Kitchen Mission: Choosing an Oven

Kitchen reno 13 Kitchen Mission: Choosing an Oven

I don’t exaggerate when I say choosing a stove is more important than choosing a car. (To me.)

Some people are surprised when they see my kitchen for the first time – long and narrow, nothing fancy, with an old electric GE oven that was here when we moved in and well-used (in a family with three boys) before that. That oven has cranked out so much over the past 8 years – 3 cookbooks, recipes for stories, family meals, obsessive testing of various edibles – and I’m sad to see it go, but I knew it wouldn’t live forever. We’ve been halfheartedly shopping for a stove for the past few years – every once in awhile we get the gumption to go out and look, perusing the dinged and discontinued back of the store sale items as well as the top of the line, until W drags his heels and complains loudly enough to convince us to abort our mission for another time.

We had narrowed it down to a couple stores we really liked that we’d wander through and would just pop by now and then, hoping, I think, that an oven would eventually choose us.

Jeromes oven collage 1 Kitchen Mission: Choosing an Oven

When people come to my house for the first time, they often stare at my oven for a few seconds and say, “you cook on that?” They expect an elaborate kitchen, with granite countertops and stainless this and that, but I liked having an everyoven – as much as anything as evidence that expensive appliances aren’t necessary for good cooking.

And then one weekend I was speaking at a conference, and during the Q&A afterward someone asked me about my kitchen. This was before our renos started, before I had even mentioned their imminence, but the pained expression on my face (and I’m not even sure how I answered) inspired one woman in the audience to come talk to me after. She worked at Jerome’s Appliance Gallery, and offered to hold my hand through the process; an offer I happily took her up on. When I got home and told Mike, he was like, “is that the store with the pretty stoves?” It was. (And is.)

Jeromes Oven 1 Kitchen Mission: Choosing an Oven

So we went, newly motivated to do more than window shop. Such beautiful stuff. There are so many choices these days when it comes to ovens – I imagine the average fifties housewife had the option of two or three models, but these days once you narrow it down to gas/electric/induction (a big decision in itself) you have even more room to play – how many burners? What brand? What colour? Do you want the range separated from the oven? How many ovens do you want? These days it seems half the population has two ovens at home; stacked wall ovens or a double oven, or a spare older one tucked in the garage. I could certainly make use of a double oven, but with a small kitchen in a 1300 square foot house, we don’t have much room for a second. Also: I don’t love wall ovens. And I don’t have any walls in which to put one, anyway. So stand-alone it is.

Also – who knew about drawer microwaves?? I didn’t!

Jeromes Drawer microwave Kitchen Mission: Choosing an Oven

Forget about wall ovens – I want a wall rotisserie! I should have married rich.

La Cornue rotisserie text Kitchen Mission: Choosing an Oven

First, let’s talk electric vs. gas, shall we? I’ll tell you right off the bat that a) I’m no oven expert, I just know what I like, and b) I’m not a fan of induction stoves. I’ve used my share of them in other kitchens – they’re common on TV sets, since they don’t stay hot when you’re finished cooking – and I don’t know if it’s just that I’m old-fashioned, a purist when it comes to my cooking appliances, tools and gadgets, but I never feel comfortable with them. I don’t like having to use just the right pan, ensuring it’s not even a little bit warped, lest it not make even contact with the stovetop. This said, I get why people do love them so much – you have great control of the temperature of whatever it is you’re cooking, and they’re easy to clean. Ditto those flat-surfaced ceramic stovetops, which were all the rage when my grandma got hers back in the 80s, and I dig the appeal of being able to wipe it clean rather than fiddle with elements and grates. But I also find they cook unevenly, especially if the bottom of your pan isn’t perfectly flush. (However, I have friends who love theirs – so there you go.)

And despite an oven’s functionality, I cringe at the thought of kitchen appliances with too many digital/computer components to it – so much more to go wrong. And I don’t believe appliances should be able to talk back.

Kitchen demo 8 585x390 Kitchen Mission: Choosing an Oven

I’ve always had a plain old electric oven at home. As I may have mentioned, I’ve been cooking on an old GE stove for the past 8 years, and never had an issue with it. It’s never fluttered or broken down. It’s never given me grief. It was basic, sturdy and reliable, heated up far more quickly than my Mom’s brand-new wall oven, and holds an even temperature – unlike hers, which tends to drop a hundred degrees or so whenever it feels like it. (Which meant we ate our first Thanksgiving dinner at their new house at around 9 pm.) My old oven wasn’t much to look at, but I loved it. I knew it intimately. I knew how it would brown cookies and pies and although it was slightly hotter in the back, it didn’t have hot spots. It wasn’t convection, obviously, but I was turned off of convection early on, back when Mike and I opened a bakery in the mid-nineties and had to buy a commercial convection oven that cost many thousands of dollars and refused to bake my cookies the same way they did at home. I had to fiddle with the recipe and temperature for weeks until I was satisfied with the results, and since then if I’m baking in an oven that has the option of convection, I rarely use it. I’m a little old school – although that may change.

the oven Kitchen Mission: Choosing an Oven

(All of these fancy toys are at Jerome’s.)

