A Home Inspector’s Weblog by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

exploring homes and the lives in them around Houston

Archive for Cooking

Pickling the Harvest: Even when it is not your own

She says “thank you, papa” each time she hands me another onion toFry Bread and relish plant, reminding me that I should be saying thank you to her. Then she runs off to the other side of the bed to pick more kale. She likes to play with it, particularly in the sand. Why would a one year old find leaves of the kale plant so tempting a playmate? I have lamb’s ear in the bed just next to this one. Would she not prefer that soft leaf? Maybe it is the curly edges of the kale. I am not one to fathom it.

We pull some carrots for the dinner tonight. The greens will be mixed in with some rice on another day, but I need the tap roots for a stir fry. We had gone to the farmer’s market the other day for fruit, but I bought some pickling cucumbers too. I decided to make simple relish with these cucumbers, using a basic pickling technique called refrigerator pickles. I cleaned the cucumbers, then sliced them. I grated a few carrots. In a mason jar, I put about a tablespoon of sugar and the flowers from my spring onions. My daughter is always picking these flowers, and I have found them to give a dish a nice little kick. I placed the vegetables in the jar, followed by rice vinegar. I screw on the lid, and then I give it a good shake. You can put any vegetable, herb, or spice into the mix that you like. If you wanted the flavors to permeate the vinegars, you could warm them first in the vinegar, but I just set this in the refrigerator for a few days.

These are light, refreshing pickles that can be the base for other dishes. Place some of them in a blender with some of the vinegar and add plain yogurt to blend up a cool soup. If you have some roasted chicken, drizzle this soup over it as a tangy sauce. I made a fry bread this morning by combining flour, oil, and then ice water. I let the dough sit for a while. I fried it in some olive oil. I slit the bread open for a pouch. I mixed some of this relish with roast pork for the pouch. I nice little lunch.

Tonight I am going to roast some beets and turnips for the evening meal. I think the relish would go well with that too. Harvesting from the garden is a wonderful thing. I find that most people do not add herbs or spices to their meals, or should I qualify that to specify to their vegetables. I may not always grow vegetables, but herbs are so resilient, and most insects leave them alone. My grandmother sprinkled parsley over everything. Lately, I think that I have been adding rosemary and marjoram (an oregano cousin) to too many meals.

These refrigerator pickles are a nice way to add to your meal, and you can prepare it when you have time. You may find that your family will enjoy it too.

Your Houston home inspector,

Frank Schulte-Ladbeck


The Obstacle Course in my Kitchen

It is so easy to do a task without thinking. This morning I go to the kitchen to prepare lunches for my wife, son, and daughter. I found myself stretching over to reach the counter as I carried out my task. Stretching over? I stopped to finally consider my predicament. My one year old daughter had moved every stool and chair that was easily transported.

She has decided to help me cook. She has also considered the fact that she cannot reach every available counter space, hence the chairs. I like having my kids in the kitchen to cook with me. When my son was young, he could tell his mother or anyone else where every thing was in the kitchen. Later when he was taking a test for the Vanguard program in the school, the teacher came out to comment that he knows a lot about cooking. The Vanguard program is for the advanced students in the Houston area, and it starts with kindergarten.

There are pitfalls to having them help with the meal. One example is when I was cutting an onion the other day. The onion was making my eyes water, and my daughter wanted to grab the onion pieces as I was cutting them, so she could throw them into the frying pan. As I was crying, I kept saying please Katya stop. She picked up on the please. The first time that she used the word please was right then and there. She said please over and over again as she was reaching for the diced onion. I was laughing and crying at the same time. I moved the board out of her reach, which inspired her to look for the other chairs, so I could not get away to fast. When my son was older, I taught him how to hold a knife. One hand rigidly flat over the spine to keep fingers away from the blade, with the other hand firmly on the grip.

