Neander Chic

Lately I have been finding myself more surrounded by dieters then usual.  It started as a strong fitness kick among friends finding crossfit.  Not only has it become the workout of choice, it has changed a lot of their grocery lists.  Crossfits recommend the Paleo diet to reap full rewards of the program. 

What is Paleo? Think caveman. Get out your crayon, draw on your walls and then head to the nearest "hunting and gathering" place. Kill a lean cow, gather some fruits and vegetables...skip the refined sugars, processed food, legumes, grains, dairy (sigh), and starchy veggies.  Bingo! you're on a paleo diet.

Generally speaking, I am of the mindset that everything is good in moderation but I like the diets that reinforce good eating habits, such as fresh, unprocessed food, so this one is a winner. However, I also believe in evolution. That little thing that happened over time that took us from cavemen, living an average of 20 years, to modern day people, surviving potentially to a 100 plus. Other then the obvious developments in modern plumbing and medicine, I am pretty sure quality of life within itself has something to do with it.  

It's not my place to judge anyone choosing this diet, however I will judge the diet itself.  The premise of removing dairy has to do with lectin consumption, of say...a cow, to produce milk, however why eat the cow than? This is where I get lost.  Reading through a "paleo manual" DH brought home, I am no nutritionist, but I see a lot of contradictions.

That said, if chosen, this diet is not easy. It takes hard work to know what you're doing to replace those other things that you need, like fiber if you're gorging on proteins.  And it certainly yields results when combined with the crossfit program...but I'll be sticking to my see-food-diet plan for the foreseeable future.

- Your Modern Day Food Blogger


Amalfi Coasting

If there was ever a country that loves food, in season, as is, at its best, it would be Italy. Going South to Amalfi for an unusually relaxing European trip, I knew what to expect. Italy has a way of surprising you along the way though, in a humorous adventurous manner, be it a strike of an airline, bus route change announced as you've already boarded or an interesting new travel companion. I've learned going with the flow is usually not optional and always results in something pleasant eventually.
From weather to food from a little past experience and some voracious research before leaving expectations were set; time spent on SlowFood and Chowhound was educational (and the best part of planning). The coast is the perfect representation of the basic concept of Italian food. Stick to what you know and what you have, when you have it. This is not to say that you can't find haute cuisine options, but rather to highlight that most seem to adhere to that general standard, especially in the less metropolitan coastline. Research aside, in practice popular tourist attractions generate many a tourist trap restaurant and traveling with more then 3 companions usually requires reservations. This does take away from spontaneity, but as long as you give yourself options leads to much more enjoyable experience, for at least 1 meal a day…that is unless you have a thought-diverse set of companions (read: only visited 3-4 places researched).

Our itinerary took us from a short stint in Rome to Capri, onto towns of Sorrento, Amalfi, Positano, Ravello, Manori and back to Naples through Pompei. The highlights for me were Capri and Ravello; Capri for its island atmosphere and gorgeous waterscapes; Ravello for farmland winding up along the hillsides and tourist-less streets. I would come back to either in a heartbeat.

Oh the open air markets of Europe, how I love thee! I’ve written time and again that I could happily skip a museum trip or the best restaurant if I could just visit a local bazaar. For me, there’s nothing better. This is where you meet the real cooks, see and taste the real food of wherever you are, especially if where you are is in Italy at the beginning of June. People watching is in full gear here. Loud marketers discuss prices and latest local news, like Nicola’s dinner with the other woman or the audacity of stupid _fill in the blank_ tourists touching produce. Foraged mushrooms, fresh picked berries, tomatoes still attached to the vines, and spices line Campo di Fiori, a foreground to the restaurants and gourmet shops lining the piazza. Shop windows adorned with hams strung up to the ceiling, mozzarella bobbing happily in buckets, olives, anchovies, and fresh baked bread. Do I have you salivating yet? It’s Hanukkah in June here (if not a very kosher one).
It’s not much work here to convince friends to wait 2 hours for a shop to reopen from a lunch break because it just has to be experienced, while grabbing a kilo of sour cherries, small, translucent red, bursting with tart flavor, that cramps your jaw muscles and glasses of fresh squeezed pomegranate juice. I have smart friends.

Rome was of course not without adventure, the second evening a certain restaurant seemed to have “lost” our reservation and was unwilling to accommodate us sitting outside at one of the 3 available tables --- they preferred to have us at the table close to the kitchen with limited air rights. Proud tourists that we are, we decided to leave and find another alternative, turning to the Zagat app on a whim. Calling ahead, we were happy to find we’d be seated outside. Fifteen minutes later we landed in a neighborhood, close to the Tiber, right behind the oldest Roman synagogue, only to be told that the kitchen was closed. In true Italian style, a friend explained that this is bopoti-bapoti-unacceptable (thanks Family Guy). We were indeed seated, and served oil-ridden roasted artichokes and bacala. Lesson learned about Zagat.

