Friday, October 31, 2008

Gastronomy: Pot Roast En Vogue?

There are a countless number of famous chefs with blogs that offer great information and advice for the home cook. No, most of them are not from the Food Network (thank, God). Because these chefs are not considered “celebrity,” you may have never heard of them before, but I have a feeling that this trend is about to change. I have seen an increase of Internet writing from local chefs with Midwest roots. One of my favorite sites is by food writer, father, and chef, Michael Ruhlman.

If you are not familiar with Michael Ruhlman, you need to be—his books are a worthwhile read for any foodie and an essential addition to any cook’s library. Some of his more noteworthy contributions include, The Reach of a Chef: Professional Cooking in the Age of Celebrity, The Elements of Cooking, and a terrific blog with topics that range from brining at home to how to approach the subject of wine drinking with your kids. A couple of months ago, Ruhlman asked his readers what their thoughts were on the hot, new food trends.

Once again, he made me contemplate food in today's culture. There is always something that is the newfangled trend in the food community. In the last 15 years, I have experienced the Spanish tapas explosion, the Japanese sushi boom, and Ethiopian food as haute cuisine—all of which I love. Nevertheless, I have seen something completely different from my friends who like to entertain and cook—a return to the simple, not the bland or boring, but the fresh and easy.

For years, we were a world of plastic, processed foods, replaced by complex Asian meets Mediterranean meets Latin fusion. Lately, the restaurants I have visited in Chicago, seem to steer away from the amplified food experience and are showcasing simple foods—pot roast, lamb shoulder, organic veggies, roast chicken, and homemade mac and cheese. Why? Because when these dishes are done right, they are straightforward, uncomplicated, and incredibly satisfying.

I truly think the direction of the modern family kitchen is also moving towards (or returning to) local, seasonal, and uncomplicated cooking. My mother cooks wonderful meals and is the most hospitable person you could ever meet. She learned to cook from my grandmother who was also a really good cook, albeit a simple one. My grandmother walked to the produce market and the butcher almost every day—she bought what was fresh and reasonably priced to feed her family of six. It seems that my friends, who like to cook, are following in her footsteps. They have fresh milk delivered, boxes of local organic vegetables (when in season) dropped at their doorstep, and are making more braised meats with fresh vegetables from the farmer’s market. When you braise a pork shoulder or roast a whole chicken, throw in some fresh herbs and a side of buttered, fresh veggies—there truly is nothing better. The new trend may simply be to step away from over-processed foods and complicated dishes and return to the good, natural, home-cooked meal. Maybe, like Ruhlman reiterates on his blog, fresh and honest cooking should have never gone out of style in the first place. Details:

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Obsession: Bon Iver (For Emma, Forever Ago)

After a significant loss or breakup, I usually spend my evenings drinking too much wine, binge eating greasy Chinese food, and feeling sorry for myself. Not Bon Iver. Following the breakups of his longtime band and girlfriend, this incredibly talented musician went into seclusion in Eau Claire, Wisconsin and created an extraordinary album. Bon Iver’s eerie, yet strangely sexy, falsetto voice and hauntingly beautiful lyrics are a rare find in the music biz today. I have been infatuated with this album since I first heard it and you will be, too. Details:

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Style: Seeing is Believing

I have been wearing glasses since the age of 14. I had no idea that my eyes were even bad, until I was pulled out of class after a routine eye-exam. I already was sporting a mouth-full of braces, so, what the heck—why not draw a little more attention to my already fragile and self-conscious persona? What a blow! When I returned to the class the boys whooped and hooted while the girls all circled around me like I just received the news that my parents had died. Sigh.

My mother, as always, offered a compassionate ear, no doubt followed by some solid advice. But, most importantly, she took action immediately and provided some well-deserved shopping-therapy.

My first pair of glasses were clear pink—big, with arms that dropped a bit. I looked like I just walked off of the set of Golden Girls, but, to me, those frames were hot! Not only could I see the board, I was experiencing a new-found self-esteem. Hiding behind a pair of glasses made me confident bordering on audacious. From the moment I started modeling those Sophia Petrillo’s, the geek sheik from within came out loud and clear and never went away.

