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Vibrant kitchen is a cook's dream
Yuman's kitchen serves not only to please the palate but the eyes also
BY SYLVIA ALLEN
SPECIAL TO SOUTHWEST LIVING
Chocolate pasta, anyone? Or how about chocolate and raspberry dessert pasta?
No, that's not a fantasy. It is a reality found in the vibrant kitchen of Peggy Alameda, a gourmet cook whose Tuscan-style home is in The Bluffs subdivision near Araby Road. She discovered the pasta on a visit to Seattle.
“You cook it like you would regular pasta — like spaghetti. I made a fresh cream and then put in some fresh raspberries. It was wonderful.”
The pasta is not the only wonderful thing in Alameda's kitchen. Designed not only for beauty but also for convenience, her kitchen is the centerpiece of her home and a great place to use the fresh fruits and vegetables that her husband, Steve, in the agricultural business, grows on their farm. The kitchen's design, inspired by a similar kitchen in an architectural magazine photo, is a cook's dream.
One of the unusual features embedded in the east kitchen wall is a double-wide old-fashioned oak icebox about six feet across, now converted into a storage cupboard for appliances. The icebox was originally used on the farm.
“My husband's grandfather worked for a company called the L.S. Williams Company in the early 1900s,” Alameda explained. “This was the original icebox in the camp, where they would cook for the crews. We converted it into a kind of pantry source. It's been carried around to every house we've ever moved.”
Then she snickered, “My husband hates this because it's, like — I don't know — 700 pounds, and it's just huge. But when we designed the house, we decided, ‘You know what? Let's put it where we would have put what would have been the refrigerator/freezer,'” she said, referring to the magazine picture of her dream kitchen.
Refinished and framed in, it now is a permanent kitchen feature. “It was in kind of bad shape when we found it on the farm,” she said.
The icebox pantry is perhaps not the first thing a visitor notices upon entering Alameda's kitchen, though. Rather, it is her striking use of cobalt blue tile, repeated throughout the kitchen. In the midst of the blue tile background, and centered above her six-burner Kitchen Aid commercial stove, is a scene inlaid in Mexican tile of a basket of fruits, vegetables and salad dressings. Alameda said she hand-picked all the little decorative tiles.
“Tile to me (as opposed to) granite is very warm, and I like that feeling of what color the Mexican tiles give you.”
The kitchen tiles are not the only area where the farm theme is evident. Above the stove, a painting of San Ysidro — the patron saint of farmers — hangs high above the tiled wall. The Alamedas acquired it at a Redondo Days dinner auction.
“A local artist, Jane Edwards, painted this,” Alameda explained. “We thought how appropriate to have the patron saint of the farmer in our house. It kind of goes with the old Spanish look. He looks at me every day when I am cooking.”
Another feature that lends itself to gourmet cooking is the 8-by-7-foot butler's pantry, Alameda's favorite part of her kitchen, where much of her cooking preparation begins. The pantry itself is a work of art with its specially made crown molding topping its half-pentagon shape. The use of salted glass in the cabinets provides a unique touch, adding a pebbly texture.
“I think when they make the glass, they actually put salt in it,” Alameda said, “and it kind of pops it. I saw it in an architectural magazine, and I loved it. So when we did the butler's pantry, I wanted all of this to be in glass.”
The result gives a somewhat distorted view of the pantry's contents — china, Christmas dishes and other items. Atop the cobalt blue countertop of that pantry, her appliances — a Viking mixer, Dualit toaster and Kitchen Aid toaster oven — await her fingertips. Beneath the counter, the cupboards both here and throughout the kitchen hide large pull-out shelves for finding things easily and quickly — especially nice when cooking for large groups.
Alameda is no stranger to cooking for large groups, either. Her membership in a gourmet cooking group has enhanced her skills, as she shares her love of cooking with those of common interests. Cooking for as many as 80 at a time, especially during the holidays, Alameda enjoys entertaining large groups. Her gourmet group meets at least once a year to prepare meals together to share the joy and the art of cooking.
Her gourmet cooking experiences began when Alameda lived in California some 25 years ago, she said, describing them as “an excuse for me to do some fun entertaining.”
“That kind of got me cooking a little fancier stuff. I got a subscription to Bon Appetit magazine, which I loved. I think if I hadn't been a schoolteacher, I would have gone to culinary arts school,” she said, noting that she had retired from teaching fourth grade at Ronald Reagan Elementary School.
Part of her cooking fun lies in the gadgets that Alameda finds to help do the job. For instance, she has a set of bamboo salad tongs that resemble the size and shape of an adult's hand.
“I love to use them for just tossing of anything. I almost prefer to use them not for salads. I like to use them for when I do a lot of things at one time. They really hold up and take a huge amount at one time,” she added as she tossed the stir-fry chicken that she was preparing to demonstrate her culinary skills.
“I love cooking gadgets. Williams-Sonoma is one of my favorite places to find them.” She also admits to loving her two staples: olive oil and balsamic vinegar. In fact, in Italy she acquired special decanters for those two items, along with a matching enormous, bright yellow salad bowl, illustrated with fruits and vegetables. Standing on a shelf on the east kitchen wall, it contrasts nicely with the deep blue tile behind it.
