Thursday, April 14, 2016

It Spins Me Right Round


Remember how I'm always telling you to make your lists of your need to haves, nice to haves, and would be like a little miracle to haves?  Well I'm here to report that miracles do happen.

You might also remember that I was fortunate enough to have an odometer birthday right when we were finalizing appliance selection, and Charming Suitor gifted me with my miracle item.

The La Cornue Flamberge Rotisserie was our major splurge for this kitchen.  A completely extraneous luxury, and would have been the first thing to get cut if we had needed to make cuts.  But boy am I glad we did it.

Our Cosentino and Stone Masters team clad the tower in the same Dekton as the countertops, to make sure that nothing flammable was in the way.  Our amazing contractors converted our old vintage freestanding butcher block to a fabulous rolling one with the help of some industrial casters, and an antique brass towel bar that poor CS had to strip 100 years of paint off of.  Install was a breeze, and we decided that for our first dinner in the new kitchen, we would make a chicken.


We decided for our first meal in the new kitchen, we would make a chicken.

Dancing chicken!

It comes with this porcelain tray to catch the can also cook veggies and things in it.
Oh my.

People?  I did not do anything special to make this chicken.  I did not brine or dry brine or make a rub or baste it.  I took it out of the fridge, tied the legs and wings down so they wouldn't burn, sprayed it with a bit of grapeseed oil and sprinkled with salt.  An hour later, this thing was done, skin fully rendered and crispy, meat so juicy that the breast meat was the same moistness as the dark meat.  It was one of the best chickens we have ever eaten, and the perfect way to christen the kitchen.

Since then we have done several more chickens and one leg of lamb.  Everything comes out perfectly, and it is the easiest thing in the world to use.  We had friends over for dinner on a weeknight, and it made our lives so easy, just pulled two chickens out and set them up right before they arrived, and by the time we had finished our cocktails and nibbles, they were done.  Our pals agreed it was one of the best chickens they had ever had.

One knob turns on the flame and adjusts the temp, the other turns the spits.  The front shifts out for larger items, so next on the agenda is a prime rib.  It can hold up to 12 pounds of meat at one time.  The spits and tray can all go into the dishwasher.  And since the wicks are made of ceramic fibers, they never need to be replaced!  As long as we keep it clean, this thing should be making us chickens and other delicious dinners for the rest of our lives.

And the bonus part?  Now that we have the magical Marvel fridge, there is actually room in the freezer for a stock pot scrap bag, so I've been saving all the carcasses of our lovely chickens and bits and bits of veggies so that I can make a big batch of store in the freezer!  You wouldn't think this would make me so excited, but it is the little things.

I'll keep you posted as we try more different foods in it.  I can't tell you how tempted I am to make a S'more...

More updates soon!

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A Chill is in the Air


So I figured the best way to handle the kitchen reno reveals, is to just remind you of the previous posts and then update you on how the choices are working out so far!

So today, we can revisit refrigeration!  Remember the fridge post?  Well all three of the Marvel fridges are installed and loaded and ready for a full report.  And the report?  Is awesome!

First, the big boy...

We decided to inset the fridge between the food pantry and the kitchen library, so that it would not stick out into the room, much as you might do if you were installing it within your cabinetry.  We trimmed out the space with woodwork that matches the original woodwork from the house, so that it would integrate well.  And we chose the glass door on the fridge so that it would break up the look, and not create a wall of stainless steel.

Here is the fridge side, opened.  And yes, that awesome blue light is standard, and I just love it!  Ditto the stainless steel interior, which is both easy to clean and looks terrific.  You'll notice that there are four deep drawers at the bottom, we have designated one of these for vegetables, one for deli meats and other easy lunch items, one for raw meats, and one for fruit.  The rest of the space is just open shelving, so I invested heavily in plastic trays and bins and organizers so that we could corral the rest of our stuff.  We bought this fridge because it is very deep, so it holds a great deal, and is amazing for large entertaining platters and such, but it does require some forethought on the organization side, especially when you have a small condiment hoarding problem as we do.  I have a tray for Asian ingredients, one for other condiments, one for salad dressings, one for pickles, one for jams and jellies.  We've got the whole top shelf for beverages, the second one down for dairy, and we keep the bottom shelf fairly open for leftovers or other prepped items.  I have to say, it has been a really amazing shift from our old small fridge to this one...everything has a place, and I don't have to completely pull everything out of a shelf to add or remove an item.  Glorious!

If you thought the fridge was changing our life?  Then the freezer is the Amen corner.  Remember our other freezer?