But, back to the stovetop. I love cooking with gas. It feels like actually cooking. I get so much pleasure out of cooking over an open flame, and I love the control you have over your food. It’s intense – sometimes a little too intense, when you can’t quite get it down to a simmer – but I’ve always wanted a gas stove, and now that W is older, I’m not as anxious about having him having access to an appliance with knobs that shoot flames out of the top.

That said, I like the control you have with an electric oven. I’ve cooked with gas ovens often, but I find them finicky – it’s a moister heat, and a little more foreign to me. A gas convection oven is little more than a gas oven with a fan in it, whereas an electric convection has elements around the fans themselves, essentially directing heat, and you have more control over where your heat comes from even without the convection on. And since electric ovens are far more common in Canadian households and I’m using mine for recipe testing, I want to stick with what most home cooks have in their own kitchens. Right?

the oven Kitchen Mission: Choosing an Oven

Then there are steam ovens – they cook more quickly and efficiently since water is such a great heat conduit, and they produce moist chicken and fish and fantastically crackly-crusted bread. But again, this oven will be producing food for everyone – not just us. I can’t write recipes using a steam oven.

So my general pick is: gas stovetop, electric oven. (Which is pretty common, despite how it sounds.) 6 burners, I think, so I can do more at once and Thanksgiving isn’t such a gong show, and I’ll only have the one… That narrows things down, but there’s still so much to choose from. And so many that are so pretty. I’d love to hear what you look for in an oven – what do you have? What do you dream of? What questions do you have? Let’s talk ovens!

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July 28 2014 | Kitchen Mission | 36 Comments »

Jambalaya on the Grill

grilled jambalaya 1 Jambalaya on the Grill

I do all my cooking – and dishes – outside now. It’s kind of like camping, with real beds.

grilled jambalaya 3 Jambalaya on the Grill

The grill is my new BFF. Really, it’s amazing what you can do on it. I’m wondering if I even need a stove. I’m getting so used to cooking in my back yard that I might not want to go back into my kitchen even if it does miraculously get finished. This morning I made jambalaya on it.

grilled jambalaya 4 Jambalaya on the Grill

I came across this recipe called “camping jambalaya” – I don’t know what kind of crazy camping cooks are out there, but I’m not this ambitious when I’m cooking over a campfire and sleeping in a tent. To me, camping is an excuse to eat hot dogs and Cheezies. I’m pretty sure you won’t find me mincing garlic at a campsite any time soon. However. You can grill the meat bits (sausage, chicken and shrimp) on the barbecue, and the rest of the bits in your cast iron skillet on the barbecue, then simmer the lot together with rice and tomatoes and stock and turn out a pretty decent meal without heating up the house, or while you have a gaping chasm where your kitchen used to be.

grilled jambalaya 2 Jambalaya on the Grill

(This is noticeably lacking chicken – only because when I went to get the thighs from the freezer, the frostbitten bag wasn’t actually chicken thighs. I need to learn to label my freezer packages. The jambalaya was still delicious.)

Jambalaya on the Grill

Adapted from Brad’s Campsite Jambalaya in Bon Appétit.

canola or olive oil, for cooking
1 lb skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 lb. garlic or farmers’ sausage
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2-3 celery stalks, chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 pint cherry tomatoes, some halved, some whole (or a couple of diced tomatoes)
1 cup long-grain white rice
2 tsp. each garlic powder, oregano and paprika
a few sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 lb raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
a handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley or cilantro

Preheat the grill to medium-high and set a large, heavy cast iron skillet directly on grate. Place the chicken thighs and sausage on the grill alongside it and cook, turning, until charred and cooked through. Remove to a wood cutting board and when it’s cool enough to handle, cut into bite-sized pieces.

Meanwhile, add a drizzle of oil to the skillet, and when it’s hot add the onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic. Cook, stirring often, for 4-5 minutes or until softened. Add the tomato paste and cook for another minute, then stir in the tomatoes, scraping up browned bits. Mix in the rice, spices, thyme and bay leaves. Add the stock; season with salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Move the pan to a cooler spot (or reduce the heat), cover with foil, and simmer until almost all the liquid is absorbed, 20–30 minutes.

Season shrimp with salt and pepper; quickly cook on the hot grill, then mix into the rice along with the chicken and sausage. Toss to combine and top with parsley.

Serves 6.

pixel Jambalaya on the Grill
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July 22 2014 | on the grill and one dish | 13 Comments »

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