Kitchen Remodel On A Strict Budget: It Can Be Done!

When Richard and I moved into our townhome last May, we knew that the first job to be tackled would have to be the kitchen.  I can live with a dingy, outdated master bath or overgrown patio for a while.  But I cannot live without a fully-functioning kitchen.

The townhome itself was built in 1968, a year during a time period that my mother fondly refers to as “the era that taste forgot.”  Despite that, the townhome is very solidly-constructed and has good flow.  But it also had all the original appliances, cabinets, flooring, paint — you name it, it was original to the house.  And it was awful.

We knew this going in, which is part of the reason we bought the townhome in the first place.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with the home, structurally-speaking.  But prospective buyers were simply unable to get past all of the cosmetic flaws and grime, which had added up to a very low asking price for the area.  Being handy and being totally able to see past the broken cabinets and stained carpets (for example, the previous owner had chewed tobacco and didn’t use a spitter; translation: he spat his tobacco juice DIRECTLY ONTO the carpet, which stained both the carpet and the carpet pad and is probably the nastiest thing I’ve ever encountered), we jumped on it.

Because we were so eager to get started on the kitchen remodel, we completely forgot to take pictures of it in its “before” state.  However, thanks to the magic of HAR.com‘s photo galleries, I was able to dig up some pictures of a similar kitchen in a townhome down the street from us.  Take a gander:

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Note the linoleum. Our was a greenish color, and when we started peeling it back to remove it, we actually found another layer of flowery linoleum beneath. I guess not everything was original.

Also note the cabinets. While this kitchen’s cabinets appear to be in decent condition, ours were hanging limply from their hinges and were broken and busted in places.

Lastly, please note the countertops. Again, these are in much better condition than ours. The genius who owned our house before had painted over the laminate countertops with some kind of textured paint. Textured. Paint. It was stained and scratched and gummy and impossible to clean and altogether totally disgusting.

Our appliances were also original, except for the refrigerator. The stove/oven no longer worked at all, nor did the dishwasher. The fridge was only a year old, but was coated inside and out with some kind of mysterious, viscous tar-like substance.  And the owner elected to take his ancient washer and dryer with him, thank God.

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This is the breakfast area off the kitchen. Note the lovely color on the walls. Our kitchen was white; no color whatsoever. But the white walls had been stained yellow by years of cooking and grime and God only knows what else.

There was also no light fixture in the breakfast area.  There was a ceiling fan.  I mean, I know that Texans love their ceiling fans, but in a kitchen?  What the hell?

I would also like to take this opportunity to mention the colonies of roaches that began emerging from the cabinets and nether regions of the appliances once we started the demo work.  Boric acid mixed with cornmeal is your best friend in situations like this.

Pictures of the new kitchen and a short description of the entire process after the jump. Continue reading Kitchen Remodel On A Strict Budget: It Can Be Done!

Breakfast

Sometimes it doesn’t matter what else you may have in the fridge or the pantry…

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All you want for breakfast is scrambled eggs and toast.

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With a little bit of plum preserves, of course.

Good morning, my scrumptious readers!

Herb Gardenette

Other titles suggested for this entry:

  • Herb Gardenito
  • Herb Garden-Lite
  • I Never Promised You An Herb Garden

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Sage.

As previously mentioned, we’ve been doing quite a bit of landscaping in the backyard lately.  We’ve been fortunate to have really smashing weather for the past few weekends and figured that now was the time, if any, before it got rancidly hot again in — oh, say — March.

One of my small contributions to the landscaping efforts was the introduction of an herb “garden.”  I had originally wanted to plant an entire vegetable garden with heads of cabbage and thick rows of collard greens and beets, with lovely, fragrant herbs throughout.  But that hasn’t quite panned out yet, for several reasons:

  1. We don’t get enough sun in the backyard;
  2. Neither of us have much spare time to tend to a vegetable patch;
  3. It would require even more landscaping work and we’re exhausted;
  4. I have the Black Thumb of Death (this is perhaps the most important consideration)

So, instead of a true Southern vegetable patch, I’ve reconciled myself to starting off with three tiny pots of herbs.  If I don’t manage to kill those, then we’re off to a good start!

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Cilantro.

I purchased some cilantro, parsley and sage at Wabash Feed Store while poking around aimlessly last Sunday morning, looking at chickens and fat little rabbits (this is what I do with my spare time).  There was no rhyme or reason to the purchase, other than that I really love cooking with all three herbs, although definitely not at the same time.

