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Bring culture and creativity to the kitchen July 4th (Pt. 2)

Grilling on Independence Day is a tradition for many. And while the aroma of grilled food wafting through backyards and neighborhoods is a time-honored part of the July 4th experience, cooking outdoors isn’t always an option. The good news is you can still create plenty of culinary fireworks right in your kitchen. We talked with Chef Thomas J. “TJ” Delle Donne, assistant dean of culinary relations and special projects at Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, to get his insights on planning and executing a Fourth of July meal without the grill.

Choosing the Menu

In our last post, we looked at how to prepare traditional July 4th favorites like hot dogs, burgers and barbecue indoors. Delle Donne recommends looking at local cultural influences and ingredients to add a unique twist to your Independence Day celebration.

“We have a vast culture across the country,” Delle Donne says. “At any four corners of the U.S., we can find true, authentic flavors of other cultures.”

“If you’re from Rhode Island, you have a huge Italian and Portuguese influence,” Delle Donne says. “If you’re from down South, you’ll have a Latin American/Cuban influence. If you’re from Arizona, the Southwest, you’ll have a Mexican influence. It’s an American holiday, so we want to stay true to American traditions. But if you’re looking to entertain in a different way, celebrate those traditions as well.”

As you look for local ingredients, you may find you pick up some valuable cooking advice as well. “Get to know the farmers,” Delle Donne suggests. ““You can meet them at any farmers’ market. See what’s out there. Maybe you’ll do a red, white and blue potato salad, a fennel bowl. Sometimes, those farmers are cooks, too, and they can give you some awesome ideas.”

In the kitchen

There’s little you can do on the grill that you can’t do in the kitchen, Delle Donne says. “Grilling has a very unique definition,” he says. “You’re getting flavor and aromatic aspects from a source of fire that’s traditionally wood or charcoal. With a gas grill, you’re getting a radiant heat source and achieving a sear like you’d get in a pan. The effect you’re getting from a gas grill is a sear and a roast. It’s the same thing you have in your house.”

“Your broiler is radiant heat,” Delle Donne says. “It’s grilling upside down. If you think about it that way, you have the same appliance.”

Even outdoor standbys like beer can chicken can be cooked indoors. “Use a high-sided roasting pan and a mirepoix of vegetables to make a flavorful sauce,” Delle Donne says. “You can add some garlic and celery. You can probably get four chicken roasters in the roasting pan. You get the temperature high enough and you’ll have that nice, crispy chicken.”

You can recreate the appearance of grilled food indoors. “You can add grill marks by getting the oven hot enough and using the oven rack,” Delle Donne says. “You’re using your appliance as your grill substitute. The only thing you’re missing is the charcoal.”

The flavor of smoked vegetables can be brought inside as well. “If you have a good hood system in the house, you can smoke on the stove top. Smoked mushroom salad is delicious. You can smoke your sliced summer squash, your corn. I use a four-inch pan, use a steamer-type basket that fits in that pan, soak wood chips and use the perforated pan in that rack. Put it on the range in a low heat and let those wood chips smoke. Have good vents.” Delle Donne doesn’t recommend this technique for meats.

Planning

Plan your menu in advance, Delle Donne says. “I’m a big proponent of mise en place. It means ‘everything has its place, everything in its place,’” If the Fourth is on a Tuesday, spend your Sunday getting things together. Write the menu down. What do you need for each menu item? That’s where a lot of people go wrong. The menu drives everything.”

No grill? No Problem! How to do July 4th cooking in your kitchen (Part 1)

Grilling and the Fourth of July are as tightly wound together as Christmas and snow. But just as it doesn’t always snow on Christmas, sometimes grilling isn’t an option. Maybe it’s a rainy Fourth or you don’t have the outdoor space. Never fear! You can still satisfy your desire for patriotic, culinary summer classics right in your kitchen.

We spoke with chef Gabriel Ross, who teaches culinary fundamentals at

Chef Gabriel Ross

the Culinary Institute of America in New York. As a meat specialist who spent 15 years living in New York City apartments, he’s the perfect candidate to teach a crash course in celebrating America’s independence without a grill.
“July 4 is one of the busiest times of the year for the meat business,” Ross said. “The things people are thinking about are barbecue, like ribs, pulled pork or barbecue chicken. Those are the flavors we associate with the holiday. Those preparations can be accomplished inside.”

