Thursday, March 3, 2011

New recipes for updating the kitchen

What's cooking in kitchens?

Simpler styling, hidden appliances and a bit of color to make life interesting, to name just a few things.

Here are the trends we found when we visited a few kitchen showrooms:

CLEAN LINES

Fancy is fading.

Kitchens are moving away from ornate looks such as Tuscan and French country in favor of more transitional design, a trend Betty Nairn of Cabinet-S-Top in Granger Township, Ohio, calls "simplistic luxury."

The move toward clean lines and less ornamentation is due at least in part to homeowners thinking ahead, said Debra Shababy of Studio 76 Kitchens and Baths in Twinsburg, Ohio. Many are looking toward selling their homes as the economy improves, and they want their kitchens to appeal to a broad range of buyers, she said.

Contemporary design is gaining interest, too - even in the Midwest, a region long tied to the traditional. Barbara Dillick of Kitchen Design Group in Bath Township, Ohio, figures people have become more comfortable with the spare, sleek look because they've been exposed to it through shelter magazines, TV shows and upscale hotels.

BUILT-IN DINING

Eat-in kitchens are still in demand, but where we do that eating has changed. The bar-style counter is still popular, but it's giving way in many new kitchens to an extension of the counter that looks more like a table.

Sometimes the extension is counter height; sometime it's higher or lower. What sets it apart from bar seating is that it's designed so the diners sit around the edge and face one another, rather than sitting in a line.

The idea of trading a table for a counter extension makes some homeowners nervous initially, Kitchen Design Group's Deanna Carleton said. But the setup has advantages: It saves space, the extension can do double duty as an extra buffet surface and the deep base that holds the countertop provides a good amount of storage.

SAFETY, SUSTAINABILITY

More than ever, consumers are paying attention to the materials that go into their kitchens, Shababy said.

She said many respond positively when she suggests cabinet finishes with low levels of volatile organic compounds, vapors that contribute to indoor air pollution. They also like cabinets that are joined with dowels instead of glues containing formaldehyde.

Safety features are popular, such as lockouts that prevent stove burners from being turned on accidentally and mechanisms that keep drawers and cabinet doors from slamming on little fingers, Shababy said.

And people are leaning toward energy-saving features such as LED lights, as well as natural products such as wood floors and stone countertops, she said.

Granite is still the top choice for countertops, especially since common types have become affordable for most people, the designers agreed. But quartz - stone chips mixed with binders and colorants - is coming on strong, they said.

LIGHTING

Kitchen lighting isn't just a matter of function anymore. It's also an expression of personality, Carleton said.

Hand-blown glass shades on pendant lights, contemporary drum shades and elegant chandeliers are all ways homeowners can infuse their style into a kitchen without making a big commitment. After all, it's easier and cheaper to change lighting fixtures than it is cabinets or countertops, she noted.

Layers of light continue to be common in kitchen design - for example, a ceiling fixture combined with under-counter task lighting and ambient lights behind a glass-front door. But gimmicky lighting schemes such as lighted toe kicks aren't so popular, Dillick said.

LEDs are finding their way into the kitchen, mainly in under-counter lighting but also in recessed ceiling lights. They're available in both cool and warm lights to fit different decors and preferences.

Nairn has also seen a big preference for natural lighting via windows, skylights or reflective light tubes.

REFRIGERATOR OPTIONS

The depth of the typical refrigerator poses a design challenge, particularly in smaller kitchens. Manufacturers have responded with shallower appliances and drawer models, which are often used in combination in the same room.

Counter-depth refrigerators are easier to fit into a kitchen because they don't jut out into the room. But even though they're often taller, they typically have less storage space, Nairn said. So some designers are dealing with that space shortage by incorporating drawer refrigerators or freezers into the cabinets to hold additional food.

Shababy said that kind of arrangement makes sense only when the drawer holds foods that are used mostly in a particular part of the kitchen - for example, a drawer for vegetables next to the sink where they're cleaned and prepared.

BARS

Bars are coming out of the great room and into the kitchen.

Dillick said many of her company's clients are requesting bar areas in the kitchen where they can store both the booze and the barware in one convenient spot. Often, they're taking out kitchen desks to free the space.

Bar cabinets that look like pantries are popular, she said. Often they're outfitted with a wine or beverage refrigerator; storage space for glassware, knives and a cutting board; and sometimes a sink.

COLOR

Most homeowners still tend toward the safe and neutral in their kitchen's more permanent items - cupboards, countertops and flooring. But that doesn't mean kitchens can't be colorful.

