Saturday, February 18, 2017

Venting

Rain continues to delay our foundation work and even more rain is expected this week. We are starting to think that we may not see the foundation crew back until April or May. Meanwhile, we are trying to get things completed on the inside so as not to lose all momentum.

The most recent advancement was to take care of the venting for the furnace. We replaced the furnace shortly after we bought the place many years ago. We moved it from its original location--behind one of the closet doors that were demolished--to further under the house. But the venting to the upstairs is still in its original place. You can see in the last post a large, dark venting tube feeding into an aluminum plenum. That's the venting from the new furnace into the original plenum. But we want to reclaim that space. So we had a local HVAC company in to replace both the large tubing and the plenum so that an existing soffit can continue.

The large tubing was replaced with a vent that is as flat and wide as they make it (3" x 24"). A new wall will float in front of the vent. The large plenum has been replaced with the three flexible silver tubes that feed into the various vents that deliver heat upstairs. These will be inside the new soffit. Yeah, that's asbestos in the top left and right on this shot. They were careful not to disturb that. The blue tape  at the bottom is just my plastic sheeting to cover up the places where the cat could get underneath the house--something we don't want to happen.

I also had a meeting with the inside contractor to figure out what other work could be completed while we deal with the rain. We came up with a plan so there should be more progress in the coming days and weeks.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Goodbye Closets

In the last post I talked about drilling five deep holes and pouring in reinforced cement to create piers down to bedrock which will attach to the foundation. Well, I learned later that they only got three of the five completed. This week, after a number of days of heavy rain, they came out to drill piers 4 and 5. Pier 4 got drilled but had to be lined with slurry to keep it from collapsing in on itself. Drilling pier 5 turned out to be too problematic. They encountered a large rock five feet down and the vibration of drilling through it caused the hole to collapse in on itself. The water table was too high so they decided to pull the crew off the job for a couple weeks and let things dry out before continuing. So our first typical construction delay has already happened.

Meanwhile there was still some progress. In the downstairs room, there is an original three door closet structure. The first door (on the left) was a small broom closet. The next one housed the old furnace which we needed to replace shortly after we moved in since what was there was an original from 1956 and slowly dying. We updated the furnace and relocated it further under the house years ago so this one's been empty for awhile. The third contains our hot water heater (more on the relocation of that later). We needed to investigate some venting issues because we have plans to reclaim the space that these closets took up and the heating vent for the room is above door #2. Our inside contractor said that the best way to figure out what will work is to completely remove these closets.

So this evening I came home to find that the entire closet structure was cleanly removed. Tomorrow, there will be an HVAC contractor coming in along with our contractor to take a look at the venting to see what options are available with the venting.


Saturday, January 21, 2017

New Major Remodel Project Underway

If you were to go back to my first post on this blog you'd see that Boomerang Kitchen started out as a chronicle of a major kitchen/living room remodel so that family and friends could follow the progress. I was inspired by our good friends who posted a similar remodel project on a blog for their San Jose house the year before we started our remodel. However, once their project was completed, they no longer posted an entries. But by the time our initial project was nearing completion, I was starting to follow a number of food blogs and I began to consider whether I should stop posting upon completion or if I should post some of the recipes I was making in the newly-remodeled kitchen. I decided on the latter and, hence, this blog still lives.

Well, a number of years later, we have begun another major remodel project on the house (built in 1956) and I have decided to return to the roots of this blog for a few months and share some of the milestones. I will also keep the food content going.

Sloping floor
The latest project's genesis comes from the fact that our house is on a slight slope which is creeping downhill. We started to notice some unusual interior cracks in our drywall which had grown larger over the years.
As you can see in this shot, there is a difference in the height of the floor from the left side to the right side on this closed door upstairs close to the west wall. More evidence that part of the house is moving.

We had some engineers (soils and structural) out to examine, measure, and study everything. The final report's recommended action was to get a structural company out to put piers down into the bedrock, lift the house back up, and redo part of the foundation.
Rebar piers to be placed in drilled holes

The most impacted room is a downstairs bonus room. It's where we have our main TV but it's not a room that is fully utilized. Closets installed by the original owner of the house is where we store a variety of old items, Christmas decorations, etc.  We decided that after the foundation was secure we would also do a major remodel of the room to make it into an inviting media room.

Filled pier outside of west wall
So just after the start of the year, the work began on the foundation. They cut holes in the cement outside and under the west and south walls (closest to the slope) in order to create five 18-foot deep piers around the southwest corner of the house and attach those piers to the foundation. Drilling went on for two very noisy days. They called the county out for an inspection but by then one of the holes had partially collapsed. So another half day of drilling and the the cement truck arrived around 3 PM and they poured concrete into the rebar-filled piers in the pouring rain until 8:30 that night.

