Sunday, October 28, 2018

Visit to the Land Down Unda

My recent trip to Australia with the Stratford Sister Cities of the World was definitely a trip of a lifetime.  From the architectural eye candy in Melborne and Sydney (Opera House!!) to the variety of wildlife on Moonlit Sanctuary, Phillips Island and the Great Barrier Reef...and the people I met, I feel grateful to have had the experience. So much so, that I plan to return soon, this time with my husband. Two years in the planning, the 16 of us from Connecticut stayed at four and five star hotels and busy every day with excursions that provided us with a true sense of the country. Our hosts in Stratford, Victoria, John and Julie Ward, were awesome and very gracious during my stay with them and I have heard from them every day since returning home.

The food (for the most part) was nothing short of
Vegemite... NOT a big fan!
spectacular.  Aside from tasting Vegemite, one of their staples and one meal prepared for the masses coming to see the Penguin Parade, the food just seemed to just get better and better.  



Koala Friends & Expensive Drinks
Melborne is a melting pot of culinary culture. There is not a nationality that is not represented in this most immaculately clean city that provides free trams within its limits. Interestingly enough, there is a heavy Italian population there which is not surprising. When my family immigrated from Italy, half of them went to Ellis Island and the other half went to Australia. The city is very progressive, and you can see by the architecture that there has been an ongoing boom within the past 30 years. It's almost like the designers keep trying to outdo each other from one building to the next. Although they are respectful of the historical buildings, the additions and new construction hardly have a right angle to be found and lots of curved curtain walls. Ok, enough archi-speak. The group met for a nice pre-fixe dinner at the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant. Looked like the railroad car from the Wild, Wild West! It was there that I tried kangaroo carpaccio. Was not a big fan- not so much for the taste, but the texture. And after feeding them at the Moonlit Sanctuary, it was hard to eat it. 


Feeding Kangaroos
Our group was very lucky to go on excursions for two days to see Australian wildlife including the Parade of the Penguins on Phillips Island at night. It was amazing to see the little penguins swim onto shore, shake themselves off and waddle in single file on their paths to their individual burrows. We also saw the 12 Apostles along the Grand Pacific Highway, very similar to the Pacific Highway in California. This was the location of Florida Georgia Line's music video H.O.L.Y.
12 Apostles 
The ocean and the cliffs were beyond words. The video is beautiful but doesn't compare to seeing it in person. We had a fantastic tour guide for those two days and Fred Garcarczyk, who was highly entertaining, had a way of connecting with our group. The back stories of the city, the sports competition, the information on the landscape, stargazing.... it was all spectacular. And when his daughter had a close call accident on the evening of the second day, our group sang to him upon our departure- something I am sure he will never forget. Thanks Fred of Oceania Tours, good on 'ya!

Classic Fish and Chips
Fish and Chips are one of the staples there, except that they use flake or shark instead of cod or haddock. There was a lot of this to be had, for sure and some better than others. One thing that I found interesting was that the wine glasses had a small white line on them, indicating how far (or not so in this case) to fill the glass. Oh, and the martinis were $35 dollars each and only filled half way. Yeah, I guess you could say that it was the closest thing to highway robbery that I have seen in the recent past, but what the hey, I was in Australia!
Sea Spray Beach

Stratford is a small town in Victoria, Australia and I was blessed to stay with John and Julie
The Fabulous John and Julie Ward
Ward, our hosts who live on a 100 acre farm. They live in a cute, post-war house overlooking acres of land and dotted with beautiful paper trees including a family of deer, a sweet dog and cozy cat and a cockatoo. John was up each morning to make a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon and toast while Julie shared creamed honey and her tomato jam which was fabulous. Ironically, I tried Vegemite on the product's 96th birthday. Not sure what it is really made of but all I can say is that it has the look and consistency of the beef flavored Better Than Bullion. I spread it on toast and had all I could do to keep it down! So, while we were on an excursion to Raymond Island to see the koala bears, John was my personal tour guide that day and we made a quick stop into a grocery store.  I wanted to find things that we don't have here in the US.  I was amazed at how BIG the kiwi fruit was! A good three times the size of the ones we have here. I opted to pick up Tim Tams, a favorite cookie that is best described as a Keebler Elf cookie dipped in chocolate. A lot of us brought them home with us and I was amazed to learn that you can buy them at Target. I was also taken by a sweet dessert called Hedgehog Cake.  It's a semi-dense chocolate cake that has coconut in it and it is not too sweet- cannot wait to make it.


