Potato Confit

18 Jun

May I introduce you to your new best friend, a perfect side partner to innumerable dishes including the next recipe that will come up on the blog. This delightment is so good you will even be tempted to eat it alone.

Alone meaning by itself.

Alone meaning when no one else is around because you will want it all for yourself.

I give you Potato Confit.

ingredients

ingredients for potato confit

Confit, French for preserved, is a food preparation cooks have used since at least medieval times in order to preserve foods far beyond their normal expiration date. In making confit, you preserve an ingredient so it will last months or even years. While confit was originally prepared using sugar or salt, confit now generally means slow cooking an ingredient in some kind of fat.

Cooking in fat. Can’t go wrong there.

I’ve made various confits for years. While duck confit is the most well known, I love onion confit, tomato confit and garlic confit. This slow cooking preparation draws remarkable flavor from an ingredient, much more so than a traditional quick cook on the stove or in the oven. It also makes your life easy: because this simple process is a method of preservation, you have delicious ready made ingredients at your fingertips to use instantly in your cooking.

Last December I discovered potato confit. I learned about it from Sean Brock’s amazing cookbook, Heritage. Brock is a modern southern cook, owner of the restaurant Husk in Charleston. It’s the best cookbook I’ve discovered in the last year. His Hoppin’ John, for instance, is to die for, made even more mind-blowing by turning some of the peas into a gravy to pour over the peas and rice.

BrockSideBySide

The potato confit, however, is the first recipe I cooked from the book, as it sounded so intriguing. I could not resist the ingredient list as well! My good friend Chris helped me make the first batch just before Christmas. I’ve been making it ever since, experimenting with a variety of uses.

It’s apropro I discovered this before Christmas. It’s the dish that keeps on giving.

Prepping potatoes this way never occurred to me but now that I’ve discovered potato confit, it makes glorious sense. These potatoes taste incredible, have a variety of uses and are quite a bit of fun to make as well. Having a container of potato confit in your fridge, ready to use, will make you very happy.

And it’s easy! All you do is take a variety of fats (see full recipe below) and melt them in a large pot with some seasonings. Then you add the potatoes:

ready for oven

Seasoned fat and potatoes

Then you slow roast them for 3 hours in the oven:

pot in the oven

Roasting pot going in the oven

What emerges are tender, flavorful potatoes, fully cooked. When cooled down, put them in a container you can keep in the fridge:

after cooking

Potato confit, out of the oven, cooling

Once they are room temperature, stick them in the fridge, where the fat hardens around them, preserving them:

Vat

Potato confit pulled from the fridge

Voila’! Incredible potatoes that are ready for quick preparation as a wonderful side dish to anything, from eggs to roasted meats to fish. These are perfect, for instance, in the morning when you might not have time to spend 20-30 minutes cooking raw potatoes to go with your breakfast.  The confit can be ready in 5 minutes or less.

diffing for the confit

digging for the potatoes

 

These potatoes are incredible cooked down with onions for a delectable pan roasted potato side dish. Even better, they are easily adaptable to most any added flavor combination. You can pair them with a Mexican meal (add some cumin and oregano), an Indian meal (coriander, garam masala, turmeric, etc), a French flavored meal (herbs de Provence) and on and on. Just spice accordingly when you quickly rewarm them.

Here you see them as a lovely side pairing for the baked omelette I will blog about next:

on plate best?

And here are the dregs of a plate from a recent evening I ate them with a simple fried egg on the side:

dregs

Make this confit and keep it in your fridge. Don’t be put off by the fats: these all are natural, meaning they are relatively healthy and you only need a little of the flavored fat to rewarm the potatoes.  Make the recipe below, save the confit, and start having fun with them during the week. Under the recipe, I have one of the many ways you can use them once they are waiting patiently in your fridge.

Potato Confit. Your new best friend. Trust me. It’s that good.

POTATO CONFIT

Ingredients

5 lbs small heirloom potatoes, washed

1 pd good quality butter

2 cups extra virgin olive oil

2 cups lard

1 cup bacon fat

2 T salt

1 T white pepper

30 thyme sprigs

1 head of garlic, cloves peeled

4 bay leaves

Instructions

If you have the time, brine the potatoes overnight. It’s easy, see below. And it does make a difference. But if not, just dive in, they are still amazingly wonderful:

– Preheat the oven to 250 F.

