Archive for the ‘musings’ Category

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For Your Degustation, Oscars 2010

February 15, 2010

I love Oscar night.  I love coming up with ideas for food for Oscar night. But, jeez I was dreading the 10 nominations thing.  Turns out I was a little bit right about the difficulty with coming up with ideas for the fete.  But, I have.  So, here goes my list for the 10 for 2010.

For Avatar–a silly, big, dumb movie that was just silly,  big & dumb and blue–bring on the tequila and the Curacao,  we’re making  blue margaritas:


>1 teaspoon coarse salt
4 ounces Tequilla
2 ounces Triple Sec
2 ounces freshly-squeezed
lime juice
2 ounces blue Curacaco
2 teaspoons superfine sugar
2 (1/4-inch) slices star fruit for garnish (optional)
1 lime, cut into wedges

Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice.

Place Tequilla, Triple Sec, lime juice, blueCuracaco, and sugar in the shaker; shake hard for 30 seconds.

Serve in martini glasses with coarse salt on the rims of the glasses. Strain the Blue Margarita into the glasses. Garnish each with a slice of star fruit or a lime wedge.

For A Serious Man, the first best picture nominee ever based on both the Book of Job and Schrödinger’s Cat.  (This movie was too smart for me.  I’m not into Bible stories or physics, sorry Coen brothers.) we’re making matzo appetizers.

Matzo Spanikopita
• 12 Prepared matzo
• melted butter or margarine for brushing matzo
• 5 boxes (10 oz size) frozen spinach squeezed dry
• 1/2 cup chopped onion
• 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley (do not pack)
• 1/2 cup chopped fresh dill (do not pack)
• 3/4 pounds feta cheese crumbled
• 2 eggs
• salt and pepper to taste (not too much salt, because feta is salty)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Saute onions until soft. Mix together with spinach. parsley, dill, feta and eggs. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Trim all sides of prepared matzo as close to the edge as possible. Brush matzo with butter or margarine on both sides. Make strips by cutting matzo in thirds following the grain. Place a heaping teaspoon of spinach mixture on the end of each strip and fold up like a flag to make a triangle. Place seam side down and bake on a buttered parchment-lined sheet tray. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes or until browned.

Leftover spinach mix can be frozen.

For The Blind Side, a movie I liked a lot.  Probably more than I should have.  Because Leigh Anne would have $18.00 salads with her friends in a fancy Memphis restaurant I’m making a Hearts of Palm salad  from the fanciest hotel in Memphis, the exquisite Peabody Hotel.  I got a chance to stay in this hotel about 10 years ago; it’s pricey, but the duck show makes it worth the money.

Hearts of Palm Salad With Walnut Oil Vinaigrette

Also, we gonna add some cold, cooked shrimp to this salad–this is for District 9.  The creatures are derogatorily called “prawns.”  Thank God.

1 1/2 pounds baby string beans, preferably haricots verts

4 to 6 ounces vegetable oil

1 tablespoon butter

2 pounds fresh wild mushrooms, such as shiitake, chanterelle and oyster

Salt and white pepper to taste

4 medium shallots, finely chopped

2 pounds hearts of palm, drained

1/2 cup Walnut Oil Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Trim ends of beans and clean vegetable. Blanch in boiling, lightly salted water for 3 to 5 minutes. Do not overcook; beans should remain crisp and green.

Drain beans and immerse in ice water for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

Heat 1/3 of the oil in an 8-to 10-inch skillet. Add a teaspoon of butter. The butter should brown immediately. Be careful pan does not flame.

Add one variety of mushroom.

Add salt and white pepper to taste.

Saute until brown and crisp on the outside but moist inside. Just before removing mushrooms from pan, add 1/3 of the minced shallots to the pan to release their sweet onion flavor.

Repeat with remaining varieties of mushrooms. Drain on paper towels.

Slice fresh heart of palm 1/8 -inch thick. Toss with Walnut Vinaigrette to keep them from turning brown.