I have since tracked down and sported the David Mamet’s, the John Lennon’s, and the Sigmund Freud’s (yes, apparently I have a “thing” for men’s glasses). But nowhere is hunting for the next-great pair of frames more fun than at Fabulous Fanny’s, located in New York, New York.

Fanny’s offers vintage eyeglasses from the 1800s through the 1990s. Visiting the store is like visiting a mini-museum. Alongside racks of vintage clothing and accessories, are drawer after drawer of antique specs. The first time I found Fanny’s, I whittled away an entire afternoon followed by a trip to Chinatown to purchase a cheap pair of lenses for my already-reasonably-priced Woody Allen’s.

Even if you don’t wear glasses (or like wearing glasses, like me), Fabulous Fanny’s offers a wide-variety of sunglasses, too. And, although browsing at Fanny’s is an irreplaceable experience, you don’t have to travel to New York to have fun—you can now buy them all online. So, if you’re interested in bringing out the Elton John, the Buddy Holly, or the Tina Fey in you, go to Fabulous Fanny’s stat. As their motto states, “if you have to wear them, make it fun!” Details: 335 E 9th Street, between 1st and 2nd Avenues, New York,

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Obsession: Au Gratin Potatoes

After reading last week's Poivre article, one of our subscribers requested this recipe. Bon Appétit!

Au Gratin Potatoes

4 large potatoes, sliced thinly, skins on
2 14 oz cans chicken stock
½ stick unsalted butter
1/3 c white wine
¼ c flour
1 shallot, finely chopped
¼ c heavy cream
Salt and fresh-ground pepper
1 c Gruyere cheese, grated
1/3 c Parmigianino Reggiano, grated
2 T fresh thyme, chopped
3 T fresh bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Slice potatoes and par boil in salted water, approximately 5 minutes. Meanwhile, melt butter in a large sauté pan; add shallot and cook until soft and translucent. Add flour to create roux; mix in thyme and wine. Add chicken stock and heavy cream; bring to a heavy simmer to thicken. Add potatoes and cook another five minutes; add salt and pepper to taste. Pour mixture into 9 x 9 ungreased casserole dish; cool. Mix cheeses and bread crumbs in a bowl and sprinkle on top of potatoes.

Bake for 45 minutes or until mixture is bubbly and cheese is golden brown on top. Serves 8.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Adventure Detroit: Food Nostalgia and the Motor City

Nostalgia is described as a longing for the past—often in an idealized or unrealistic form. Time and time again our memory recreates past events in an idyllic way. We tell stories from our childhood as we choose to remember them—sublime, beautiful, and good humored.

My sister and I grew up in Detroit—meaning we grew up in the suburbs. Most of the people you meet under 50 who hail from the Motor City are suburban Detroiters—whereas, the Detroiters from my parents' generation, actually grew-up in the city proper.

On a recent visit, I couldn’t contain my nostalgic feelings toward Detroit and my childhood. Sure, Detroit has seen better days; it was once a bustling city with a bright future. Today, the city reminds me of Batman’s Gotham—a once hopeful metropolis that has become a bed of corruption and deep-routed urban decay. Although, if you take the time to look closely at Detroit, past the wreckage, it boasts some of the greatest food finds on earth. These Detroit gems and institutions have almost become obsessions for my sister and me.

Lafayette: In my mind, Detroit houses the pinnacle of junk food—the Coney Dog. If you have never sunk your teeth into a “Detroit Coney” you have absolutely no idea what you are missing. A classic Detroit Coney is a steamed hot dog and bun covered in chili, chopped raw onion, and mustard. Sounds like a regular chili dog, you say? Not exactly. The chili has no beans and the way it absorbs into the white, warm bun is something words can’t really do justice. Coney Dog spots are everywhere in Detroit, but the place not to miss is Lafayette. Lafayette seems unchanged since it opened in the early 1920s and has achieved legendary status for Detroit locals. It’s incredibly dingy and cramped, the Formica tables are out of a time warp, and the fryer grease pours into the dining area—but this is all part of the beauty. The food is simple—dogs, bowls of chili, loose meat burgers smothered in chili and cheese fries. For the food junkie, Lafayette is the most magical place on earth. Details: 121 W. Layfayette at Michigan Ave., Detroit.

