Friday, June 3, 2011

Gastronomy: Homemade Butter, Life's Simple Pleasures

High cholesterol be damned! I understand the need to cut back, eat healthy, and watch your intake, but it’s also important to live and appreciate the small beauties that life offers. Sometimes, the simplest of pleasures can be found in the humblest of places. In this instance, I’m talking butter. Not mass-produced, over-salted, sticks of trans-fat, but, rather, the creamy, lightly salted delicacy, that can be paired with a rustic piece of bread or a freshly-picked vegetable.

In less than 5 minutes time, my son and I whipped up a fresh batch of homemade butter. We served it on crackers with tomatoes and fresh herbs: An effortless act for a fanciful delight.

Homemade Butter
2 c heavy cream, organic or not ultra-pasteurized
Fine sea salt

Whirl cream in a food processor until it separates into buttermilk and clumps of butter. Keep processing until the butter forms into larger clumps, approximately 3 minutes.

Pour mixture into a strainer and let drain briefly. Squeeze butter to extract the remaining buttermilk.

In a clean bowl, add sea salt to taste.

Note, the extracted buttermilk can be saved to use in homemade baked goods. Yum!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Style: Casual, Comfortable, Cool Me and D

I first discovered Me & D at a small boutique in Southern California. Although, I couldn’t tell you the name of the store, I will never forget Me and D’s lovely designs. I fell in love with a simple, hooded sweatshirt-coat made out of the softest material I had ever felt. I bought it and then purchased another from them directly because I adored it so much. Me & D are a mother-daughter team based out of Northern California. They hand-make each item, which are made of soft, pre-washed cotton. Their designs are uncomplicated, hip, and meticulously sewn. You can feel the passion the duo has for their work in every garment. The mother-daughter team have recently launched a beautiful leather line that includes luscious handbags, wallets, and rock 'n' roll cuff bracelets. Details:

Friday, April 22, 2011

Gastronomy: Homemade Gnocchi, an Easy Delight

I love gnocchi. And, although it continues to frequent more and more menus, it’s difficult to find a gnocchi that’s served the way it’s intended—light, airy, and delicate. Since I rarely make pasta, I shelved the idea of ever making homemade gnocchi, too. However, after watching season-after-season of Top Chef and repeatedly observing the chefs using gnocchi as their go-to pasta when under extreme pressure and time limitations, I finally realized that it may not be as difficult or tedious as I originally expected.

As fate would have it, the week I made homemade ricotta (, I also stumbled upon Chef Michael Symon’s ricotta gnocchi recipe. No longer with any excuses in hand, I ventured to create my first homemade gnocchi and it was worth every last velvety bite.

Michael Symon’s Ricotta Gnocchi with Lemon Brown Butter


• 3/4 c all-purpose flour, plus more to cover work space
• 1/2 c Parmesan cheese, grated
• 1 lemon zest
• 1 c ricotta cheese
• 1 egg

Lemon Brown Butter

• 1 stick of unsalted butter
• 1 lemon, sliced

In a large bowl, combine flour, Parmesan cheese, and lemon zest. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the ricotta cheese and egg. Combine well with a wooden spoon or with your fingers until the dough just comes together, taking care to not overwork and causing the dough to toughen.

Scrape the dough onto a well-floured surface and pat into a rough square. If it’s tacky to the touch, add a bit more flour so you can form it with your hands. Evenly cut the pasta dough into 4 even pieces. Gently roll each piece into foot-long ropes, about 1-inch in diameter, flouring as needed to prevent the dough from sticking to the surface (think of making snakes with Play-doh). Cut each rope into 1/2- to 3/4-inch wide pieces. Place the gnocchi onto a floured, parchment or wax paper-lined, baking sheet and into the refrigerator, uncovered, until ready to cook.

In the meantime, add salt to a pot of boiling water. Reduce heat to a simmer, add gnocchi, and allow to cook, approximately 2-3 minutes. Continue to watch the gnocchi closely.

While the gnocchi is cooking, add butter and lemon slices to a sauté pan and melt over medium heat until brown and bubbly.

