Monday, April 27, 2009

Fajitas - Vietnamese Style

I love Vietnamese food. But I'll be honest, it's focused for the most part around phô and banh mi. I've had the odd dish of lemongrass chicken, and the delicious Vietnamese coffee served with condensed milk ... but for me that's been more than enough to know I like this cuisine.

I'd been reading about something call "Bò 7 món" ... literally, beef 7 ways. It's a series of beef dishes served with the usual assortment of been sprouts, Thai basil and other sliced and julienned veggies. Curious, I called my friend (and personal Asian food expert) Lee to try this specialty out at Song Huong.

Song Huong is typical of most Vietnamese restaurants in Vancouver. Low on decor, high on freshness. Neither of us had enough time to tackle 7 dishes at lunch ... nor the time we'd need for the post-meal nap. So, we opted for the slightly less daunting "Bò 3 món." It's essentially the same dish, but without the raw beef or the soup course found in the 7.

Along with the veggies, herbs, pickles and sauces, you're also presented with a plate of vermicelli, rice paper wraps and a bowl of hot water. You dip the rice paper in the water to make it pliable, place some of the beef and vegetables on the paper and then wrap it up fajita style. Really excellent all round, and with all those veggies, it HAS to be healthy, right?

Regardless of the nutrition factor, this is a really outstanding dish. Everything was really fresh and served nice and hot. Think of it as a great first date meal, or even a night out with the kids. Nothing is too "out there" and the whole "make your own meal" thing is always a good idea in my book.

Whether you order the 3 or 7 course meal, it's a flat $24.95. It's enough for 3 normal people, or 2 if you happen to eat like me and Lee. To be honest, I took home 6 of the ground beef rolls and a mess of veggies & herbs. They made a terrific snack with a Pino Gris the next night while watching the Canucks.
Song Huong Restaurant
1613 Nanaimo Street
Vancouver, BC V5L 4T9

(604) 251-1151

New Idea Monday: Fan Form & Function

There is a long raging debate in the design world about form vs. function. Many designers focus on what looks great while others pay more attention to making it all work. Nowhere is this idea more prevalent than in the appliance industry.

I am one of those designers who focuses on the function side of things, so I’m always excited when I find a new appliance that works well, but is really knocks it out of the park on the design front. A couple weeks ago I stumbled across this extractor (hood fan) design from Airone. Called the Moon, it is rated at just under 600cfm so it will handle most kitchen needs.

The Moon reminded me of a couple other manufacturers who make similar extractors.

Zephyr’s Tilt wal can go as high as 1000cfm, and features six angled panels that layer to form a truly unique look. Shown in Powder-coat Black, it’s also available in stainless steel.

The Matrix from Faber features a similar look in a slightly sleeker format. The stainless steel panels hide removable grease filters, and the fan even comes with its own remote control.

I'll delve more into the subject of ventilation later. But what's important to remember is that regardless what the appliance looks like, it needs to work properly. Otherwise it's just a piece of artwork taking up valuable wall space in your kitchen.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

We're All In This Together

Whether you decide to renovate your kitchen on your own, employ a design firm or hire a general contractor, it is imperative that all parties communicate well with each other. Framers, drywallers, plumbers and millworkers all rely on each other to prepare the job site for their section of the job.

If the framers don't follow the architects plans, the kitchen window might end up a couple inches from where it was planned. Not a big deal right? If the window isn't in the right location, the cabinets that were planned for that kitchen won't fit the way they were designed. Now we have a much bigger issue, since the homeowner was expecting the sink to be centred beneath the window

The firm I work with offers both full kitchen remodelling and installed cabinets & countertops only. If we are providing a complete remodel, it's easy to stay in communication with all the trades and make sure everyone's on the same page. But if my client is using their own contractor, it becomes even more important to be sure the design the client and I have planned is communicated to all involved.

Good plans are important. A picture is worth 1000 words. But nothing communicates like a site visit, face to face with the tradespeople. This week I made two site visits to a job site just to confirm how a window was being framed. Next week, I'll be meeting with the electrician to ensure the ceiling lights don't conflict with the cabinetry, the pendant lights are centred over the island, and low voltage wire is in the correct locations for my under cabinet lighting.

This extra work up front will pay off in 8 weeks when the cabinets are installed. True, lights can be moved and drywall patched and repaired. But if some simple information is communicated to all involved, delays are avoided, and the porject is completed sooner.

Monday, April 20, 2009

New Idea Monday: Raising Your Cooking Game

The appliance industry is always looking for ways to repackage exisitng appliances. Take for example the fridge with the bottom mount freezer or the microwave drawer. It’s the same appliance; we just have to access it differently.

Sometimes change is a good thing. The bottom mount freezer brings the fridge part, the part we access the most, to a more accessible height.

Sometimes change is … well … change. Take for example the new Gaggenau BL 253 Lift Oven. You don’t access this oven from the front. It mounts on the wall, and when you press a button, the floor of the oven lowers to countertop height. Food is placed on the oven floor, a button is pushed, and like ET rising into the mother ship your food is raised into the belly of the oven and cooked.

From Gaggeneau’s web site:

Since heat rises, the heat remains in the oven cavity, resulting in minimal energy loss during the lift operation. The lift oven’s functionality increases safety, as the need to reach into a hot oven to remove food has been eliminated. This fully integrated oven features 11 heating methods, including convection.
No doubt, this oven looks really slick. In fact, virtually all of Gaggeneau’s appliances look great … but, an elevator into your oven? Did we really ask for this? While it does free up counter space it's overall depth will have it sticking out beyond standard wall cabinets.

I'm filing this one under "an answer without a question." But then, I thought that about the Miele built-in coffee makers.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Nothing Faux-ny Here

A morning espresso and a pain au chocolat. I'm not sure if I enjoy anything more to start my day. It's probably the first thing I eat when visiting Paris. And while there are many many establishments throughout Metro Vancouver that serve excellent coffee, very few have the ambiance you get in a French café. That's not a bad thing. After all, we're not Paris. But when you're looking for a relaxing way to start the day, the French have it figured out.

Truth be told, it really has little to do with the food itself. It's more about the routine. The familiar face behind the counter, your favorite table, the music wafting through the room as the world rushes by.

And when you find such a place, there's a bit of reluctance whetheror not to share it with anyone. You may have friends that would appreciate your discovery, but there's also the fear that your secret hideaway will become the new "in" spot, leaving no space, and no ambience for you.

Fortunately, I'm the sharing type.

And so I present to you the Café at Les Faux Bourgeois. The café is an addition to the recently opened Les Faux Bourgeois restaurant which sits on a strange little triangle of park, just off the intersection of Kingsway & Fraser.  It's very tiny, with table seating for 8 or so, and counter seating for 3. As you can see by the menu the offerings are limited, but what is offered is top notch. My pain au chocolat was devoured before I thought to photograph it.

Now, if someone would put in a boules court in the little park across the street ...

Solid Design - Italian Style

I found this over at and considering I had just posted about solid surfacing ... well, the coincidence was too big to pass up.

This line of cabinetry is called Touch Tatoo. Manufactured by TM Italia Cucina, it features not only countertops, but doors and drawer fronts made from Corian. In addition, Touch Tatoo offers the consumer to customize the design on their cabinetry ... tatooing the cabinetry so to speak.

The "Touch" part of this line comes from new "touch-to-open" hardware, like Servo-Drive hardware from Blum. I'll spend some more time on this product later. In the meantime, the web site has more information, and even a couple of catchy videos!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Countertops: Solid Surface

Next in the countertop series we’re going to take a look at solid surfacing. Solid surfacing covers a wide range of products that share the following characteristics:
  • Man made
  • Non porous
  • Repairable
  • Post-formable

From Corian
Probably the best known brand name of solid surfacing is Corian, which has been around for over 40 years. Today there are many others on the market: Avonite, Gibraltar, Hi-Macs, and Staron to name but a few. Colour and composition are what differentiate these manufacturers from each other, but for the end user they all behave more or less the same.

Composition is typically acrylic polymers and alumina trihydrate, but polyester and other resins are also used. Colouration comes from other minerals, pigments and even ground up bits of solid surface itself. From personal experience, I look for the acrylic based products, and since most manufacturers that once used other resins are switching to acrylic I’d say that my experience is pretty common elsewhere. Bottom line: acrylic is more colour stable and maintains its strength longer than the other resins.

What makes solid surface most appealing is the fact it’s non-porous. Many solid surfaces are acceptable for use in commercial food prep areas because they do not absorb bacteria. Non-porous also means stain resistant, so if you forgot to wipe up the red wine you spilled the night before, you don’t have to worry about it staining.

From Avonite

The colour of each sheet of solid surface is continuous through the thickness of the sheet giving solid surface the benefit of being repairable. A Corian rep I know tells a story about a massive fire in the bar at the Sydney Yacht Club in Australia. The Corian bartop was recovered, and although warped and burned, fabricators were able to straighten it, clean it up and re-install it as though it were brand new.

Of course, most home-owners don’t have to deal with repairs of that magnitude. But for minor scratches and abrasions, solid surface performs equally as well. A little bit of buffing will get out most minor damage, and most can be handled without professional help.

Another attractive feature of solid surface is “invisible” seaming. While it may appear that a solid surface countertop is made from one piece, or even that it was formed from a mould, the fact is there are going to be seams. However, because of the adhesives used and the nature of solid surface these seams are practically invisible to the naked eye. Invisible seams also means there’s nothing for dirt to catch on. In the case of a solid surface sink this is a real benefit; countertop messes can simply be wiped straight into the sink with no ledge to catch on.

From Willis Supply
To take advatage of the post-formability of solid surface, fabricators apply heat, bend the material into whatever shape they'd like, and allow the material to cool. A little creativity allows fabricators to bend sheets of solid surface into furniture, sinks and even lamp shades.

For more information on solid surface check out The International Solid Surface Fabricators Association web site.

Monday, April 13, 2009

New Idea Mondays: Fridge Art Done Right

Something a little off-beat for today's NIM.

Visit most family kitchens and you’re likely to see their refrigerator covered in a wide variety of photographs, magnetic numbers & letters and colourful kids’ art.

The frigid monolith of macaroni-montages and glitter paintings may be beautiful to the family, but to most others … well, let's be honest. How much can one fridge take?

The folk at Motifo have come up with a brilliant answer to fridge art. Their magnetic art works packages include just under 1300 magnetic pieces, enough to turn any magnetic surface into a work of art.

Available in black & white and colour, each kit contains 6 mosaic design patterns, and once you've grown tired of those, the wed site offers up new designs on a regular basis.

Motifo is available at several shops in Australia, or by shopping online.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Spring has Sprung - Part II

I think I've mentioned the weather here hasn't been great. In fact it's been downright frigid. This week however, things have improved, and we've actually seen signs that Spring is on the way. And if there's one thing you can learn about Vancouverites, it's that we SPRINT outdoors once the good weather arrives. And sprint we did.

Today is Good Friday ... which means a 4 day weekend for many folk in Canada. So J and I grabbed the dogs and headed off to Rocky Point Park in Port Moody. This is one of my favourite places in Metro Vancouver. It's right beside the ocean, there are lots of trails to stroll some animals, and there's a Pajo's Fish & Chips in the park.

We skipped Pajo's today (SOB!) and instead made a picnic lunch, using the bread my son made last weekend. We also brought along some olives and pepperoncini peppers (LOVE these things) to augment the sandwiches. Add a little smoked chicken and some liver pate and you have a perfect excuse to walk your dogs 6 km around Burrard Inlet.

My message for today: good food is as much about ingredients as it is about where you eat it. If you're inside reading this today, grab something out of your fridge and get yourself outside!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Inventive Incentive?

In the last federal budget the Canadian government introduced several new incentives to help stimulate the economy. Of particular interest to those of us in the kitchen and bath industry is the Home Renovation Tax Credit.

Whether or not you believe incentives are the way out of the economic doldrums, the HRTC presents home owners with a terrific opportunity to save a bit on their 2009 tax return. If you also consider also that interest rates are as low as they’ve been in a long time, and that trades people are nowhere near as busy as they were even a year ago … well, now is a really great time to do that kitchen reno.

Nobody ever accused me of being subtle!

So here’s how the HRTC works:
  • The credit is 15% based on eligible expenditures made for renovations to eligible dwellings (a dwelling is considered eligible if it is an individual’s principal residence).

  • You apply the 15% to expenditures in excess of $1,000, but not more than $10,000. The maximum credit end up being $1,350 ($9,000 x 15%).

  • The credit applies to renos completed between January 27, 2009 and before February 1, 2010. However, if the agreement to do the work was made before January 28, 2009, then you’re out of luck.

  • Eligibility for the HRTC will be family-based, with only one credit allowed per family based on pooled expenses. If more than one family owns the dwelling together, then each can claim a credit.

  • Expenses that qualify are those that are made to renovate the dwelling, provided that the renovation is of “an enduring nature” and is integral to the dwelling as well as land that forms part of the dwelling.

    Examples of qualifying expenses: the cost of labour and professional services, building materials, fixtures, equipment rentals, and permits.

    Examples of non-qualifying expenses: routine repairs and maintenance, appliances, home electronics, financing costs associated with the reno.
Just in case you’re having trouble figuring out what to use the $1,350 for, here are a few suggestions:
  • A nice, quiet dishwasher.
  • Glass tiles for an average back splash.
  • A stainless steel under-mount sink.
  • A granite countertop for your island.
  • A weekend away at a resort while your kitchen is being gutted.
Keep in mind this is a summary of the HRTC. Be sure to visit the Government of Canada website for full details.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Grohe Ondus

I love Grohe. The German based plumbing fixture manufacturer consistently combines top quality faucets with cutting edge design. So it was with great excitement that I waited to see their latest bathroom series, Ondus.

Ondus not only features state of the art electronics to keep things functional and safe, it's a really beautiful series of faucets, tub fillers and shower sets. And to keep the entire bathroom coordinated, you can also get paper holders and towel bars to match.

The finishes are up the the usual Grohe standard, with the addition of 3 new colours: Moon White, Titanium and Velvet Black, giving you new design flexibility over the standard chrome and brass.

My only complaint? Nothing this cool is available in their kitchen line yet


Monday, April 6, 2009

Spring has Sprung

It finally arrived. Spring that is. After weeks of unseasonably cold weather the sun finally made an appearance and in usual Vancouver style, the whole city went outside, including yours truly.

Stop #1 ... opening weekend for baseball season for my youngest son. Anybody who has kids in sports knows what this means; weekends of concession stand food. Twizzlers, doughnuts, Drumsticks and hot dogs. After one weekend I'm thinking I'll be picnicking from now on. Which leads me to my eldest son and my second stop for the day:

My eldest is a student in the culinary programme at SRT high school in Maple Ridge and he's just landed a job in the bakery department at Safeway. After dropping of one son at his mother's house, I drop in on eldest son and a loaf of freshly baked bread (why does this blog seem to be taking on a baking theme?).

The loaf was warm and delicious and 1/3 of it didn't make it home. It also will fit nicely into my plan for this spring: I'll pick up fresh bread from one son and use it for sandwiches to eat while watching the other son's baseball games.

I love it when a plan comes together.

New Idea Monday: Recipe Tech

I love to cook. As it happens, this is a good quality for a kitchen designer to have. It allows me to think of the kitchen first and foremost as a functioning work-space. Yes, design is important, but how the kitchen functions is the driving force behind any design I do.

When I designed my kitchen, one functional aspect I neglected to a certain degree was the location of cookbooks and recipes. In my defense, I have an office just off the kitchen with plenty of bookshelves where 90% of our cookbooks sit. The remaining 10%, those which I use at least 2 or 3 times a week, have found a home in the cabinet above the stove. Not optimal, but workable.

But after working in the kitchen for a number of years, I began to think that there had to be a better, or rather a more technical solution to bringing recipes into the kitchen. My wife & I use the internet to search for recipe ideas on a regular basis. Sites like Epicurious, AllRecipes and many many others provide a wealth of ideas for those wonder what the heck is for dinner tonight? Add a laptop, some recipe software (we use EZ Recipe) and a wireless network to the equation and you have access to a world of recipes right in your kitchen.

A new stand-alone option is offered by the Key Ingredient web site. Called The Demy, it does essentially the same things that a laptop equipped with some recipe software would do. What sets it apart from the laptop solution is a) the price (approx $300 US) and b) its ability to synchronize with your recipe database at Key Ingredients. You can share recipes with the online community and pick up a few new ones of your own. Entering your own recipes is done manually, or by sending hard copies of your recipes to their ScanMyRecipes service.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Gallery - Caufield Classic

Get the flash player here:

This is the first in a series of galleries of projects I have completed over the year. I'll do my best to tag them in a way that will allow you to search for specific styles and features, but if I've missed something, just ask.

This kitchen is in West Vancouver on the south side of an oceanfront apartment. The views are stunning, outside and in! Classic Victorian Mitred doors extend into the dining room giving much needed storage and a sense of openness to this tiny kitchen. The addition of the desk to the other side of the apartment completes the look.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

HGTV: Caveat Emptor

Have you ever watched one of the remodel shows on HGTV and raised an eyebrow when the final bill was presented? I certainly have and so has Kelly Morisseau over at Kitchen Sync. Her latest article is a good read for anyone who has used TV as their basis for reality.

... as much as I appreciate all HGTV has done for the remodeling industry, my pet peeve is the lack of a disclaimer: "We got the materials through a deal with the suppliers, but we won't bother you with that. Or, at least, you should understand what we mean when we say, 'Cabinetry was supplied by xxx, a leader in blahblahblah.'

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Kitchen Tech: Induction Cooking

It all started with an apartment kitchen.

The client in question not only wanted a kitchen that was designed for a serious cook, she wanted appliances similarly appointed … which meant she wanted a gas cook surface. Unfortunately, there was no gas in the building and no amount of pestering (let alone money) was going to get the strata council to bring it into the building any time soon.

Fortunately induction cooking came to the rescue. Induction cooking has actually been in use since the 1970’s, but it’s really started to see widespread use in the home with most major appliance manufacturers offering induction cooking as an option.

So what exactly is induction cooking and why was it the best solution for this client? In basic terms, an induction cooktop uses a high frequency electro-magnetic field to make the cooking vessel become the source of heat, rather than the cooktop itself. So, if you were to turn on an element on an induction cooktop and place your hand on it, you would feel no heat. But put a cast iron frying pan on top, and the pan gets hot in a hurry. And because the heat comes from a direct response to the magnetic field, the heat adjustment is instant … every bit as instant as from gas.

For those of you who are interested in keeping things “green,” consider this: because the cooking vessel is now generating the heat, there is much less energy wasted. In the case of a gas cooktop you only have to see the flames licking around the side of a pot to know there’s a lot of heat going up the vent. The side benefit of this is less heat goes into your kitchen which can keep things much cooler. There’s a joke in here about not being able to stand the heat …

This is not to say that induction cooking is without its drawbacks. The most notable one involves your cookware. You know your aluminum, copper and Pyrex pots and pans? Not useable on an induction cooker. The magnetic field requires ferrous iron to work so if you don’t already own some, you may need to make an investment in new cookware.

For a complete run-down on induction cooking, check out The Induction Site.
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