Just as with other big cooking holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, you’ll cut down on a lot of stress by preparing as much as possible in advance. Ross walked us through indoor preparation for a collection of July Fourth favorites:

Barbecue: You can get the same texture of traditional, slow-grilled barbecue chicken or ribs by slow-cooking meat in the oven, Ross says. “It’s harder to get that smoky flavor, but most people will slather it with barbecue sauce. The ribs are tender, the chicken is tender. It’s a pretty good approximation. Most people won’t be able to tell the difference, aside from the lack of grill marks.” Ross recommends cooking the meats covered at 275-300 degrees. “If you’re using St. Louis-style spare ribs, it could take 3-4 hours to get it nice and tender. Baby back ribs are a little leaner and cook faster. They might take only 1.5-2 hours. Once they’re tender, take them out, rub them down with your favorite sauce and throw them under the broiler.”

The slow cooking can be done 2-3 days before you’ll be eating the meats, Ross says. “Store them in your refrigerator, then take them out and blast them in a hot oven or under the broiler. Then you won’t have to spend the whole day cooking.”

Chicken: Chicken will cook faster than pork, Ross says. “I recommend dark meat because the white meat tends to dry out,” he says. “Breast meat tends to cook a lot faster.” Cover chicken legs or thighs and cook them slowly until they’re tender. “They usually only take 45 minutes to an hour,” Ross says. “They’re not going to be golden brown and crispy, but it’s just the first stage of cooking. You can put sauce on and put them back in the broiler and nobody will know the difference.”

Pulled pork: Pulled pork is a major time commitment. It’s typically cooked slowly over a charcoal fire for 6-8 hours. “It’s actually much easier to do inside, especially if you have a slow cooker.” Ross suggests using pork shoulder, picnic shoulder or pork butt. “Those cuts are great for pulled pork,” he says. “The pork butt or shoulder butt is the perfect size to fit in a large slow cooker. You can rub it down, put it in with a little bit of liquid, and cook it slowly until it’s falling apart. Then add your favorite sauce. You can cook it overnight, while you’re sleeping, and serve it right out of the slow cooker.”

Hot dogs: Ross’s New York City roots have made him a fan of the “dirty water” boiled hot dog, which is easy to prepare on your range. “If you want to do a bunch of dogs at the same time, put a pot of water on, add some salt to preserve flavor, keep the water right below boil. You can keep them there as long as you want.” Add sliced onions or beer to the water to add flavor. However, if you’re determined to replicate a grilled hot dog, consider cooking it on an indoor electric grill or a panini press. “Take the dogs, split them lengthwise, and put them on the grill. You’ll get the grill marks and crispy skin.” As a last resort, put the hot dogs under the broiler until they start to blister, Ross says.

Burgers: Attaining the outer crust that comes with a grilled burger is more challenging indoors, but still possible. “Whatever you’re cooking it in has to be very hot,” Ross says. “I recommend, if you have it, a cast-iron skillet. Preheat it until it’s smoking hot. Brown the burgers on both sides. If you want to cook it more, put it on a cookie sheet, in a hot oven until it’s done. You won’t get that smoky char, but you have a little more control and won’t have to deal with flareups or fire.” The faster you brown outside, the more moist the inside will be, Ross says. Make sure you cook ground beef until the center reaches at least 155 degrees Fahrenheit.

Shrimp: Here’s another summer favorite that can be prepared in advance. “A simple shrimp cocktail is easy and straightforward,” Ross says. But if you want grilled shrimp skewers, the broiler makes a fine substitute for the grill. “If you have a cast-iron skillet, you can do the shrimp on there. Get it nice and hot, kind of blister them on that cast iron.”

Vegetables: There’s still room for vegetables on this meat-centric holiday. “If I’m doing sausages or hot dogs, I like to do some peppers and onions to put on top.” Vegetables also make a great side dish on the Fourth. “A nice hot oven is a dream for preparing vegetables,” Ross says. “I’ll cut them into chunks, often with a little oil salt and pepper, put them in the oven until they start to color outside.” Ross is also partial to serving fennel alongside sausages, and roasted zucchini. “Go all the way up—most home ovens will go to 500 or 550,” Ross says. “A lot of people are afraid to do that. Keep an eye on it and know those vegetables will be done within 5-10 minutes. You have to turn them a couple of times.”