Hello, gorgeous....

can you hear angels singing?
Because this door isn't glass, it gets these five great door bins.  Four mesh drawers, and four perforated adjustable shelves make sure that air flow is keeping everything at the right temperature.  More plastic bins and trays help again with organization, but I finally have room for all my baking supplies that can spoil or go rancid if left at room temp, frozen meats and vegetables, plenty of room for ice and everything easily accessible.  I fairly well mist up everytime I open the door.  Nothing hard and frozen has fallen on my toes since it arrived!

This model comes with an ice maker, but we removed it.  We don't use ice in our everyday drinks, just for cocktails, and for those we like inch square clear ice cubes that we buy in bags.  And we all know what happens if you don't use up your ice on a regular basis, it picks up off flavors and leaves little floaters in your drinks.  It would have been difficult and expensive to get plumbing to this area of the room, and we decided that we would rather have the extra room in the freezer and continue to purchase our ice as we need it, but most of you would probably choose to keep it in and use it.  Luckily, there is plenty of room for ice bags!

You might remember that we also were installing an undercounter wine fridge.  This means that Charming Suitor can keep it stocked with the stuff that is perfect for everyday drinking, and the bottles that I can feel free to open when my girlfriends come over without worrying that I'm accidentally opening something really expensive!

I love the sleek look of this thing!  The glass door again serves to break up the look of solid cabinetry, and echoes the look of the big fridge.

The drawers are super sturdy and edged in real wood, each one holds 9 bottles, so there are 54 bottles stored in here!  It is dual zone, so you can keep your whites and bubbles slightly cooler than your reds. We are keeping the top drawer for vermouth and Lillet and port, and anything we need for cocktails so that they no longer take up room in the big fridge.

Now for the real kicker.  The cheese fridge!  I know, I know, the very idea of a cheese fridge is beyond luxurious.  But we love our cheeses!  Can't be helped.  And perfect cheese storage is both warmer and more humid than your regular fridge.  For most people, we recommend you simply buy cheeses as you need them, and eat them within a week or so.  I also highly recommend you remove them from the fridge about 2 hours before you want to serve them, for optimal texture and flavor.  For us, with the amount of entertaining we do, and the fact that we nearly always do a cheese course with our dinners, we thought it would be a really fun indulgence to have a special storage set up just for that purpose in the kitchen library, so we got the small 15" wine fridge.

Now, a wine fridge is the optimal temperature for long term cheese storage, but not the right humidity.  To fix that required a little MacGuyvering.

First, I bought a little travel humidifier.

This takes regular bottles of water, and is a fairly small scale.  The AC power cord is thin enough that you can snake it through the door of the wine fridge without affecting it's ability to close properly.  I refill the bottle about once a week to keep things the proper level of humidity.  We also had to alter the bottom three drawers by removing essentially one sixth of the back of those drawers so that they would slide around the humidifier, which is very small, but a bit tall.  Our contractors did this with a small hacksaw, and we lost very little capacity, without losing any functionality of the drawers themselves.  We then lined the drawers in black plastic mesh, the kind they use in bars to protect glasses, easy to cut to fit and make sure none of our precious little packages fall thru the openings.

Cheese and sausage are great friends, and they like the same sort of storage!

Hello yummies!

All three of our fridge choices are absolutely working the way we wanted them to, and making life so much more delicious.  I continue to recommend Marvel products wholeheartedly, and hope you will check them out when you are doing your own kitchens, they are not the most famous name, but I really believe they are the best!

Stay tuned, much more to come :)

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

A Tale of Two Countertops


Hope that Spring is springing where you are, Chicago is experiencing days of 70 degrees with a chance of snow, and I wish that weren't true.  The weather here is like watching time lapse video of the seasons.  Its a bit unsettling, but we are taking the good with the weird and pressing onward.

Today it is time to share some exciting news...the countertops are IN!  They are glorious, they are everything we ever wanted and then some.  They are perfect.  But it was a long haul and required the support of many extraordinary people along the way.

You know how I have been waxing poetical about our countertop folks, the amazing designers at Cosentino and the artisan fabricators at Stone Masters?  I'm about to take that up several notches, because in the land of renovations, the only thing you can count on is that stuff is going to go wrong.  Sometimes EPICALLY wrong.  (See Moat post here.)  And when the shit hits the proverbial fan, this is where you really find out whether your partners are the real deal.  Any idiot can take credit when stuff goes perfectly.  "Here is this thing that I recommended you purchase from me, and I have delivered it and installed it and it works the way it was supposed to, without any're welcome."

But I don't care about those guys.  What I care about?  Are the people who take as much pride and concern in customer service as they do in the products they sell.  Whose level of commitment and care is as strong if not stronger at the back end as it is on the front.  THOSE are the people you want to do business with.