Carl’s Chop House: Where to go next? How about a steakhouse that has not updated its décor since it opened and the only place I know where each patron receives a free plate of pickled herring. This winning combination is Carl’s Chop House—nicotine-infused red carpeting, dark wood paneled walls, and steaks accompanied by their house-made cheese potatoes. With its red velvet curtains, floor-to-ceiling mirrors, and smoke-filled dining room, this place is reminiscent of a 60s Las Vegas . Nevertheless, it is the oldest steak house in Detroit and it is an institution—almost other worldly. Details: Sadly, the beloved Carl's Chophouse has closed its doors since this article was first published.

Roma Café: The historic Roma Café is an old Italian restaurant—dusty waiters, dingy carpet, and “American Italian” food. Nothing about the menu offerings are unusual and the chef will not be receiving the James Beard Award anytime soon, but Roma embodies a characteristic that does not exist today—the spirit of tradition. It has been around since the late 1800s and has remained in the original structure since its humble, boarding house beginnings. The food, staff, and atmosphere haven’t changed since the first time I visited, nearly 30 years ago. Oven-baked cannelloni and red wine are served by a mustache-clad waiter who looks like he stepped out of the “Godfather.” Every entree comes with minestrone soup or a house salad. Finish off your meal with a coffee and a classic spumoni and you would swear that you were back in 1945. Details: 3401 Via Roma (Riopelle), Detroit,

Mario’s: Another Detroit institution that has to be mentioned is Mario’s. Mario’s has been around since 1948 and everything about it screams “old school.” Not many supper clubs from the 50s can boast that they have withstood the test of time and continue to turn out satisfying dishes. Mario’s seems virtually untouched by the modern world—from the stainless steel relish tray you receive the moment you sit down to the menu that still offers several “meals for two,” including Chateaubriand and Roast Tenderloin Beef “Flambeau.” Plus, don’t forget the house specialties, Torenados Royal, Veal Olympic, and Steak Diane or the traditional and comforting classics, manicotti, lasagna, and linguine with clam sauce. As Mario’s website states “this isn’t retro, this is real.” Details: 4222 Second Ave., Detroit,

The Bronx Bar: If you have time for a pre- or post-dinner drink, be sure to check out the dim-lit Bronx Bar just a block away from Mario’s. The Bronx Bar’s regular, local clientele and eclectic jukebox make this one of the best dive bars in town. Drinks here are classic and strong—just like Detroit. Details: 4476 Second Ave., Detroit.

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Obsession: Sarah's Tomato Basil Cream Soup

2 28 oz cans whole, peeled tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large shallot, roughly chopped
3 T extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 c chicken stock
4 t unsalted butter
½ c fresh basil leaves, chopped
¾ c heavy cream
¼ c Parmigiano Reggiano, grated

Add butter and olive oil to a warm, large stock pot. Over medium heat, add shallots and simmer 5 minutes; add garlic and simmer another 2 minutes. Add chicken stock, tomatoes, basil, and parmesan cheese; bring to heavy simmer. Reduce heat and cook 45 minutes. Remove from heat and puree with a hand blender until smooth. Return to low heat and add heavy cream. Simmer for 25 minutes; add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with warm bread or grilled cheese sandwiches!

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Obsession: Slow-Cooked Beef Stew and Pumpkin Seeds

On Halloween evening, before the trick-or-treating and the candy-gorging begin, I like to serve a healthy, hearty, and easy meal. Based on our readers’ questions, we’ve drummed up the perfect solution: Slow-Cooked Beef Stew and Pumpkin Seeds.