The Ward's also have a beach cottage at Seaspray, about 35 miles from Stratford. Beautiful, sweet cottage/gallery a short walk from the beach. Julie is an incredibly talented artist and musician. She took me for a walk on the beach, a bit chilly, but very beautiful. Of course, I picked up pockets full of shells, which are very different from the ones here on the east coast of the US. They have a colorful, blue and pink plaid design on them. Yes, I hand carried them and smuggled them back home. Like my friend Shelia says: "Shells tell
Julie's Canvas on My Shelf at Home
stories all their own". I was very taken back the last day l was there when I saw Julie, sipping tea in her lavender bathrobe painting seascapes on small canvases as gifts. Mine is proudly displayed in my sea themed master bathroom.


Sydney is as spectacular as you would imagine. If you were following the Royals last week, you saw them in Sydney and Bondi Beach. So great to have been to those places and see the multi-million dollar views from a different perspective. Sydney is a very expensive city to live in and most who live there are business professionals that work and/or live in the city. They had an inter-city transportation system like Melborne, however at some point decided to do away with it. Regretting the decision, they are currently building a new inter-city tram system, very much the Big Dig in Boston and costs just as much as construction workers are on the job 24/7. Construction was in full swing in front of the Four Seasons Hotel where we stayed. The view of the harbor and the Opera House was spectacular! Architecturally speaking, the buildings
City Architecture
were nice, but not as interesting as the ones that adorned Melborne. Don't get me wrong, it is a fascinating city and I can see why there is this ongoing competition with Melborne on many levels. 


The first day there, we were taken on a private yacht on a 4 hour tour of the harbor which included a fantastic lunch prepared on board. I was somewhat amazed that the crew was able to pull it off but it was great and a good time was had by all. Even got to see Russell Crowe's townhouse that juts out into the harbor. The last day in Sydney, my travel companion Kathy and I decided to tour the Opera House. Nothing short of
The Iconic Sydney Opera House
breathtakingly spectacular! I didn't realize the magnitude of the venue until then and certainly had no idea that the Opera House is in fact, three separate buildings. The back story was as amazing as the architecture itself. Added bonus: we got to see the Symphony Orchestra practice during the tour and it was magnificent! In between all these activities, I had the opportunity to meet the Head Chef, Jasper Puzon, of the Four Seasons Hotel and got a behind the scenes tour of the kitchen and bakery areas. In fact, I was invited to cook with the pastry chef but the only day I had time was on a day when the hotel was preoccupied with a large, legal organization event. They were very gracious and generous and sent desserts over for two nights in a row to me and my four "Koala Friends". 


Sunrise View from Hotel in Caines
Caines is where it was the most warm as compared to the other cities that were somewhat chilly since they were entering into their springtime. The hotel actually had mini apartments overlooking the ocean and the sunrises were spectacular! It was absolute heaven! Another excursion took us on a Catamaran to Michelmas Cay, home of the Great Barrier Reef. It was a beautiful,
Great Barrier Reef 
sunny day and the color of the water was indescribable. Our group was in a special boat with a glass hull so we were essentially underwater, looking at beautiful fish, sea turtles and the reef. Amazing! 


The next day, we went on an Aboriginal tour and had the experience of learning from the Kuku Yulanji tribe and learned about its 160 million year history in this ancient part of the world.  We learned how to spear fish in the ocean, walk the rain forest, participated in a smoke ceremony and learned about Aboriginal body painting, a personal ornamentation that is an ancient tradition which carries deep spiritual significance for Australian Indigenous people and varies based on tribes and topographical location. 

Serenity Pool
Secret Garden Cocktail
Australian Lamb Chops
Ok, so vacation is coming to a close, and Kathy and I enjoyed time at two of the three pools on the grounds including a Serenity Pool and the Secret Garden cocktail that includes rose wine, prosecco, elderflower liquor on edible flower infused ice cubes and a strip of cucumber. All I can say is WOW!! Dinner the last night in Australia included (of course) lamb chops. Aussies like to cook them very well done, but I opted for medium.  

Australia was everything (and more!) than I expected it to be and its history, landscape and people are fascinating. I enjoyed meeting new friends, both near and far, and look forward to going back again soon!