– Combine butter, olive oil, lard and bacon fat in a large Dutch oven and heat over medium heat until melted. These are general guidelines, you are not going to mess up if you have a little more of one and a little less of another. NOTE: Unlike my mom, I don’t have bacon fat sitting in a jar next to the stove so when I make this, I just fry up some bacon as the first step. Frying bacon is never a bad thing. Just use the bacon for something else, i.e. eat it right then, and use the leftover fat already in the pan.

– Stir, adding the salt, white pepper, thyme sprigs, garlic cloves and bay leaves, and heat for 10 or so minutes to infuse the fat with flavor.

– Carefully place the potatoes in the hot fat, cover the Dutch oven and transfer to the oven. Slow roast for 3 hours, until the potatoes are very soft. Remove the pot from oven and let it sit until at room temperature.

– Place potatoes in a container that will live in the fridge. You can eat them right away but they are even better after sitting a few days. They last in the fridge at least a month but I doubt they make it that long.

NOTE: Digging for the potatoes is fun. Use a clean spoon, though, not your hands so the bacteria from your hands does not get into the fat.

To Use:

Now that you have the confit in the fridge, when you want to use them dig out as many potatoes as you want, with some of the fat for your pan. Slice them, dice them, or halve them, whatever shape you desire. Put a skillet over high heat, add a spoonful of the fat, then when it has melted, throw in your potatoes. I like to use high heat here, as the potatoes are already cooked and don’t need much more cooking time. High heat creates a wonderful crispy crust on the outside, with the inside remaining tender. As the potatoes cook, add the spices you like best or that match the main dish you are preparing. 

** If you have time, first sauté some sliced or diced onions in the fat. Potatoes and onions? The. Best.

Dicing is easy, of course, but last week I sliced them and the finish was divine. Here they are about to cook:

Sliced

 

Experiment with them, you really can’t go wrong. My next spice addition is going to be harissa! And if you try, let me know!

*If you have time to brine:

Brine (optional)

1 gallon water

2 cups kosher salt

1 cups sugar

Combine 4 cups water, salt and sugar in a large pot and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar. Add remaining water and stir. Add potatoes, remove from stove and cover. Let sit over night. Drain and pat dry before using the the confit recipe.

Mad Max: Fury Road

20 May

There is a car chase in Michael Bay’s The Rock that became instantaneously famous when the movie debuted in 1996. This action sequence, involving Nicolas Cage pursuing Sean Connery through the streets of San Francisco, completely changed the way action sequences were shot and edited in Hollywood. It also is annoying and frustrating and not very good.

The Rock‘s car chase is certainly is visceral and intense. So is accidentally sticking your hand into a Cuisinart. Neither are much fun and both eventually are a complete mess. The main problem in The Rock‘s car chase is that everything is shot so close and edited so tight there is very little spatial sense of what is happening. Where the hell is anyone in relation to anyone else? A car chase is suspenseful only if we know what is going on: is Cage one block or ten blocks behind Connery? How can there be suspense if we don’t know?

Re-watching it, the sequence is rather tame by today’s standards because what it began has intensified and ramped up so ridiculously. Movies like Man of Steel and The Furious Saga are shot and edited so close, so fast… and often so dark… that all spatial sense goes entirely out the window. These movies no longer are about actual suspense, narrative tension or, god forbid, character. They are designed instead to bludgeon the audience into submission.

The use of CGI has also completely taken over these movies, actors mostly performing in front of green screens with everything digitally created around them. Consequently, nothing we see can actually happen in real life which also drains the action of any real intensity.

All of which is why George Miller’s long gestating Mad Max: Fury Road, six days now in theaters, is so incredibly thrilling, exhilarating and, please Lord, game changing. 

