Celebrating the First Meal in a New Kitchen
Three families share the special dishes they whipped up to christen their remodeled cooking spaces after months of anticipation
Renovating the kitchen usually means a restricted diet of frozen
or hot-plate meals squeezed in among searches for faucets, floor tile, and boxed-up cutlery. Maybe that's why the first supper after the work is done tastes so good. In this new column we showcase reader remodels and the “Hurray—we survived!” meals that followed. This month, one-dish dinners that'll satisfy a crowd.
Shown: An enlarged footprint gives a once-cramped kitchen plenty of room for impromptu get-togethers when friends drop by. The hardworking island is topped with stainless steel for a commercial-kitchen touch.
Nothing stimulates the appetite like tearing apart the kitchen—and disconnecting the stove. Just ask foodies Beth Dempsey and David Lasnick, whose kids, Ryan and Rachael, were 12 and 16 when the couple launched an overdue kitchen redo at their house in Stamford, Connecticut. “We put the fridge and the microwave in the dining room and used a window as a pass-through to the side yard,” says Beth, describing how everyone gathered around outside to scramble eggs on the grill.
As time went by and the weather turned cooler, they got more creative—or maybe just
more desperate. “I learned how to make steamed clams,” says Beth. “In the microwave.”
Microwaved shellfish was the least of their issues. “Everybody in our family loves to cook,” explains Beth. “That's why we decided to renovate when we did—we wanted to do it while our kids were still at home and able to enjoy it.”
But six months is a long time for four chefs to be separated from their favorite pots and pans. So what did they hunger for as they watched the contractor disappear down the driveway one last time? Nothing less than their favorite paella, chosen not only because it's festive and flavorful, says Beth, but also because it's "one big dish you can do ahead so that you can be with your friends."
"We had three families at the table," she recalls. "It was so much fun to celebrate with a good meal."
To save time, Steps 1 through 6 can be done in advance. Refrigerate the prepared ingredients until 75 minutes before serving.
½ pound chorizo or Italian sausage, chopped into bite-size pieces
6 chicken thighs, fat trimmed, seasoned with salt and pepper
2½ cups onion (about 3 medium onions), chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
5 ounces canned tomatoes (about ¾ cup), chopped
2 bay leaves
½ cup frozen peas
2 sweet red peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into 1-inch-wide strips
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 1-inch-wide strips
1 dozen hard-shell clams, such as littlenecks, washed
¾ pound uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
½ teaspoon saffron threads, or substitute ½ teaspoon turmeric
1¼ cups Arborio or medium-grain rice
¾ teaspoon salt
2½ cups chicken broth (such as Kitchen Basics Natural)
1 teaspoon paprika
½ bunch fresh parsley, minced
1. Brush a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with olive oil.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet, and saute chorizo (or sausage) until cooked. Transfer to a large bowl, pour off grease, and wipe out pan.
3. Heat another tablespoon of olive oil in same pan; add three chicken thighs, skin-side down. Wait about 6 minutes before turning, then cook about 8 minutes more. Transfer to bowl with sausage. Repeat with rest of chicken thighs.
4. Pour off excess grease and add onions to pan. Cook them slowly until soft, about 8 minutes. Add 5 minced garlic cloves, and cook while stirring, about 1 minute.
5. Add tomatoes and bay leaves. Cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes. Add peppers, toss, and transfer to a bowl.
6. In another bowl, toss shrimp with about 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 minced garlic clove, and a generous pinch of saffron (or turmeric). Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Note: If making in advance, refrigerate ingredients. About 75 minutes before serving, bring to room temperature and:
7. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Add rice and ¾ teaspoon salt to tomato-vegetable mixture, and spread mixture in pan. Using large spoon or your hands, push sausage and chicken pieces into rice mixture and add any juices from bowl.
8. Bring broth to a boil, adding paprika and remaining saffron (or turmeric). Pour evenly over rice. Cover pan tightly with foil, and bake until rice is almost tender, about 35 to 40 minutes.
9. Carefully remove foil, and wedge clams into rice. Top with shrimp and peas. Re-cover pan with foil, and cook until most of liquid is absorbed, clams have opened, and shrimp are pink, about 10 to 15 minutes.
10. Remove bay leaves, top with minced parsley, and serve.
½ cup olive oil
4 ounces prosciutto slices
⅔ cup pine nuts
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 large (6 ounce) packages baby spinach, washed
1 cup Parmesan cheese, shaved
1. Warm olive oil in a large skillet and add prosciutto. Cook until crisp, in batches if necessary.
2. Add pine nuts to pan and cook another 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat and add any prosciutto that was put aside.
3. Add balsamic vinegar and stir.
4. Place spinach in a large bowl, and pour pan mixture over it, tossing to distribute. Top with shaved Parmesan and serve.
Serves 6 to 8
Steps 1 through 5 can be done up to a day in advance; just cover filled ramekins with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Return them to room temperature before baking. This recipe can also be made in eight 4-ounce ramekins or custard cups (decrease cooking time to 8 minutes).
1½ sticks plus 2 tablespoons butter
8 ounces semisweet chocolate (such as Ghirardelli Intense Dark 60% Cacao or Nestle Chocolatier Dark Chocolate Baking Bar), broken into pieces
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
5 tablespoons sugar, plus extra for coating ramekins
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
Powdered sugar for dusting
Ice cream or whipped cream (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Use 2 tablespoons butter to grease six 6-ounce ramekins or custard cups, and dust each with 1 teaspoon of sugar.