Monday, May 7, 2018

In Search of the Ultimate Key Lime Pie

Sunset over Siesta Key Beach
Who doesn't like this bright and cheery, tart and creamy, key lime pie? It's deliciously refreshing and a beloved. treat found throughout Florida.  A must for a sweet, citrus treat for the upcoming summer months.  I recently spent a week in Florida with my husband and my very good friend, Jackie Partridge.  This was our second year in a row at the House of the Sun condo on Siesta Key Beach. Great weather, day trips, awesome restaurants, walks on the beach and sunset cocktails.  It was a relaxing vacation in a gorgeous location.  One of our pastimes was to taste and rate key lime pies all throughout Siesta Key and beyond.  We tasted them at every eatery, deconstructing them all, rating them and discussing how combining our favorite elements to create the ultimate and unbeatable key lime pie.  We ranked them all between 1 - 5, 5 being the highest and here's what we found:

4.0    Phillippi Creek, Sarasota, FL        
Great texture and flavor of filling.  Seemed like there were ground nuts in the filling.  Points off for fake whipped cream.

3.25    Turtles, Siesta Key, FL                
Filling was too light and too creamy for a key lime pie.  Crust was to limey and soggy, but the real whipped cream was great.

3.75    South Beach Bar & Grill, Madeira Beach, FL
Presentation was awesome.  Crust was good but needed more texture and flavor.  Real whipped cream and a raspberry / lime embellishment.

4.0     Walt's Fish Market, Siesta Key, FL
Crust was good and included crushed shortbread, however filling needed more lime.  Real whipped cream topped this great pie.

3.5    Mike's Pie, Seminole, FL
Purchased at a gourmet food store, this pie had more lime and not as sweet as the others.  Crust was grainy and just a little too sweet.

Based on this taste test, I think I have developed what I think is the ultimate and unbeatable Key Lime Pie! Try it for yourself and let me know what you think.

Marcia's Ultimate Key Lime Pie
Marcia's Ultimate Key Lime Pie

Graham Cracker Crust:
1 c. graham cracker crumbs
1/2 c. ground ginger, shortbread or coconut cookies
1/4 c. sugar
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 c. melted butter

Filling:
4 egg yolks [2 egg whites, whipped, optional]
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 c. fresh lime juice
2 T. fresh lemon juice (3 - 4 limes)
1 t. lime zest

Whipped Cream Topping:
1 c. heavy cream
3 T. confectioners' sugar

Pie Ingredients
Preparation:
Preheat oven 350 degrees.
In a medium mixing bowl, stir together dry ingredients and drizzle with melted butter.  Stir until combined and press evenly into the bottom and sides of a 9 inch pie plate.  Bake until set, about 10 min.  Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.  Leave oven on.

Filling: In large mixing bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sweetened condensed milk.  Add lime and lemon juices and zest.  [At this point, you can fold in 2 whipped egg whites if you want the filling to be a little lighter and not so dense]  Spread mixture in pre-baked crust and bake until set in the center, about 25 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and cool completely.  Refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving.

Garnish and Serve: In medium bowl, combine cream and sugar.  Whisk until stiff peaks form. Cut into slices and garnish with whipped cream and top cream with a twist of a slice of lime.

Key Lime Pie Martini  for those of you who would rather drink your dessert

Rim 4 martini glasses with fresh lime wedge and dredge in a mix of 1/2 graham cracker crumbs and 1/2 shortbread cookie crumbs.  Put in freezer until ready to use.
Key Lime Pie Martini

Martini mix:
1/3 c. vanilla liquor
1/3 c. vodka
1/4 c. fresh lime juice
1/4 c. orange juice
1/3 c. coconut milk creamer

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Happy Birthday to Me

Happy Birthday to Me!
Usually, I am the one who plans and organizes social events, but this time it was my husband Bruce.  Originally planned to be a different dinner altogether, this event turned into an expanded Valentines and birthday celebration with an intimate group of friends. In this case, Bruce was expanding the guest list, not me.  On this snowy night, twelve of us sat down for a very memorable celebratory dinner that I thoroughly enjoyed preparing.  

IT'S ALL ABOUT THE DETAILS 
Heart Shaped Ice Cubes at the Bar
There was one overarching theme that resonated throughout the night:  Hearts.  From the prosecco to the decoration to the ice cubes in the bucket on the bar and the individual flourless chocolate cakes. The table was set perfectly with my grandmother's china, silverware and varying styles of champagne glasses and white linen napkins.  Candles adorned the length of the table to set an intimate atmosphere and the fabulous music of Chris Botti played in the background.  
Prosecco Toast