Mad Max Fury Road 9

Given that everything about Fury Road is awesome and mind-blowing, I will only cover a few things here. Let’s start, however, with the spatial. George Miller is not just a visionary (see almost any image within this often gorgeous movie). Miller is a master at coherent, definable space. Coherent does not mean tame! Much of this movie is absolutely insane. Take, for instance, the much talked about blind bungee jumping guitar player, hung from the front of a massive rig, who plays a real flame-throwing guitar as he blindly bungee jumps:

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Insane! But whatever is happening in Fury Road, no matter how chaotic, fast or explosive, we the audience always know exactly what is going on. Who is doing what. Where people are in relationship to one another. What is at stake. (We will get to the fact something is indeed actually at stake in a moment.)

Miller’s directing, editing, planning and use of the frame is ingenious and purposeful. It always makes sense. If we happen to be momentarily confused about something, that, too, is purposeful, Miller withholding information for a time to keep us leaning forward and to surprise us later. This understanding of the spatial alone means Fury Road should and will be taught frame for frame in directing classes for years to come. 

Then there is the CGI or, rather, the incredible lack of it. Miller is obsessed with everything happening for real. Sure there are a few CGI effects, such as the amazing desert storm with tornadoes that ends the first Act.

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Yes they also used some CGI to wipe away safety wires. But that’s pretty much it. If you see it in Fury Road, it happened. Which makes the movie incredibly organic, tangible and breathtaking. As Miller said, “We didn’t defy the laws of physics. These are real people in real cars in a real desert.” It might be cool to see amazing digital effects but the real life stunts and real life consequences in Fury Road blow away anything that’s been on screen. 

So if you see a blind bungee jumping guitar player, playing a guitar that is also a flame thrower, you can know Miller made a real guy spend six real weeks learning how to play a real guitar, while blindfolded, on a real bungee cord, while it threw real flames. You even hear his actual music in the movie (click here for more).

If you see guys on motorcycles fly over other vehicles to throw down grenades, it happened.

Or if you see this, it happened:

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As did this:

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If you see Tom Hardy hanging upside down between two huge mack truck wheels speeding thru the desert, his head inches above the ground, it happened.:

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And when you sit, after 100 minutes or so, unable to breathe, wondering how on earth they might top themselves, as surely Miller could come up with nothing else as mind-blowing as what you have already seen, this happens:

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Not even Miller thought these ‘pole-cats’ could be done for real, so crazy insane is this final action sequence. Yet with the help of an amazing team and Cirque de Soleil performers, this astounding sequence also happened. And it shows. (Even Tom Hardy, afraid of heights, swung around on these poles for a while.)

Best of all, when you see 80 or so vehicles speeding across a desert or through a canyon, as the camera swoops perfectly choreographed above, it happened. The effect is stunning. Unlike most action sequences of late, Miller knows that what is truly mind-blowing are wide shots. Because when done real time, they cannot be faked. Fury Road is filled with some of the most deliriously epic and stunning wide shots every to be seen on camera. 

Importantly, the movie isn’t devoid of character or depth. As crazy as the movie often is, there are moments of amazing beauty and haunting quiet. Much has been made of the fact the movie is actually about Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa, the strongest female character to hit the screen since Ellen Ripley.

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Her performance is kick-ass, as is the character. All the characters have depth. Which lends the movie gravity. When two superheroes are flying around slamming into buildings, and ‘the world’ is at stake, nothing is really at stake because you know the superhero is never going to die, nor is the world going to end. It’s wildly different here. No one is safe and the physical consequences to the action and violence are real. Additionally, unlike most action movies, Miller is willing and able to stop the action for quiet and moving moments such as Furiosa’s devastating reaction here:

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Mad Max: Fury Road is an incredible, astounding achievement in cinema. Miller long has been one of our best and most inventive directors. Unlike many, he has directed great movies in various genres, from action to comedy to kid’s movies to heartfelt, impassioned drama. Here, at age 70, he has topped even himself and outshone ‘bad ass’ directors well under half his age.

As one critic said, Fury Road “will burn your face off”.  I cannot deny this is true, I’ve had my face burned off twice. I will be back soon for a third facial. Miller and Fury Road are astounding.

 

“Sunday Gravy”

5 Mar

 

A bowl of Sunday Gravy

A bowl of Sunday Gravy

Occasionally in life you meet someone who truly changes your life. This happened to me in 1998 when I decided the time was right to buy a house. On the advice of a friend, I met with a realtor, Phyllis Harb, who took me on as a client. Two and a half dizzying weeks later I found myself in escrow on a beat up but amazing old fixer-upper that is probably the house in which I will die.