A few days of recent rain has delayed further work but I was told that the crew will be back next week.

Inside the house, the west wall of the downstairs has the sheet rock taken down in order to install some reinforcements which will connect to the piers. The 3 foot stem wall on the bottom will be removed and the foundation redone with another, shorter stem wall foundation. Where the current window is will be converted into an 8' x 8' accordion door. The grey open door on the left edge will be removed and converted into a solid wall. 

Meanwhile, we have also been working with a different contractor who will be doing the interior remodeling. We are trying to set other aspects of the interior remodeling in motion so that work on the interior can begin soon after the foundation work is completed. More to come. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Cream of Broccoli Soup

A rainy Sunday here in California. Also trying to use up a backlog of holiday ingredients. All of that meant is was a great day to make some soup before heading back to the work grind tomorrow.

We had three weeks of broccoli from the CSA box and the oldest was getting a bit tired. So I decided to use the oldest broccoli and a good part of the second oldest for a soup today.

But cooking with broccoli reminds me that you also need to be using the stems. I admit to many years of tossing the stems. But more recently we have been discovering the subtle, tender flavor of broccoli stems. They are great in everything you use broccoli florets for. Here's a YouTube video on how to trim the broccoli stems.

One of the original recipes I riffed off for this version called for an additional 3/4 cup of half and half but I don't think it needs it. This is pretty rich already with all of the butter. 

Serve it sparingly with other things for dinner or lunch and you'll find it's very satisfying as is. 

Cream of Broccoli Soup

Ingredients

Butter - 1 stick (I used salted), softened
Flour - 2/3 cup
Yellow onion - 1/4 cup or more, chopped
Broccoli - 4 cups florets and peeled stems, cut into bite sized pieces
Broth - 6 cups
White pepper - 1/8 teaspoon or to taste
Salt - to taste

Directions

In a large saucepan, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add onion and some black pepper and stir until onions are softened. Add the broccoli, along with a pinch of salt, and stir to mix. Cook, stirring often, until broccoli softens a bit and the florets have turned a deeper shade of green (about 6-8 minutes).

Add broth to the broccoli mixture and turn up the heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn off heat and let the soup cool a bit with the cover on. 

While the soup is cooling, melt 6 teaspoons of butter over medium heat in a small saucepan. Add flour and stir constantly until the roux is well-blended. Break out the immersion blender at the end to take care of the last of the roux crumbs. Take off of the heat and set aside. 

When the soup is cool enough to work with, use an immersion blender to break up the softened broccoli pieces. Return to heat and add the roux. Stir constantly, seeking out chunks of roux to break up. Reheat and stir for about 8-10 minutes or until you think you have no more chunks of roux. 

Add white pepper and salt and stir to mix. As the soup nears boiling, turn off heat and move the saucepan to another location to cool a bit. Let it cool enough to taste and then salt and pepper to taste


Friday, November 25, 2016

Pumpkin Flan


Let me introduce you to "A Brown Kitchen." This is a featured article that runs in the San Francisco Chronicle and it's written by Oakland-based aspiring chef and photographer, Nik Sharma. He has a food blog at A Brown Table. The SF Chronicle has been featuring Nik usually in their Sunday Food section as a guest writer. He recently quit his corporate job to pursue his passions of cooking and photography.

It was his photography that first caught my eye. He shoots really interesting food photographs and his use of light/darkness and his use of narrow depth of field (Translation: photos where a sliver of the shot is in focus and everything in the background and foreground is slightly blurry) are unique. He is able to capture specific moments in preparing a recipe that make you wish you were there cooking with him. You can check some of his beautiful food photography here. Choose Portfolio and select Food.

I actually spent a chunk of change buying a lens that is f1.8-capable in order to try to emulate his style. My last few posts and this posting have my feeble photographic attempts to incorporate his style.

Then I started to discover his recipes. His heritage informs his cooking. His parents are from two very different parts of India and he takes a unique approach to mixing western and eastern cooking. I've made a couple of the recipes featured in the SF Chronicle (and some are on deck to try).

So each October, we get a Sugar Pie pumpkin (or two) in our CSA box. We typically put it on the porch or window sill to acknowledge Fall and Halloween. After a few weeks it goes bad and we compost it. One year, I did try to cook one but the results turned me off for a few years. Then I recently saw Nik's Pumpkin Flan in a recent SF Chronicle feature. So I decided to give it a try.


The results were quite tasty. There are a few steps that I need to master and improve upon (like the caramelized sugar topping) but we enjoyed the flan and will make it again. This, however, is not your typical custardy flan. Nik introduces some new ingredients that harken to his upbringing. In addition to pumpkin, he adds ground ginger and turmeric. The latter provides a glow of yellow that mixes with the orange pumpkin to create a very Fall-looking dessert.

