Pimp My Kitchen– Appliances as Bling

  kitchen-fancy-blogIf you can afford the kitchen design shown in the photo, good for you. Every item shown has either an Energy Star rating or other “green” label, all are at the top of their peer group for energy performance, and the whole ensemble looks terribly impressive. If this is the prettiest, priciest kitchen in the free world, give it a blue ribbon. The basic ergonomic triangle is present (fridge, stove, sink all accessible without traveling far), the storage space makes the supplies for each operation available where the work is to be done, the counters are small but well-placed for staging a meal-in-progress, and there appears to be room for a wheeled workstation that will serve as portable prep space, ingredient setup and serving dish transport. Woof. What a kitchen!

kitchen-basic-blog1Now look at this kitchen. It’s plain, sports simple appliances, is short on storage space (presumably the hidden section at right contains the cabinets and cooking gear), and appears to have been squeezed into the corner of an existing room (the window would have been set higher in a room designed as a kitchen). This kitchen has no unifying theme, no flow of concept, no comforting proportions, no evoked period memory, no sense of who it is, and no self-declaring identity. I made all that crap up. Sorry. It’s a simple little kitchen, low in cost,  ad hoc in design, crude in aesthetics, and it just about works. And oh- the appliances are still green-rated, such as they are.

    Choose your kitchen. They’re both labeled green, both functionally adequate, both capable of facilitating good food preparation. I estimate one cost about $20,000 to install, appliances included. The other cost at least $100,000 dollars excluding structural remodeling. They both contain the same basic  equipment: range, vent hood, toaster, microwave, refrigerator. One has an automatic dishwasher, the other not. They both, surprisingly, use about the same amount of energy to prepare similar dishes. They both accommodate informal eat-in furniture, they both work for either a single cook or a cook with a helper or two. They both work.

kitchen-leed-3-blog

 The kitchen in this photo is rated as LEED compliant (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design), which means it is built to rigid standards for energy conservation and sustainability. There are heat exchangers under the floor to capture the heat from drain water. The appliances are manufactured from materials not harmful to the environment, and the finishes on the natural wood cabinets contain no harmful chemicals. The refrigerator runs on a gas deemed no threat to the atmosphere. Don’t ask what this kitchen cost. Some of you might be able to afford it, but you would choose this kitchen not because it makes the others look wasteful, or pays for itself in energy savings, but because you desire the LEED rating and the prestige that comes with it. Despite its advantages, this kitchen runs on energy, and the more you use it, the more it costs to store and prepare your food.

   Kitchens perform, I’m trying to say, much more according to use than to design. The most energy efficient kitchen is the one never used. The most energy extravagant kitchen is one that is used to prepare foods at high temperatures, that consumes large amounts of water and energy for cooking and washing, and that keeps the fridge door flapping constantly while things are taken out and returned to cold storage. The best kitchen, to sum up, can be either one, two or three from our discussion, according to how it’s used. The best kitchen, actually, is the one used by the smartest cook.

Microwaves Are Sooo Cool

micrrowave-blogIn winter, I like the heat my kitchen range adds to the house. It isn’t free, but it’s welcome, and I feel like it’s a twofer, getting lovely food and lovely warmth at once. In our scuffling days, my lovely and I heated and cooked with an ancient Glenwood cast iron kitchen stove. We were young, and it didn’t seem too tedious to build a fire and feed it.

In warm weather, I don’t want that added warmth, not even at dinner time. We try not to use the kitchen range as much, but cold dishes like chef salad and gazpacho are not ok every day. So we microwave a lot in summer, and the range (no pun) of the device has surprised me as my scientist/realtor wife explores what you can and can’t do with that thing in which most folks only warm their coffee .

   The kitchen range generates app. 2kw per burner on high. That’s 6800 btu added to your house for each burner while you’re cooking, and the oven is about 4kw, or app. 1400 btu per hour. That’s about the amount of heat a small window air conditioner can remove from your house in an hour. If you’re running air conditioning, you’re paying twice for the energy that’s cooking your food.

   Enter the microwave. At an average of  1.2 kw, the microwave heats only the mass of the food, leaving the machine itself and your containers relatively cool. And besides using less energy per hour, the microwave pays off in much shorter cooking times. The same steamed veggies take about half the time in the microwave as on the cooktop, and popcorn goes up in five minutes or so. And in America, fast is good. In most areas of life.

   So are we stuck with steamed veggies? Not by a long shot. Chicken breast? 8 minutes depending upon size and mass. Pork chop (yes, pork chop)? 10 minutes, and doing two takes only an extra minute. On a larger scale, a whole roast chicken? 20-25 minutes according to size. Thanksgiving turkey (not kidding, we do this every year)? 9 minutes per pound, so a ten pound turkey is 90 minutes or so, more with stuffing. Pork roast? Ham? 11-12 minutes per pound, and the apples get really good and juicy in there. Fish? 7 minutes per pound, extra for stuffing, varies by species. And my favorite, bacon. Six slices, four minutes, done to perfection; a guilty pleasure for me when the wife is out of town. Squash, butternut and acorn, split in half with sugar or honey on top, 15-18 minutes. Here are some links to microwave recipe sites.

   What can’t you do? Cake is tough, though some fanatics ( not us, in any way whatsoever, thank you) insist they do it. Hamburger not really, although meat loaf works very well with some bread crumbs and a reasonable remnant of the meat’s native fat (fat conducts heat and responds well to microwaves). Eggs in the shell? Don’t even think about it. Eggs out of the shell? Always makes a mess when I try it. Boiled dishes? No, not very well, but I have a separate pitch for the crock pot that complements the microwave nicely, and also saves a lot of energy.

   I could go on, but you can hit the links and get more ideas yourself. Beware plastic and metal containers unless they’re marked for microwave use. Crockery is usually safe, even the stuff you bought at the craft fair. A little bit of trial and a tiny shred of error, and you’ll be a nouveau expert at cooking in a cooler ktichen and house. And your power bills will show the difference. All this has made me hungry; a single hot dog, right from the freezer? Should be about, oh, four minutes on medium. And I, a kitchen klutz, can do it all by myself. See you next time. Hit this video link, just for fun. microwave a twinkie?