Once the gnocchi starts to float, remove from the water using a slotted spoon or hand strainer and add them directly to the butter mixture in the sauté pan. Allow to brown on medium heat for about two minutes.

Serve as a side dish for 4. Works wonderfully with a hearty salad and roasted pork or chicken.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Adventure Palm Beach: Buccan, a Go-To Destination

Any town populated with tourists in high season is usually not a destination for foodies. Restaurants experiencing high traffic in touristy vacation spots are infamous for lackluster food, second-rate service, over-priced run-of-the-mill drinks, and the typical chicken-finger kids' menu. On a recent vacation to Palm Beach, I was proven wrong.

Palm Beach has beautiful-old buildings, great weather, and an ocean view that is unmistakably gorgeous.
It is also filled with wandering tourists, snowbirds, and mediocre restaurants. After a few abysmal dinners, I started to worry if we would have to settle for pizza every night. That was until my sister spotted a Tweet by foodie and author Michael Ruhlman, who was happening to visit Palm Beach at the exact same time. His suggestion? Buccan. With his recommendation in hand, I immediately made a reservation for my husband, my two young boys, and me. Buccan was so outstanding, we ended up going twice.

Buccan is not a family restaurant but if you go early, children are welcome.
In fact, the food, our service, and the treatment of our four year old were unbelievable. The menu is comprised of mostly small plates that are approachable and utterly delectable in every way. The brick chicken served with Parmesan fries in a small, aluminum pot is delish. My son had it on both of our visits—the juices from the chicken were so amazing that I managed to get him to eat arugula if he dipped the leaves in the sauce.

Everything we had at Buccan including a spicy conch and octopus ceviche, beet salad, spring pea risotto, a squid ink orecchiette
with house made sausage and conch, and a bacon-wrapped tuna were delicious. The Hamachi on a crispy lotus salad with spicy chilies, steak tartare with a crispy egg yolk, and a three-inch grilled swordfish steak are eats that I think about in the middle of the night. Because it was the best tartare of my life, my brain is still trying to determine how to recreate a crispy egg yolk. Desserts and cocktails were equally yummy and the wine list selection, both glass and bottle, were lovely. If you ever make it to Palm Beach, Buccan is a go-to destination. I would actually visit Palm Beach again, if only to dine there. Details:

Friday, April 8, 2011

Style: The Harbinger Co.—Wear It, Hang It, Love It

Being the urban-centric moms that we are, we first fell for The Harbinger Company’s silk screen cityscape prints—detailed maps executed in a stark and bold style. Digging deeper into The Harbinger Company’s collection, however, we discovered that Yvonne Hung, the artist behind the company, also creates a line of jewelry that ranges from the laugh-out-loud to the elegantly beautiful. Hung’s necklaces, bracelets, and earrings include a wide-variety of designs, incorporating everything from the organic to the geometric and warm bamboo to sparkling bling.

Our favorite, Hung’s metal-worked rings, is a series of eye-glass designs that consists of cat-eye frames, horn-rim specs, and a Groucho Marx-inspired disguise. If this is not your style, each Harbinger piece (whether sporting it in on your hand, neck, or wall), manages to offer a fresh and whimsical take on a timeless treasure. Details:

Friday, April 1, 2011

Gastronomy: Homemade Ricotta, Fun Making and Eating for the Whole Family

My husband and I fell in love with fresh, handmade ricotta during our first trip to Italy. Richer yet more buoyant than the ricotta we were acquainted with, these creamy cloud droplets won both our hearts and palates. Upon our return to the U.S. with our new-found penchant for good ricotta, we were left with but one choice: To make it ourselves.

Ricotta recipes overflow on the web, but the proportions vary little. We ended up trying Maria Helm Sinskey’s recipe from her cookbook, Family Meals. Beautifully illustrated and down-right fool-proof, we found Maria’s recipe deliciously easy! Whether you fold in herbs to stuff a cream puff or accompany a sandwich, top it on pizza, mix it into your favorite pasta, or create a crowd-pleasin’ lasagna, handmade ricotta is an unrivaled velvety treat that the whole family can enjoy making and eating together.