THE MENU WAS PERFECTION  No dinner party would be complete without the appropriate cocktails and wine to accompany a fantastic meal.  Prosecco was flowing- everyone received a glass upon entering our house.  I have a collection of various champagne glasses and like to use them whenever I can.  Having different styles helps to up the festive atmosphere. For those who preferred high end liquor, it was served over a large sphere, slow melting ice cube.  Pinot Noir accompanied the meal perfectly and Muscat dessert wine was served along with other cordials with the chocolate desserts.  My birthday cake was custom made by the chef at Pine Orchard Yacht Club and took two days to make.  Comprised of chocolate mousse and dark chocolate wafer layers, it was served with an amazing raspberry sauce.  The other desserts included flourless chocolate cakes and homemade chocolate truffles. 
Dinner Plate
I created the menu based on all my favorite foods- afterall, it was my birthday, so why not? P.S. The French Onion Soup is Julia Child's recipe- by far the best I've ever had!  The entire menu included:


Stuffed Mushrooms
Chicken Pate

French Onion Soup

Grilled Lamb Chops with a Cherry Bourbon Sauce
Smashed Potatoes (refer to 03.14 blog post for recipe)
Asparagus wrapped in Prosciutto with a Balsamic Glaze

Individual Flourless Chocolate Cakes (refer to 02.11 blog post for recipe)
Chocolate Truffles
Lamb Chops Marinating 

Grilled Lamb Chops
Bone in Lamb Chops topped with
Olive Oil
Chopped Garlic
Fresh Chopped Rosemary
Salt and Pepper

Grill over hot coals 5 minutes each side.  Let rest and serve.

Cherry Bourbon Sauce
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. cider vinegar
Boil 10 min.  Hold aside and add at end.
In separate saucepan:
8 oz. halved cherries
2 T. butter
2 T. sugar
Cook 3 min. and add:
1 1/2 c. chicken stock
1/2 c. bourbon
1 T. molasses
1 T. maple syrup
Salt & Pepper to taste
Add sugar vinegar syrup.

French Onion Soup
French Onion Soup

6 c. sliced onions
3 T. butter
1 T. oil
1/2 t. sugar
Cook in large pot until browned then add 2 T. flour.  Cook briefly then add:
5 qts. beef stock (best if made from scratch!)
2 c. white wine
Simmer 30 minutes.
Line bottom of crock with toasted french bread.  Top with swiss cheese.  Pour soup over top then add a splash of cognac. Top with more another slice of bread, grated swiss cheese and a sprinkle of parmesan.  Cook in 450 degree oven for 20 minutes.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Dessert as Easy as 1, 2, 3

Chocolate Puff right out of the oven
Have you ever been in a twist over what to make for dessert when you have unexpected company? Ever have to bring dessert to dinner at a friend's house?  How about just needing something quick and simple, yet elegant and satisfying? I have the answer for you.


3 Simple Ingredients
It's a Chocolate Puff.  Yes, I know it sounds more complicated than it really is, but believe me, it's quick and simple.  The only thing simpler would be ice cream sundaes. Really- trust me on this.  This has become my new go to dessert, and everyone LOVES it! All you need is three simple ingredients.  Keep them on hand and you will never be at a loss for a quick and elegant dessert again.

Chocolate Puff

1 package frozen puff pastry, thawed
Step 1
1 large chocolate bar of your choice (I prefer Special Dark)
Slivered almonds, large handful



Unfold pastry on a cutting board. 
Place chocolate bar in the center of the center panel.

Step 2

Make vertical cuts at each of the four corners of the candy bar to the edge of the pastry.


Make about 5 (45 degree angle) cuts on either side of the bar.
Fold ends over the chocolate bar.  Fold angled strips alternately across front of the candy bar as if you were making a braid.
Step 3


Carefully place pastry on parchment lined baking sheet. 
Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with slivered almonds. Bake at 425 degrees for approx. 15 - 20 minutes until puffed and golden.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Are You Waffling?

Stove top Waffle Iron
Like most people do from time to time, I've been vacillating about making a career move recently.  I guess you could say that I'm waffling about some of my options. But since this blog is about food and not my career in design and construction, let's talk about another type of waffling.  

I have a stove top Belgium waffle iron that has been under utilized for years.  I take it out rarely to make waffles for an occasional Sunday brunch.  So I decided to use it for some favorite foods.  Mostly because it seemed like a much more healthy alternative than frying.  And the geometric shape of a waffle is unexpected and fun.  There's something about waffle geometry and the transformative power of the waffle iron that turns (almost) any recipe into an adventure.  


