Surprises of a kitchen reno
By Marisa Romano
We hear it on the news and read it in the paper – after a deep freeze at the beginning of the pandemic, the home-renovation and improvement sector has reported a fast rebound. As soon as officials lifted the strict physical distancing measures imposed in March and April, professional contractors queued up bookings, and DIY-ers lined up at home improvement stores to secure lumber for their projects. The trend is expected to last well into 2021.
Summer has always been a busy time for the home-improvement workforce, but the savings and the need for comfort that came with COVID-19 and work-from-home isolation have compelled many homeowners to tackle the list of projects planned for future dates, boosting the seasonal activity even higher. Like many others, I signed up for a much-needed overhaul of my kitchen.
We moved to the Glebe in 1995, thrilled with a home that has witnessed the rich history of this old neighbourhood where housing development started at the end of the 19th century. Like all old homes, our house bears the signs of past lives lived within its walls: unfamiliar names and dates carved on attic rafters; a busy growth-chart marked on a door frame; a small pet flap cut into a basement door; intriguing labels scratched on shelves of the cold storage dug below the entrance – one reads “seafood lob and crab.” Like other old homes, it doesn’t have level surfaces, square corners or smooth and flat walls so it’s a challenge to the creativity of professionals who tackle renovation jobs. All worth it though. Any effort to maintain, reinforce, restore or update old homes gives them a better chance to last a little longer when passed on to new owners.
My kitchen renovation came with several surprises. Some were predictable, like live wires hidden behind the plaster, rubble from previous work buried between the floors and whimsical paint colours layered on the walls. Some were unforeseen, like the copy of the original kitchen plan signed by the house owner of the time, hidden below the base of a cabinet. But one surprise was totally unexpected – a passionate contractor with an earlier career as a baker and a knack for cooking and gathering people around the table.
Joe Salvati started his career in construction when he discovered that academia was not his thing. Trained as a carpenter, he was hired by his uncles’ custom cabinetmaking shop in Montreal. He supplemented his day work with a night job in a bakery. When the economic crisis of 2008 squashed the family business, he lost his job, moved back to Ottawa where he grew up and became a full-time baker. After kneading dough and baking pastries for a while, his life path led him back to construction. In 2010, he proudly founded his successful business, Salvati Construction. Salvati tells me the name of his company is not a new brand; the first Salvati Construction Company was founded by his grandfather, an Italian immigrant who rolled up his sleeves and established a name for himself in Montreal. The new company follows in the family tradition and bookings have been streaming in without much need for advertising.
My kitchen renovation was completed just before the subdued Thanksgiving celebration.
Before Salvati applied the last bit of caulking, we too left a surprise for future owners, a sign of another life lived here. As the last kickboard was set into place, we slid a copy of the Glebe Report in the empty space behind it. (Yay!)
The final invoice arrived by email with a recipe – Salvati’s signature twice-baked potatoes, the dish that friends and family want him to bring along when he drops by. A warm sample of the satisfying dish ready for the second pass in the oven was delivered to my door just in time for Thanksgiving dinner, an added surprise to a journey full of revelations.
Marisa Romano is a foodie and scientist with a sense of adventure who appreciates interesting and nutritious foods that bring people together.
Joe’s Twice Baked Potatoes
- 12 baking potatoes, wrapped in foil
- 1 lb thick cut double smoked bacon,
- cooked and cut in small pieces
- 1 cup 10% cream
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 large leek, finely sliced
- 1 cup fresh dill, chopped
- 4 green onions, finely sliced
- 2 cups old cheddar, grated
Bake the potatoes in the oven
Cut them in half, scoop out most of the hot flesh and mix it with the other ingredients while still hot
Pop the mix back into the potato skins
Bake at 450 F for 10-15 minutes, then broil to crisp the top
I confess I was a beer-can chicken skeptic, a disbeliever. Waste of a good beer, I thought. I didn’t need any beer-can chicken when I was growing up in the Glebe and I don’t need it now.
Then my father and sister were raving about beer-can chicken – my sister even bought a stand to hold her chicken up. I said, “Okay, I’ll give this a whirl,” though I didn’t use the stand. I decided to go pure.
I got my chicken ready, salted and peppered, got my charcoal grill raving hot and drank half my beer, a pale ale with a citrusy hop profile to complement the chicken.
The method, if you’ve never seen it done, is to shove a half can of beer up inside the chicken and cook the chicken vertically. Supposedly, the beer steams and gives the chicken flavour and moisture. I started to doubt again. I’d enjoyed the first half of that beer and did I really want to send the second half into a chicken?
But up the chicken my half-beer went. It steamed the inside of the chicken while the dry cook on the outside rendered a beautifully crisp skin. It tasted like I had brined the bird. The inside was so moist and the outside so crispy. It’s a wonderful cooking method.
I did learn a couple of things. First, the key is not the beer but the can, as a vessel for a liquid that can be heated to steam. Even water would work, though “water-can chicken” doesn’t sound as good. Second, try a cooking stand like my sister’s. It’s a small roasting pan with a rack that holds both can and chicken in place. Some come with a canister for cooking your chicken with cider, wine, juice or some liquid mix of your own.
I will 100 per cent cook beer-can chicken again and this time I’ll drink 100 per cent of that beer.
Tim O’Connor was born and raised in the Glebe and is head chef at Flora Hall Brewing.
Beer can chicken
- 1 whole chicken
- 1/2 can of beer
- Olive oil
Preheat BBQ with lid closed to 375 – 400 °F
Gently rub chicken with salt and pepper, making sure to season the cavity. Let chicken rest for 10 minutes at room temperature.
Rub the outside of the chicken with the olive oil.
Place the chicken so it sits upright using beer can in cavity as a base. Place in BBQ and close lid.
Cook the chicken to an internal temperature of 170 °F
Check after 45 minutes to make sure it doesn’t burn.
Tim O’Connor, head chef at Flora Hall Brewing at 37 Flora Street