Dessert: Keep it simple, Ross recommends. “With all the heavy meats and other foods that go with the holiday, sometimes simple fresh fruit with whipped cream and a little poundcake or sweet biscuit is all you need.”

Ross has recently started to take advantage of the immersion circulator (also known as sous vide), which has given him an easier path to grilled meats. “I cook everything in the circulator,” he said. “I take it out of the bag, get a good hot fire, and basically just mark it up on the grill. It only takes a good minute or two to get grill marks.”

Clearly, a lack of a grill is no reason to skip that tasty, traditional Fourth of July cuisine. From your oven to your slow cooker, your appliances will give you the tools you need to cook up a memorable holiday meal.

What the future may hold for kitchen design and appliances

What comes to mind when you think about the kitchen of the future? Robotic servers? Automated cleanup?

Sci-fi imagery aside, the kitchen is likely to keep its status as the household gathering space and hub for entertaining. But certain elements will trend toward personalization, and we’re likely to see both expanded and more specialized roles for appliances.

We recently spoke with two kitchen designers, Loretta Willis, Principal of Loretta’s Interior Design in Alpharetta, Ga. and Andrea Edwards, owner of CRP Design in Oklahoma City, to peer into the future and speculate on what the future might bring for kitchen design and appliances. Here are some of the trends they expect to see, both in the near and more distant future:

Personalization: Certain elements of the kitchen will be customized for very specific uses, depending on daily habits. That might mean a pull-out refrigerator drawer for certain easy-to-prepare breakfast or lunch foods, for example. It could become common to see more than one of certain appliances in kitchens, all part of a trend toward kitchen personalization. “Under-counter refrigerator drawers are a big trend,” Willis says. “It’s convenient and you don’t need to have everything in one place. Let’s say there’s a zone for food prep and cooking. You might have an under-counter drawer for things you tend to prepare daily. You might have a refrigerator drawer that just has water, soda or juice. The kids can go there—it’s so convenient. You still need your large refrigerator, but it doesn’t have to be the all-in-all.”

Specialized cooking: Some consumers are looking for ovens that do more than just bake. They’re also looking for the speed and look of commercial appliances. “I think people want the appearance of a professional kitchen,” Willis says. Right now, that look is primarily seen in high-end kitchens, but Willis sees the potential for mid-priced appliances to offer a professional kitchen look, even if they don’t offer all of the same features as their high-end counterparts. Edwards is seeing interest in steam ovens and a decline in built-in fryers, which were popular several years ago. Pizza ovens are also drawing interest. “I‘ve had a lot of specification requests for pizza ovens,” Edwards says. “I could see more of that, a combination oven with a pizza oven integrated.”

Extra, smarter dishwashers: People who like to entertain or who tend to use a lot of dishes might consider installing more than one dishwasher. “I’ve had some clients that had two dishwashers,” Edwards says. “I’ve done some recently where we have one in the kitchen and one in the butler’s pantry. I think we’ll see more of that.” Willis sees potential in dishwashers that automatically adjust to the appropriate cycle, depending on how dirty the dishes are. “I don’t think we’ve imagined, yet, all that can be done. I think we’re definitely going in the direction where one day you might just turn it on and it will choose the cycle.”

Refrigerators doing more: Do you like to listen to music while you cook? Edwards anticipates growth in the popularity of refrigerators with built-in speakers. Screens in refrigerators could also catch on. She also sees the trend toward more refrigerator doors and compartments continuing. “Having more compartments is a big deal,” Edwards says. “The pull-out doors on the bottom are big, and I think that will continue.”

Space built-in for portables: Portable appliances that get heavy use are being built into kitchen designs. “Open shelving is a real trend right now as far as storage of portables,” Willis says. “It’s creating a more open look.” But storage and display of portables will remain dependent on the client’s needs and choice, she says. If you’re going for an open storage plan, Edwards recommends choosing appliances whose colors coordinate with your kitchen.

Coffee stations: Coffee makers are beloved appliances in millions of kitchens. Now, some coffee lovers are expanding their devotion to the caffeinated beverage beyond a coffee maker into an all-encompassing coffee station. “We’re at a point where we’re seeing more coffee stations built in,” Willis says.

