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Monday, April 12, 2021

Kitchen Remodel: Part 2

 This is the rest of the story on the kitchen. This is the area that was so in need a of an upgrade. There were so many problems with the space originally, we struggled with how to start over. Let's review the status of this kitchen when we moved in. 

First the obvious code violation; directly above the cooktop or "hob" as they call it here there is a full size upper cabinet - no vent, no hood.  So anytime you cook a pot of spaghetti (or anything moist) the bottom surface of the cabinet collects all the steam until it literally rains back down on the stove. If you ever have a chance to design a kitchen don't do this!  Apparently they are quite lax about inspections over here.  Yes before you ask, we did get full approval from our town council to renovate the kitchen.

Next, the wasted space and total lack of any usable work surfaces.  Notice how the corner space is wasted and blocked by the cabinet with the double-oven.  Even the upper corner on that side had no cabinet, just a make-shift shelf and the narrow gap in the dead corner.  You can't really tell from this angle, but the cooker is off-center and probably too-close to the left side. Also notice that the sink is a single bowl with no drain-pan and the dishes are simply drying on a towel directly on the counter-top. Of course when we dismantled the cabinets, we noticed that this corner had an obvious moisture problem that we had to fix.  See the details in the "Before Picture" below. 



Another big obstacle we faced was the floor. When we removed each of the three pantries (larders), we found that the floor tile was missing below the cabinets!  We had to do something to fix these gaps because we weren't putting anything in their place. At first we thought we would just rip everything out and replace the entire floor. The tile was throughout three of the four rooms in the house, so it was going to be a big, messy job ripping everything out. Since we were also living in this flat while remodeling, we became dissuaded from this path.  

Missing floor tile

Another option we considered was putting in floating laminate click-lock planks directly over the existing tile floor.  It can be done, but making sure everything is perfectly level first can be a challenge. If there are any bumps, the planks can chip and break their tabs, creating a mess. These planks add another 1/4 inch to the floor, which also means that all the baseboard trim must be redone and possibly some of the interior doors may need trimming.  If instead you use a thinner, flexible vinyl, the bumps and seams will show through. 

So after much deliberation, we kept coming back to the need to just patch holes with matching tile. How hard could it be?  We found a couple of tile contractors who were willing to do it for a reasonable fee, but none of them had any tile that matched. We spent about a month trying to locate some matching tile and ended up finding some about 2 hours away. We made the four-hour round-trip drive nearly to Wales during the lock-down to retrieve the two boxes of matching tiles. It was just enough!  The tile installation turned out to be the only work we hired out to a local contractor. I just didn't want to deal with that part of the job. He came in and was done in a few hours, so we could move on.  

The existing kitchen was obviously an Ikea kitchen. I had previous experience doing a full Ikea kitchen back at the blue house in Washington, so that seemed like the natural place to start.  I was already familiar with their 3D design tools and the core technology (Google Sketchup), so that is where we started. We quickly ran into some problems with the space. Ikea cabinets only come in a few fixed sizes and they have only one option for corner cabinets. They also aren't designed with any off-set from the wall to allow for plumbing behind the cabinets.  Finally their upper cabinets are only avialable in either the standard 70cm or the the extra tall 100cm height, which we didn't have room for. Finally during the lockdown Ikea stores were closed and with the recent implementation of Brexit, many of the Ikea parts and components were delayed as much as six months!  

Trucks backed-up waiting for permission to cross the border at Dover after Brexit

We found a local big-box DIY shop here similar to Home Depot called B&Q that did these flat-pack kitchen cabinets.  They manufacture almost everything here in UK, so there wouldn't be any problems with bringing stuff over on the trucks.  B&Q also seemed like they were more adept at fitting kitchens into the English style of small flats. They offered many more variations of cabinet sizes and had offsets for the necessary plumbing that runs on the walls behind the cabinets. While they were more expensive than Ikea, we decided to go with the B&Q "Goodhome" brand for everything in the kitchen. 

The main kitchen arrived in two separate shipments. The first shipment was just the uppers and included 38 separate boxes that we had to stack-up in our lounge while we worked to install them. The second shipment for the lowers came about 3 weeks later and included 54 boxes!  It was quite a mess in the house wile we were installing. As we progressed, I kept discovering that there was just one more special tool I needed and had to make many additional trips back to the hardware store for these tools and extra items. Isn't that the way it always goes?  The hard part for me was, knowing that if I had been doing this project back in the states, I already had all the tools I needed. It was hard for me to buy a tool just for one job, knowing I can't bring it back and will probably never use it again.  