Finding the house and fixing it up is a story for another day.  And if that were my only interaction with Phyllis, I would be blessed because not only has the house changed my life, she is an amazing person who guides you through a very stressful time.  Thankfully that was not my only interaction with her.  Over the years she has become a dear and trusted friend.  Phyllis is one of the more thoughtful and generous persons I’ve ever met.

Phyllis herself has a wonderful home and once a year or so she will have a few ‘former clients’ over for cocktails and dinner.  Last year about ten of us showed up for her version of what East Coast Italians call ‘Sunday Gravy’, a meat laden tomato sauce Esquire described as “A sacred meal for a sacred day born in the kitchen of an Italian-American family.”

Phyllis's kitchen during the process

Phyllis’ kitchen during the process

As any follower of this blog knows, I love tomatoes and love me a great tomato sauce. I’ve already done posts on tomato sauce here and here and here. When Phyllis served us this deep rich sauce over pasta, however,  I knew I was going to do another post because when I took my first bite, I thought I was going to die. It was so @#%#$ good!! Once again, Phyllis changed my life. I told her that night she had to teach me how to make it and she readily agreed.

Just a few of the ingredients

Just a few of the ingredients

pots

Two pots toward the end of the process.

This is an amazing sauce. It’s incredibly thick, marvelously so. Packed with meat, it has a rich, divine flavor. I served a batch on Oscar night and everyone at my house declared it the best red sauce they had ever eaten. It truly is that good.

For more great pictures and the incredible recipe, click here: Continue reading

Shameless Self-Promotion ’15

25 Feb

Apologies in advance, I do this once a year.

But I do have something original to post! 

Cinema Language Logo

As readers of the blog know, I teach a filmmaking seminar once or twice a year in Los Angeles: Cinema Language: The Art Of Storytelling. This year Cinema Language is the weekend of March 7-8. We present it in the gorgeous Charlie Chaplin Theatre on the Raleigh Studios backlot. While I teach individual seminars all over the country as well as Graduate Screenwriting at Pepperdine University, this is a fun, intensive weekend for film professionals and film buffs alike, an encapsulation of what I teach all year long. The class is always filled with interesting people with whom you can network and discourse. (This is all in relation to my “sister blog” CinemaLanguage.org.)

*** If any readers of the blog are interested in coming, comment below and I will give you a great deal! We have people coming this March from as far as London! It should be another great weekend, we would love to have you.

npr

One fun recent occurrence that happened because of Cinema Language: I was asked to do an interview for NPR. I am a big fan of the great editor Chuck Workman. His Oscar-winning tribute to movies, Precious Images, literally changed my life when I saw it on the big screen in college. In part as a tribute to him, I cut a 3 minute movie-montage, which you can see below. One of my favorite NPR reporters, Neda Ulaby, found it online and called me in to NPR West to talk about Workman. Her piece ended up on Weekend Edition Saturday with Scott Simon. You can hear the piece here:

NPR Interview

And if you have not yet seen it, here is my Workman-style montage which I use to start the class each time I teach.

Thanks as always for reading. My next post is going to be one of the best, a fun and delicious post about a mind-blowing recipe a very good friend taught me last weekend. Stay tuned!

Your “Go To” Dip for 2015

23 Jan


I am blessed with three wonderful sisters, Diane, Jeanye and Ruth. They came into my life in my 20’s, when my mother remarried after my father died. I’ve had many wonderful and hilarious times with all three ever since. They are the best.

Jeanye and I are addicted to cards and will play for hours at a stretch. Which means, of course, we need some ‘nibbles’, as she likes to call them, while we play. Sustenance is important, right? (It also keeps the mind sharp for kicking ass at cards… We are a little competitive.) The last time we played at her house, she combined the remains of two left over store-bought items on a whim: pimento cheese and a corn salad.

We inhaled it.

It was so good I was determined to create a homemade version. After a few rounds of experimenting, I present you a dip you will make for the rest of your life. This stuff is good. Because of the ingredients, it also lasts a while in the fridge. I always double it, in fact. So make a big batch, serve with vegetables and/or crackers, and enjoy.

This is perfect for the Super Bowl, btw.

