Thursday, April 25, 2013

When to Splurge on Pantry Staples

Should you skimp or splurge? 
What staples are really worth their salts in that grocery aisle? Here are nine items to add to your pantry:

-Nut oil - Spend some money on a good oil, but instead of choosing olive oil, try something a little bit different, like a nut oil. Pick up a walnut oil or a pistachio oil ($16.99) that has really good flavor from a reputable company, like La Tourangelle. Because they roast most of their oils, it will last longer than a raw nut oil. Be sure to keep them in the refrigerator or freezer if you plan on not using them often. 

-Infused oils - Try an infused oil, like a high-quality Meyer lemon oil ($15.95). Drizzle a little bit of the oil on a perfectly roasted fish.

-Vinegars - For true, authentic balsamic vinegar, choose balsamic vinegar from Modena, Italy. Balsamic vinegar ($21.99) gets better with age. You can drizzle on cheese, fruit, or even ice cream.

-Finishing Salts - Think of texture as well as flavor when choosing finishing salts. A lemon flake salt ($5.50) will provide flavor and crunch to a simple dish like roasted asparagus.

-Anchovies - It may seem a little displeasing to your palate, but stocking your pantry with anchovies ($12.29) is worth it. To add a savory note to roasted vegetables, crush anchovies and garlic together with an olive oil dressing, or try adding anchovies to your next Ceasar salad.

-Mushrooms - In-season, fancy mushrooms can be pricy. Use dried mushrooms ($12.99) in place of rare
or expensive fresh mushrooms.

-Saffron - Avoid purchasing ground saffron and saffron-imposters. Buy saffron ($11.95) in its full-thread form. To get the best flavor out of saffron, grind it with a bit of sugar and water, and then add to your soup, stew, or rice.

-Vanilla Beans - Look for fresh, pliable vanilla beans ($9.99). You'll be able to open it easily to get the little seeds inside the bean for optimum flavor.

-Truffle Oil - Purchase truffle oils ($16.99) and salts from a reliable and reputable source, because sometimes, truffle oil is made with a gas that just tastes like truffles. Or bring home a high-quality, whole truffle. To store the truffle, bury it in short grain rice which allows it to breathe, and then later, turn the rice into a delicious, truffle-infused risotto.

Thanks For Cooking With AK!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Green Kitchens

  Five years ago AK was onboard with the green movement and first began publishing tips for creating green, eco-friendly, kitchens. Today the main premise behind designing and creating a green kitchen holds true: the kitchen alone is responsible for nearly half of the home's energy consumption! Imagine the impact renovating this one space could do for the entire home?
   Read more about what makes a kitchen green, sustainable space:

   Looking for ideas on how to make your kitchen more efficient? Contact AK and tell us about your space! Tell Us What You Want To See In Your Kitchen!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Tax Refund? Invest In Your Home!

  Expecting a little money back from Uncle Sam this year? Why not invest it in something that benefits your family each and every day? Invest in your home! Try one of these small home improvement projects that can make a big impact in the look of your home. AK has the the top 5 high impact / low cost home improvements:

  • Paint
  • Hardware
  • Light Fixtures
  • Knobs & Pulls
  • Mirrors
   Now find out how to use little upgrades to your advantage -

    If this years refund is just the final portion of your investment in a larger project, talk to our design and renovation experts to help you get on your way to meeting your remodeling goals: Start A Remodeling Project!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Preventing Food Waste

What A Waste!