After much hard work it all finally came together. We decided to skip the vent-hood (not required here for electric cooktops, if there is an opening window nearby). But did leave the space open for the air to circulate above the stove. We used that space as an accent wall to match the color band of the existing back-splash (that we kept).  We also reused the existing cooktop which was in good shape. Becky was so sad to give up the double oven, but we replaced it with a very nice single multi-function convection oven, which we centered in the wall. We replaced the sink with a new composite (like quartz) black sink with an integrated drain pan.  The biggest change was in freeing up the extra counter space. The worktop space flows seamlessly into the breakfast bar so that can double as workspace when needed. 




















We discovered a hidden power outlet after removing the double oven, which was a big bonus since we had decided not to upgrade the electrical for budget reasons. We installed new kickplates (plinths) which had been missing from the original kitchen and due to the clever size options of B&Q, we gained a few extra cabinets, making better use of the space with no dead-zones. The kitchen is so much brighter and more usable now and all the teal is gone!  

-David 



Sunday, April 11, 2021

Kitchen Remodel: Part 1

When we moved in, we understood the kitchen in our little flat was in serious trouble. Always eager for a project, we wanted to make it our own and redesign the kitchen. We started using the 3D design tools from Ikea from the first week we arrived in UK as a way to make use of our time in quarantine. This redesign began before we ever saw the flat! We were working only with photos and measurements taken by our son and daughter-in-law.  

First, let's look at the back-side of the kitchen. This is where you can see three full-size pantry (larder) cabinets. It's a little hard to see, but in the before photo below, the pantry cabinets each have a teal lower door and a beige upper cabinet door. There is one on the far left of the image, partially blocking the back door and blocking the boiler and plumbing in the corner. Number 2 is on the far right side of this before image. It was blocking the entrance to lounge. Finally pantry number 3 is directly to the right of the washing machine in this photo. 


Now these three pantries were shoe-horned into this tiny kitchen so that anytime you opened the cabinet doors, they would bang into another door or cabinet. They blocked the light and reduced the amount of counter space - they had to go.  We took all three of them out and actually sold them on Facebook marketplace. 

There were a few other problems with this side of the kitchen. For example, there was only 2 square feet of usable workspace. To the left of the original microwave, behind pantry #1, there was also a drop-off that would swallow anything that slipped off the edge of the counter into the pipe and plumbing zone below the boiler. The only way to recover such items was to remove the dishwasher!  

We reshaped this space by removing all three pantries. Removing pantry #1 exposed the boiler and the pipes. We fitted an extra tall wall cabinet here that worked out to be just tall enough to hide all the pipes and allowed us to recover some of this previously unusable space. We added a shelf on top of this cabinet to hold the microwave, just below the boiler, completely hiding all the pipes. We also added a barrier to keep anything from falling back there. Moving the microwave off the counter also doubled the usable worktop space on this side of the kitchen. 


We intended to put a blank panel to the left of the tall cabinet holding the microwave, but we found it was a perfect place to store our step-stool, so we decided to leave it open. We also expanded the upper cabinets by using extra tall cabinets that go all the way to the ceiling and adding an over-fridge cabinet. In the photo below, the new breakfast bar can be seen where pantry #2 was previously and we placed a new more compact fridge-freezer where pantry #3 was previously located. This shift also moved the fridge out of the lounge, expanding the usable space in that room. Finally, we placed a 4-drawer cabinet in the space where the old dishwasher was located. The original kitchen actually had no drawers anywhere!  




Comparison of space before and after renovation. 

This view (above) shows the dramatic difference of this space, when viewing from the lounge area. Notice the old (black) fridge extended the kitchen a full 3 feet further into the lounge area. Also notice that the old breakfast bar, was fully within the lounge area, up against the half-wall that separates the kitchen. The new breakfast bar is fully within the kitchen, freeing up more space for the furniture in the lounge area. 

In the next installment, I'll provide an update on the sink, oven and cooking side of the kitchen. 

-David 








Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Baking in UK, Part 2: "Goosnargh Cakes"

 Time again for British baking with Becky. Today I will show you my attempt to make Goosnargh Cakes. This recipe originates from the village of Goosnargh, in Lancashire, which happens to be the first area I visited over 30 years ago. It is a particularly beautiful area in England and hopefully after the world opens again, I can return for a visit and see several friends still living up North.