Oh and importantly, for the Southerners anyway, this is the best pimento cheese recipe ever, one I’ve come up with by combining a few recipes over the years. Make just the pimento cheese for the best pimento cheese sandwich on the planet.

 

Pim Cheese corn dip

Pimento Cheese Jalapeño Corn Dip

 

For the recipe, click here —>  Continue reading

Favorite Films of 14

9 Jan

It’s been a different year for movies. A good friend of mine noted there didn’t seem to be any big ‘Oscar movies’, nothing that screamed Must see! or that has a lock on Best Picture… and that is true. But for me, this has been a good thing. In an age where so many movies are huge depressing blockbusters: sequels ad nauseam with the same old, same old tired CGI action that makes me numb, my personal favorites of the year were movies that were small, indie and often very weird. Some of these even blew me away.

In no specific order:

EDGE OF TOMORROW / LIVE. DIE. REPEAT

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Whoa, whoa, whoa! Isn’t this the type of big budget blockbuster you were slamming above?

Actually… no. This terrific, very smart, very suspenseful movie is what every big budget action movie should be. It’s the most sheer fun I had at the movies all year. A blast of a picture, Edge Of Tomorrow (or Live. Die. Repeat.) is extremely clever and, along with terrific supporting performances, has two kick-ass lead performances by Tom Cruise and the heavenly Emily Blunt. Wretchedly marketed by Warner Bros, (the movie’s name has even changed!) the ads looked like same old same old and revealed none of the humor (it is very funny), none of the romance (it has a heartbreaking romantic subplot) and hid just how good Tom Cruise was as he played one of the great cowards ever to be portrayed onscreen. That’s right, a total, yellow bellied coward. I confess, I love the guy, he is a superb actor (watch Magnolia if you disagree) and he clearly had a ball playing very against type. You probably missed it on the big screen, which is a bummer, but see it anyway. It’s a @%#$ blast.

 

SNOWPIERCER

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This is a wild, weird, phenomenal twist on the action thriller by one of the most inventive directors alive, Joon-Ho Bong. Very hard to describe, the entire movie takes place on a futuristic speeding train containing all that is left of humanity. With splendid action scenes and extremely inventive set pieces (wait until you get to the ‘classroom scene’ with a deliriously upbeat Allison Pill) Snowpiercer has a wild, weird sensibility that is all Bong, who also directed the equally wild and wonderful movies The Host and Mother. Chris Evans does his best work yet on screen. He’s terrific. As are all the supporting players. And then there’s Oscar Winner Tilda Swinton. Her part, Mason, was written for a man. When she was cast, they changed not a word, she transformed her appearance and this remarkable, fearless actress gives a hilarious, biting performance unlike anything you’ve ever seen. While the movie is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, it has a classic revenge suspense plot holding it together that will keep you leaning forward. Experience something wonderful and trippy. See this movie.

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**For the rest of my “Best of”, click here —>  Continue reading

A Perfect Christmas Cocktail

15 Dec

From Thanksgiving stuffing to Christmas Cocktails, ’tis the season! I have a number of blog posts lined up but have been so busy I cannot find time to finish any of them. Sounds like a good New Years Resolution… “Finish Blog Posts!” Of course the effect any resolution has on me is less than nil. We will see what happens in January.

In the meantime, here is a cocktail for your holiday celebrating that is just about perfect. My twist on the great Gramercy Tavern‘s Cranberry Daiquiri.

Cranberry Daiquiri

Cranberry Daiquiri

 

Understand, I am not a fan of sweet drinks. The fact I love this cocktail and will happily drink it in lieu of a martini says a lot about how wonderful it tastes.

The daiquiri takes a little prep, both getting the right rum and making Cranberry Syrup. Make a big batch of the syrup, however, and you are ready anytime between now and Epiphany to make the cocktail.

People go crazy over this, trust me.

Since we are talking cocktails, I’ve also included another drink I will humbly admit I have become famous for, my version of a classic Manhattan. So invite some people over, make some goat cheese spread (A Near Perfect Food, my first post) and have a blessed Christmas season. Gourmet magazine’s Baked Cheddar Olives are another sublime appetizer to serve.

For two amazing cocktail recipes, click here —>  Continue reading

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