Mix beans, hearts of palm, warm mushrooms and Walnut Oil Vinaigrette. Mound on a plate

Walnut Oil Vinaigrette

1 egg yolk

Salt and white pepper to taste

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

5 teaspoons red-wine vinegar

1 pint walnut oil (available in gourmet shops)

In a stainless steel bowl, whip egg yolk to blend smoothly. Incorporate mustard, salt, white pepper and red-wine vinegar. Add oil in slow stream, beating liquid as you proceed. Unused vinaigrette may be refrigerated in a closed container for 10 days. If it becomes too thick, thin with a little wine or water.

District 9? Seriously? Now would probably be a good time to mention to the Academy how nice and convenient it would have been for them to nominate Julie & Julia–the only movie about food and a cookbook.  I could have had class, I could have made Boeuf Bourguignon, but no, instead for our entree I’m combining elements from 3 nominees.

For Up in the Air, Inglorious Basterds and Precious I’m making a peanut (Up in the Air), and popcorn (A lot of the action in Inglorious Basterds takes place in a movie theater) encrusted chicken breast (spoiler alert: Precious steals a bucket of chicken). How’s that for a stretch of the imagination?

Thai Peanut and Popcorn Crusted Chicken
  • 2 cups popped popcorn
  • 1/2 cup chopped peanuts
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 (1 3/4 lbs.) boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Here’s How:
For the Thai Peanut Sauce: Mix 3 tablespoons peanut butter, 3 tablespoons honey, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons lime juice and 1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce in a small bowl until smooth.

Preheat oven to 350º F. Process popcorn in a blender or food processor until ground. Pour ground popcorn into a shallow dish; stir in peanuts and set aside.

In another shallow dish, whisk egg, soy sauce, garlic and hot pepper sauce until blended; set aside.

Heat oil in a large, oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Dip chicken breasts first in egg mixture and then in popcorn mixture until well coated. Place in skillet and brown on both sides; about 3 minutes per side. Place skillet in oven 15 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Serve with Thai Peanut sauce.

This is a lot of food.  We need to cleanse the palate a bit.  Also, combining the Englishness of An Education and the Up-ness of Up, we’re having a Strawberry Sorbet.

1 qt. fresh, ripe strawberries
1/2 to 3/4 c. sugar
1 1/4 c. fresh orange juice
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
Wash, hull and dry strawberries. Place in a bowl, mash, sprinkle with 3 to 4 tablespoons sugar and cinnamon. Toss well and let stand 1 hour, tossing occasionally. In small saucepan heat orange juice, lemon juice and remaining sugar until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and cool. Puree strawberries with liquid in blender until smooth. Add orange and lemon juice mixture and freeze according to above freezer tray method for a sorbet.  Using a melon baller, make small scoops of the sorbet and place in a chilled martini glass full of 7-up.  Yum.
For our final movie, and right before we slip into a food coma, we’re making, for The Hurt Locker, truffles with pop rocks.  A delicious and dangerous dessert.

2 cups bittersweet chocolate

1/3 cup cream

7 Tbsp. butter, room temperature

1 Tbsp. Grand Marnier

2 packages Pop Rocks

Chop the chocolate fine and place in a 2-quart metal bowl. Add the cream to the chocolate and place over a double boiler with gentle heat. Stir the chocolate-cream mixture just until the chocolate is melted, then immediately remove from heat. Do not overheat it. Whisk in the butter until combined. Stir in the Grand Marnier and then the Pop Rocks. Refrigerate until cool and somewhat firm to the touch.

Transfer the mixture to a piping bag and pipe bite-sized pieces onto wax paper, or scoop out portions with a 1/2-ounce ice cream scoop. Chill until firm.

Quickly roll the truffles between the palms of your hands to form balls. When all are shaped, toss them with cocoa powder and chill. Warm to room temperature for serving.

