White Marble Alternatives for Kitchen Counters

I did plenty of cooking and baking for Thanksgiving and the rest of the holiday week, but didn’t have time to take any photos.  So I’m back, much sooner than I hoped or anticipated, with another kitchen renovation post.   I’m hopeful that this post will help my fellow kitchen design addicts who check Gardenweb forums and/or Houzz incessantly looking for photos of countertops.*

(*p.s. Does anybody else out there carry around half a dozen quartz samples to examine them in different lighting?  I’d love to know I’m not alone…)

Photo via Hooked on Houses

If any of you saw Something’s Gotta Give, then you might remember the kitchen above, which was, quite possibly, more popular than the movie itself.  But after almost a decade (!!!), it seems like the tides are shifting from black to white countertops.

Photo via The Decoist

Photo via Houzz

Photo via Decorpad

Photo via Knight Moves

You may have noticed that there’s plenty of Carrera and Calacatta (which has more dramatic veining) marble in my inspiration photos.  I considered getting Carrera or Calacatta counters for, oh, about five minutes or so… just about the amount of time it took for this little sample I bought home (below) to get some major etching and staining from a little test I did.  You can see the discolorations in the marble sample below.

By contrast, the quartz samples completely resisted staining, even after I left spills on them for more than 24 hours.

Marble might be a great choice for some people (those who like patina, those who don’t actually cook in their kitchens, etc.), but I don’t want to worry about guests accidentally spilling wine or tomato sauce on my kitchen counters.

While not necessarily any cheaper than the real thing, quartz has recently become a popular alternative to  marble.  And just as you’ll find lots of variation in marble, which you can see in the pastry slabs above, there’s plenty of variety in quartz as well.  Below are some of the light colors available from Silestone, one of the most popular quartz manufacturers.  Silestone is one of the only major quartz brands that sells out of a big box store- Home Depot.

I gathered as many light-colored and marble-look quartz samples that I could find and then threw in some Kashmir White granite and Corian Raincloud for good measure.  Here’s the round-up.

I wasn’t a fan of the busy pattern on the granite and the Corian felt to plasticky to me.   And although they look nice in these small sample sizes, I wasn’t a fan of the Silestone Bianco River or Silestone Lyra on the larger samples that I saw in various showrooms.

I threw the White Cliff out of the running because I don’t want a pure white… I’d rather a little texture to keep things interesting.  So that left me with Silestone Yukon Blanco, Silestone Lagoon, Caesarstone Misty Carrera, Cambria Torquay, and LG Hausys Viatera Cortina.

As I mentioned in my last kitchen renovation post, the Silestone Lagoon and the Caesarstone Misty Carrera are very similar.  From afar they definitely read as grey.

And the LG Hausys Viatera in Cortina seems like it’s a pretty good match for the Cambria Torquay.  They’re both creamy whites with grey and taupe swirls/veining.

Here are some photos of the large samples at a showroom that I visited.  In my mind the Torquay looks much more natural while the Bianco River almost has a snow leopard print feel to it.

Here’s that same sample of Cambria Torquay next to a sample of Silestone Lyra.  You can see that the Lyra definitely has a squiggly quality to it.

And there’s that Cambria Torquay sample one more time next to the Silestone Yukon Blanco.  The Yukon Blanco is a greige/grey that has a slight variation and texture to it… you might be able to see some subtle creamy white swirls.  It reads much more neutral or warm than Carrera marble, which typically has very cool grey tones.

Most of the photos that I’ve seen of Cambria Torquay online have been in bright, natural light, which always made the veining seem very subtle.  This harsh, indoor lighting inside the Homeowner’s Design Center really seems to make the swirling/veining more pronounced.

And finally, here’s the display sample of the LG Cortina.  I have several dozen other photo comparisons of the samples above, so if any of you are looking for more photos of one of the quartz varieties mentioned above, just let me know…

Update:  After I posted this, a couple new marble-like options came on the market.  My newer post, White Marble Alternatives for Kitchen Counters: Part Two, includes photos of those products.

Tater Tot Nachos Supreme aka Totchos Supreme

About a month ago a friend told me about a bar in Honolulu that served nachos made with tater tots instead of tortilla chips.  “You can eat those, can’t you?” he asked.

Of course, there’s never a simple answer to that question when you have Celiac, but my interest was piqued and I decided to make a version at home.  I never anticipated blogging about them because really, how good could they be?  Wouldn’t I have heard of them before?

I guess not.  I’m now wondering how I made it thirty plus years without tater tot nachos, or totchos, in my life.  Perhaps the food blogs that I frequent are too healthy?  I decided that even though this isn’t my normal type of post/recipe, it was my civic duty to help spread the word.  It took me a couple weeks to remember to pick up the ingredients and take photos, but here they are, in all of their cheesy, beefy glory.

Tater tots are baked until super crispy and then topped with seasoned beef, cheese sauce, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, green onion and crumbled bacon.  And although I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, you’re probably going to want to go with that prepared cheese sauce you buy from the supermarket for these.  It’s pure junk food heaven.