The stove top waffle iron was patented by Dutch American inventor Cornelius Swathout on August 24, 1869 and its anniversary is celebrated as National Waffle Day.   The Belgium Waffle was brought to the US at the New York World's Fair in 1964 by Brussels restauranteur Maurice Vermersch based on the recipe that his wife developed during World War II.  I remember the first time I had a Belgium waffle with ice cream and stawberries- it was at the Big E in the mid 70's.  I thought it was AMAZING.  You will find that the following Belgium waffle recipe is just as amazing because it is light and airy on the inside and has a slight crunch on the outside.  Mother's Day is tomorrow, and if you are planning on making breakfast or brunch, you might want to consider this classic favorite.

Waffled hash browns with poached egg

So, I've fallen in love with my waffle iron all over again recently and discovered that it can be used for any number of foods.  One of my favorites is hash browns! If you don't have time to make them from scratch, you can use tater tots- they work just as well.  Serve with a poached egg on top and you have a real breakfast winner.  I've also discovered that you can waffle the following:


Waffled Dumplings
Crab Cakes
Banana Bread
Dumplings / Pierogies / Ravioli
Chicken Fingers
Rice
Mac & Cheese
Portobello Mushrooms
Hamburgers
French Toast
Grilled Cheese 
BLT's
Quesadillas

What are you waffling about? Get creative, be adventurous, and surprise your family with something unexpected and fun!


Classic Belgium Waffles
Belgium Waffles with Strawberries and Syrup


4 eggs, separated

1/4 c. sugar
1 t. salt
6 T. butter, melted
2 c. flour
2 t. baking powder
1 1/3 c. milk

Beat egg whites until stiff; set aside.  In mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients.  In a separate bowl, beat milk, egg yolks and butter and add to dry ingredients.  Beat until batter is smooth. Fold in egg whites. Bake in waffle iron until golden and crisp, about 4 minutes.



Sunday, May 1, 2016

Blessed is the Holy Trinity



The Culinary Holy Trinity is a Base for Many Dishes
The holy trinity in cooking is a combination of 3 aromatic ingredients, whether it’s vegetables, herbs or spices that are gently sautéed together to provide a flavor base to build upon.  The fundamental essence in many dishes begins with these key ingredients.  In Italian cooking, it is sometimes referred to as battuto and includes onions, carrots and celery in a 2:1:1 ratio.  In France, this is called mirepoix.
The battuto in southern Italy is typically comprised of tomato, garlic and basil.  Chopped, raw ingredients make up the battuto, a derivative of battere, which means “to strike” and describes the use of a chef’s knife chopping on a cutting board.  While it is best to hand chop the vegetables, the most effective tool is a food processor, used on the pulse setting.
Three ingredients that represent the base of various cuisines, each ingredient is chopped very fine and sautéed in oil or butter to release their flavor.  When experiencing with different cuisines, it is important to know their unique trinities:

French:                 onions, carrots, celery
Italian:                  tomatoes, garlic, basil
Greek:                  lemon juice, olive oil, oregano
Indian:                  garlic, ginger, onion
Korean:                garlic, ginseng, kimchi
Spanish:               garlic, onion, tomato
Tai:                        lime, lemongrass, ginger
West African:      garlic, chili peppers, shallots
Chinese:              scallions, ginger, garlic
Japanese:            dashi, mirin, soy sauce
Cajun:                  celery, bell pepper, onion
Cuban:                 garlic, bell pepper, onion

I was thinking about this as I was making a pot of Bolognese sauce over the weekend.  If you had walked into my kitchen, you would have thought you were in a restaurant in Florence, Italy.  And it all began with the battuto.


Classic Bolognese Sauce

1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter, divided
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 large carrot, chopped
2.5  lbs. mix of ground beef, veal and pork
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup red wine
1/2 cup whole milk
pinch of ground nutmeg
2 cups canned Italian whole plum tomatoes, chopped, with their juice
1 lb pasta (traditionally tagliatelle, but fettuccine and spaghetti work too)
In a Dutch oven, or large heavy bottomed pot, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent. Add the celery and carrot and sauté for an additional 2 minutes.

Add the ground meats, using a fork or spatula to crumble it as you stir. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook meat just until it is no longer pink.

Add the wine and increase heat to medium-high. Let the wine simmer until it has evaporated completely. 

Add the milk and a pinch of nutmeg. Reduce heat to medium and let the milk simmer until it has evaporated completely. 