So, on a side note, I should take this time to explain that any baking attempted right now is difficult. We are currently in the middle of a kitchen remodel, that I am sure will be its own blog. When we made this recipe, I knew that in just days I would be having the oven pulled out and not replaced for several weeks. The kitchen is also in a state of flux with dishes, pans and utensils being constantly moved around as a cabinet is removed and another installed. I am not saying this to complain because I am excited about the remodel, but as a reminder that my love of baking will overcome a few inconveniences. 

As a reminder, this recipe is from "Paul Hollywood's British Baking", cookbook. I will once again be relying on him as my mentor.  I would classify the Goosnargh Cakes as a biscuit or cookie in the fact that they are round and flat. 


As you can see from the picture, the ingredients are relatively simple with the addition of caraway seeds to add a unique flavor to the cakes. It is also worth noting that there are no eggs or salt in the recipe. This is still mind boggling to me since I consider salt to be the one ingredient that must be in every recipe. Because of this, I have spent time reconsidering my butter choice. In the U.S. I have always used unsalted butter. I have been taught that the best cream is used in unsalted butter since impurities cannot be hidden behind salt but here I have greater faith in their butter. So after this butter is used up, I plan to switch to salted butter. 

So these cakes are basically flour, sugar and butter. Sounds simple enough! They are basically a shortbread with the butter being incorporated with my fingers instead of being creamed into the sugar with a blender. This might be because there is only 1 Tablespoon of sugar in the dough. Don't worry, these are a sweet cookie because the rest of the sugar is sprinkled on the top before baking and again after they are taken out of the oven.


The only struggle we had was the caraway. Paul suggests, "Add a little at first, grinding the seeds with a pestle and mortar to give it a more subtle flavour". (See the last word, "flavour", my computer just tried to auto-correct it to "flavor," but that is how it is printed in the book). Anyway, we don't own a mortar and pestle. I guess that is not true, I own two but they are in Washington so we tried various methods to try and get the right consistency. I first tried my rolling pin in a measuring cup. David noticed me struggling and grabbed the hammer, which he had laying nearby for the kitchen remodel, and gave it an attempt. Both had the same effect so I went with the the rolling pin method. It felt more appropriate for baking.




The recipe calls for lots of butter so the dough came together easily. After a quick chill in the fridge, I rolled, cut and baked them. While still warm, the last addition of powdered sugar is sprinkled on top. How do they taste? Delicious! I loved the caraway giving a subtle flavor. I ate a couple while warm but I also enjoyed them after they had cooled with a cup of tea. That sounds pretty British doesn't it.




-Becky



Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Baking in UK, Part 1: "Chocolate Heavies"

We have been in England now for over 4 months and being self proclaimed "Foodies", we are feeling a bit sad that we are on the downward side of our trip and we have had little chance to explore and eat the local cuisine. It has also been particularly tough on me since my passion is baking and making people happy through food so we decided to do something about this, Bake!



Step one, find a good mentor through a British cookbook. I decided on, "Paul Hollywood's British Baking." Paul Hollywood seemed like a good choice because he doesn't use fancy equipment for his recipes. This is really important because I have limited resources. Now I know those of you who know me well, know that I have almost every baking tool one could hope for. I have a couple of Kitchenaid Mixers, (going to give them a big hug when I get home to Washington), several sets of measuring cups, knives, cutters, scrapers, baking pans, well you get the idea. Anyway, here I have 400 square feet of living space and the biggest kitchen appliance I own is a hand mixer. This is an excellent opportunity to get back to my baking roots and bake like I was taught as a child.....be creative! 

Step two, assemble ingredients. This sounds easy enough but they use different terms here than back home in the U.S.A. Is cornflour cornstarch or cornmeal? Which sugar is caster sugar? Is Fan 180 C. a real temperature? After several questions posed to our Echo, "Alexa" we set off to the store to get the final ingredients needed. One thing I have to say about Britain, the dairy products are amazing and fresh. I have been known to sample the butter before spreading on toast. If I could bring one thing, or several small things, back to Washington with me it would be a suitcase of butter. 

Step three, choose a recipe and bake. I am starting with three recipes that resemble a cookie. By cookie I mean that they are round and somewhat flat.

 The first one we baked is called Chocolate Heavies. This recipe is from the area we are currently living in, Southeast England. It was from the Victorian times and originally had currents instead of chocolate chips. (sounds like a good change by Paul). Notice by the picture, chocolate chips are sold in these small packets that to me look like a snack size and sorry Paul, I added the whole packet, which was 100 g instead of the 75 g in the recipe. This recipe also has lard as ingredient which I have not used in cookies. 