The main thing about this recipe is that you need to plan out--ahead of time--how you can get a cake pan into a water bath. I did not catch this until I was fully committed and in progress with the recipe. So you need a cake pan and then a larger receptacle, like a full sized skillet, into which you can have the cake pan sitting in a water bath. In addition you need something to raise the cake pan off of the base so that the hot water is directly underneath. The original recipe calls for a wire rack underneath the cake pan, but I did not have a small enough wire rack to fit in my 12" skillet. So I improvised and made it work.

The original recipe is here but you might not be able to access it as it's part of the subscriber-based part of the San Francisco Chronicle.


Pumpkin Flan

Ingredients:
  • Pumpkin - 1 medium sugar pie pumpkin
  • Sugar - 1/4 cup
  • Water - 2 tablespoons
  • Eggs - 5 large
  • Ginger - 1 teaspoon ground
  • Turmeric - 1 teaspoon ground
  • Milk - 1 cup whole milk
  • Condensed milk - 1 14 oz. can
  • Evaporated milk - 1 12 oz. can

Directions:
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  • Slice the pumpkin in half and remove all of the seeds. Place face down on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast until soft, around 45-60 minutes. When done, remove from the oven and let cool.
  • Once cool, scoop out the flesh and put it into a food processor and run until smooth. Measure 1 cup of processed pumpkin.
  • Reduce oven to 350 degrees.
  • Have ready a 9 inch cake pan.
  • Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Stir and heat the mixture over medium high heat. Stir regularly and in 6-9 minutes the sugar will start to darken. Watch carefully as it can easily burn. Once the sugar reaches a dark amber color pour it into the bottom of the cake pan swirling the pan to distribute it across as much of the bottom of the pan as possible. I was too conservative and did not get the desired brown on my first try as you can see in the photo.
  • Put the cake pan in the refrigerator until the caramel hardens.
  • In a large bowl, add the pumpkin puree, ginger, turmeric, and eggs. Whisk until eggs are scrambled. 
  • Add the three different milks and whisk until smooth.
  • Prepare the water bath. Place the cake pan in a pot and fill it with water so that the water reaches halfway up the side of the cake pan. 
  • Bake for 2 hours at 350 degrees. Make sure the center of the flan is firm to the touch before removing. 
  • Remove the cake pan from the water bath and let cool. 
  • Cover in plastic and refrigerate overnight to set.
  • Use a knife around the edges to release the flan from its pan. Flip carefully and gently tap to release. 
  • Serve chilled


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Roasted Carrots with Carrot Top Pesto

Recently, we got a bunch of Nantes Rainbow carrots in our CSA box. This particular bunch included a gorgeous set of carrot greens on top. More often than not, when you buy carrots in the grocery store, the green tops have already been removed. That's too bad because you can use those greens. They are not, as you might think, bitter, harsh, or grassy but they are mild and have a unique flavor--and they really are edible.

These particular carrot tops were such a lush, verdant green that we looked up how they could be used and I found this recipe and used it as a starting point.

So don't just compost those carrot greens. Use them raw mixed into salads. Or make the pesto recipe and below and once frozen, I have added a cube to soup stock and weekend breakfast eggs.

Carrot Top Pesto

Make pesto up to one day ahead. Freeze leftovers in ice cube trays and store in the freezer for other uses.
  • Garlic, 2-3 cloves, minced
  • Pine nuts, 3 tablespoons (macadamia nuts can be substituted)
  • Basil leaves, 1/2 cup packed (about 12-20 leaves depending on size)
  • Carrot tops, leaves removed from stems, cleaned
  • Parmesan cheese, 1/4 cup
  • Olive oil, 1/2 cup or more to desired consistency
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
Directions:

  • Mince garlic into food processor
  • Add nuts, basil, carrot tops, cheese, and basil and pulse until coarsely chopped
  • Slowly add olive oil and process to desired consistency
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Continue to process to taste

Roasted Carrots with Carrot Top Pesto

  • Carrots, 1 large bunch (with greens)
  • Carrot top pesto (see above)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
    Directions:

    • Preheat oven to 400 degrees
    • Clean and peel carrots (cut thicker carrots into halves)
    • Toss with olive oil on a baking sheet (parchment paper optional)
    • Coat with salt and pepper
    • Roast, turning occasionally, until carrots have some browning (25 - 35 minutes)
    • Remove from oven and let cool slightly
    • Mix roasted carrots and some pesto (to desired coating) and serve
    • Optional: add some finishing salt before serving





    Friday, September 2, 2016

    Blue Apron Food Delivery Review - Pan Bagnat-Style Sandwiches

    A colleague was recently describing her experiences with the Blue Apron food delivery program. Blue Apron is one of many new food delivery services that deliver weekly meals. These services vary in terms of what they provide and how they provide it. Some, like Blue Apron, simply provide the ingredients and instructions but you still do the cooking. Other services deliver cooked or mostly cooked meals that you simply plate and serve. Since my colleague was a Blue Apron subscriber, she said she could give me a code to get a free week of meals.