Should be a fun evening. I hope they go back to 5 nominees next year.  Also, if Avatar wins, all this food might not go down the right way.

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No Pride, Lots of Prejudice

August 1, 2009

6crash

Crash is way  too controversial to talk about!  OK, no it’s not really.  It was, however,  mine and Jim’s biggest disagreement ever about what movie should have won that year.  I much preferred the more complex and richer Brokeback Mountain.  He liked Crash.  I think that any movie that wins best screenplay (Larry McMurtry, Diana Ossana) and best director (the great Ang Lee) should also win best picture. In the end, after a much heated discussion, we agreed on the comparison of   Crash being is a Dickens novel, and  Brokeback being a Jane Austen.  And since I have the power of the keyboard I can clearly state that Brokeback should have won.  And me and Jack Nicholson were both surprised when it didn’t.

Whoa indeed.

Crash isn’t a bad movie.  Paul Haggis, who won the previous year’s best adapted screenplay award for Million Dollar Baby wrote and directed Crash.  Haggis is also a journeyman television writer. And by journeyman I mean journey, man:  he’s written for such varied and sundryed shows such as thirtysomething (a show I loved) and The Facts of Life (a show who’s theme song is now stuck in my head).  Crash’s ensemble cast is pretty incredible too.  Matt Dillon, truly one of our must underrated actors,  is great as the beleaguring and beleaguered cop–the rescue scene is harrowing on so many levels and Dillon and Thandie Newton both shine.  And I love Brendan Fraser, he’s one of my favorite actors.  He doesn’t do a lot in this movie (he plays the sterotypical somewhat corrupt DA).  But It was nice to see him only so I could reminisce about my favorite amusement park ride ever: The Mummy Ride. Love it.

Racism, however is such an uncomfortable difficult subject.  And most everyone in this movie is guilty of one form of racism (or racial profiling for a more PC word) or another.  So you really end up not liking anyone in this cast.  OK, the daughter and the locksmith, that’s it.  In the end though I think that people watching this movie 20-30 years from now –someone doing the next generation of an Oscars in Order perhaps?– will be hard pressed to figure out how this one won.  Kind of like me and Cavalcade.  Brokeback Mountain, on the other hand, with it’s timeless tale of self-sacrifce will indefinately continue to win the approval of audiences. I need to stop.

Well we went with the stereotype theme and made food that fit the stereotypes.  Sort of.  Crash is set in Los Angeles so we made California rolls.  I’m not a big sushi eater and this was my first time making sushi.  It’s a bit tricky when you don’t have all the right tools: I had to use a big bamboo place mat instead of the proper, smaller wrapper. They looked a bit wobbly but they tasted great.

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 medium avocado, peeled, pitted, and sliced into 1/4-inch thick pieces

4 sheets nori

1/2 batch sushi rice, recipe follows

1/3 cup sesame seeds, toasted

1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into matchstick-size pieces

4 crabsticks, torn into pieces (crabsticks are imitation crab, or “krab”)

Pickled ginger, for serving

Wasabi, for serving (but be careful this stuff is hot!)

Soy sauce, for serving

Squeeze the lemon juice over the avocado to prevent browning.

Cover a bamboo rolling mat with plastic wrap. Cut nori sheets in half crosswise. Lay 1 sheet of nori, shiny side down, on the plastic covered mat. Wet your fingers with water and spread about 1/2 cup of the rice evenly onto the nori. Sprinkle the rice with sesame seeds. Turn the sheet of nori over so that the rice side is down. Place 1/8 of the cucumber, avocado and crab sticks in the center of the sheet. Grab the edge of the mat closest to you, keeping the fillings in place with your fingers, and roll it into a tight cylinder, using the mat to shape the cylinder. Pull away the mat and set aside. Cover with a damp cloth. Repeat until all of the rice has been used. Cut each roll into 6 pieces. Serve with pickled ginger, wasabi and soy sauce.