2. In a microwave or over low heat, slowly melt 1½ sticks (¾ cup) butter and the chocolate, stirring till smooth. Set aside.
3. Using an electric mixer, beat eggs, egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, and salt in large bowl until thick and pale yellow.
4. Fold ⅓ of chocolate mixture into egg mixture. Fold in remaining chocolate mixture and flour until well blended.
5. Divide batter evenly among ramekins. Place on a rimmed baking sheet.
6. Bake 12 minutes or until sides are set but centers still jiggle. Move ramekins to a wire rack to cool for about 5 minutes. Serve in ramekins, or run a thin knife around top edge to loosen cakes, then carefully invert onto serving plates. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, and serve with ice cream or whipped cream.
Talk about nesting instinct. Chris Braun didn't knock down part of a wall and embark on five weeks' hard labor until his wife, Charlotte, was seven months pregnant. For years they'd studied redos in This Old House while bemoaning their galley kitchen's shortcomings; space was so tight, the fridge door banged into the peninsula and cooking
"felt like solitary confinement," says Chris. "Suddenly, we thought, We'd better do this now!"
Shown: A granite-topped peninsula and ceiling-hung cabinets delineate the kitchen without blocking light or views into adjoining rooms.
Charlotte, a former caterer, packed the freezer with their favorite dishes, and Chris moved the fridge, the microwave, and a hot plate into a spare bedroom downstairs. Then he demoed and rebuilt. Both sides of the family gathered to celebrate the new kitchen—and the new baby. "Charlotte's from the South,"says Chris, "so it had to be chicken with dumplings."
Shown: An angled sink wall handles more prep plus cleanup.
For the stew:
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts and thighs
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 carrots, sliced in ¼-inch rounds
2 celery ribs, sliced in ¼-inch rounds
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt
3 garlic cloves, minced
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1½ cups frozen peas
¾ cup dry sherry
⅓ cup heavy cream
For the dumplings:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons vegetable shortening
1 cup buttermilk
1. Bring broth to a simmer in a Dutch oven. Add chicken and return to simmer. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until chicken is just cooked through, about 10 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate, and tent loosely with aluminum foil. Transfer broth to a large bowl.
2. Return empty Dutch oven to medium-high heat, and melt butter. Add carrots, celery, onion, and salt, and cook until softened, about 7 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook about 30 seconds. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute, stirring frequently. Stir in sherry, scraping up browned bits. Stir in reserved broth, cream, thyme, bay leaves, and pepper, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer about 20 minutes.
For the dumplings:
3. Stir flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Rub shortening into flour mixture with your fingers to create coarse crumbs. Stir in buttermilk to make a shaggy dough.
4. To finish: Discard bay leaves and return stew to a simmer. Shred reserved chicken and add to stew along with any accumulated juices. Add peas. Drop 6 to 7 rounded ¼-cup-size dumplings into the broth. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until dumplings double in size, 15 to 18 minutes. Serve in shallow bowls.
When Lynda and Nick DeLallo found their 125-year-old cottage in Marietta, New York, it was so drafty in winter that they held on to their old house while they carried out a DIY overhaul. The kitchen, last renovated in the 1970s, was right at the top of their list. “We had to replace everything, even the floor,” says Lynda.
Hammering, sanding, and painting cut into Lynda's nights and weekends, when she normally enjoys fixing Italian food for the couple's extended family, including four teenage kids. “I became the barbecue queen,” she says of meals ginned up on the grill between trips to the hardware store.
Shown: To add character and save money, the DeLallos used salvaged counters and cabinet doors. Their kids and parents helped out during the redo and now gather on holidays to enjoy the results.
The couple saved by incorporating salvaged materials, and the whole gang helped, including Lynda's 84-year-old dad, who built the boxes for the cabinets. When the dust finally settled, everyone was ready to party. “I didn't want to be cooking at the last minute—I wanted to enjoy family time,” says Lynda. A recipe for “chicken parm” fit the bill. Prepared with the help of the couple's one big splurge, a rebuilt circa 1910 stove, it has since become a family favorite.
2½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup Italian-style bread crumbs
2 large eggs, beaten
2 24-ounce jars of spaghetti sauce (such as Newman's Own Marinara)
6 ounces Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
4 ounces Asiago cheese, freshly grated
1 pound spaghetti
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with olive oil and spread ⅓ jar of spaghetti sauce evenly in a baking dish.
2. Cut chicken into strips about 1 to 2 inches wide
3. Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Dip chicken strips in beaten eggs, then in bread crumbs, and brown in olive oil, about 1 minute per side, turning once (chicken doesn't need to be cooked through). Add oil to pan as needed.
4. Arrange sauteed chicken pieces in a baking dish, and pour rest of first jar of sauce over chicken.
5. Sprinkle both grated cheeses over chicken, and cover baking dish with foil. Bake for about 40 minutes, checking to make sure chicken is done.
6. Cook spaghetti, following package directions. Drain, transfer to a bowl, and toss with about 1 tablespoon olive oil.
7. Warm remaining jar of sauce.
8. To serve, place some spaghetti on each plate, top with a portion of the chicken in tomato sauce, making sure to include melted cheese, and spoon extra sauce on top of that. Season with black pepper, and serve.