product. The result of a malfunctioning food-processor, when making pasta dough several weeks ago, I had to remove the mixture from the bowl of the machine before the process was finished and then knead it by hand for several minutes until it appeared to have achieved the desired texture. I was slightly nervous when it subsequently came to rolling it out, half expecting it to be full of holes and next to useless. Far from it. The process of rolling was problem-free, and the texture of the cooked pasta afterwards was positively silky. Not just slightly better, but a whole step-function upwards in pointed out by enthusiastic consumers.
I tried it again on subsequent occasions, to see if it had been a fluke. And, it isn't. After the dough has done its thing in the food processor, the trick is then to knead it for perhaps 20 - 30 seconds on the work surface, before storing and subsequently rolling out as normal. Such a small addition to the process, but the result in the quality of the pasta is phenomenal. (One note of caution, though - this works when using flour made from durum wheat, as is the case with italian flour in general; flour from the US, though, is different and might not react in the same way - it may even be that the process of kneading the dough with american flour actually makes the finished product tougher than otherwise)

Try it...

Tonight's dinner:

Taglioline with veal & lemon sauce

Pork chops braised with sage & white wine; Fennel gratin

Andalusian Tarts