Sushi Rice:

2 cups sushi or short grain rice

2 cups water, plus extra for rinsing rice

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon kosher salt

Place the rice into a mixing bowl and cover with cool water. Swirl the rice in the water, pour off and repeat 2 to 3 times or until the water is clear.

Place the rice and 2 cups of water into a medium saucepan and place over high heat. Bring to a boil, uncovered. Once it begins to boil, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cover. Cook for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes.

Combine the rice vinegar, sugar and salt in a small bowl and heat in the microwave on high for 30 to 45 seconds. Transfer the rice into a large wooden or glass mixing bowl and add the vinegar mixture. Fold thoroughly to combine and coat each grain of rice with the mixture. Allow to cool to room temperature before using to make sushi or sashimi.

We also bought some frozen Korean shortribs from Trader Joe’s and Jim fired those up on the grill.

And we also had this nice summer-jicama and watermelon salad

GT0109_Jicama-and-Watermelon-Salad_med

  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice, plus 1 teaspoon zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice, plus 1 teaspoon zest
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 jicama, cut into matchstick pieces
  • 4 cups watermelon in 2-inch chunks
  • 1/3 cup roughly torn fresh mint leaves

Whisk together juices, honey, pepper and salt in a large bowl. Add the jicama, watermelon and mint and toss to coat.

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Nickel and Dimed to Death

July 24, 2009

It was a lucky April shower
It was a most convenient door
I found a million dollar baby in a five and ten cent store


The night before we watched 2004’s best picture, Million Dollar Baby, I fell asleep thinking about how wonderful an actor Morgan Freeman is. I thought he was robbed of a Best Actor award back in 1989 for Driving Miss Daisy.  He should have easily picked up that supporting one for Shawshank Redemption.  Thank heavens he finally prevailed for playing  Clint Eastwood’s one-eyed friend and employee, ex-boxer Eddie “Scrap-Iron” Dupris.  Man, I wish I had a cool nickname like “scrap-iron.”   Mr. Freeman really is a treasure and he is certainly one of the reasons Million Dollar Baby is so good. Good, but a bit depressing.  It’s funny that this movie is considered a “boxing” picture.  While there are a lot of boxing scenes and boxers and the training of boxers, this movie is no RockyThank God.  In the end, in my opionion, it’s about who your family is and who you make your family: who is your Mo Cuishle. I remember just completely sobbing when I first saw this in the theaters and I promised myself on this second viewing that I wouldn’t be such a baby.  I hate breaking my own promises.

2004 was a pretty strong year for movies:  The Aviator (my favorite that year; a movie about old Hollywood? I’m in! And are they ever gonna throw one Martin Scorsese’s way? Sheesh), Ray (Jim’s favorite), Finding Neverland (Johnny Depp, sigh), and Sideways (a good movie, but I felt drunk after watching it) were the other nominees that year. Other terrific movies not nominated that year:  Kinsey and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind . Hard choices.

Remember Woolworth’s lunch counter? For dinner I went with the five and dime theme and found an old menu online from Woolworth’s.  I made choice number one:  The Roast Beef Dinner.

Z-WoolworthsCLOSEup

Roast Beef is soo easy to make:

preheat oven to 500 degrees–with a sharp knife cut slits on the top of the roast.  Insert garlic slivers in the slits. Place the meat on a rack in a roasting pan and roast for 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes remove from the oven, lower the oven temp to 375 and sprinkle with salt and pepper and thyme.  Return to the oven and roast until the meat comes to your desired temperature (130 is rare).  Let roast sit for 10-15 minutes before slicing.

For the gravy I just add a little chef’s juice, er, wine to the pan drippings and reduce.

Mashed potatoes–peel potatoes cook em in boiling water for 20-25 minutes until tender–mash em with some warmed milk and butter. Em is a very important word when you’re making mashed potatoes.