Beef Stew

2 lbs boneless stewing beef, 1-inch cubes, trimmed
1/3 c flour
Salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste
3 T olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 c baby carrots, peeled, whole
4 baking potatoes, peeled, cut into ½ inch cubes
1 6 oz can tomato paste
1 14 oz can beef broth
1 ½ c red wine

In a mixing bowl, toss beef with flour, salt, and pepper; coat evenly. Transfer beef to slow cooker; add all remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Cook on high for 6 hours. Serve with salad and fresh-made pumpkin seeds. Serves 4-5.

Pumpkin Seeds
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Using a colander, rinse seeds thoroughly with cold water to remove pulp. When seeds are clean, lightly pat dry with paper towel. To mixing bowl, add seeds, approximately 1 T olive oil (or just enough to lightly coat seeds), and kosher salt* to taste. Layer seeds evenly on baking sheet and cook for 60 minutes or until golden brown; stirring occasionally. Serve with stew or cool and store in airtight container.

*For spicy seeds, use a dash of cayenne pepper in addition to your salt.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Style: Mid-Century Pottery that Pleases 21st Century Sensibilities

I’ll be the first to recognize that my sister and I are serious pottery junkies, a direct inheritance from our mother. We'll stop at nothing to find a new ETSY artisan or search out a piece from one of the great mission masters like Pewabic, Roseville, and Van Briggle. However, in a world where you can buy throw-away serving pieces that fly off an Ikea assembly line for next-to-nothing prices, it’s sometimes hard to discover the modern-day ceramists who still take pride in their work and wares.

On a recent trip to San Francisco, we took advantage of a variety of dining experiences; however, each of these diverse restaurants had something in common—their table tops were adorned with Heath Ceramics’ dinnerware (.Fish, Hog Island Oyster Co., Greens). This was the same pottery that I had deeply fallen in love with when my dear friend gave me a couple of pieces as a housewarming gift and that I now happily showcase in my ever-growing pottery collection. When I found out that Heath’s home and Factory Store was right across the Golden Gate Bridge in minutes-away Sausalito, I had to carve out some time for a visit.

Founded by Edith Heath in 1948, Heath Ceramics is one of the last mid-century pottery-houses still in existence. They continue to offer strong looking pieces, often laced with rich colors like onyx, sage, and French gray. Heath ceramists' design the kind of wares that are pragmatically long-lasting and timeless in design. You can dress it up or dress it down—it can contribute to a sleek modern table or play against a traditionalist setting. In addition, their dishware is oven-proof, dishwasher and microwave safe, and oh-so-kid-friendly. No wonder all the local restaurateurs are in love with Heath—it’s hard to keep your eyes and forks off of these resilient beauties! Details:, 400 Gate Five Rd., Sausalito, 415.332.3732.

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Gastronomy: Poivre

Last night I found myself covered in a stench that I have not smelled in a very long time—a rather unsavory combination of cooked oil and pan smoke. I was making Steak au Poivre. If you have ever worked in a restaurant, than you know what I am talking about. That aroma of oil and food that lingers with you hours after you have completed your shift and left the restaurant.

The man who told us all the “nasty bits” about the restaurant biz, Anthony Bourdain, actually talks about the “stink” of Poivre in his Les Halles Cookbook. He describes how Poivre used to be cooked at many restaurants, tableside, as standard fair. Apparently, one of his friends would order the dish just so that everyone in the dining room would go home smelling like his dinner.

The recipe I used for my Poivre was from Bourdain’s cookbook with a few parts of Julia Childs’ thrown in there, as well. If you would believe it, “the bad boy of culinary” and Julia have a lot in common—they both have similar takes on French cooking, they are passionate about food, and are very opinionated about how cooking needs to be done. I had made up my mind—I would spend my evening with Bourdain, Julia, a bottle of wine, and my Poivre.

Traditional Steak au Poivre is usually made with sirloin or something comparable. I opted for a filet—I figured if the sauce didn't turn out, I would be left with a peppercorn encrusted filet, which is never a bad idea. And, thank God I did, because my sauce turned out pretty awful. The dish requires you to pepper and sear the meat on all sides and then transfer it from stove top to oven, cook the meat until your desired temperature, remove the meat, and, finally, use the pan oil and juices to finish up the sauce. Sounds easy, right? Not so much.