The recipe came together relatively easy. The only issue I had was the instruction that said to "use up to 40ml of milk". I used the whole amount and it still was very crumbly. I didn't want to stray from the recipe so I just carried on. Eventually the dough did come together and I was able to roll it out after the prescribed chill time.




The Heavies, aka cookies, came out a beautiful golden brown thanks to the egg wash before baking. I was pleased at how they looked and I think that Paul would also, they might not be handshake worthy but certainly good enough. 


The last instruction in the book said, "These biscuits are best eaten fresh". I took this quite literally and ate two while they were still warm. All in all, I think they were great tasting. Pretty dry compared to what I am used to but they would be great with tea, or another hot drink.

-Becky

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Food in UK, Part 5: Chocolate

Now let's talk about chocolate. Again with the lockdown, we weren't allowed to visit any sweet shops or local chocolatiers, even though we have more than a dozen high rated shops within a few miles of here. This is certainly a let down. 

Once again it's back to the grocery store to explore local flavors. First, we note that some of those delicious meat flavored crisps are also available in chocolate - no kidding!

Cornish Pasty flavored chocolate bars

Now don't be discouraged by this trend, because there's plenty of really good chocolate bars available for bargain prices, compared to the USA. Green & Black brand has always been one of our go-to favorites. All the familiar ones are here and many great limited edition ones we don't see on the shelves in the USA such as this heavenly one.
Green & Black "Velvet Edition" chocolate bars

Cadbury's is another important chocolate brand from England. It has an important history much like Hershey's in the USA, it also has a theme park. Still, such places are closed here. Yet, grocery stores are a great place for the mass-produced confection brands such as Dairy Milk, Bournville, Flake and who could forget the Cream Eggs, available year round here. 

Chocolate also comes in other products such as biscuits (cookies).  Some interesting varieties can be found with familiar US brand names. How about these? I never saw these in the USA. 
Mars caramel filled chocolate biscuits (cookies)

The Italian brand Ferrero is also very popular among the Brits. They are makers of the brands such as Nutella, Kinder and of course Ferrero Rocher.  The Nutella chocolate hazelnut spread is always popular. There are many products and recipes made with Nutella or some imitation inside. Over here we even found some delicious crispy biscuits from them.
Nutella-filled wafer biscuit (cookie?)


Now as long as we're talking about chocolate, I have to mention Stracciatella flavored Kvarg! I discovered this in the dairy case next to the yogurts. The Stracciatella is a special recipe of Italian gelato with shavings of chocolate. Kvarg is Swedish for Quark, which is a type of fermented dairy product similar to yogurt, but with more protein and  very smooth velvety texture. Nestle has licensed the number 1 brand from Sweden (Lindahl's) and made it available in the grocery stores here. It's delightful as a desert after dinner or as a breakfast treat topped with my favorite granola. 

Lindahl's Kvarg with chocolate shavings

-David 

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Food in UK, Part-4: English Granola

A few weeks after moving into our new flat, Becky wanted to make some of our homemade granola using our favorite recipe from the B&B. This was our "Coconut Cardamom Granola" (sorry that recipe never appeared in the Blue Goose Inn cookbook, for whatever reason.) Anyway, it's always been my personal favorite and we were both craving some.  So we set out to the stores with our shopping list of ingredients. It was nothing too unusual, but did include three ingredients that proved nearly impossible to find: ground black cardamom, dried coconut flakes and slivered almonds. This recipe also used pistachios and  Canadian organic maple syrup as sweetener and flavoring. While we could find pistachios and maple syrup here, they were both quite expensive and the maple syrup just didn't have the same flavor as the one we used back home.  

We struggled making a couple of batches of this granola using substitutes we could find including desiccated coconut, which was too fine in texture and grinding our own whole cardamom pods. Whole Cardamom pods are available at most larger groceries, but the only place we ever found the actual ground cardamon after lots of Googling was at a specialized Indian spice shop that had been closed due to the lockdowns.  After all the hard work, it just wasn't the same, so we had the idea, why not adapt the recipe to local ingredients we can actually find easily here and this can be our new "English Granola"?  

