Cutting To the Chase

January 31, 2008

Gene Hackman is probably one of the most undersung actors of the past 40 years. OK, forget that he has 2 Academy Awards (For French Connection & Unforgiven). You never really hear his named bandied about when the talk turns to Great American Actors. Brando? Sure. Al Pacino? You bet. DeNiro? Of course. Gene Hackman? Gene Hackman, who. His Popeye Doyle is a masterful performance and one of the big reasons French Connection is so great. His name should be mentioned with those other names.

1971’s The French Connection was the first “R” rated picture to win the best picture academy award. But when a previous winner was rated “X” does “R” really matter? This rating system was a rather new thing for American motion pictures in 1971. Do you know what movie set off the modern day ratings system that is still pretty much intact today ? None other than 1966’s hostess humping fest, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 1983’s violent Red Dawn led to the addition of the pg-13 & 1990’s racy Henry & June replaced dirty ol’ X with NC-17. I’m chock full of trivia bits today, aren’t I?

The French Connection is a good choice for best picture. I myself would have preferred The Last Picture Show. It’s certainly more girly, and, besides, Peter Bogdonovich and myself are birthday twins. Only he’s *much* older than me. The French Connection‘s uber famous chase scene, where Popeye grabs a car and chases after the bad guy, who’s riding in an elevated car, is completely fantastic. And French Connection‘s got that wonderful gritty New York feeling that the Academy seems to love. I never realized how many movies about or set in NY won best picture Oscars until I started watching all of these films: I’ve counted 14 from Broadway Melody to Kramer Vs. Kramer. It’s pretty remarkable.

The man who directed The French Connection, William Friedkin, is a Chicago TV legend. Back in the early 60’s he worked at WGN, home of my hometown classics

Ray Rayner & Friends–

Bozo’s Circus–

Garfield Goose & Friends —

& Family Classics

Hey, that’s the same guy!

Family Classics was a great Sunday matinee treat wherein an old movie, not necessarily a classic mind you—I can still sing the theme song from Sink the Bismarck–, would be shown and discussed by a guy in a wingback chair. And there would be close to a thousand commercials, mostly for Bert Weinman Ford, a local dealership. Great TV! Now I’m not really sure what Mr. Friedkin’s involvement was with all of these old childhood favorites, but his association with early WGN is enough for me to consider him a genius. In all seriousness he was considered a wunderkind back in the day. I love that word, wunderkind. I wish I had been one.

For dinner we built off the French – NY connection. I made French cuisine from the NY restaurant’s Balthazar cookbook. The next time I go to NY, I promise, I will go to Balthazar. It’s my dirty secret that I’ve never been. Don’t tell.


French Onion Soup

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil

4 medium yellow onions, peeled, halved through the stem end, and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 garlic clove, peeled and thinly sliced
4 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
3/4 cup dry white wine
2 quarts chicken stock
1/2 cup port
6 slices of country bread, about 1 inch thick, toasted
2 cups Gruyere cheese, coarsely grated.
In a 5-quart Dutch oven or other large, heavy pot, heat the olive oil over a medium flame. Add the onions and, stirring frequently to prevent burning, sauté until they reach a golden color, approximately 30 minutes. Add the butter, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, salt, and pepper and cook for 10 minutes. Raise the heat to high, add the white wine, bring to a boil, and reduce the wine by half, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and simmer for 45 minutes.Preheat the broiler.Remove the thyme springs and bay leaf, and swirl the port into the finished soup. Ladle the soup into the 6 ovenproof bowls. Fit the toasted bread into the bowls on top of the liquid, and sprinkle 1/3 cup of Gruyere onto each slice. Place under the broiler for 3 minutes, or until the cheese melts to a crispy golden brown. Allow the soup to cool slightly, about 3 minutes, before serving. Everyone here loves French onion soup. I was so excited about making this, I spontaneously went out and bought the proper bowls.a fine example of a proper French Onion Soup bowl

Sole En Papiottle w/ sautéed spinach  (for Popeye, natch).

Cooking En Papiottle is alot of fun and very impressive for a minimal amount of work. It’s also very healthy, as the food steams.


1/2 c olive oil

2 carrots cut into 3 inch matchsticks

2 leeks, (white part only) cut into 3 inch matchsticks

2 stalks of celery cut into 3 inch matchsticks

1 t salt ¼ t freshly ground pepper

½ lb quartered white mushrooms

6 Sole fillets

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Saute the carrots, leeks & celery 5 minutes. Remove to a bowl and add mushrooms to the pan & sauté for 7 minutes. Remove & set aside. Cut 6 pieces of parchment paper into 12 inch circles. Fold each circle in half. Place a few of the vegatables on the bottom and a sole filet on top of vegetables. Seal the paper up by crimping the ends (sort of like a paper calzone). Brush the packets w/ olive oil and place on a baking sheet and bake for 17-20 minutes. The packets will be brownish and puffed with air. Serve with a beurre blanc.

For the tart

Line a tart pan with a sheet of defrosted puff pastry (follow the directions on the box) peeled, core & cube 5 Granny Smith Apples. Saute the apples in some butter until soft. Add apples to the tart pan and bake in a 400 degree oven 18-20 minutes. Let cool for a bit and serve with French vanilla ice cream. Yum and sooooooooo easy.



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