I added the cognac just as Bourdain suggested—carefully. I added the butter just as Julia suggested—slowly. Needless to say, I was surprised when the butter and pan juices kept separating even though I reduced the cognac and whisked the butter the way I was supposed to. And then I saw Bourdain’s note at the bottom of his recipe in bold, black print—“NOTE ON SEARING: With any recipe that calls for searing meat and then using the pan to make sauce, be careful to avoid blackening the pan; your sauce will taste burnt…” It basically goes on to say, be careful or you will ruin your sauce. And that is exactly what I did. The separation was the burned bits coming away from the browned butter. So, my “Poivre” was just a peppercorn filet and it was very delicious—it just wasn’t Poivre. I served it with my homemade au gratin potatoes, that are pretty much full-proof since I have made them so many times. Consequently, my meal was not a complete flop.

Although, I am not a trained chef, I do think of myself as a good cook—one who is able to make a recipe easily, improvise if I need to, and create new dishes on my own. Yet, in something as simple as making a sauce, I somehow managed to completely screw-up. What I did learn through my Poivre failure is that the foundation of cooking is truly rooted in experimentation. The formula is pretty simple—good cooking is based on trial and error—success and failure. It is very much like most things in life. And, more than likely, I will try the Poivre again—maybe several times more—and, eventually, I will get it right. Details: for Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook and Julia Childs' Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

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Adventure San Francisco: Blue Ribbon Clam Chowder

While eating at Hog Island Oyster Co., my husband proclaimed that the clam chowder was the best he has ever had—and, growing up on the east coast, he definitely has consumed his fair share of chowder. So, naturally, our table had to order another round of this blue ribbon-style delicacy prior to settling the bill.

Hog Island Oyster Co. is located in the Ferry Building in downtown San Francisco. Squeezed amongst some of our country’s most talented culinary artisans (and only a few steps away from the Alcatraz boat dock), Hog Island manages to hold its own. The menu only offers a handful of items—clams, fresh greens, cheese, a few daily specials, and oysters, where they farm these succulent lovelies at their Hog Island Oyster Farm in Tomales Bay (which, by the way, can be visited for educational tours and picnics).

While my youngest son happily absorbed a melt-in-your-mouth Cow Girl Creamery grilled cheese sandwich, my oldest son, my husband, and I inhaled a plate of raw oysters and feasted on the chowder fused with root vegetables, bacon, and a heaping pile of Manila clams still in their shells. Like most San Francisco restaurants, Hog Island offers a varied wine list but, more importantly, beers on tap to accompany those rustic and glorious gifts from the sea.

To echo my husband’s bold declaration of chowder-love, my oldest son thoughtfully added after his meal, “We should definitely think about moving to San Francisco.” Details:, One Ferry Building 11A, San Francisco, CA, 415.391.7117,

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Adventure (26) Gastronomy (38) Obsession (39) Style (26)

About Mod City Mom

After becoming mothers, sisters Sarah Romine and Leah Weyandt wanted to marry the activities and interests that they experienced before motherhood with their new found lives with children. This was not always an easy task—traveling to obscure places, shopping at off-beat boutiques, and sipping lazy-afternoon cocktails doesn't always fit neatly with parenthood. Stemming from their frustration, they meticulously searched, and continue to search, for activities, establishments, and entertainment that they take pleasure in and their families benefit from. The result? Mod City Mom.

About Sarah

Sarah is a passionate cook, fashionista, writer, actor, and mother. Like all actors, she ended up working at many-a-restaurant to make ends meet and shopping at countless bargain boutiques to maintain her sense of personal style. Her culinary journey, love affair with fashion, and desire to remain true to herself after becoming a mother are the inspirations for this site. Sarah lives with her husband and two sons in Chicago.

About Leah

A polymath wannabe, Leah loves books, films, music, cooking, and travel. After co-starting a writing and editing shop in 2002, Leah has spent her spare time frequenting her favorite cities, hangouts, and haunts. Her obsession with finding the new, innovative, and quirky is the impetus behind this site. Leah lives with her two sons and husband in North San Diego County.
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