For the green vegetable I made a recipe from the big red Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook–Billionaires Broccoli

Slice the florets of the broccoli off the tips (or just buy tips, the cookbook is a bit dated) heat about 2 T olive oil in a 2 quart microwave safe casserole for two minutes.  Stir in 4 cloves of garlic, slivered, and cook until golden, 3 minutes. Stir in broccoli and 1/2 cup chopped scallions (the green part, throw the white part into a glass of water and put in on your windowsill–the green parts grow back) and some chicken broth (about a cup) cover and nuke for about 5 minutes. Season with salt & pepper and sprinkle with some parmesean cheese before serving.

For dessert I made malteds:

  • 4 scoops chocolate ice cream
  • 1 cup(s) milk
  • 3 tablespoon(s) chocolate syrup
  • 3 tablespoon(s) malted milk powder

Put everything in a blender and then pour into tall glasses. Serve. Watch the movie and then kick yourself for not making lemon meringue pie.

I had completely forgotten how important the lemon pie was in this movie.  Once I remembered,  there was just no living with myself.  My brain and my mouth just stopped talking to each other.  The next day I made lemon meringue pudding and all was forgiven.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup Corn starch
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 cups water
4 egg yolks lightly beaten
1/2 cup lemon juice (or extract)
1 Tbspn grated Lemon peel (1 lemon)
2 Tbspn butter or margarine
4 egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
2 tspn Corn Starch
Method:
Mix 1/2 cup corn starch, 1-1/2 cups sugar, water, and egg yolks in a saucepan over medium heat. Stirring constantky(else it forms lumps), bring mixture to a boil (8 to 10 minutes), reduce heat and continuosly stirring for one minuteuntil very thick. Remove from heat, and add lemon juice, lemon zest and butter, stir well untill smooth. Pour this while hot into a well greased baking pan. Beat egg whites in mixer at high speed until soft peaks form , gradually add 1/2 cup sugar and 2 teaspoons cornstarch, beating until stiff peaks form (tips stand straight), about 3 minutes. Top the lemon mixture in the baking pan by spooning meringue over it, making sure to spread it on the entire surface, use the back of a spoon tp swirl meringue and draw up into peaks. Place oven rack in bottom third of preheated 375 deg F oven. Bake 10 minutes, until peaks are lightly browned. Cool at room teperature for 30 minutes. Chill for minimum of 3 hours before serving. Serve with whipped cream as topping.

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Revenge of the Nerds

July 16, 2009


I know there’s a lot of people out there who go coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs over The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I’m not one of them, and neither is Jim.  Watching 2003’s best picture LOTR:  The Return of the King was a bit tortuous for us.  We’re really not the fantasy film watchers at all.  And why did it seem like every scene the last hour of the movie  was like the last scene, and yet it kept on going?  I think that if I checked my DVD player there would still be some wacky elves and/or crucial battle scene going on. Honestly,  I really couldn’t make head nor tails out of any of these movies.  And we kept getting other CGI fueled fantasy movies mixed up with this:  Where was Aslan?  What’s Harry Potter up to now?  (Jim kept calling Frodo Harry Potter.  I thought he looked more like Debbie Downer myself).

frodo

debbie_downerHarry-Potter

They definitely could all be related.

Around in 2003 that could have or should have won: Mystic River (sure, why not?) In America (one of my favorites, brilliant film) Seabiscuit (Tobey Maguire, another Frodo relative).

Reluctantly I can sort of see why this one did win.  There’s a lot of film making going on here.  Even though I’m not a special effects fan, The special effects really are phenomenal.   Once again, the cgi-less crowd scenes in Gandhi seem like a miracle.  I really do admire Peter Jackson and co. for telling this tale.   I’m sure it’s  a lot better than reading the book (I read The Hobbit when I was in high school. Hated it).  And I do have a soft spot for Mr. Jackson because he appears in (the special features part) one of my favorite documentaries Broadway The Golden Era.  He was trying to get Fay Wray to appear in his upcoming King Kong remake.  She passed away before it could happen

Thanks to Roxane we now know what happens when nerd worlds collide:

For the epic dinner I consulted a few websites that really really like to eat elven food and decided on making Rosie’s Shire Pie and a Carrot Cake.