    This is my first experience with any of these services and there are a variety of options here in the Bay Area. As of this writing, Blue Apron delivers three meals per week for $59 for the two person plan. There is also a family plan (four people) which delivers 2 meals for $69 or four meals for $169. We opted for the two person plan and there was an vegetarian option but I didn't explore too much to see if there was a pescetarian option.

    Assured that I could get my free week and then cancel if I wanted to, I signed up. Since we already get a weekly CSA box I was concerned that we might have a glut of food.

    I arranged for our delivery to arrive on a Friday but I could have selected from a variety of delivery days. The box arrived on our front porch and was there when I got home from work. Upon opening the box, I found that the ingredients of all three two-person meals were nestled inside a foil packing. All of it is sitting on two large frozen "freezer packs."

    Just before the first delivery, I also got an email that detailed their environmental packaging practices. All packaging is recyclable which was nice to hear.

    First impressions are everything. So this posting details the first menu I made even though I've since made all three menus. The first meal I prepared was a Pan Bagnat-Style Sandwich with a Baby Kale Salad.

    Sitting on top of all of the packaging were three 8.5x11 two-sided, full color description of the meals and the back side contained full instructions with photos for each step.

    All of the ingredients are packaged and clearly labeled and were high quality. For the sandwich, it would have been easier to supply some so-so bread. But the bread supplied for this recipe tasted fresh and it was light and airy. Most everything you need is in the box. For at least the first week, all I supplied was cooking oil, salt and pepper, and the pans and utensils.

    It is true that once you sign up you can skip weeks up to a month at a time. So, conceivably, you could get it every week or just a few busy times of the year. When you log in you can see the menu for each week and you can swap out dishes that don't appeal to you.

    The Pan Bagnat sandwich is a Mediterranean sandwich which features seasonal produce. It is a staple in the Provence and is served in every bakery or through street vendors. The ingredients vary and it often has tuna in it. This is a vegetarian version (but there are eggs in it). Another key feature is that the sandwich, regardless of the ingredients, gets wrapped tightly and given some time for the flavors to marry. The recipe is very much open to interpretation and if you look online you will find a wide variety of ingredients.

    So who is Blue Apron good for? Well, if your issue is not enough time to come home and cook a meal then Blue Apron is not for you. You get all of the ingredients but it takes more time than advertised to actually prep, cook, and serve the meal at the end of the day. But it's a high quality, gourmet meal. If your issue is deciding what's for dinner or no time to shop for ingredients then Blue Apron is perfect. With Blue Apron you get high quality ingredients, exposure to new recipes,  and plenty of exposure to new ways of prepping and preparing meals. Since I fall more in the latter category, I'm keeping the Blue Apron account alive for now to try it out a few more times but this sandwich was a keeper.

    Pan Bagnat-Style Sandwiches

    Ingredients:

    • 2 hard-boiled eggs
    • 2 small sandwich loaves
    • squash (zucchini and other style)
    • cucumber
    • 1 clove garlic
    • Dijon mustard
    • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
    • 1 tablespoon capers
    • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
    Directions:
    • Hard boil the eggs ahead of time.
    • Preheat oven to 450 degrees
    • Thinly slice cucumbers and let them soak in the vinegar for at least 10 minutes, stirring periodically.
    • Thinly slice the squash.
    • Thinly slice the hard boiled eggs.
    • Roughly chop the capers and add to a bowl with mayonnaise and stir to mix.
    • Drizzle the bread halves with olive oil and season with salt and pepper and toast in the over for about 10 minutes or until golden brown.
    • Rub the toasted bread with the peeled garlic clove. 
    • Lightly brown the squash slices in a non-stick pan with olive oil.
    • Place sandwich halves on aluminum foil and spread the caper mayonnaise on one side of each sandwich and Dijon mustard on the other.
    • Add slices of cooked squash and eggs on the bottom half of the sandwich; season with salt and pepper.
    • Top with cucumbers (leaving the vinegar behind).
    • Put the top bread on top and tightly wrap the sandwich in the foil.
    • Place a heavy object on top of the sandwiches; let stand for at least 5 minutes of compression
    • Unwrap sandwiches from the foil, slice in half, and serve.