If you missed the original countertop post, you can catch up HERE.

Our kitchen counters were, to say the least, complex.  We were asking a lot of them.

As you may remember, the kitchen is divided into two sections:

There is the L shaped section on the left, which has a cutout for a sink.  And then the U shaped section on the right, which has cutouts for the sink, induction cooktop, and steamer, and also needs to create the breakfast bar and slides INTO the window wells to become the sills for the windows for a truly seamless look and ease of cleaning and function.  Not to mention that the scale of it is pretty large, so you are looking at long runs of counter.  Plus all of the edges are beveled, which is to say that they have to apply a 2 inch section of the material around the edge so that it looks like the counters are 2 inches thick.  (You don't want your counters to actually be 2 inches thick, the weight would make your cabinets collapse.)  Then you add in the backsplashes, and the fact that the material we chose has a veining pattern that needs to be matched up both on the backsplashes and the edging...I believe it is probably one of the hardest countertop projects anyone could have designed.

One of the reasons we have been working with Stone Masters is that they are expert at this kind of complicated detailed work.  And they are the only ones who have been working with Dekton, the material we chose.  Dekton is a pretty amazing product, but it is brand new, and so very few fabricators have been working with it, and we, unbeknownst to us, were about to push it to its limits.

Cosentino sent the slabs over to Stone Masters and they got to work.  We set an install date, and hired a scissor lift to get the countertops up to the second floor.  Little did we know that we set the date for a day that would be 4 degrees with -12  wind chill factor.  The guys loaded the truck.  They arrived onsite.  The L shaped piece and the small pieces for the island and the little niche between the gas cooktop and the oven tower came up and were installed easy peasy.  Then they brought up the big boy, the piece that covers the back wall, creates the windowsills and makes the corner up to the gas cooktop.  They rested it in place and brought up the peninsula piece.  As they were sliding the peninsula into place, the worst.  POP.  A crack.  Then a louder POP, and the other slab cracked.

So sad :(

You cannot imagine the devastation.  I felt helpless, looking at these terrific guys who had taken such care to make the perfect counters, so many man hours, just destroyed.  And of course, sad for us, because the day was supposed to be joyous, almost anyone will tell you that the kitchen renovation doesn't really start to feel like a kitchen till the counters go in, it is a magical moment, and now, after all that anticipation, we were going to have to start all over.

I did the only thing I could think to do, ran out to go get some pizzas, so that I could feed the guys and we could all regroup.  And here?  Right here?  Is where the amazing happened.

By the time I got home with pizza and pop for everyone, the kitchen was bustling.  The owner of Stone Masters and his right hand man were there, along with their best fabricators.  The general manager of Cosentino was there with his team.  Everyone had dropped everything to come to the house to see what had happened and to brainstorm together how to fix it.

You guys?  I cried.  Not because my beautiful countertops were ruined and the kitchen project stalled.  But because the moment things went sideways, everyone came rushing in to figure it out.  No one laid blame or cast aspersions.  No one got angry or snarky or poked fingers.  They just all came together in an extraordinary show of professionalism to support each other and find a way to make things happen.   Cosentino put a rush on to get new slabs over to Stone Masters.  Stone Masters started calling the Dekton guys in Spain where it is manufactured to talk to their experts about what might have happened.  They all treated it like a teachable moment, and wanted to learn as much as possible from what had happened, while still figuring out how to get us countertops ASAP.  It was one of the most amazing things I had ever witnessed.

Those are the people you want in your corner.  The ones who step up when stuff doesn't go as planned to create a fix.

And then?  It got even more incredible.

Within a week?  Two representatives from Cosentino headquarters from SPAIN were in my kitchen to look at what had happened, and to visit with Stone Masters to advise on the project.  What the WHAT?  Our project was so unique and the cracking was so surprising, that they felt the need to really come see what was going on.  It made me happy to know that everyone was so invested.  We knew when we agreed to use a really cutting edge brand new product for this project that it was a risk, and they had assured us that it was a risk worth taking, and now that the risk had turned out to be an issue, everyone was really on top of learning what they could learn.

Here is what the team figured out.  If possible?  Do not take a high tension product with a lot of cutouts and inside corners and complicated edges out of a 65 degree shop into a van and then exposed into 4 degree cold and then into a 70 degree kitchen.  It don't like it.  POP.

We all decided to go for it with the Dekton one more time.  As a backup plan, we still had the pure white Silestone that had been in our original plan before Dekton came on the scene, and Cosentino said they would send enough slabs of that material to Stone Masters when they sent the new Dekton so that if things went wrong again, they could immediately change gears and not lose any more time.