The first thing we wanted to change was the spices. We needed something that was more English and more readily available. We kept seeing something in the spice sections and baking isles of the grocery called "Mixed Spice". This turns out to be something very English yet very similar to what we might call "Pumpkin Pie Spice" in the USA. There are many variations on the recipe, but it usually is a special blend of such ingredients as cinnamon, allspice, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, mace, cloves and coriander - more or less depending upon the brand or recipe. It can be found everywhere and it seemed like a perfect candidate to spice up our English Granola

Mixed Spice blend

Next up was the sweetener. We decided we wanted to substitute Golden Syrup for the maple syrup, to make it more English. Golden Syrup is also something that is very English and very easy to find and much more economical than maple syrup. This specially refined cane sugar syrup was developed by chemists from the Lyle factory in London in 1883. It is quite unlike anything we have in the US and has a distinctive butterscotch-like flavor, reminiscent of Werther's Original butter candy. A perfect choice for our English Granola. 

Lyle's Golden Syrup

While the slivered almonds also proved nearly impossible to find locally and whole and sliced almonds were easy to find, we kept some almonds in the recipe  and we decided to substitute cashews for the pistachios, since they are more readily available here and we could even buy them in the bulk food section at the store for quite a bit less per pound than they might be in the USA.  

Of course all these substitutions set off the fine balance of the granola recipe. The first batch was under-done and too sticky. After Becky made a number of fine adjustments to the balance of ingredients and cooking process, I think she has perfected a great new recipe - at least it's now my personal favorite. 


The actual recipe remains unpublished for now.  As I am not the actual chef, nor do I play one on TV or at a B&B, it is possible that some of my details in this story may be in error. 

-David 

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Food in UK, Part 3: Takeaway

When you can't dine out, takeaway or take-out is what we get during the lockdowns. 

Let's start with a song about this important ritual by the talented Marsh Family Singers:

The Buy-In Eats Tonight by the Marsh seeFamily Singers: 

 https://youtu.be/eOiMQZcgvVw



Now over here, takeaway restaurants may look a bit different from what you're used to in the USA. Many of these little family businesses are located within the home that often fronts a busy street. There is usually just a small lobby and counter, with a kitchen in the back somewhere. The owners typically lives in the house too. This model has proved to be very adaptable for the harsh lockdowns in UK as they have no inside or outside dining anyway, everything on the menu was already designed for takeaway and nobody has to travel to get to work.  Many of these little shops are called "Kebab" shops. They often have a little of everything on the menu besides great kebabs including pizza, burgers, fish & chicken. 

The shop below is one we walk past every day on our walk to see the grandkids.   We haven't eaten there (yet) but it seems typical of this "jack-of-all-trades, takeaway" genre.  
Solent Kebab takeaway

Now there are also more specialized restaurants that try to do one thing well. Fish & Chippies are one type that are very popular here. There seems to be one in every neighborhood.  Here is Mother Kelly's Fish & Chips. It's also along our daily walk and one of the few that actually has a large indoor dining area. They have always done take away, so adapting to the lockdown was less painful for them. 

Mother Kelly's Fish & Chips

Now Indian food is a big thing over here too. After all, chicken tikka-masala is the national dish of Britain now, beating out bangers and mash or fish and chips!  Some of the best Indian food we've ever had was in Oxford (on a previous trip) at 4,500 Miles from Delhi. So expectations are high for Indian takeaway. Initially we were disappointed with the local choices. The shops we tried in and around Portchester and Portsmouth seemed to be produce curries that were overly sweet and lacking the depth and complexity of spices that we've come to love. One day I saw a thread on the local community facebook group that was discussing favorite Indian take away during the lockdown. Through the recommendations of the locals we discovered this little hole-in-the-wall shop near the train station called Leith Tandori that finally fulfilled the promise of  flavorful Indian take away we've craved. We've ordered from them many times and it has always been great. 

Leith Tandori takeaway

Now a little closer to our apartment, we also have a little strip of take away shops. These are just a five minute walk from our flat and there are three excellent choices right together including the Golden Bridge (Chinese) New Shahee Tandori (Indian) and Blue Ocean (fish & chips). So even while we are remodeling our kitchen in our flat, we always have convenient and tasty take away nearby. 

Golden Bridge, New Shahee Tandori and Blue Ocean - takeaway dining


Now we're about a month away from the opening up of some new out-door dining choices, according to the promised reopening schedule by Boris Johnson. We're looking forward to the many fine dining restaurants located near our flat with large outdoor dining on the board walk over in Port Solent. Doesn't this look like a great place for patio dining? 
Port Solent harbor & boardwalk

Yet, we are still in England, in the spring time. so this might be a better perspective on what outdoor dining might be like in on April 12th:  

Click the link to see the video on Twitter. 

(Click to see the video on Twitter)
Link

https://twitter.com/i/status/1364226599957061633

-David