If you’re able to show more restraint than I am, you can also go with this slightly healthier version that Julie posted, coincidentally, the week after I’d had eaten totchos for the first time.  I’m psyched that the word is spreading.

Tater Tot Nachos Supreme aka Totchos Supreme

Note: I wrote the recipe to make extra of the ground beef, since I like to use the leftovers for tacos. If you’re not interested in making extra seasoned beef, you can reduce those ingredients (onion, garlic, beef and spices) by half.

Yield: 4 as a main course or 8 appetizer-sized servings

Ingredients:

* 32-ounce bag gluten-free frozen tater tots (get the extra crispy variety if you can find them)
* 3-4 slices bacon
* 1/2 onion, finely chopped
* 3 cloves garlic, minced
* 1 lb very lean ground beef
* 1 Tablespoon chili powder
* 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
* 1/2 teaspoon paprika
* 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
* 1/4 teaspoon oregano
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
* ~15-ounce jar gluten-free salsa con queso/cheese sauce, heated in the microwave
* salsa
* guacamole
* sour cream
* several green onions, finely chopped

Directions:

Prepare the tater tots using the oven method instructions on the package. Err on the side of overbaking because you’ll be adding a lot of wet toppings, and you want the tots to remain as crunchy as possible.

While the tater tots are baking, fry the bacon until crisp in a large frying pan. Remove and set aside to cool. Ladle out all but about 1 Tablespoon of the bacon grease. Add the onion and garlic to the frying pan and cook over medium heat until softened. Add the beef and stir to mix. Once the beef is no longer pink, add the chili powder, cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, oregano, salt and pepper. Stir to incorporate and then cook several additional minutes until the flavors have melded and the meat is cooked through.

Once the tater tots have finished baking, use tongs or a spoon to transfer to a large platter or individual plates. Top with the seasoned beef, salsa con queso, salsa, guacamole, sour cream and green onions. Crumble the bacon over the top and serve immediately.

Coconut Ice Cream

I wasn’t exactly sure what to call this frozen treat.  Among the contenders: coconut ice cream, coconut sorbet, coconut sherbet, haupia ice cream, haupia sorbet and haupia sherbet.

I know that there are rules for what constitutes an ice cream, sherbet and/or sorbet, but it seems like they’re pretty widely ignored.  So I just went with what seemed like the most straightforward term to describe this rich and creamy frozen dessert.

The recipe relies solely on canned coconut milk as its liquid base.  So if you’re not a super fan of straight coconut milk, you’re probably better off swapping up to half of the coconut milk for half-and-half or even heavy cream to help mellow out the strong coconut flavor.

But for those of you who love coconut milk, this ice cream will be right up your alley.  If you’re familiar with Hawaiian and/or tropical desserts, it’ll probably remind you of haupia.  It uses the same basic ingredients– coconut milk, cornstarch and sugar– but instead of turning the ingredients into gelatin-like squares, you end up with a dazzling white frozen dessert.  Although you can surely eat the ice cream plain, a sprinkle of toasted coconut adds a lovely touch of color and texture.

Coconut Ice Cream

Yield: 6-8 servings

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 4+ hours

Ingredients:

* Two 15-ounce cans full-fat coconut milk, divided
* 3/4 cup sugar
* pinch salt
* 2-1/2 Tablespoons cornstarch
* dried, unsweetened shredded coconut, toasted (optional)

Directions:

Combine all but 1/4 cup of the coconut milk, sugar and salt in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and the remaining 1/4 cup of coconut milk until smooth. Add to the saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and can coat the back of a wooden spoon.

Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Cover and chill at least 3-4 hours, or up to 24 hours.

Freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Serve with a sprinkle of toasted coconut, if desired.

Orange Surprise – Apple, Carrot, Celery and Lime Juice

I almost called this drink Orange Dream Juice (it reminded one tester of an Orange Dreamsicle) but settled instead on Orange Surprise.  What’s the surprise you ask?  Well, it’s that there aren’t actually any oranges in the juice.

The apples provide a base that’s nice and sweet, the carrots provide the vibrant color, celery adds a hint of saltiness and the limes add a bit of pucker.  Although most juicers don’t work very well with citrus (you need a separate citrus press if you want maximum yield), I’ve found that little calamansi limes work great.  You don’t even need to peel them- the juice is extracted easily and you get flavor from the zest as well.  This is one of the easiest juice combinations I’ve made so far and is also one of the tastiest… it’s become my standard morning treat.

Orange Surprise- Apple, Carrot, Celery and Lime Juice

Yield: 1 serving

Ingredients:

* 2 apples, washed and quartered
* 2 medium carrots, washed, tops removed and cut into large pieces
* 1 stalk celery, washed and cut into several pieces
* 4-5 calamansi limes, washed

Directions:

Process the apples, carrots, celery and lime through a juicer. Serve immediately over ice.