The trip really started in Capri. Learning how to relax in Italy, without feeling the need to see a bit of history is tough. This is not your normal beach vacation. But once you see the view in Capri, everything falls away to the background. It really is breathtaking.

We visited the only restaurant where I made an advance reservation from the States - Paolino Lemon Trees. I can easily say, this was the most memorable dining experience of the trip, and perhaps ever, for me. Was it the atmosphere of the tables set under lemon trees in a grove, garlands of lights in the moonlight, following Tony Bennett to the bathroom to confirm his identity, incredible food and wine, mandolin-accompanied songs, attentive, personable service, or just a result of exceeded expectations? I don’t know. I do know that an endless, home-style buffet of antipasti of marinated anchovies, smoked mozzarella, stuffed zucchini-flower fritters and multitudes of stuffed/raw/fried crustations; salt-encrusted Dorado for four deboned tableside, and the lemony al dente pasta was perfect. Here, started the unending train of “gifted” limoncello aperitifs that only ended on the flight back to the States.

Though a little restless from sleep-eat-drink-eat-drink-eat-drink-sleep pattern in context of a European vacation, this was an enjoyable trip. Amalfi is a place I’d like to return to without hesitation, on an empty stomach.


Paella de Mariscos

Some people can't walk past a cute puppy, nose pressed against the glass of a pet store. I feel the same way about kitchen gadgetry. I see it all by itself sitting on the shelf, and I just want to bring it home. Seeing the paella pans was love at first sight. Shiny steel, tilted sides, labels in Spanish...it was all too much. It needed a good home.

It took several weeks to put to good use, but there wasn't a day that I didn't think about the food to come.

It was finally time this past weekend. I used a combination of recipes and created my own.

4 c short grain rice
12 c seafood stock
1 lb calamari
2 lb large shrimp ( some with heads on )
1 lb langoustines
1 lb chopped chicken legs or other dark meat
1 lb Grouper
4 cloves of garlic, sliced
3 bay leaves
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt (go by taste here)
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp chopped parsley

Seafood Stock
1 quart of chicken stock (low sodium)
1 can of seafood stock
2 cans (refilled) of water
3 bay leaves
3 tsp Old Bay seasoning

Heat olive oil in the pan.  Add sliced garlic. Let start to turn golden and add chicken legs.  Roast until starting to brown.  Add in calamari rings.  Stir in your salt and spices.  Add in the Seafood Stock.  Add in the rice.  Distribute the ingredients as evenly as possible on the pan.  This is going to be the last time you stir, so make it good.  It's going to take about 20-25 minutes to cook the paella, here on out (I used a grill which I was closing during the cooking process, so it may take longer on the stove). In about 10 minutes, add in the grouper. Another 5 minutes later, add in the large langoustines.  Couple minutes more, add the shrimp.  Try the rice at about 20 minutes of cooking and judge if you want to keep it going for a little longer.  As soon as the rice is ready.  Remove from heat.   Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve immediatelly. This will feed about 10-12 people. 

Roasting garlic in olive oil
Langoustines prepped

Roasting split chicken legs

Calamari rings added

Adding in the seafood stock


Farmer's Cheese Gnocchi or ленивые вареники

I've loved this dish since I was little. What's not to love about soft, buttery pillows made of farmer's cheese. So when E wasn't feeling well this week, I made her a batch, with her assistance of course.

4 oz farmers cheese
1 egg
4 tbsp flour
dash of salt

Boil about 1 quart of water to rolling boil. While coming to a boil, mix the ingredients together until just coming together and consistent. Roll into rolls of about 1 inch in thickness. Place over a healthy dusting of flour, and cut into quarter inch thick pieces. They will stick together so dust with flour to prevent. Salt the boiling water. Carefully throw in the gnocchi into the water, one by one, to prevent sticking. They will be ready as soon as they float to the surface (about 1-2 minutes). Remove the ones that float up, into a mixing bowl with about 1 tbsp of butter, using a slotted spoon. Serve immediately.