Add the tomatoes and stir until thoroughly mixed. When the tomatoes begin to bubble, reduce heat to the lowest simmer and cook uncovered for at least 3 hours, but optimally 5 hours. Stir occasionally during the cooking process. If you keep it on the lowest possible simmer, you shouldn’t need to add any more liquid. If, however, it starts to stick, add a few tablespoons of water, but make sure no water is left at the end of the cooking time. Taste and adjust salt if necessary. 

Serve over cooked pasta, tossed with a teaspoon or two of butter. Top generously with freshly grated Parmesan.

 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

My Kitchen Update

Newly updated kitchen
It all started because my basement refrigerator died. Realizing that it would be best to just relocate our kitchen refrigerator downstairs, was the start of our kitchen update.  I say update because we didn't do any major renovations, just an update of the appliances, counter tops, furniture, paint, lighting and window treatments. Believe me, it felt more than that, but in the end it was all worth it.  

Kitchen before the update
Our home is only about 20 years old and the existing kitchen echoed it. White appliances scream 90's, so that's where we began.  Honestly, I never thought I'd get so excited about kitchen appliances, but I did.  The hardest part was finding a refrigerator that served our purposes and fit within the existing space.  One thing I did not want to do was cut into the existing, beautiful cabinetry.
New refrigerator
Luckily we found one from Fisher & Paykel which worked perfectly.  I didn't really care about the dishwasher as long as it was
quiet, but the stove I did.  I love the new stove which is automated yet very easy to use and clean. We also added under cabinet lighting and an extra light over the sink to enhance the lighting in the kitchen, and believe me- what a difference ambient lighting makes!  I put in a new, large and deep stainless steel (chef) sink with a trendy bronze faucet to complete the appliances.

Perimeter counter top design
The counter tops were more difficult to decide on.
We used elements of the earth and the ocean as our inspiration. However when it was all installed, particularly on the island where I do all the prep for my cooking, there seemed to be too much movement in the pattern. Ultimately, what we decided to do was re-purpose the island counter in the adjacent laundry room and put a more solid counter top to 'anchor' the kitchen. The black counter top is not a solid, it does have a pattern which resembles a summer starry night. Working in the design and construction industry for 25 years and married to an architect, you'd think I'd get the concept of form follows function..... my bad.  As for the shape, we
Re-purposed counter in laundry
added depth in order to create an overhang which matched the eyebrow style of the cornice over the sink window. Since everything in the kitchen was square, it was nice to add some curves and rounded edges, similar to the small stand and new, Pottery Barn kitchen table and counter stools.
 Also had complimentary back splash tile installed which tied a tight bow around the L-shaped counter to add dimension where all the 'light' was.  We opted for more subtle colors to blend in seamlessly with the new color palette.



Galley view- note new stove and tile
The existing muted eggplant wall color was changed to more of a green-putty color to compliment the kitchen elements rather than fight with them.  I made the purple work for 7 years by complimenting it with sage green, but now it was time to move on to a more sophisticated palette.  I also removed the outdated appliance garage and replaced the stain glass insert in the cabinet door above it to blend more seamlessly with the new design.

New granite bar top
Ok, now on to scope creep. Happens in all the projects I've been involved in professionally, the same happened with my kitchen. Since we were having work done, we figured that we'd tear out the laminate counter on the built-in bar in the adjacent den and put in a nice granite top. All I can say is WOW!  And then, since our 8 ft. slider was rotting from the outside, we had the slider and trim replaced and stained to match the cabinets.  Lastly was the window treatments and the rugs.  

The take-away from my kitchen update: Hire designers and contractors that really listen to you. I hired Laurene McGarry-Bissell of Eclectic Design, Inc. in Glastonbury, CT www.ecticdesigninc.com and she says:

New kitchen table
Custom window treatment
"If the cabinets are in good shape, there is no need to replace them for a fully effective renovation.  Replacing counter tops, backslashes, increasing lighting, trendy faucets and cabinet hardware and a fresh coat of wall paint can make the cabinets look brand new. Benefit of hiring a designer for a full or partial kitchen renovation:  (1) saves you time — a professional can find materials that suit your style, budget and that will mix well with the rest of your decor; (2) the smaller details really make a difference — an ogee edge versus a pencil edge, what color faucet would you prefer — stainless steel versus antique bronze; (3) under cabinet lighting — does the designer and contractor understand the various types of under cabinet lighting and types of lighting that can give you what you need without breaking the budget; (4) can manage the entire process to ensure a smooth project, especially if the designer has a  contractor he/she likes to work with.  They are a seasoned team that communicates well and respect one another’s roles so that your project is completed to your complete satisfaction."