It all started back in late February, when we began to realize that the pandemic was not going away soon, and we would not be able to make any international travel plans for the year. Determined to make the best of it, we decided if we were going to be spending the foreseeable future at home, we might as well make a few changes to make things more pleasant - starting with our kitchen.

Not that there was anything terribly wrong with it, but there were a few annoying issues - especially since with the pandemic I have been expanding my cooking and baking game.

The first culprit, seen below, looks innocent enough. Most homes have a microwave mounted over a range, after all.

This innocent looking pair had to go!

Our microwave however, although on an outside wall, had never been vented to the outside. Instead, it simply took the air above the stove and blew it back into the room. As a result, one of our sons set off the smoke alarm once while making pork chops, and we've had the fire department out several times on alarms from things like pancakes, bacon, naan bread, etc. that can generate a lot of smoke.

The range is perfectly serviceable, although a little plain vanilla. For serious cooking though, there were several problems. Most annoying, it was impossible to adjust it so that the pans sit levelly on the range top. Sure, you could adjust the height on the two front legs a bit, but the grates themselves were slightly warped, so drop an egg on a skillet and it runs to one side. 

Worse, the grate pattern seemed to be specifically designed to not quite fit under whatever pot you use correctly, so stirring always rocked the container back and forth. Also, with the high back control panel/clock, you couldn't fit more than a small sauce pan on the back burners. 

Speaking of burners, they could not be turned down below a certain point, so forget about leaving anything to stay warm unless you constantly stir.

Finally, the racks in the oven sloped down in front, so anything cooked on a pizza stone (like a pizza) would drip down the front side.

Like I said, for most normal uses it did fine, but for more complex menus, it was a bit lacking.

Topping things off, for some reason when our home was built, they decided not to do a backsplash. We wanted to correct that to  brighten up the kitchen a bit, and make it easier to clean.

Our mystery cutout

The other weird feature we wanted to correct was directly across the kitchen from the range. We had the odd cutout that you see in the picture above. It seems the original floorpan called for a combo oven to be installed here, and a cooktop where our range sits. Once again, the builder made the odd call to switch to the range/overhead microwave - but leave the space for the combo unchanged.

All through March and April we shopped around, deciding what we should do to optimize and upgrade. We wanted to make the kitchen more usable, and also of course increase the value of the home while not over-spending.

What we decided to do was to take out the microwave and replace it with a vent hood installed to vent to the outside. We would replace the current range with an upgraded 5-burner model, and we would have a subway tile backsplash installed.

On the other side, we would have a matching cabinet installed that would house a microwave/oven combo.

Plans made and merchandise identified, we spent most of May 17th going to various vendors and ordering our hardware, plenty of time to have everything in place by Thanksgiving, right?

Well, we started to wonder. We knew we would have to wait at least 10-12 weeks for everything to ship, and there was prep work to be done. All the work work would also have to be done in a certain order. For example, the combo set would have to be installed when the range hood went in, so we would still have a microwave. We couldn't arrange for the backsplash until the range hood was installed, and so on.

First up - we had to get a 220v power line run to the location of the combo oven, and have the vent hole cut through our interior wall, insulation, and outside brick. Not to mention, install a vent cap outside.

This was easier said than done. We were given the name of an electrician who is very familiar with this type of work, and as a bonus he could install the vent - but not the hood. So we started calling him to schedule in late May.

It wasn't until late June that he had time to come by and look at the job and give an estimate, and July 7th before he could do the work. No matter, we had the cabinet in the garage by that time, but the ovens had not yet arrived.

Sure enough, he and his partner did a terrific job, and by the end of the day we had a new hole in the wall, a vent cap, and an electrical box poking out the wall where the cabinet would go.

Thousands of dollars invested, and so far we have a hole in the wall.

New vent cap installed

Our new KitchenAid microwave/oven combo was delivered on July 29th, just 10 weeks after we ordered it. Unfortunately, that was two days before we were leaving to see family in Montana, and when we returned, our installer was on vacation.

Stiff upper lip, and all of that. We finally coordinated things, and on August 12th, once again we were treated to excellent work by an install team that did a great job on the cabinet and combo, as seen below.

This KitchenAid unit is a great product. The microwave is also a convection oven, and has a Crisper setting I've been enjoying as well. The Crisper use a special pan and cooks using the electric burner up top and bursts of microwaves. You can quickly make bacon, heat frozen egg rolls, make fries - and they come out nice and crispy!

The oven portion can also use convection, can bake, broil, and best of all - has a Proof setting! It has been great for upping my bread-making game.

Making progress now!

They also installed the range hood, seen in the picture above, so we really felt like we were on a roll! Especially since we were able to get the tilers out to install the backsplash just one week later.

Almost completed, things are looking great!

Now all we needed was the range I ordered, a Thermador 5-burner model. We had to stick with the 30" range however, or face some serious remodeling costs to cut counter top, move cabinets, etc. Unfortunately, most people buying cooking equipment with the kind of features I wanted are buying 36" or 48" ranges, so we knew we would have to wait when we ordered it back in the halcyon days of mid-May. 

We were first given a delivery window of late August, then late September, then mid-October, then the end of October. Thanksgiving was starting to look like a pipe dream.

Then we were told that maybe  they could divert one that was in Battle Creek, Michigan and get it to us in November.

Much to my surprise and delight - they actually pulled it off! Our range was delivered yesterday, and finally, two days short of six months from placing the orders, and after nine months of planning, our new kitchen is complete!

Last piece finally in place.

As you can see above, replacing the microwave with the range hood freed up some space, and with the backless range it is even better.

Burn, baby burn!

Thermador has their patented star-shaped burners, which seems like a gimmick but actually does an excellent job of distributing the heat evenly across the bottom of your cookware. All of the burners can be adjusted down to where you can barely see the flame, and the two on the left have an "ExtraLow" setting for keeping things warm or simmering without stirring. The burner on that setting shut off for uptimes to fifty seconds, then on for ten, and so on. They famously demo it online by melting a paper plate of chocolate chips without scorching the bottom of the plate.

And of course the oven does standard bake, roast, and broil (all gas), with convection bake/roast as an option as well.

Once again, excellent installation team that took the time to do it correctly - and they leveled it! This morning it passed the "butter patty test" - drop butter in the pan, and it stays in the same spot as it melts.

No more chasing eggs around the pan ...

So although it has taken most of the year and it was a near thing, we are ready to do some serious cooking and baking for our family Thanksgiving and Christmas. Looking forward to getting to know my new toys (I mean tools, they're tools of course) over the next few weeks. Hopefully, in a few hours I'll know if I'm off to a good start - I have my first ever sourdough boule made from my own starter in its final proof, last two hours before going in the oven.

Wish me luck, and bon app├ętit!