Thursday, February 26, 2009

Gastronomy: Must-Have Mollusks

When the Belgian mussel craze hit the U.S., Michael Roper’s Hopleaf helped lead the way. No where in Chicago could you find a more perfect bowl of savory bivalves, accompanied with warm, crusty bread for dippin’.

Since I no longer live in walking distance of the Hopleaf, I had to learn how to make these must-have mollusks myself. This recipe, adapted from Michael Roper’s, is easy, economical, and a magnificent comfort food for the long, winter months.

Belgian Beer Mussels

2 T olive oil
2 shallots, roughly sliced
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
2 lbs mussels, cleaned and de-bearded
1 12 oz bottle of Belgian wheat ale
¼ t fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 T butter
½ t salt
Freshly ground pepper

Heat oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven; add shallots and celery. Cook until softened, approximately 5 minutes. Add mussels, beer, thyme, bay leaf, butter, salt, and pepper to taste. Cover and cook until mussels open, approximately 5 minutes; move pan frequently and uncover infrequently.

Discard unopened mussels. Serve individually or communally, alongside Belgian beer and warm, crusty bread; serves 4. Details:

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Obsession: Say Cheese!

One of New York’s oldest cheese shops, Murray’s is prepped to satisfy your deepest cheesy cravings. Online, search for your favorites by cheese-type, milk-type, or country; order your very-own cheese of the month club; or simply utilize their oh-so-helpful cheese basics and glossary. If you’re still hungry for more, why not enroll in The Ultimate Cheese Experience Boot Camp for a weekend-long baptism-by-cheese course? Whether you’re in the mood to be educated about the extensive world of cheese or just have “a hanker for a hunk o’ cheese,” Murray’s delivers each and every time. Details:

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Style: Fishing for Finds at Fishs Eddy

A New York staple, like pizza or Lady Liberty, Fishs Eddy has offered New Yorkers everything from recycled dishware to designer-made custom pieces for over 20 years. Providing house rich, cash poor New Yorkers with the opportunity to spruce up their pads with pizzazz and finesse, Fishs Eddy provides affordable housewares—funky, elegant, or just the plain, ol’ curious. Now, through the joys and convenience of online shopping, you, too, can take advantage of this priceless New York staple.

Where else would you find a set of Democratic or Republican coffee mugs, heroes of the Torah juice glasses, recycled diner plates and flatware, or an Alice in Wonder Land platter designed by John Tenniel? No matter what you’re in the market for, find stacks upon stacks of kitchen-goodness at the indispensable and reasonably priced Fishs Eddy. Details:

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Obsession: The Greatest Cooking Tool EVER!

Although it may look like an ordinary wok strainer, this bamboo handled skimmer has so many cooking uses that it has become indispensable in my kitchen. You can sift baking ingredients, strain soups and gravy, drain pasta, pull poached eggs out of water, skim fat, scoop items out of the fryer, or wash vegetables. The long wooden handle allows you to use it at the hottest of temperatures without burning yourself. I know that you are probably thinking that I sound like the 1980's Ginsu knife infomercial: "How much would you pay? But, wait, there's more.”

And it's true—there is more! This tool is heat resistant, light weight, dishwasher safe, and you can purchase it at just about any kitchen store for fewer than five dollars. Why invest in a sifter, strainer, gravy separator, egg poacher, and pasta drainer, when you can have the greatest kitchen tool ever—the stainless steel bamboo wok skimmer? Details:

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Adventure Chicago: A Diamond in the Rough, Lula Café

When you visit a large city like Chicago, there are many decisions to be made when it comes to dining. The choices are endless—ethnicity, food-style, location, and price. Sometimes it's difficult, if not totally overwhelming, to weed through the thousands of options, forcing many visitors to stick to the downtown area, which is more familiar.

In my travels, I have found the most noteworthy restaurants are the ones where the locals dine. Usually the place where the resident foodies gravitate to repeatedly are the restaurants not just worth trying, but the ones that stand out in your mind for years to come. They may be slightly off the beaten path, but truly worth the effort in the end.

Lula Café is one of those places. It is located in a storefront in a transitional neighborhood called Logan Square. Driving by, you probably wouldn't even blink an eye. Once inside, however, you are instantly filled with warmth, even on the most blustery winter evening. And, if the atmosphere doesn’t do it for you, the strong, delicious cocktails will.

The waiting area is small and dimly lit with little votives placed randomly along a dark wood, vintage bar. It is incredibly inviting from the moment you set foot into the restaurant. The drink list consists of wine, beer, and cocktails. Their signature cocktails includes house-made sangria and margaritas. They also offer “old school” cocktails including Sidecars and Manhattans. Their signature Sidecar is a drink not to be missed—the perfect blend of sweet, sour, and smooth…delicious.