After purchasing a bag of wormcastings to start the herbs off on a good, wormy foot (and also purchasing a sawed-off cow’s femur with marrow and tendons and gooey chunks of fat still intact for our dog), I came home and planted our “herb gardenette.”

A short four days later, they seem to be doing well.  My father brought me two additional herbs — lavender plants — and they seem to be fitting in quite nicely with the sage.  I’ve been plucking cilantro leaves off right and left, however — popping them into my mouth like candy.  I should probably stop doing that; the poor thing is already starting to look bare.

Wish us luck in our gardening explorations!

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Tiny herb garden, top left-center.

An Open Letter

Dear Person Who Ate My Lunch Out Of The Freezer At Work Today:

Really?

I mean, I hear about this kind of lunch thievery all the time, but…I thought that people were just losing their lunches or being paranoid or something.  I didn’t know people like you actually exist.  You’re like the Lunchroom Boogeyman, but frightfully real, it turns out.

So, back to my original question:  Really?

You really ate someone else’s Weight Watchers® Smart Ones Santa Fe Chicken (now with a full serving of vegetables!) out of the lunchroom freezer?  Were you that desperate for food?  Because — truth be told — even I wasn’t looking forward to eating frozen chicken mush with sad little bell peppers and mealy black beans.  Not at all.  But you, apparently, were just that desperate.

There’s a cafeteria downstairs, you know.  And it actually has pretty decent food.  And there are about — oh, I don’t know — 75 million restaurants in the immediate vicinity.  This is Houston, after all.

But not for you, you rebel.  No.  You would rather break bad by surreptitiously nuking someone else’s frozen entree instead of buying a lunch or just bringing your own food from home.

I hope it was good.  I hope you enjoyed your full serving of vegetables and the twenty grams of protein that my lunch provided you.  Because at least then I’ll be sort okay with this whole “stealing my lunch” thing.  I mean, you got a nutritious meal and who am I to say that’s necessarily a bad thing, even if you did have to resort of sneakthievery for your nutrition needs?

But if you didn’t like it?  If it wasn’t good, or if you only took a few bites and then threw it out?  Then I’ll be pissed.  Because I’m the only one that’s allowed to decide whether or not the lunch I’ve purchased is crap.  And even if it is crap, I will totally choke it down anyway.  You know why?  Because that’s the only food I brought today and I’m hungry.

Which brings me to my next question: Since you so graciously helped yourself to my lunch, what were you imagining that I would eat in its place?  A cup of Butternut hot chocolate (that ubiquitously and mysteriously resides in every office lunchroom the world over)?  A sugar packet or two from the coffee bar?  Maybe help myself to some Hershey’s Kisses on my coworker’s desk?  Because none of those are particularly appealing choices for me.

Maybe next time you steal someone’s lunch, you can leave them a little note in lieu of the food, suggesting what they should eat in its place.  That would have been helpful.  Instead, I clawed around the freezer for a good five minutes looking for my lunch, tossing frozen bricks of food aside hither and thither like a madwoman.  A note would have made this entire expedition unnecessary and maybe I wouldn’t hate you as much as I do right now…

Nope.  I’d probably still hate you.

In closing, I hope you choked on my Santa Fe Chicken, you thieving bastard.  You suck.

Love,

K.

Landry’s Goes Private?

Well, that still remains to be seen.

But if Landry’s CEO and kingpin Tilman Fertitta has his way, he will purchase his company back from the public where he’ll be free to continue running Landry’s as he always has — like a private empire.

Initial public reaction to the possibility of Landry’s going private is varied.

Some people automatically assume that the falling stock prices which have made a buy-out bid feasible are a result of the Landry’s restaurants being, well, terrible.  And whether or not you agree with that, the truth is that people either love or hate the Landry’s ventures — the Kemah Boardwalk, the Downtown Aquarium, the legion Joe’s Crab Shacks littering the landscapes of so many towns like discarded styrofoam cups — but, unfortunately, that sentiment more often than not comes down on the side of love.

I personally dislike most Landry’s restaurants.  But a large percentage of people — whether out of a lack of taste or a lack of motivation to seek out better food — like them.  It’s true.  Your Average Joe likes the Cadillac Bar.  He likes taking his kids to Rainforest Cafe.  He likes eating lukewarm, low-quality seafood underneath giant plastic tubes with fish half-heartedly swimming inside of them.

