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And All That Jazz

June 10, 2009

The last time a musical won best picture was Oliver! in 1968.  It took the academy 34 years to honor another musical, 2002’s Chicago. They picked a great one.  The tale of Chicago is an oft told tale from different sources: Originally a Broadway play from 1926 called Chicago, Hollywood made it into a Ginger Rogers film, Roxie Hart. Kander and Ebb and Bob Fosse brought the musical to Broadway in 1975 with Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera (who for a brief, brilliant moment is in this movie.  Chita is a goddess.  It’s a shame Gwen Verdon passed away in 2000, I bet they would have fit her in, too.) where it did ok, but withered in the shadow of 75’s monster hit A Chorus LineChicago was revived on Broadway in 1996–where it’s still playing–go see it! and finally made it onto the screen for 2002.

A treat from youtube!

The 1950’s and 60’s were rich in musicals.  Although a lot of the great ones (West Side Story, My Fair Lady) used the singing talents of Marni Nixon for the leading ladies.  What’s amazing about the current crop of musicals is that the actor is not dubbed.  That’s really Renee Zellwegger and Catherine Zeta Jones singing.  And not too badly, either.  Not too surprised about Richard Gere’s singing chops, though:  he has a musical past–He played Danny Zuko from Grease in London.  All the performances are great in this movie.  Chicago’s own, the busy John C. Reilly is perfect as Amos.  Lucky penny Reilly is in three of 2002’s best picture nominees Chicago, Gangs of New York and The Hours, but the movie really belongs to the mesmerizing  Zeta Jones, she deserved her best supporting Oscar, and how!

The last time a movie set in Chicago won best picture was also a 20’s 30’s period piece 1973’s The Sting.  Chicago the city is an interesting place today, too filmmakers.  We’re more than gangsters and pinstriped suits and liquor and jazz.  And hot dogs and pizza.  To prove how cool Chicago is today I prepared a meal from recipes from a current crop of Chicago based but internationally renowned top chefs.  For a delicious fruit salad I went with this great Charlie Trotter recipe :

CANTALOUPE, MANGO AND ASIAN PEAR SALAD WITH KEY LIME-VANILLA BEAN VINAIGRETTE

Serves 4

FOR VINAIGRETTE

3 tablespoons key lime juice
pulp of 1 vanilla bean
7 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper

In small bowl, whisk together lime juice, vanilla bean pulp and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

FOR SALAD

1 cup large-diced cantaloupe
1 cup large-diced mango
1 cup large-diced Asian pear
¼ cup thinly sliced red onion
1 cup watercress, thick stems removed

In large bowl, combine all ingredients. Toss with Vinaigrette and serve.  Delicious and your hands smell great afterwards, too–all lime and vanilla-ey.

For dinner I was surprised to find this simple but exquisite Macaroni and Cheese dish from Mr. Molecular Gastronomy himself, Grant Achatz.

Ingredients

  1. 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  2. 6 thick slices of bacon (6 ounces), cut into 1/2-inch dice
  3. 1 medium onion, minced
  4. 2 bay leaves
  5. 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
  6. 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  7. 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  8. 6 cups whole milk
  9. 1 pound elbow macaroni
  10. 1 pound extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (5 cups)
  11. Salt

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking dish. In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Add the bacon and cook over moderate heat until crisp, about 7 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a plate.
  2. Add the onion and bay leaves to the saucepan and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Add the paprika and cayenne and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Stir in the flour until blended. Gradually whisk in the milk until the sauce is smooth. Bring to a boil over high heat, whisking constantly, and cook until thickened. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the sauce gently for 30 minutes, whisking frequently. Discard the bay leaves.
  3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni and boil until pliable but undercooked, about 4 minutes. Drain the macaroni and return it to the pot.
  4. Stir 4 cups of the cheddar into the hot sauce, add the bacon and season with salt.Add the sauce to the macaroni and mix well. Spread the mac and cheese in the prepared baking dish and scatter the remaining 1 cup of cheddar on top. Bake for about 30 minutes, until golden brown and bubbling. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

For dessert I went with the queen of Chicago pastry chef, Gale Gand and her cream cheese stuffed chocolate cupcakes–I was amazed that these turned out so good–there’s hardly any egg in the batter–but the recipe worked great!

  • Filling
  • 4 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 2/3 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • Cupcakes
  • 3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-processed
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 c. hot water
  • 3/4 c. vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp. white vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. instant cofee crystals (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

To make the filling, in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese until fluffy, about 5 minutes, scraping the bowl often, and then blend in the egg yolk and vanilla. Add the sugar and chips and mix for a few seconds on low to fold them in.

Preheat the oven to 350. Line 2 (12 cup) muffin tins with cupcake paper liners.

To make the cupcakes, in a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. In a large measuring cup, combine the water, oil, vinegar, instant coffee, and vanilla. Pour the mixture into the dry ingredients and whisk until just combined (don’t worry if there are a few lumps).

Fill each cupcake liner two-thirds full of batter. Drop a heaping tsp. of the cream cheese filling into the center of each.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cupcakes have puffed on top and are firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and let cool completely in the tins.

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