For the pie:

Rosie’s Shire Pie

1 pound whole mushrooms
1 pound ground sausage
1 yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 stalks celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 Tb. flour
1/4 Cup dry white wine
1 1/2 Cups chicken stock
1 Tb. thyme
1 teaspoon sage
Salt & pepper to taste

Clean mushrooms and cut into quarters.  Crumble the sausage & place in a large, deep pan.  Cook over medium heat.  Add onions, garlic, celery, and carrot, and cook about 5 minutes.  Add mushrooms and cook 5 minutes more until vegetables are tender.  Stir in flour and cook and couple of minutes, stirring.  Add wine and half of the stock, stirring and working out any lumps.  Add remaining stock and bring to a boil.  Turn heat to low, add herbs, salt and pepper and cook 10 minutes.  Pour into deep pie dish or 8×8 baking dish and set aside.

The recipe called for a homemade biscuit to be baked on top of the pie.  I cgi-ed a bit and used refrigerated biscuit dough and baked it for 12-15 minutes in a 400 degree oven.

I also CGI-ed the carrot cake: I used a mix.  And canned frosting (I never do that). I did bake it in a bundt pan so it looked like a forbidden secret ring.  Preciousssss

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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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Counting Crowes II: The Man With Two Brains

May 26, 2009

abm

I think the Academy felt guilty about snubbing Ron Howard’s superior Apollo 13 back in 1995 and that’s why they voted A Beautiful Mind as being 2001’s best.  Not that A Beautiful Mind is bad, it’s just not that great.  It sort of reminded me of one of those 1930-1940’s MGM melodramas where no one believes Greer Garson could discover radiation and she ages or no one believes Jennifer Jones sees visions or Irene Dune conquers rustic Oklahoma and ages.  This time Russell Crowe (as John Nash)discovers some complicated theory whilst going a bit schizoid and ultimately (after aging) wins the Nobel prize.  And Jennifer Connelly gets to be supportive and impossibly beautiful.

This movie made me feel like 1994’s Teen Talk Barbie (“Math is Hard”) because I didn’t understand what John Nash’s theories were all about and all the scratches he left on the windows left me scratching my head.

abm2

The movie is a bit slow but just like Ms. Connelly it’s very pretty to watch.  Princeton University looks amazing.

Othe films nominated that year: Moulin Rouge (oh, how I wish this one had been picked it’s such a favorite of ours), The first of the Lord of the Rings trilogy of terror (I’m dreading 2003, I really am.  I just don’t get all that Middle Earth stuff) Gosford Park (that’s a good one, too.  And they should have thrown one Altman’s way; now it’s too late) and In the Bedroom (meh).

For dinner we had dorm food.  But not just any dorm food: we cherry picked from what they were serving for dinner at Princeton that day.  Let me tell you, those Princeton University students eat some tasty food. And the following salad was the one Jim and I had at our wedding dinner 20 years ago. Fancy stuff Princeton

Spinach and Warm Bacon Salad

  • 8 ounces young spinach
  • 8 pieces thick-sliced bacon, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 large white mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 ounces red onion (1 small), very thinly sliced

Remove the stems from the spinach and wash, drain and pat dry thoroughly. Place into a large mixing bowl and set aside.

Fry the bacon and remove to a paper towel to drain, reserving 3 tablespoons of the rendered fat. Crumble the bacon and set aside.

Transfer the fat to a small saucepan set over low heat and whisk in the red wine vinegar, sugar and Dijon mustard. Season with a small pinch each of kosher salt and black pepper.