So I don’t believe that it’s a lack of interest in the many Landry’s enterprises that has driven the stock down 50% over the past year.  There is another theory to which I tend to give more credence.  As one commenter on Loren Steffy’s story in the Chronicle put it:

Hmmm, make the stock price decrease over the year and then buy it for yourself and then make a profit…what a racket….

Before you hand me my tin foil hat, ask yourself if that really seems so improbable.  Short selling is a long-practiced method of obtaining stocks and/or companies at a lower price after a market freefall.  Who’s to say it hasn’t been used here?

Because this is technically a blog about food and not about the financial market, I’ll take a second to explain the market practices of short selling and Short and Distort…

Short selling is a practice used to artificially drive down the price of a company’s stock, so that one can repurchase the shares at a lower price and turn a mean profit.  It has been around for almost a century and was one of the chief causes of the Stock Market Crash in 1929.  Short selling’s cousin, the Short and Distort, was born right here in Houston during the Enron scandal.  The Short and Distort is a much dirtier practice, involving a campaign to deeply tarnish a company’s public image and using the ensuing fallout to lower the stock price until it hits a profitable amount for the short sellers to buy back.

Now, the question is: could Fertitta have been artificially lowering Landry’s stock price (indirectly or not) over the past year in order to bring the company down to a purchaseable position?  Some might ask what the point of such an exercise would be, especially in light of the fact that he’s offering to buy the stock at a hefty premium (40% as of last Friday’s closing price of $16.67 per share) and assume a large amount of debt.

There’s the obvious answer that Fertitta has made the $1.3 billion offer to, as Steffy notes, “thwart any rival bids.”  And then there’s the answer lying beneath the surface: that $1.3 billion is worth it to Feritta in order to have complete control over Landry’s and no longer have to answer to shareholders or stock markets.  Whether or not he makes a profit in the short-term makes no difference; it’s the control that’s in play here.

I’ve made it clear in the past that aside from disliking Landry’s restaurants, I also strongly disagree with their business practices.  And I am definitely not alone in this position.

Tilman Fertitta’s family, the famous Maceo brothers of Galveston, were deeply rooted in corrupt business practices during Galveston’s post-hurricane heyday throughout the 1920s and 1930s.  Sam and Rose Maceo, Fertitta’s great-grand uncles, were involved in bootlegging, drug trafficking and illegal gambling as well as running some of Galveston’s greatest entertainment attractions of the time, such as the famed Balinese Room (which, in an interesting footnote of history, was originally named The Grotto, a same name shared by the landmark Houston restaurant which Fertitta purchased some years back).

Sam and Rose Maceo and their “Junior Maceos” — Anthony J. Fertitta, Frank J. Fertitta Sr, Victor J. Fertitta, Sam T. Maceo, Vic A. Maceo and Lorenzo Grilliette — controlled the entertainment industry on Galveston Island for the better part of the early 20th century.  Their influence and wealth brought some of the era’s greatest performers to Galveston: Duke Ellington, Tony Bennet, Frank Sinatra, just to name a few.  Their empire eventually expanded into Las Vegas, culminating in the opening of the Desert Inn Hotel and Casino, the fifth hotel/casino to open on the Las Vegas Strip.

Tilman Fertitta’s business ventures have paralleled his family’s previous undertakings in several striking ways: the costly business interests he has in Galveston; the quiet attempts to bring gambling and casinos to the island; the numerous restaurants and entertainment venues created from nothing; and his aggressive entrance into the heady Las Vegas hotel and casino market.  His business tactics, however, are more closely guarded, although they should be subject to just as much scrutiny as his profiteering uncles’.

Could it be that — like his family — Fertitta is interested solely in running his business the way that he wants to, as an empire, without answering to any outside sources, whether they be the SEC, his shareholders or the public?  And that he is willing to undertake any means necessary to achieve this goal?

Will Landry’s go private?  Probably.  But the more intriguing question is: how?

Oh-oh-oh, Oh-oh-oh, I Love Sangria Wine

Good grief.  And I thought the TABC was bad.

In Virginia, serving sangria could land you in jail 

Serving the traditional Spanish beverage of sangria could land you in hot water in the southern state of Virginia, but lawmakers were debating Thursday whether to legalize the tapas bar favorite.