Like the restaurant space itself, the menu at Lula Café is small—using only seasonal organic produce and local fish, meats, and poultry. The menu changes daily or weekly in order to deliver customers the freshest meats and produce available. We ordered a chestnut risotto appetizer with turnips followed by a beet salad with blue cheese and warm wilted greens. The risotto was perfectly cooked and the flavor combinations were incredibly savory. The cold beet salad with warm mesclun greens and subtle blue cheese was perfect. The scene stealer of the evening was the pork belly entrée—pan seared and almost crispy on the outside with exceptionally tender, perfectly cooked meat inside that melted in my mouth.

Lula Café offers breakfast, brunch on weekends, and dinner daily and the prices are extremely reasonable. The service is friendly, the atmosphere is just right, and the food is near flawless in its execution. Lula Café is truly a diamond in the rough—a Chicago jewel not to be missed. Details:

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Obsession: Celebrating with M&Ms

My husband's grandmother, fondly known as mommom, turned 100 on Christmas day. This woman is a powerhouse! Over the last 10 years, she has traveled to France (multiple times), Brazil, and Chicago. She's the first to laugh at a joke, to line up for a party, and to weave an interesting tale. Quite frankly, I wish she was my direct bloodline; she's a real keeper.

Now that she's slowing down a bit and seems to want for nothing, what do you buy a 100 year old woman? The answer's easy: M&Ms, of course!
To celebrate the day, the family threw a party at a local seafood joint and topped off each place setting with our very own mommom M&Ms. Pick the colors, photos, and sayings to celebrate a special day (or, perhaps, this Valentine's Day) in your very own personalized way. Details:

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Gastronomy: Fishing for Ideas

My youngest son is always a little hesitant to try new dishes, but, since he lives with a bunch of foodies, he’s often forced into different and unusual dining experiences—both in restaurants and at home. A parent can read endless hours of discussion about forcing your child to eat something he doesn’t like—is it right or wrong, enriching or harmful? What I’ve learned through my son, however, is that sharing the history of a meal or culture, accompanying a new food with an old standby, or simply having fun in the kitchen has made him much more open to and excited about new food experiences.

As a gift for Christmas one year, he received Robin Davis and Frankie Frankeny’s cookbook, The Star Wars Cookbook: Wookiee Cookies and other Galactic Recipes. If you’ve never seen this book, each recipe has a corresponding photograph that includes the completed dish surrounded by Star Wars' action figures. It’s hilarious and completely addicting. For many days following, we worked through the book and, although we had a great time, I wasn’t ready to weave any of these new taste sensations into my own recipe rotation. So, to keep the momentum going, we decided to invent our own!

I set out to first target the dishes that I had created by tweaking and gleaning parts of others’ recipes. I hadn’t had a chance to write them down yet, and this would force me to think more precisely about quantity and time. Secondly, these were some of the meals my son was not always thrilled about. My reasoning behind this choice was that by giving this dish a creative name and an accompanying photograph, he could picture an exciting Star Wars or Lord of the Rings scene during his meal. Suddenly dinnertime wouldn’t be quite so disappointing!

In the Davis and Frankeny style, we painstakingly set-up our first photo shoot—Naboo Fish Stew. My fish soup recipe uses The Joy of Cooking entry as a backbone to my own experiments—it’s a light, but buttery cream broth that sports tender chunks of flakey, white fish. The scene surrounding the bowl are Star Wars' characters from Naboo, a planet that houses underwater cities—a truly winning combination. Although my son has never been all-that-crazy about soup, he always gets a huge smile on his face when I announce that I'm serving Naboo Fish Stew for dinner. And, like a real inter-galactic hero, he sits down to the table tall, proud, and prepared to lick that platter clean.

Naboo Fish Stew Recipe

2 lbs boneless, skinless fish fillets (cod, tilapia, etc.), cleaned
3 slices bacon, cut into small pieces
4 t butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 t fresh thyme, chopped
3 large boiling potatoes, peeled, and cut into small cubes
3 c fish, chicken, or vegetable stock
1 c heavy cream
1 c skim milk
Salt and pepper to taste
2 t fresh parsley, chopped

In a large soup pot, cook bacon over low heat, 10 to 15 minutes, or until crisp. Add butter, onion, bay leaves, and thyme; cook until onions are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in potatoes and stock; bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in milk and cream; remove bay leaves. Add fish filets; simmer until fish is cooked through and beginning to flake, 10 to 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with chopped, fresh parsley. Serves 4.

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Obsession: Mrs. Peters' Smoked Fish Delicacies

If you’ve ever been the deliciously-lucky recipient of a gift from Mrs. Peters or just happened to stumble into this unassuming Jensen Beach, Florida establishment, you’ll understand our obsession. Mrs. Peters has been hot-smoking fish since 1931. Whether indulging in the tenderly-smoked wahoo fillet, the rich and strangely-addicting sea-twang spread, or a succulently-moist salmon jerky, Mrs. Peters' smoky-delights are guaranteed to please.

Although I’ve had a terrible time ordering from Mrs. Peters' online, a quick phone call connects you with a most-helpful and friendly Mrs. Peters’ employee. Once your order is placed, all shipments arrive at your doorstep in less than two days time—almost as quick as planning a trip to your local grocery store. Details:

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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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