As a gourmet cook, Alameda seems to have all the right tools to make the job easier, especially for a stir-fry: a mandolin to cut the vegetables evenly and thinly, tools for preparing vegetables julienne style, a small citrus squeezer and a chopper for her ginger and garlic, among other things.
Besides the use of peanut oil for stir-frying, she advises cooking the vegetables in a certain order, depending upon their thickness. In addition to the bok choy from the Alamedas' farm, she uses another specialty vegetable that they grow — kohlrabi — which she says is actually very popular.
“It's like the stem of a broccoli but a little more on the peppery side. It's kind of funky looking. They call it a cabbage turnip,” she said, explaining that it is in the cabbage family.
Two design features that lend themselves well to cooking are the 4½-by-7-foot island centered in the kitchen opposite the stove and the walk-in pantry off a smaller utility room to the right side of the stove. The pantry houses “all my necessities” — canned goods and such.
“I cook with olive oil, I cook with garlic, I cook with butter. Usually all my things I cook with are fresh and natural. Occasionally I do cans and stuff, but I try to be very careful with my ingredients.”
The entire westside cupboard beneath the island houses her herbs and spices. Additional herbs, spices and culinary aids are also housed in two tall cabinet drawers to the left of the stove. The island, with its butcher block top, is especially useful for all the cutting and chopping Alameda does to prepare her specialties.
To the right as one approaches the kitchen, a visitor encounters the dining area whose array of crosses and crucifixes adorn its walls. Alameda's parents inspired her to begin her own collection after she rediscovered the two that had belonged to them.
“I love the beauty of a cross. When it has Jesus on it, it becomes a crucifix,” she explained. One of her collection came from a small shop at the top of the Vatican's basilica on the last day she visited Rome. On the living room wall hangs a large crucifix from the late 1800s, originally from France.
“I found it at an antique shop in Scottsdale. They say it could have come either from a winery or from somebody's grave. They used to put them in the wineries to bless the grapes that were in the vineyard or on somebody's grave. So I'm going with the wineries version instead of the other,” she laughed.
Also in the living room fireplace's alcove above the mantle, a painting of a laborer hoeing a field continues the farming theme.
For Alameda however, the fun really begins in the kitchen.
“I love to cook, and so I wanted a kitchen that was very user friendly. In all my 35 years of being married, this is my ultimate kitchen.”
FROM PEGGY ALAMEDA'S KITCHEN
Look for large lemons that are slightly soft to the touch — they tend to be extra juicy. I prefer Meyer lemons if you can find them.
1 lemon sliced thin, ends discarded
1½ cups sugar
7 cups cold water
2 cups fresh lemon juice (12 lemons)
Mash the lemon slices and sugar in a large pitcher until the slices release their juice and the sugar begins to dissolve. Stir in the water and lemon juice until the sugar is completely dissolved. Pour over ice before serving.
Peggy's Date Bar Recipe
1 cup craisins (dried cranberries)
½ cup sugar
2-1/3 cups flour
2 cups oats
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 cup melted butter
1½ cup chopped dates
¾ cup toasted almonds
1 cup caramel ice cream topping
½ teaspoon baking soda
Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, combine craisins and 2 tablespoons of sugar. In a separate bowl, combine 2 cups flour, oats, ½ cup sugar, brown sugar, and baking soda. Add melted butter and mix well. Reserve 1 cup crumb mixture; press remainder firmly in the bottom of a 13x9 baking pan. Bake 15 minutes. Sprinkle dates, nuts, and sugared craisins mixture over the top. Mix caramel topping and 1/3 cup of flour; spoon over the top. Top with remaining crumb mixture. Bake 20 more minutes or until lightly brown. Cool.
Yuma Peking Stir-Fry
1 cup chicken stock (I used canned broth.)
½ cup peanut oil
2 whole skinned chicken breasts, well rinsed, patted dry and cut into ½-inch strips
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into julienne strips
2 ribs of celery cut into julienne strips
5 green onions cut into half-inch pieces
2 carrots, julienne cut
1 head baby bok choy
1 kohlrabi, thinly sliced and then quartered
*4 ounces Bella mushrooms, sliced
*1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
*1/2 tablespoon fresh minced garlic
2 tablespoon cooking sherry
1½ tablespoon soy sauce
Dash hot chili oil
½ teaspoon Chinese five spice
*1 cup salted peanuts
*Not grown in the Yuma area
1. Heat ¼ cup of peanut oil in a large wok. When it is very hot, sauté the chicken strips, until cooked through and tender. Add more peanut oil if needed. Using a slotted spoon, remove chicken from the wok and keep warm.
2. Add the remaining ½ cup peanut oil to the wok. When hot, sauté the bell peppers, celery, and green onions for 1 minute. Add the carrots and cook for 1 minute. Add the bok choy, kohlrabi and mushrooms and cook 1 minute longer. Using a slotted spoon, remove all vegetables and set aside. Keep warm.
3. Add the chicken stock, ginger, garlic, sherry, soy sauce, hot chili oil and five spice to the wok. Cook over high heat to thicken sauce slightly, 1 minute. Then return vegetables to the wok and quickly coat with the sauce.
4. Place the chicken on a large serving platter and arrange vegetables on top of the chicken. Sprinkle with peanuts and serve immediately.