Cosentino had the new Dekton slabs (specifically from a different production batch, just in case) and the backup plan Silestone slabs to Stone Masters in record time.  Stone Masters worked practically round the clock to remake the two counters that had cracked.  We all watched the calendar and the weather.  And then, a gift.  A rare 60 degree day was going to hit Chicago.  They set the shop temp for 65 degrees.  We set the house temp to 65 degrees.  We rented the lift again.  The Cosentino team and the Stone Masters team all came over on install day, there were literally eight people here in addition to the install team.  They loaded up the counters and brought them in.  My blood pressure was through the roof, I could barely watch.  But Stone Masters were cool as cucumbers.  The counters were set into place. Leveled.  An invisible seam connected the two.  The sinks were mounted and faucets installed. The cooktops were set into place.  We all sat and watched the artists at work.

Deep breath, here we go...

I made the Cosentino people take these pics, I couldn't watch...

Do you see that incredible matching of the veining on the edge?  So talented.

Ugh, my heart could not take this one.

There is the L counter, perfect from day one.

All getting settled into place.

Starting to work on seams.

Induction cooktop and steamer in place safely!

Sink mounted!

Gas rangetop installed...can't wait to use this baby!

Island, just waiting for the butcher block.

I had vodka in the freezer and Champagne in the fridge and the pizza place on speed dial, so we were set for either celebration or commiseration.

We popped the Champagne.

Today, I tell you that we could not be more delighted with our choice.  Yes, it was a long and frustrating process, mostly because we felt so terrible for the men who had worked so hard to make us perfect counters only to have them become garbage and have to start all over.  But everyone kept such good spirits about the whole thing.  Cosentino got new product without issue, and Stone Masters just kept assuring us that it was important to have this opportunity to find out the best way to work with a new product, and that it was, in the long run, a very good thing for everyone involved to have this kind of project as sort of a little Dekton master class.  They all made us feel special, like our kitchen was part of something bigger, and never once asked us to make design changes to make the fabrication less complicated or to immediately shift to the backup plan.  They all wanted the challenge, and I know that everyone is really proud of how it turned out.

We've been slowly beginning to use the new kitchen, it is still not 100% complete, but it is complete enough to play, and I have to say, for all the stress, these counters are incredible.  The matte finish is easy to clean, and is a dream for thing like kneading bread, practically no extra flour needed.  We can take things out of the oven and put them right onto the counters with no worry of scorching, so the endless search for trivets is over.  We have officially spilled red wine, coffee, and even dropped a cooked beet onto the surface, and not a stain to be seen.  Apparently, once you actually have them in place and installed is when the whole indestructible thing kicks in.  And the fact that they are freaking gorgeous doesn't exactly hurt my feelings.

As you can see, I am even more in love with both Cosentino and Stone Masters after this harrowing project.  If you are doing anything involving countertops, these are your guys.

Do I still recommend Dekton as a material?  Yes, absolutely, but with some caveats:

If you have super complicated counters, as we did, you might want to work with a different material.  We stretched this stuff to its limits, and saw the consequences.  We got very lucky, but it was literally 50/50 that the second install would go well.   So while I would absolutely suggest it for simpler designs, the first easy three pieces that came in were solid as rocks from the get go, I would hesitate if you have a lot of cutouts, or inside corners to deal with.

I would not recommend it if you are on a very tight timeline, since obviously, stuff can happen, so if you have a calendar without any cushion in it?  Might not be for you.  We were lucky that we had enough other stuff happening in the house that it didn't hold us up too badly, our guys just shifted gears and focused elsewhere, and we still had a full kitchen functioning downstairs to use.  But if you have scheduled a month for kitchen reno and are staying with your in-laws with your three kids while the kitchen is demolished?  Perhaps Silestone will be a safer choice, just in case.

I would also say that I would especially recommend it if you are not doing beveled edging, but just letting the edge of the material be the edge.  This is starting to be the trend in kitchen design, and I really like the look, the only reason we didn't shift to that after the first install was because the cabinets had been designed around the beveled edge, and there would have been no way to alter that.

If you are in the greater Chicagoland Area, I would not work with any fabricator other than Stone Masters, the guys who came from Spain said that they had never seen anyone else who could do with Dekton what our guys did, not anyone anywhere in the world.  If you are not in Chicago, be sure of a few things with your fabricators...make sure they do all the underside laminations with Dekton, and not quartz or other products and make sure that you arrange installation when you can really control temperature variations.

Stay tuned, the kitchen and other spaces are really coming together over here, and there are going to be some finished pics in this space very soon!

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath