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This kitchen reno is like the TV series that keeps coming back

November 2011

A home renovation project is like a sitcom series. There is the affable contractor, the slightly confused dad, the mom who has great design ideas but is just a little flustered (“Hey Luuuucy...”); Mike Holmes and HGTV come in and offer indispensable advice and somehow, it all works. Over the summer, it gets done and in the fall, the renovated room is shown off like a new grandchild. The theme song for this series is Whistle While You Work.

My series is a little different. Mine invariably gets cancelled during summer reruns. And, most frightening, every season begins the same.

It starts with the arrival of the IKEA catalog. We are inspired. Oh, look at all the neat rooms full of wonderfully designed products. Everything makes sense. But where, I ask, are the overflowing recycling bins, the compost bucket filled to the top with old teabags and a soupçon of fruit flies? Where is the dishwasher that only gets half the dishes done and the oven door that doesn’t quite close right? Where, in short, is my kitchen? Oh yeah, that’s what this renovation is all about.

So, filled with optimism and a bank account partially flush with last year’s tax rebate, we start the process again. Like Sisyphus, we push up the hill. We open the Ikea catalog and ohh and ahh. This year we will get it right. We measure appliances, looking at what is right (size) and wrong (dials on top of the stove next to the burner for Pete’s or someone else’s sake.) We babble of Nutids and Datids and Doofis (what insane computer selects these names?). We go to JC Perrault and Almar and Sears. We spend hours online comparing facts, figures and fridges, checking Consumer Reports and Epinions.

And, every year, we fail. Our problem is that we actually like what we have. We have a small kitchen, smaller than average, with appliances that made sense 30 years ago and still work. There is the smaller-than-average refrigerator, the portable dishwasher that wobbles across the floor when we need to use it. The microwave is analog. It has a dial and no digital readout but it is big enough to cook a turkey. The refrigerator does what it is supposed to do—it keeps food cold. It doesn’t spout cold water (amazingly, I use the tap for that) and the ice cubes are always ready inside the freezer, they don’t cascade from the door.

We have a 24-inch gas range. In New York, London and Paris, apartments come with 19-inch, 20-inch or 24-inch ranges. In Montreal, asking to look at a 24-inch range marks us as either severely impoverished or wildly eccentric.

There is a lovely 24-inch Aga range that costs $6,000. There is a flimsy GE model coming in at less than a 10th of that. Damn little in between.

This year’s Kitchen Renovation series has been true to form. After months of research and touring appliance showrooms, we have accomplished nothing. The series is over for another season. The last scene of the final show has us eagerly awaiting next year’s catalog. Over the credits, you can hear our theme song. It’s Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.”

In the meantime, I came across a wonderful way to cook a roast in Cook’s Illustrated. Their recipe is for prime rib. I found it also works great for less expensive cuts.

Buy a roast three to five inches thick. Remove the meat from its package, dry it and salt it well all over.

Put it in on a rack in the refrigerator, uncovered, for 24 hours. The circulating air and cool temperature ages the meat. Bring the meat out and let it come to room temperature, about an hour or two. Turn the oven to as low as you can get it, probably about 210F (or 100C).

Heat a little oil in a very hot frying pan large enough to hold the roast. When the oil is smoking, sear the meat well on all sides until it is well browned. Put the pan in the oven. Leave it for five hours. Yes, five! Check occasionally with an instant-read thermometer (these cost $10 to $20 in hardware stores and supermarkets).

Turn off the oven when the thermometer indicates that the meat’s internal temperature is 110F (44C), but keep the meat in the oven. The roast’s temperature will continue to climb to about 120F as the roast rests for another hour. This produces a delicious, rare roast beef. The juices can be strained and made into gravy with a little red wine and some beef or chicken stock.



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