Craigie on Main

the menu of the day
Craigie on Main (the original location in Cambridge) has been around some time, but until very recently I didn't have the pleasure. The meal (and the accompaniment) totally lived up to the good reviews. Great, custom made drinks. Delicious, luxurious in its caloric intake, meal. Amazing atmosphere, with the bonus of open kitchen for your watching pleasure on entry. If I had to (i am trying here) find one constructive criticism, it is to say that the chef uses bacon/pork belly as a crutch in several items on the unpublished/daily menu; although I don't shy away from it whatsoever, I wasn't sure it was absolutely necessary in every dish. That said, the menu does change daily so this comment may or may not resonate on a regular basis.

bone marrow side

What I tried...

squid linguine amuse bouche (compliments of the kitchen)
duck confit atop a chip amuse bouche (compliments of the kitchen)
assiette of house made terrines
pork belly-wrapped harpooned swordfish

assiette of house made terrines....rabbit rillette, foe, and pork

pork belly wrapped swordfish

bone marrow
roasted milk-fed pig's head

I will definetly be back to sample more. Thanks to Mr. P for the treat!


‎2 cups flour
2.5 tsp dry yeast
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 cup milk, warm
2 tbsp vegetable oil

Mix together the dry ingredients. Add milk and oil. Mix and knead until dough comes together in a ball. It'll be less sticky. Let sit for 1 hours in a warm place, covered with a towel (not touching).

Oil a loaf pan, make golfball sized balls and place tightly in the pan. Let rise, covered for another 30 minutes. Bake at 460F for 20-25min.
While baking combine:

2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp boiling water
1/4 tsp salt
3 minced garlic cloves

Pour sauce over the pompushki immediatelly, when they come out of the oven. Enjoy warm with borscht.


Omaha Steak

Of all the exotic places one can go to have a steak, I ended up in Omaha, Nebraska. What's in Omaha you ask? Warren Buffett. Fields. And some well fed and groomed cows.

Did you know that there are only 3 Zagat rated restaurants in the entire state of Nebraska? That says a lot...mostly about Zagat though. It's hard for me to believe that the 3 rated ones (all chains) are the only worth rating. Yes, there are a lot of corn fields and it's not a metropolitan hub, but there is something to be said for a slower pace and lifestyle. When I am ready, I do want a beach nearby please.

In the interest of staying close to the hotel, we went to Fleming's. The level of service was impressive. A great wine list with lots of Pinot noir options and a modest selection of entrees (pet peeve: giant menus).

I ordered the petit filet (Omaha's own corn fed) topped with lobster (certainly not Omaha bred) roasted asparagus and seared scallops in béarnaise sauce. The surf and turf combo, though common is hard to pull off. It was pretty great here; both meat and seafood cooked to perfection. The seasoning on the meat was lacking but the sauce on the lobster was spot on. For sides we ordered creamed spinach and roasted mushrooms. For me, the creamed spinach was flavorful, mushrooms on the other hand had too much spice rub going on, which added an unpleasant texture component. Accompanied by the Leyda Chilean Pinot noir, my dinner partner enjoyed his prime rib, on which I can't comment, since I had no more room for taste tests. Overall, pleasant restaurant that exceeded my expectations.

Buzzy Bee Cookies

Once in a while when I dust off my cookbook collection I find interesting recipes that I have yet to make. Last week was just one of those times when I came across Buzzy bee cookies that I decided to bake for a neighborhood party. The result were lovely and not too sweet zebra-striped (or bee I guess) cookies. They were simple, though required some time investment.

Recipe From Williams Sonoma

1 stick butter
1/2 c sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/8 tsp salt
1 egg
1/2 tsp baking powder
1.5 c flour
1.5 oz chocolate (bittersweet)

Cream together sugar and butter. Mix the dry ingredients and add slowly to the creamed butter. Stir in the vanilla and egg, until smooth.

Divide the dough in half, retaining half in the mixing bowl. Add in slightly cooled, melted chocolate (over a double boiler) to the bowl and mix until even and incorporated.

Cut out four 8 x 6 inch rectangles out of parchment paper. Roll each ball of dough separately between two sheets, to the size of the parchment, about 1/8 of an inch thick.

Refrigerate the two dough sheets for 1 hour.

Lift one sheet of parchment from each of the dough rectangles. Place one atop the other with the paperless sides touching. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Trim the edges of any overlap. Remove the remaining parchment, but do not discard. Cut the sheet into three 2 inch sections lengthwise. Place atop each other in alternating colors. Wrap in the parchment and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Slice into 1/8 inch thick cookies and place on parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes, or until turning golden. Cool on a rack fully before eating.

Note from me: These make amazing sandwich cookies. Especially with yellow butter cream to perpetuate their...buzziness.


Parisian Carrots

I couldn't resist these carrots at the market. Born round, they are called Parisian carrots. Try 3 cup fulls slow roasted in a pan with a little olive oil and butter, seasoned with sea salt. They make a perfect side dish...cause they are cute!

Pork Shnitzel

Bad day?! This is the most aggression relieving meal yet. After beating pork steaks into paper thin format you'll feel like a winner; they don't fight back. Promise. Just watch your fingers!