The main thing to consider with children in the kitchen is their curiosity will lead them into unsafe places. I do not keep any knife in my drawers, except for the butter knives. I have them on a magnetic strip on the wall. This prevents the blade from being damaged as well as keeping them out of reach from the kids. With my daughter poking her head out of the kitchen cabinets, I am reminded of the wires and cabling that are in those spaces. Make sure that they are secure, and that you have no open junction boxes for little ones to poke their fingers into. Keep handles from skillets and pots turned inwards, so they will not be pulled down by a reaching hand.

One of the best locks for a cabinet that I have seen of late involves a clasp on the interior. Ties around door knobs do not work, and some other means take away from the appearance of the cabinetry. These clasp locks only allow the door to open so far. You then have to push on the lever part to release the door. It goes in place of the magnetic clasp to keep the door shut.

Take a look around your kitchen and you will find small things that cause harm, but they are easily resolved. As for hot frying pans, I just taught both of my children that they should not touch, because of the heat. Both quickly learned. As for the onions, my daughter proudly showed her mother the meal that she had prepared, when my wife came home.

An Easy Family Meal: Roadside Cabbage, Flax Seed Rice, and a Cucumber and Tomato Salad

Roadside Cabbage with salad and flax rice

I had a little pork roast left over the other day. It was not enough as a main course alone, so I decided to use it as a flavoring agent in another dish: roadside cabbage.

The inspiration for my meal came from a simple dish of rice and cabbage served by the side of the road in China, but my version departs from the original in tis flavorings. I start by frying some onions in my skillet. When they are translucent, I add the pork finely chopped, some minced galanga (a cousin of ginger from my garden), tumeric powder, and some cumin seed. I crush some black pepper into the dish at this time too. Once the aromas are strong, I add the shredded cabbage, about half a head. Everything is quickly stirred together. Once the cabbage has wilted, I add a little wine to deglaze the bottom of the pan. The main course is done.

Before I start my stir fry, I prepare my rice to cook at the same time. To your normal rice cooking method, add the following ingredients to cook with the rice: cloves in a sachet and flax seeds. When the rice is done, I add a little butter for an extra flavor.

For the salad, I dice a little red onion, and I cube some cucumbers and tomatoes. This is tossed with an easy dressing: a dash of toasted sesame seed oil, sherry vinegar, a pinch of sugar, a little olive oil, a little soy sauce, and a little fish sauce. The fish sauce smells bad, but my kids like the taste, so I think anyone should be fine with it.

I serve the rice by putting it into a small bowl to mold it into a mound on the plate, and then I place the salad to one side, and the cabbage on the other. It takes me around a half hour to prepare this meal, and it goes down well.


A Burrito?

I wanted to write a post on kitchen design elements to consider, but it has been a busy week, so I will have to leave that idea till I have more time to properly deal with that subject. I thought that I could do a quick post on a clever use of left overs.

I was in a rush the other day, and I did not have the time to spend on preparing a meal. I did not want to serve the same meal again, so I came up with a sort of burrito or maybe I should call it an enchilada. You see, I have a Mexican wife, so I would not be able to make such a dish that would compare favorably to my mother-in-laws. I had a little steak left from a teriyaka style dish and some vegetables (squash with tomatoes and onions). I pulled out the food processor and blended the steak with some cheese. I had a white cheese from Lebanon called Chicago cheese. I have no idea why it has that name, but I buy it from an Armenian grocer, and it works for me. I took this blend as a filling for some flour tortillas, which I rolled, and I placed in a baking pan. I then placed the vegetables with a few more vegetables (more onions and some baby bok choi) with the remaining sauce from the previous meal and a little water. I blended this in the processor till I had a smooth sauce. I covered the enchiladas (no chile in the sauce because of the kids; I have some harrisa on the side). Lastly, I sprinkled the remaining filling on top of this. I placed rice in a casserole with some tomato paste and corn. Spiced this mixture up with some cumin and chile powder, and set both pans in the oven for forty minutes at 350F. I had other things to do, so I decided this was a good way to handle the meal.

It was a great way to serve the vegetables, and the meat had already been flavored from the previous cooking. I impressed my family with a new meal, which they did not realize was the leftovers from last evening. I patted my own back. Just thought I would share this idea.