Walls are sporting bold hues such as persimmon or pomegranate, Dillick said. Accessories and appliances bring spots of color, such as a Wolf range with red knobs and a cobalt oven interior that "people fall in love with," she said. It's also popular to work a colorful painted cabinet or two in among white or natural wood cabinets to add a bit of interest.

Dillick has also seen the comeback of window seats, which provide the opportunity to add color in the form of fabric. Upholstered seats, pillows and window valances all add a bit of color and softness, which are often lacking in a room filled mostly with hard surfaces, she said.

INDIVIDUALISM

All of the kitchen designers were hesitant to talk in terms of trends, because they believe a kitchen's design should suit the individual. Kitchens are places where we spend a lot of time, so it's more important to have what you like, not what's popular, they said.

"Really, it's up to you," Shababy said. "It's whatever makes you happy being in your kitchen."

Authentic Tuscan recipes

Mumbai has become a hub for Italian dining. Every corner restaurant now dishes out penne arrabiatas and pizzas. So, when a food retail chain like Pizza Hut invites you to experience authentic Italian cuisine at a live cooking event, you start doubting if the guys who make tandoori chicken pizza will indeed serve you a slice that can pique your interest.

We arrived in time for some ginger lemonade as chef Arjyo, head chef of the pizza retail chain, talked about his inspirations and his quest to serve Italian food with slightly modified recipes for the Indian consumer and introduced chef Luca Ciano, executive chef from Barilla, who was here to bust some myths and talk about the cuisines of Italy.

The two got on with making of assorted bruschettas while discussing the history of the dish. The popular Italian starter was originally made to use stale bread and leftover sauces. The crusty bread, the soft, warm bocconcini, the ripe and juice cherry tomatoes, and a strong flavour of the extra virgin olive oil was enough to create a merry little party in our mouths. To wash it down, we were served a four-season blush wine. While there was a thyme chicken and tapenade and tomato pesto with prawn and basil bruschetta, the bocconcini and cherry tomato bruschetta was a clear winner.

As soon as the bruschettas were cleared off, the chefs rustled up a summer vegetable salad. This was probably the easiest dish to make. Assorted salad greens, diced fresh figs, buffalo mozzarella, garlic croutons and a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. It was ready in less than five minutes! And while this salad can’t exactly be healthy, it nourishes your soul as you take in the crunchy, crispy and luscious textures of its ingredients. Of course, the chefs aren’t shy to suggest that we use alternative cheeses or oranges in case we can’t find fresh figs.

Just as we wondered when the interactive cooking would happen, we were pulled in to knead the dough for a pizza base. After kneading, knocking and stretching the dough, it truly felt like we had earned ourselves a slice of the pizza verde, topped with mushrooms, zucchini, baby corn and bell-peppers.

“We definitely modify recipes to suit the Indian palate, but the base of the recipe remains the same,” said chef Arjyo. Chef Luca, who finds India to be quite similar to Italy, agreed that while it was important to serve an authentic cuisine, there was no harm in modifying things marginally to make sure that the dish suits the taste of the market. “It is a business and if modification is essential to its success, why not!” he said.

The classic example of ‘Indianising’ a dish soon appeared on our table. Fettuccine with creamy pesto, prawns and pine nuts was served, but chef Luca was of the opinion that any pesto sauce should not be served with cream, as it subdues the flavour. “But if the flavour is too strong to suit the Indian palate, it’s a small modification that can go a long way in pleasing the customer,” he said.

While cooking the pasta, the Academia Barilla chef busted some myths about preparing Italian food. The biggest was the one about cooking the pasta. Adding drops of olive oil while cooking pasta so that the pasta doesn’t stick together is a redundant process, Luca said. He explained that while the oil does nothing to ensure that the pasta doesn’t stick, it in fact coats the surface of the pasta and hampers its ability to absorb flavours from the sauce.

So, how do you avoid the pasta becoming one huge messy tangled affair? Well, use good quality pasta and cook it in plenty of water.

By the time the cannelloni with tomato and aubergine stuffing in b├ęchamel sauce arrived, our tummies were rather full. The chefs finished off the presentation of their Tuscan special menu with a rather un-Tuscan dessert — an assorted cheesecake platter. The blueberry reduction was a bit too stringy to complement the lovely texture of the baked cheesecake.

Over the next few months, Pizza Hut plans to introduce these dishes on its menu. Whether they will taste as good as chefs Arjyo and Luca’s creations, only time can tell. “Obviously, they will not be using the premium olive oil that we used today but that is mainly because of the cost factor," Luca said. But in case you want to prepare these dishes at home, we've got the recipes right here for you.

Saturday, February 12, 2011