What would you most like to see in your kitchen of the future? Share your future kitchen visions in the comments!

It’s the little things: Small appliances add big convenience to tiny houses


Across the country, many people are looking to simplify their lives and lower their housing costs by downsizing their living spaces. Their choice of accommodations ranges from permanent or semi-permanent “tiny houses” or “micro-apartments,” extra-small apartment units in densely populated areas.

But downsizing doesn’t necessarily mean giving up on the appliance conveniences they’ve grown accustomed to.

“A lot of people are concerned about how the house will function,” says Jeremy Weaver, a tiny house dweller and co-owner of the Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Wind River Tiny Homes. “Appliances are an integral part of how people interact with their houses, arguably the most intense way. I tell them we can get the same functionality, though it will be a lot smaller.”

With Wind River’s models usually topping out around 350 square feet (though they have built larger homes in the 400-800 square foot range), space, as you might imagine, is precious. Appliances that won’t get a lot of use are usually left out. But tiny spaces have many of the same conveniences as their full-sized counterparts, just on a smaller scale. How much use an appliance will get is the major factor in whether it will be included.

“In a tiny house, if someone doesn’t use an oven, they probably won’t have an oven,” Weaver said. “If you want a full-sized fridge, it means you won’t have a pantry or you’ll have hardly any counter space. There really isn’t space for something you don’t use. People who don’t cook a lot typically don’t use ovens—they’ll use a cooktop or a microwave.” Many of the Wind River homes have been fitted with four-burner, 20-inch ranges, Weaver said. In his tiny house, which includes four burners and an oven, he’s able to fit four full-sized pots and pans on top and 2-3 cookie sheets in the oven.

Every inch matters in a tiny house, and some may opt for a two-burner portable induction cooktop that can hang on the wall when it isn’t being used, Weaver said. Appliances in tiny homes often are powered by propane. Mobile tiny homes can also be set up to plug in like RVs.

For laundry, combination washer-dryers are the way to go in a small space. They’re common in Europe and Asia, where small-space living is more widespread, Weaver said. “About 60 to 70 percent of the houses we’ve done have them.” More options from manufacturers have become available over the past few years, he said.

Small appliances were already being manufactured for boats and RVs. Wind River recently installed a dishwasher for the first time in a tiny home and used a model made for an RV, a drawer-style under-counter model.

How do manufacturers measure your oven’s baking ability? It’s a piece of cake.

 

Homemade cake "Red Velvet" decorated with cream.

Your oven’s baking ability has already been tested long before it makes it to your kitchen. Appliance manufacturers put ranges and ovens through a rigorous series of tests to make sure they’re capable of churning out a steady stream of treats for you and your family.

AHAM’s ER-1 standard for household electric ranges offers a specific recipe that manufacturers use to test their baking/browning performance.
• 1 cup (185 g) hydrogenated vegetable oil shortening
• 2 teaspoons (10 cc) vanilla extract
• 2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
• 4 eggs (192 g) (Note: Mix 4 eggs, but use only 192 g)
• 1 ½ cups (352 cc) whole milk
• 4 ½ cups (425 g) sifted soft wheat cake flour
• 4 ½ teaspoons (16 g) double-acting baking powder
• 1 teaspoon (5 g) salt

After providing a detailed mixing process, AHAM’s standard instructs testers to place four, 22 gauge aluminum 8 inch (200 mm) round cake pans, 7 5/8 inches (190 mm) in diameter (bottom) by 1 1/2 inches (40 mm) deep, each containing 0.8 lb. (363 g) of cake batter, in an oven which has been pre‐heated to 375 degrees. The cake pans’ surfaces should not be discolored to affect performance.

After 25 to 30 minutes of baking and 10 minutes of standing, and cooling to room temperature on a cake rack, the cake is judged not on the taste, but on the consistency of color across on the top and bottom of the cake.

A consistent and effective baking performance has a major impact on how your foods taste and look. Uniform heat distribution, which is measured as part of the standard, plays a critical role in your baking success.

While AHAM’s recipe may not result in the fanciest, or tastiest cake, it provides product testers with consistency in the testing process. And consistency, as any baker knows, can make or break a recipe.