Stumbling into Kitchen Trends

I was sipping coffee in the kitchen this morning, standing over the part of the counter that has been successfully installed (more on that later) with Fine Cooking magazine open in front of me. It’s a nice feeling to stand over a finished (okay, partially finished) counter instead of the gaping holes into cabinet drawers. Yes, I have given up the ease of reaching into one of those holes for a utensil without needing to open a drawer, but in doing so have gained so much: a place to rest my coffee cup, my magazine, and several feet of actual work space. So this morning I stood there for a while and enjoyed the moment.

I also enjoyed the magazine. It was early, the coffee hadn’t yet done its work, so I can’t claim a lot of reading was going on. But leafing through was just enough, and led me to this article about Anna Thomas’s kitchen redesign project.

You might think I’d have had enough of kitchen redesign for the moment and for the most part I have. (Oh how I want my dishwasher wired, my hood installed, the shelves mounted, the tiling done! Oh how long it is taking to wrap those final details! Oh please hurry!) But something in the article’s photos caught my eye as I stood at my dark gray quartz counters set over cherry slab-door cabinetry: Ms. Thomas’s own cherry slab-door cabinetry underneath slightly darker gray soapstone counters. That, and the fact that she, too, had rejected upper cabinets. I peered closer, into the text of the article: “‘…I wanted the walls to be free of upper cabinets for an open feeling.’ So the bulky cabinets came out and expansive new windows went in, brightening the space.”

It seemed like the right call when I made the decision to go upper cabinet-free along the long – almost 20-feet – main wall of our kitchen. I arrived here first through aesthetics: I love the calm that envelops me as I stand in the midst of a kitchen of low horizontal lines. The feeling of openness Ms. Thomas describes is real – a physical reaction – and, to me, soothing. But as I began contemplating the decision, I also began to envision a day when I wouldn’t have to grab a step ladder every time I needed to set the table. And then there was the matter of lightness and brightness and cheer. We have a ceiling-height row of windows along that wall that let in a lot of beautiful natural light, light that had been somewhat obstructed by the protruding cabinetry. The very end of the galley in particular always felt dark, claustrophobic, and, quite honestly, unsettling; I never liked being down there (too bad, for that’s where the sink lived). In a redesign, I wanted light to flow everywhere, I wanted to like being in all parts of my kitchen, and so the decision to say goodbye to cabinets was a practical one as well. At least for me.

Some people find the idea odd, and would no more allow their kitchen to forgo the storage space provided by upper cabinets than they would walk out their front door without pants. Our builder, bless him, prefers adjectives such as bold or brave or unusual when he talks to his other clients about the kitchen he is making for us.

I don’t know that the kitchen is any of these things, odd or bold or unusual. I don’t even think the Thomas home or mine is in any way part of a new design trend toward cherry and stone, flat front slabs and cupboard-free kitchens. Perhaps all the similarities simply indicate a trend of taking time to consider the space at hand and how a family uses that space, what we like and don’t, what works, what doesn’t, all with the aim of  getting rid of what doesn’t and being able to walk every day into what does. I call it the trend of trusting instincts. This trend is a keeper, I think.

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Plum and Custard Tart Squares

I originally made the following recipe as a peach custard tart with peach slices turned into the Greek yoghurt-based custard and some crumbs scattered over the top. When I got some plums in my CSA share last week, I changed the recipe a bit (used all the crust crumbs for the base crust instead of crust and crumble topping; made one and one-half the amount of custard; cut back on the sugar; laid the fruit on top (for a less rustic finished look) and the recipe was equally delicious. This recipe is an easy one yielding an elegant dessert, and would work equally well with raspberries or blackberries and lime zest instead of lemon. I think if I make it again with peaches, I might add some mace or nutmeg to the custard instead of the vanilla bean paste. I used a 9×9-inch pan but you could also use for a 9-inch round deep tart pan with removable bottom. The square pan, however, made 16 perfect servings, each with topped with a plum half. Beautiful.

For the crust:

  • 1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • scant 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • zest of 1 small lemon
  • 12 Tbsp. chilled butter

Preheat the oven to 350. Spray a 9-inch square pan lightly with non stick spray.

Alternately you may use a 9-inch round (1-1/2 to 2-inches deep) false bottom tart pan. In this case, line the outside with a sheet of aluminum foil to prevent leaks.

Combine the flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest together in the bowl of a food processor fitted with metal blade. Pulse 2 or 3 times to combine. Add the chilled butter cut up into small cubes, and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Pat the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until lightly golden and just set. Remove shell from the oven and let cool for a few minutes while you assemble the fruit and custard filling.

For the filling:

  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt (I used non-fat and it worked fine)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla bean paste
  • 16 small red plums or prune plums, halved and pitted (alternately 1 pound fresh berries)

Wipe the bowl and blade of the food processor and reattach to the base. Place the eggs, sugar, yogurt, flour, salt, and vanilla into the food processor and pulse to blend well.

Reduce the oven heat to 325 degrees. Place the plum halves over the par-baked tart shell in four rows of four, and then gently pour the custard around the halves. Bake in the center of the preheated oven until the fruit is cooked and the custard sets, about 45 minutes. Let cool before slicing.


©2013 Jane A. Ward