1 gallon whole milk
2 c heavy cream
¼ plus 2 T distilled white vinegar (lemon juice can also be substituted for vinegar)
1 t kosher salt

Large, nonreactive pot
Instant-read thermometer
Cheesecloth (can be purchased from any hardware store)
Large bowl
Slotted spoon or strainer
Airtight container
Clean cloth/towel

Pour the milk and cream into a pot. Over medium-high heat, heat milk and cream to just below boiling or to 185 degrees. With a spatula, keep stirring so liquid doesn’t scorch. Just before the milk boils, the surface will bubble and begin to release steam. Do not heat to over 185 degrees. Turn off heat. Add the vinegar and stir for 30 seconds; add the salt and stir for an additional 30 seconds. Cover the pot with a dish towel and let the curds stand at room temperature for two hours.

Line the colander with a large square of cheesecloth and place the colander over a bowl to catch the draining liquid. Using the strainer/slotted spoon, gently transfer the curds from the pot to the colander. Let the ricotta drain for about 30 minutes.

Gather the cheesecloth by its corners and twist together to force out the liquid. When the liquid turns from clear to milky and the cheese starts to push through the cheesecloth, stop the draining process. Remove the ricotta from the cheesecloth to an airtight container; store in the refrigerator. The ricotta can be saved for up to 1 week.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Gastronomy: Everyone Loves a Good Chili

There are many preparations for America's favorite half-time meal, chili. People discuss it the way they do New York vs. Chicago pizza and everyone has a very personal opinion. There are television shows devoted to it and cook-offs all over the country where judges argue over whose is the best. Heck, I have several renditions of the famous dish myself. This particular recipe is made with beans, beer, and chunks of browned beef stew. I can't be the judge of whether it is the best chili, but it is easy, comforting, and a mouthful of love in every spoonful!

Browned Beef Chili

2 lbs stewing beef cut in ¼ inch pieces
1 large shallot, diced
3 minced garlic cloves
1 T dried oregano
3 T chili powder
2 T olive oil for browning meat
4 15 oz cans tomato sauce
1 12 oz beer (preferably a brown beer)
2 cans beans (I use kidney and pinto)
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper
Shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, and chopped chives for garnish

Pat meat dry with a paper towel and season with sea salt and fresh pepper. Heat olive over medium heat in large Dutch oven. Add meat and begin to brown, turning over pieces every few minutes. This process takes about 20 minutes. When all water has evaporated in the pan and meat begins to brown, add shallot and garlic. Thoroughly mix together and let shallot sweat, being careful not to burn the garlic. Deglaze pot with the beer. Reduce by half. Add tomato sauce, oregano, and chili powder. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about three hours. Add beans, cook another thirty minutes. Garnish with a little sour cream and a sprinkle of cheese and chives.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Gastronomy: Irish Blond's Have More Fun

If you’re not a fan of beer, why not try Dale DeGroff’s Irish Blond for this Saint Patrick’s Day? “For each petal on the shamrock, this brings a wish your way. Good health, good luck, and happiness, for today and every day.”

Irish Blond Cocktail

2 oz Irish Whiskey
3/4 oz Orange Curacao
1/4 oz Fino Sherry
1 dash Orange Bitters

Add ingredients to a mixing glass or shaker; add ice. Stir or shake to chill and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with an orange peel. Happy St. Patty's Day!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Gastronomy: Weekday Lamb

Our parents were never very fond of lamb. Naturally, I assumed that I wouldn't like it either and I managed to successfully spend most of my early culinary adventures avoiding any dish that featured this meat. It wasn't until my dear friend served a succulent lamb stew that my biases were challenged. This lamb was flavorsome, tender, juicy, and, quite frankly, love at first bite. Now, whenever I run across a lamb recipe or lamb on a menu, I'm both alert and ready to try replicating it at home.