Kitchen Dynamics

There have been many different ways to set up your kitchen over the years. When kitchen fires were the cause for houses burning down, kitchens were moved to their own buildings. We moved away from cooking in wood burning ovens to gas and electric, but some homes are returning to these wood fires for cooking. We have kitchens that welcome visitors to those that are meant for food preparation alone. Designs can be quite different, but the main function is still to have a space to fix the daily meal.

With our modern conveniences of refrigerator, sink, and ranges, we developed an idea that there should be an easily maneuvered triangle with these three appliances as vertices. Current thinking proposes that we should have work stations with everything at hand in one spot. This idea came from restaurant design. In fact, restaurant kitchens have always influenced our choices for the home, but we should consider how useful some of these plans are. I like the workstation idea. Under cabinet refrigerators make for quick access to goods, and with a sink nearby, I can have water when needed. The thing is that my home was built in the sixties, and this plan was not in place. Even the idea of guests hanging out while you cook is not served by these older kitchens.

Studies of cost versus return in home remodeling have shown that kitchen upgrades pay for themselves, while also making a profit for the sellers. If you are planning this upgrade to have your dream kitchen or just to impress a buyer, some practicalities should come into play. The new under-cabinet appliances that are meant to work in addition to the main appliance can be big energy drains. If you have a main refrigerator, do you need an under-cabinet model? With so many buyers becoming conscious of energy usage, these extra appliances may be overkill. If you feel that they will help you, then you should have them installed. My favorite of the new appliances is the dishwasher were one drawer can be used or two, depending on the amount of dishes that need to be cleaned. I think that this dishwasher could be used by many on a regular basis. Large sinks with two good sized basins are still the main stay for most buyers. Smaller kitchens seemed overwhelmed by two task specific sinks, and I find people go back to using just one. Solid counter tops always have a better look, and the engineered stone varieties are more durable than some stone products. Open shelving has a wonderful look, but the average homeowner does not have the time to keep these looking neat, so handsome cabinets are a better choice. When choosing appliances or equipment, I would not recommend the high end items. Parts for repairs are hard to find, and much of this equipment for home use has been shown to readily break down. Go with brands that are not coming out of the restaurant kitchens, but that are meant for the home cook. They are more reliable. Personally, I would rather be sitting with my guests, than have them sit with me whilst I cook, so I try to have the meal almost ready before they arrive. Counter space for the guests goes unused in my home. I like my smaller kitchen, and I try not to make it fit the current fashion, because that fashion may not last.

I find that having one good refrigerator, one good pantry, and one good large two basin sink serves most people’s needs. To plan out a work space, I have one counter area next to my cooktop clear of items. The cabinet above this space is where I store my spices and other goods to make a simple meal into something with a different taste. I keep my knives on a magnetic strip above the cooktop, and ladles in a container close by. I have a bottle of oil by the stove. Cutting boards are kept on the refrigerator, which is just behind me. I have the basic needs for my meal prep by me, and I find that works for me. If I was to change anything, I would have one of those shelves/drawers for my spices, so I can easily grab the one that I want. My goal is to make you realize that if your kitchen is not comfortable for you, you will not use it, so do not look at the latest design ideas. Think about how you might want to work in this space.

My Desire to Prepare the Perfect Meal

A home inspector writing about cooking may seem strange to you, but most of us inspectors love our homes, so we want to use them to their fullest. I think you will probably find most inspectors at a grill or barbecue pit, but my mother made me learn to cook when I was young, to help her out.

Since I have been married, I was the one always doing the cooking at home. When in kindergarten, my son thought all fathers were the cooks in their families. I have tried to find ways to help making meals quickly, and so I spent some time trying to learn how to cook well. At one time, I was a certified food service manager, but I had dreams of being a chef.

I am writing this post to introduce the fact that on Sundays I will be including a post on cooking and kitchens to this blog. Being an inspector, I will continue to point out what I look for in regards to my job, but I want to branch out into discussing kitchen design and meal preparation, along with recipes. I will also go over equipment.

I thought that I should include this topic, because it might be of interest to the new homeowner. Particularly now that you may have a larger space for meal preparation and dining with family or friends.