Kitchen Refreshed

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I have wanted to do a few updates to our kitchen for the last few months, and I finally got around to one of my project ideas a few weeks ago. Our kitchen is far from modern, with a basic white tile floor, white speckled laminate countertops, very basic wooden cabinets that I believe were constructed by the previous owners and painted white, a big white farmhouse sink, and all white appliances. On the walls we have a combination of laminate backsplash and yellow and white striped wallpaper.

Eventually I will do a full kitchen renovation, but we have decided to hold off on that for a few years, until some other projects are completed. I know I won’t do the granite countertop and stainless steel appliance thing when we do get to the kitchen renovation, but I haven’t decided what we will do instead. In the meantime, I want to do a few updates to keep the space fresh, make it feel like it’s ours, and test out some ideas to determine what we like.

I am currently trying out open storage, after completing a quick half-day project that involved taking the doors off two cabinets, painting the shelves and interior of the cabinets, and reorganizing their contents. This project took a few hours and minimal materials, and I think it makes a big difference in the kitchen. It feels so clean and springy now! I also hung a framed photo of bright yellow lemons above my sink, and removed the ugly wooden accordion door to the left of the stove. The view from the kitchen to dining room is so much more open and bright now.

Here are the before pictures:

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And the after pictures:

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I wasn’t sure about the blue paint at first, but once I filled the shelves with our dishes, I grew to love the warm yellow and cool blue together. Also I am really starting to embrace the white kitchen appliances. They make the room bright and they feel so clean and neat. Especially with the lemon yellow, everything just feels so sunny and zesty now.

This color scheme isn’t for everyone, but it makes me pretty happy. Kyle likes it too and he has even offered some ideas for further improving the organization and storage in our kitchen. My next project will be installing a pegboard for storing pots and pans, which will free up some cabinet space for appliances, and therefore free up some counter space for cooking!

So. . . what do you think? What spring cleaning or renovation projects do you have going on at your house?

A Bright Idea for Ingredient Storage

Since we moved into our new home last month, Kyle and I have been wading through a sea of stuff that needs to be organized. Organizing our kitchen has been a fun challenge, and my ingredients and equipment are constantly moving as I figure out the layout that is best suited to my workflow. I have come up with a few solutions that put the “fun” in functionality and I love how they are working out. I borrowed a trick from the cabinet-challenged kitchen of my very first apartment, and put an IKEA BILLY bookcase in the kitchen for open storage of my cookbooks and pantry overflow.

See that second shelf? I borrowed the idea of storing grains in Ball jars from Emily at Daily Garnish. She has used this organization trick in two tight spaces: the kitchens of her Alexandria, VA home and her Seattle, WA home. It works fabulously in my bright Richmond kitchen!

I used wide mouth quart jars for rice, quinoa, couscous, and lentils. Then I expanded on the idea to store smaller quantities of ingredients with shorter shelf lives, like nuts, seeds, and dried fruit, in regular pint size jars. I have my rolled oats in a larger airtight hinged Mason jar in the middle of the mix.

And this is only the beginning. I also have clever solutions for storing my spices and linens, which I will share in a future post. I have a box of miscellaneous kitchen equipment that is still looking for a home, and I know I have a lot more arranging and rearranging ahead of me, so we aren’t out of the woods yet. Do you have any kitchen organization tips to share? I could use a few more bright ideas before all the pieces fall into place!

Tempeh Celebration

I have been a vegetarian for 2 1/2 years and I have never prepared tempeh. Tofu is a staple in my refrigerator, and beans are a staple in my pantry. I always have eggs, milk, and yogurt on hand. I have the protein thing down.

However, meat substitutes are strangers to my kitchen, except for those that arrive in little white Chinese takeout containers tucked inside brown paper bags. We have a small Chinese restaurant around the corner with an extensive vegetarian menu with plenty of mock meat options, mostly made with seitan. I recently ventured into the world of cooking seitan, which I wrote about here.

In celebration of our new dining room table, I embraced the theme of new beginnings and chose to make tempeh for the first time. And that is how Korean BBQ-Style Tempeh became the first meal served on our new table.

I picked up my tempeh at Trader Joe’s awhile ago and it has been sitting in my refrigerator, waiting for this occasion. When I popped it out of the package, I thought, what on earth is this?

Mystified, I left the grainy beige blocks on my counter and hit Google.

Tempeh is a whole soybean product that originated in Indonesia on the island of Java (ooh, I love me some Java Estate coffee) that is created by a controlled fermentation process which binds the soy into blocks. The soybeans are soaked to soften, dehulled, and spread in a thin layer for fermentation. This process causes the beans to fuse together and form a large cake which is then sliced into blocks before packaging. The tempeh that I chose also included other grains: rice, barley, and millet.

Tempeh is a very nutritious food that is high in protein, fiber, and vitamins. They’re not kidding when they call this block of tempeh a “powerhouse.” Check out the great nutritional information at World’s Healthiest Foods. This site is great for looking up the nutritional value of certain foods plus the reasons why your body needs these nutrients. Here are the nutrition facts for TJ’s Organic 3 Grain Tempeh, which I used in the recipe below.

20 grams of protein per serving? What?!?! Amazing. Now let’s get cooking.

I decided to marinate the tempeh in a Korean BBQ sauce for starters.

When the sweet and tangy smell of this sauce hit my nostrils, I thought of a Korean barbecue place I had been to in Manhattan that served up steaming hot rice bowls stuffed with tofu, that came with a variety of vegetables, toppings, and sauces on the side. My friend Melissa and I delighted in tossing the ingredients together as we ate and seasoning the results to taste. It felt like we were cooking our own meals, which is probably why we loved it so much.

I decided to do my own take on the concept by serving the components of the dish separately and lightly seasoned so Kyle and I could build our own bowls. In the spirit of construction, why not? We started with black pepper linguine.

Then we added sauteed vegetable slaw (onion, broccoli, carrots, cabbage).

And then I pan fried the marinated tempeh and crumbled it into bowls.

And made complete with seasonings…

It was totally delicious – almost like the real thing!

Oh how I miss NY…

Our tempeh adventure was made complete with the addition of a locally brewed beer. Cheers to new beginnings!

Home Improvement

Feeling invigorated this weekend, I decided to test my patience and Kyle’s fortitude with one of the most dreaded activities a couple can engage in: building Ikea furniture. After all, no one was going to come build it for us. And I was feeling superhuman that day.

I gave Kyle one fair warning: “Honey, this activity might make me a little crazy, so just do your best to not provoke me while I’m organizing my thoughts… or my hardware.” I decided to have a little something just to take the edge off.

Ikea instructions are frustrating for most people, but I respond very well to them. I think they are written for type A personalities like me. They include:

  • only the picture detail that matters, because I don’t need frills – I need results
  • minimal words, because I am too impatient to read them – I have work to do
  • diagrams of hardware with quantities and part numbers, so I can create an identical array of hardware on my living room floor, in the precise quantities listed
  • no sharp tools so as not to tempt me to harm anyone who gets between me and my goal

Just two hours later (ugh), we had a new table and chairs!

This table expands with two leaves that lay flat under the table surface and then slide out to expand to seating for six! I have it laid out for 4-person seating below but it could easily fit two more.

We had a very special dinner that night to celebrate our new dining table. I tried making tempeh for the first time (which will get its own post later this week) and it resulted in this nice romantic dinner. . .

. . . with every component laid out in perfect rows. Do I see a pattern here?