With spring just around the corner, what better way to kick-off grill season than with sisters Jewels and Jill Elmore's lamb kebabs. I first discovered this recipe in Sunset Magazine: It's easy, delicious, and great served alone or with a soft bun or warm pita. Accompany with a side of cucumber salad and some roasted potatoes and this meal is sure to please everyone at your table, even those who traditionally shy away from lamb.

Lamb Kebabs

3 lbs ground lamb or sirloin (I often use a blend)
1 small yellow onion, very finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1/4 c flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish, finely chopped
1 T fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1 large egg
2 t ground cumin
1 T paprika
1/2 t garlic powder
2 t kosher salt
1 t freshly ground black pepper
2 T tomato paste
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. Using your hands, mix all ingredients together in a large bowl just until combined (do not over-mix).

Gently squeeze meat around metal skewers to form log-shaped kebabs, each about 8 inches long. Put kebabs on baking sheet. Cover sheet with plastic wrap; chill 30 minutes.

Prepare grill for high heat (approximately 500°). Grill kebabs, turning twice, until grill marks appear and meat feels firm; 8 minutes total. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

To make ahead, prepare kebabs and chill up to 1 day; grill when ready to eat. Also, this recipe is great for hamburgers and can be used with beef only! Serves 8.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Style: Fabric Horse, Bringing Back the Spat

MCM declared Fabric Horse “Best in Show” at our most recent Renegade Craft Fair. This Philadelphia-based duo designs and hand-stitches a line of “urban gear” made almost entirely from recycled materials. Their collections include iPhone and iPod pouches, utility belts and packs, and a series of pragmatically funky bags—all durable, water resistant, and eco-conscious.

The design that managed to really put a step in our walk, however, was the Fabric Horse urban-spun spats. Yes, you read correctly, "SPATS!' Inspired by a pair of ol’-time military gear, Fabric Horse has created a stylish, modern twist to a standard, service issue. Made with a waxed canvas, recycled bike tubes, and hearty, cotton laces, a pair of Fabric Horse spats manage to transform a common pair of loafers into a very-hip (and comfortably protective) boot. Details:

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Gastronomy: Monday Night Eats, Cumin Chicken with Red Pepper and Coconut Rice

This recipe is a savory and incredibly easy dish for a weekday meal. Preparation and cooking time take about thirty minutes. For picky little ones, you can easily remove the peppers. An added bonus is deglazing the pan with white wine gives the cook a chance to have a glass herself, which makes the "witching hour" a little easier. Mondays just became a bit more tolerable.

Cumin Chicken with Red Pepper and Coconut Rice

1 c white rice

1 c light coconut milk

2 c chicken stock

1 T olive oil

1 ½ lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 2 ½ inch pieces

2 large red bell pepper, sliced in julienne strips

2 large minced garlic cloves

2 t ground cumin

1 c white wine

1 T unsalted butter

1 bunch basil, roughly chopped

Cook rice according to package instructions—replace one cup of water with the coconut milk and 1 cup of water with chicken stock. Heat olive oil and butter in large deep skillet over medium heat. Pat chicken dry and salt and pepper both sides—brown about 10 minutes on each side until the chicken surface is brown. Add white wine and scrap the chicken bits off the pan—reduce wine by half and add garlic, cumin, and stock. This will take about 10-15 minutes. Add peppers and cook until softened, another 7 minutes or until juices are almost reduced. When rice is finished, salt and pepper to taste. Serve chicken and peppers over rice—top with basil. Serves 4

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Gastronomy: The Perfect Winter Meal is Seafood Chowder

When I think of the ultimate winter meal, soup is always on the top of my list. What better way to spend a winter evening than a hearty bowl of soup, a chunk of crusty bread, and a frosty mug of beer?

This recipe for seafood chowder is savory and rich without being too thick, as many cream soups tend to be. It is sure to warm your heart, fill your belly, and make the bitter cold seem bearable. I recommend picking up some Goose Island Matilda to go with—it’s a top-notch, Chicago brewed, Belgian-style ale (and my obsession as of late).