2 lbs pork loin (cut into 2cm thick steaks) or precut loin steaks
2 cups panko crumbs
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
3/4 tsp salt + 1/2 tsp pepper
vegetable oil

Cover steaks with plastic wrap, one at a time, and tamp the meat down with a mallet into about 1/2 cm thickness. Start at the center and work your way out to the edges. Try to keep the thickness of the steak as even as possible throughout.

With a fork whip together the egg, salt, pepper and milk. Lay out panko crumbs on a flat surface. Get a pan hot, add oil and turn the heat down to medium. Dip steaks, one at a time into the egg mixture, then the panko crumbs on each side. Lay carefully (again, one at a time) into the preheated pan with oil. Depending on the heat in your pan and thickness of your steaks, they will take about 30 seconds to 1 minute on each side.

As you cook these, lay them on a flat plate with a paper towel for draining off extra oil. You may need to add more oil into the pan every 2 steaks or so, and clean off any leftover crumbs so they don't burn.

I served these with tzatziki, but they hardly need a sauce.


Buckwheat and Mushroom Stuffed Roast Chicken

1.5 cup of buckwheat
1 cup dry, cubed shitake mushrooms
1/2 onion, chopped
1 chicken
1 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp sour cream

Wash the chicken and remove giblets and trim any fat. Reserve a piece of fat (and of course the chicken) and disgard the rest.

Rinse buckwheat until the water runs clear. Simmer in 3 cups of water until cooked through. Drain and set aside. Soak mushrooms in hot water. Roast the onions in olive oil until golden. Add in drained mushrooms, chicken fat (Yes! Really!) and buckwheat. Cook for a few minutes to allow some of the fat to render out, and season to taste. Disgard the remaining fat solids. Set aside to cool.

When cooled, stuff the buckwheat mixture into the chicken and stitch closed. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and rub with sour cream. Place into a foil covered baking sheet, sitting up. Think beer can chicken, without the can. The stuffing inside allows for the balance to be maintained. Set into a preheated 350F degree oven for 40-50 minutes, lower to 300 and cook another 20-30 minutes. Baste every 20 minutes and cover part with foil as needed to protect from burning.


Quinoa Salad with Grilled Chicken, Cherry Tomatoes and Fresh Cilantro

It's time for New Year's resolutions. This year among the ones I have, is trying to make my own lunches. I am not going to pretend I want them to be healthy, but my attempt is at home-made instead of cafe-purchased. The challenge is making them ahead of time, and...not forgetting them on the way to the office. Today's was a bright quinoa salad; that's perfect served at room temperature (a definite plus).

1/2 cup quinoa (uncooked)
1 grilled chicken breast
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
2 tbsp fresh cilantro leaves
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp lime zest
salt + pepper

Cook quinoa in 1 cup of water, until the liquid fully simmers away, about 10 minutes. Add salt, pepper and lemon zest. Mix and add in the olive oil. Let cool to room temp. Mix cooled quinoa with tomatoes, sliced chicken and cilantro.
This salad, a cup of Greek yogurt, some berries and a dark chocolate truffle were perfect for lunch!


Adventures in Fondant

Since the Chinese calendar marks the next year (I mean this year) as the year of the Water Dragon. I decided it would be fun to make an appropriate cake topper. Of course, in my usual fashion, I got too excited about the project and didn't plan on the time this seven inch fondant monster would take.

I took some pictures of the process and the final "crowning glory" atop the cake (excuse my dyed fingers). Note to self...leave more then 3 hours for this type of a project.

Cake "Kiev" or Киевский торт

As part of my dessert entry into a potluck style New Year's celebration, I decided to make two popular Russian/Ukrainian cakes. This post will feature one of them; namesake of Ukraine's capital. The cake is essentially an egg white/nut flour base, similar to merengue in texture, with butter cream frosting.

One version of this cake's history is that it was invented at a confection factory in Kiev in the late 1950's, as a result of an accidental mismeasure. Another version of the story is that it was invented by the master-chef at said factory. Personally, I find the taste / recipe for the cake layers too similar to Provencal country-style macarons that have been around since 1700s, to believe my own version of the story.

I took a shortcut on this cake, and used store-bought layers.

2 sticks, butter (unsalted)
1 can, condensed milk
2 tbsp cognac
4 tbsp cocoa powder

Whip room temperature butter together with condensed milk. After 2 minutes of whipping, slowly whip in the cognac. Separate out half the mixture. This will go between one set of cake layers. Whip in the cocoa into the other half - this will be the top layer and will cover the sides.

Traditionally the cake is decorated with hazelnuts, shaved chocolate and fruit jellies, but I stuck to shavings on top and sliced almonds on the sides.