Add the mushrooms and the sliced onion to the spinach and toss. Add the dressing and bacon and toss to combine. Divide the spinach between 4 plates or bowls . Season with pepper, as desired. Serve immediately.

and for dinner:


Gnocchi Bolognese

(Serves 4)

Ingredients:

* 2 tablespoons olive oil
* 1/2 oz. finely chopped onions
* 1/2 oz. finely chopped carrots
* 1/2 oz. finely chopped celery
* 1 lb. ground meat – mixture of pork, veal, & beef
* 2 lb. Italian potato gnocchi
* Handful of fresh basil
* 6 cups of marinara sauce
* Handful of Parmesan cheese
* Pinch of salt & pepper

Preparation:

Sauté onions in frying pan with olive oil. Add celery and carrots. Add ground meat and marinara sauce and cook in frying pan for about 15 minutes. Cook gnocchi separately in boiling water for 6 minutes. Stir constantly. When gnocchi rises above water, they are done. Drain water. Combine gnocchi with meat/ marinara mixture and add Parmesan cheese, basil, and a touch of salt and pepper.

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Counting Crowes: The Gory that Was Rome

May 12, 2009

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It’s unusual, to say the least, that a leading actor (or actress)  stars  in two consecutive Best Picture Oscars winning movies. Clark Gable did it in 1934 and 1935 with It Happened One Night and Mutiny on the Bounty. Meryl Streep did it as a supporting actress in 78’s The Deer Hunter and 79’s Kramer Vs. Kramer.  And Russell Crowe did it with Gladiator and 2001’s A Beautiful Mind.  And I love that these double winners (all of them) are soooooo different from each other.

Gladiator is an old fashioned yarn about the ups and downs and ins and outs of a Roman gladiator.  Director Ridley Scott has added some modern touches–mostly CGI stuff.  The cast is phenomenal.  Russell Crowe is the perfect blend of tough and tender. Sigh. Joaquin Phoenix is great as the villainous Commodus.  My favorite bit of casting you ask?  It has to be the triumvirate of old 1960’s British actors on their last legs:

Oliver Reed as Proximo (remember him, Bill Sykes from Oliver!)

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David Hemmings (so beautiful in Blow-up, so bloated here) as Cassius

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And Richard Harris (post Camelot, pre-Dumbledore) as Marcus Aurielius.

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Sadly, all three of these great actors have passed on.  Gladiator was Mr. Reed’s last film.

Gladiator is a fairly good movie, but little by little I’ve been re-watching the 2000 Oscar telecast lately and I am really surprised from the tone of that evening that Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic did not win.  Also,  Julia Roberts was really annoying that night.

For dinner we tried to stick to a gladiator’s style of diet: lots of protein, walnuts and honey.  For dinner we adapted a recipe from the beautiful and talented Giada De Laurentiis. However, no way has she ever eaten anything “poached in oil” before.  Poached in oil is fancy chef-speak for deep fried.
Halibut  with Broccoli Rabe Pesto

Broccoli Rabe Pesto: (if you can’t find broccoli rabe, swiss chard is a nice substitute)
  • 8 ounces broccoli rabe (about 1/2 a bunch)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup toasted walnuts
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
Halibut:
  • 1/4 cupolive oil
  • 4 (6-ounce) pieces halibut
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the Broccoli Rabe Pesto:

Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the broccoli rabe and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer the cooked broccoli rabe to an ice bath and let cool, about 3 minutes. Shake off the excess water and transfer to a food processor. Add the garlic, walnuts, honey, salt, and pepper process until smooth. With the machine running gradually pour in the extra-virgin olive oil. Transfer the pesto to a small bowl and stir in the Parmesan. Cover and set aside.

For the Halibut:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the halibut and cook until brown and crispy  1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side. Remove from the heat and place in the oven for a few minutes (3-4) until done.

To Serve:

Place about 1/2 cup of Broccoli Rabe Pesto on a serving plate and gently smooth out to make a bed for the fish. Using a slotted fish spatula gently transfer the cooked fish from the poaching oil to the serving plate, placing the fish on top of the bed of pesto. Serve immediately.