3 strips bacon, diced
1 large shallot, chopped
1 T thyme, chopped
3 celery ribs, diced
½ c white wine
½ stick butter
¼ c flour
6 c fresh chicken stock or three cans
2 potatoes (skin on), cubed
1 c heavy cream
½ lb salmon
½ lb mini sea scallops
1 lb whitefish, cod, sea bass or tilapia (I usually use two of these—1/2 lb each)
¼ c parsley, chopped
1 c white cheddar cheese, grated
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper

In a large Dutch oven, sauté bacon until golden (about ten minutes). Add shallot, thyme and celery and cook until translucent. Deglaze with white wine, scraping the bits off the bottom of pan; simmer until liquid is reduced. Add butter and flour to form a roux. Cook roux over low heat until gold in color, about twenty minutes. Add chicken stock and potatoes; bring to a simmer. Cook on medium heat about 45 minutes. Add heavy cream and seafood. Cook another 30 minutes over low heat; add salt and pepper to taste. Serve in low bowls with grated cheese and a bit of parsley. Serves 8.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Style: Swanson Vineyards' Sweetheart Gifting

Cheap California Cabs are not easy to find. At Swanson Vineyards, they not only offer $25 Cabs that drink like $50 dollar Cabs, each label includes its own inspired saying. Why not try a bottle of "With Love" or "Lucky Night" for your Valentine's Day sweetheart this year? And, if that won't do, a bottle of "Please Forgive Me" may be just what the love doctor ordered. Details:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Style: Kevin Tong Captures the Spirit of Wes Anderson

Kevin Tong, a Los Angeles-based freelance illustrator and artist, creates some seriously-fun work. Although his portfolio ranges from editorial images to some rather cool concert posters, what caught our attention is his spot-on take of Wes Anderson’s movie trilogy triumph: Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, and the Royal Tenenbaums. His silk screens (printed on wood or paper), capture Anderson’s whimsy-filled worlds perfectly. Each piece feels like a miniature set, highlighting Max Fischer’s long list of sidelines, Dignan’s Cold Storage capers, and Royal’s grand palace of eccentricities.

The Anderson-inspired prints are available online at Spoke Art, but if you don’t see what you’re looking for (or Wes Anderson isn’t your thing), contact Kevin or browse his very-diverse collection online. My husband was so anxious to buy a not-yet-available print for my birthday, he contacted Kevin and was given the most accommodating choice of having it mailed or picking it up directly from his studio. Kevin Tong’s creations, just like his customer-focus, are guaranteed to please. Details: and

Monday, January 10, 2011

Adventure Chicago: Big Star, a Little Bit Country, a Little Bit Rock 'n' Roll

Big Star is Paul Kahan’s latest creation and his first attempt at “fast food.” A blending of a Taqueria with the spirit of Honky Tonk and topped off with a dash of hip, Big Star offers a rough-sleek decor, more-ish eats, and an incredible beer list, to boot. To make it more enticing, it’s cheap. We all know that cheap and good are not always synonymous, but, in this case, they are and it's damn-near perfect.

I believe between the two Mod City Moms, we've tried everything on the concise, but wonderful menu including the elusive, Sonarian Hot Dog—a dog wrapped in bacon and smothered in onions, pinto beans, and hot sauce (my nephew swears by it). Our personal favorites include the Tacos De Rajas De Poblano (roasted Poblano peppers and cheese taco), Frijoles Charros (pinto beans stewed in bacon and served with tortillas), and a spicy pork shoulder soup that is to die for. I'm asking for it on my last meal on earth.

Most items cost less than five dollars and the beer list, comprised mostly of local and Southern California micro brews, is outstanding. Don't miss Stone IPA or, better yet, a Port-Brewing selection, priced at a mere four bucks and, if you're into bloody beer, try the house version—the Michilada made with salsa, lime, and Tecate—yum!

Crowds can be a bit rambunctious on the weekends for families, but lunch is mostly local hipsters and folks who work in the neighborhood—perfect for the kiddies. Big Star is cash only and very busy on evenings—best to go early if you want a seat. Details:

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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