“We have a code in Virginia that says no distilled spirit may be added to wine or beer prior to a customer’s order,” Kristy Marshall, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control agency, told AFP.

“A lot of restaurants like to pre-mix a drink in the morning and have one big batch to serve throughout the day. It’s the pre-mixing that makes it illegal,” Marshall said.

Violating the code, which dates from 1934, a year after the end of the Prohibition Era, when alcohol was banned in the United States, is a “class one misdemeanor, punishable by a 2,500 dollars fine and/or 12 months in jail,” Marshall said.

And from today’s Chronicle:

Since 1934, the state has prohibited mixing wine or beer with spirits. Frances McDonald, vice president of La Tasca Spanish Tapas Bar and Restaurants, found that out the hard way when his Alexandria location was cited for violating the sangria ban in 2006 and fined $2,000.

McDonald and managing partner Shana McKillop appealed their case to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board on Thursday before going to the Capitol to urge legislators to pass a bill legalizing the red wine, liqueur and fruit concoction.

What’s a tapas restaurant without sangria?  Heresy!  Although it appears that if you’re ever actually in Spain, you should avoid sangria served at tapas bars like the plague.  Hmm.

More importantly, what was the impetus behind such a law back in the 1930s?  Anyone have any idea?  Mixing spirits with spirits…maybe.  Maybe.  But mixing wine and spirits?  Was there some kind of dangerous Kir epidemic in 1930s-era Virginia, where people were abusing their wine cocktails and causing untold damage to persons and properties? 

And why has Virginia taken so long to repeal such a strange law?  Then again, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code has an entire section devoted to “Offenses Related To Bingo,” so I guess we can’t really throw stones.

Porkchops With Cherry Tomato-Mustard Sauce

Enough, I say!

Enough posting links to and pictures of other peoples’ brilliant work in lieu of my own mediocre and haphazard creations.  I’m finally going to write about something I actually did for a change.

I’ve been putting off posting this for a while, not because it was a disaster, but because the photographs themselves are absolutely hideous.  I couldn’t get the light right, I couldn’t get the camera to focus and I was rushed because the people I was serving the meal to actually wanted to eat it, instead of sitting around and watching me take pictures of their food while it grew cold.  Stupid, impatient people.  Heh.

So, just keep in mind that while the photographs make the food look as if it was reconstituted out of some awful 1970s-era Baptist Ladies’ Fellowship cookbook, the food itself was really quite good.

Porkchops With Cherry Tomato-Mustard Sauce
Serves: 4

 

Before I discuss the ingredients, I’d like to talk a little bit about where I found this recipe.  My friend Sarah gave me the new Rocco DiSpirito cookbook recently.  Aside from the undeniable eye-candy on the front cover:

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Yum.

…there are also some fantastic-sounding recipes inside (Beef with Crispy Potatoes and Blue Cheese; Goat Cheese Ravioli; Fried Scallops with Melted Onions; just to name a few).

But the book itself is weird.  I’m educated-guessing that to replace the television income that has been depleted by his widely-publicized legal battle with his estranged produced/friend Jeffery Chodorow, he’s entered into a partnership with one or more food companies to promote their food in this cookbook.

The result is a bizarre mixture of polished yet accessible recipes (good!) with recurring calls for such random yet specific ingredients as “Amore® garlic paste” and “Victoria® Fra Diavolo sauce” or “Dole® classic Romaine lettuce” (bad!).  I mean, we’re getting down to brands of lettuce here?  Really?

The entire thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  These aren’t even things that real chefs cook with.  Canned okra?  Hellman’s® Dijonaise?  Real chefs aren’t sending their staff out with directions to the nearest Sam’s Club, all: “If you don’t return with 80 cans of Green Giant® creamed corn, you can kiss your ass good-bye!”  It’s a scam and it irritates the hell out of me.

If I wanted to cook with a specific list of pre-made, preservative-laden, name-brand ingredients, I’d rip the paper off the back of a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup.  It’s just not a very tasteful or professional way to write a cookbook and I find myself — yet again — disappointed with our boy wonder, whom I want so desperately to like.

All that said, I enjoyed the sound of Rocco’s recipe for porkchops with a mustard/cherry tomato sauce and decided to tweak it for my own tastes.  It’s quick, easy to make, and is a real crowd-pleaser, which is why I love it.  Finally…here is the recipe (brand names left out for everyone’s benefit): Continue reading Porkchops With Cherry Tomato-Mustard Sauce