   Grocery shopping? To save yourself some time, go ahead and take two full grocery bags and throw them right in the trash! Sound ridiculous? The average American family throws away 25 pounds of edible food each month! That's about 25% percent of a family's average food budget. For a family of four, the money wasted could total from $1,365 to $2,275. The numbers are staggering! With the price of food rising, it's more important then ever to make sure we are buying only what we need, and using everything we buy.
Pantry Cabinets Surrounding Refrigerator By AK
   AK knows every family shops differently, cooks differently, eats differently; that's why AK asks very kitchen remodel. AK's kitchen renovation questionnaire is what we encourage our prospective clients to fill out prior to their remodeling consultation. It asks things like: Do you buy in bulk? Do you use many canned goods? How do you store your food? Do you need recycling or composting accommodations?
specific and important questions before beginning the design phase of a
    Building customized storage, where everything can be #1 seen and #2 used, is one important aspect of eliminating kitchen and food waste. 
    Here are some other ways you can cut down on food waste in your current kitchen!
 -Food planning. It’s a busy world for the average family. There are school events and personal commitments to make. Making a plan in advance to cook everything you’ve bought might seem like an unnecessary restriction, but it can be freeing and often leads to less food usage.
All you need to do is write out your meals for the next week. It’s not always a fun process, but it’s hard to use up what you buy between shopping trips without some kind of organization—and a calendar is an easy way to stay on track.
Custom Designed Storage
  -Recipe selection. Choosing good recipes goes hand in hand with meal planning. If you know how much
leftovers come from various meals you cook, you can better plan on how to use them.
One of my family’s staples is roasted chicken. Leftovers are usually used to make stew or soup. Monday’s sloppy joes usually become Tuesday’s goulash. Planning is about using up what you bought and reconstituting what is leftover. Finding good recipes that can stretch yesterday’s leftovers is a great way to make sure the family eats up with little complaint.
  -Grocery list. With your plan in hand, it’s important to think about the shopping aspect of controlling your grocery purchases. The rules of shopping aren’t the same for buying clothing and buying food. For example, buying in bulk to get the lowest-per-unit price is not always the best route. Food spoils—and it’s important to keep this in mind for your planning. Buying in bulk might give you the best unit price, but you may be spending more money overall, if you are throwing a good portion of that bulk purchase in the trash every week.
  -Storage. Not only is organization useful in making purchases, but it is also useful in how you store your food purchases. Money is easily wasted when we procrastinate putting bulk meat in the freezer, or items are lost in massive unorganized pantries. Work storage into your purchasing plans and put every item in its place the day you buy it. It’s also a good idea to take a look at the pantry before writing up your list. This helps minimize situations where you are buying food you already have stocked.
Food waste can impact more than just your food budget. Farming requires a great deal of water, energy and resources in order to bring food to your local grocery store. That means that waste can create demand for more resources—resources that might be cheaper to you if used less in food production. Gas would be one such resource that comes to mind.
The bottom line: A little bit of effort in minimizing waste could have big implications in reducing your budget.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Seasoning A Cast Iron Skillet To Last A Lifetime

  Created in a world before Teflon, cast iron is said to be the original "non-stick" skillet. It's one kitchen must-have that's in demand for professional chefs and busy moms alike. You may have heard of cast iron, but have not yet invested in your own piece. Some of you may have been lucky enough to be passed down an heirloom piece, because cared for correctly a cast iron skillet can last longer than a single lifetime.
   Some of the best skillets are antiques like these, but if you're looking to buy one or have an old one that needs  a little TLC, we have the steps to get you cooking. Our recommendation for purchasing a new cast iron skillet is the same as if you were purchasing a new AK kitchen: Don't look for the lowest price, look for the best value!
  Pictured above, lodge cookware skillets come highly recommended. Produced in a Tennessee foundry, their seasoning process won a Good Housekeeping “Good Buy Award,” leading to a world wide renaissance in cast iron cooking! Lodge sprays vegetable oil onto the cookware, then bakes it on at high temperatures to create a natural, easy-release cooking surface. Their 13" skillets are $60 which seems like bargain. To continue seasoning a new piece like this, or to repair and re-season and old piece, wikiHow seems to encompass some of the best tips for cast iron:

  1. For crusty cast ironware that you inherited or picked up at a garage sale: Your cookware may have some combination of rust and thick crackly black crud. It can be restored fairly easily to good as new condition! First place the cookware in a self-cleaning oven and run one cycle OR place in a campfire or directly on a hot charcoal fire for 1/2 hour, until dull red. The crust will be flaking, falling and turning to white ash. Then, after allowing to cool a bit to avoid cracking your cast iron,use the following steps. If you have more rust than crust, try using steel wool to sand it off.

  2. Wash your cast iron cookware with warm water and soap using a scouring pad. If you have purchased your cast iron cookware as new then it will be coated in oil or a similar coating to prevent rust. This will need to be removed before seasoning so this step is essential.

  3. Dry the cookware thoroughly, it helps to put the pan in the oven for a few minutes to make sure it's really dry. Oil needs to be able to soak into the metal for a good seasoning and oil and water don't mix.

  4. Coat the pot or pan inside and out with lard, Crisco, bacon fat, or corn oil. Ensure that the lid is also coated.

  5. Place both the lid and the pot or pan upside down in your oven at high temperature (300F to 500F, depending on your preference) for at least an hour to bake on a "seasoning" that protects the pan from rust and provides a stick-resistant surface.Place a sheet of aluminum foil under the pan or on a lower rack, to catch drippings. Let cool to room temperature in the oven.

  6. For best results repeat steps three and four and five.

  7. Ongoing care: Every time you wash your pan, you must season it. Place it on the stove and pour in about 3/4 tsp. corn oil or other cooking fat.

  8. Wad up a paper towel and spread the oil across the cooking surface, any bare iron surfaces, and the bottom of the pan. Turn on the burner and heat until smoke starts to appear. If using an electric stove, heat slowly as hot spots can crack your cast iron. Cover pan and turn heat off.