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Winter Salads

13 Dec

Even though it is freezing cold and there are no fresh spring or summer vegetables flooding farmers’ markets and grocery stores, you can still enjoy one of life’s greatest pleasures: the salad.

I’ve been a fanatic for salad as long as I can remember, all kinds. Even the simplest of salads, correctly prepared, can be sublime. One of my favorite dishes in all the world, for instance, is Union Square Cafe’s  Bibb & Red Oak Leaf Lettuce Salad, their version of a dinner salad that thankfully never leaves the menu. I dined there once with a friend who is not partial to salad. Given my raves about the salad, she decided to order it, figuring she might as well try one of the world’s best dinner salads to see if her mind might be changed.

She tasted it, waved down the waiter and ordered a second one before continuing. Her reaction for the next few minutes eating the salad was not unlike Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally.

That’s what can happen when you have good salad.

You can always make a simple, wonderful green salad with fresh lettuces any time of year. Add a few herbs and toss with a wonderful vinaigrette (never ever store bought, learn to make a great one, with variations, here) and you will have the perfect start, or end, to any meal.  Let me also, however, give you two salads tailored specifically for the ingredients and tastes of winter: a fantastic Raw Kale Caesar (with video!) as well as a delicious and crunchy Nutty Pesto Vegetable Salad.

RAW KALE CAESAR

Here is a video demo I did with some friends prepping a few videos to use for the website. I of course left out the anchovy when I made it! See the additional notes and written recipe below for more details:

NOTE: When you make this, be sure to add the anchovy! Sautéed pancetta is a wonderful addition I often toss into the salad, particularly if I omit the rustic croutons. If you want the salad really healthy, add no croutons, no pancetta and very little cheese… it’s still terrific. But a touch of cheese and pancetta won’t kill you! Those are tastes where a little goes a long way and does not get in the way of healthy eating.

Click here to get the full recipe: Raw Kale Caesar recipe.

PESTO VEGETABLE SALAD

Cabbage Salad

The next winter salad has become one of my favorite dishes to make. It’s my own version of a salad I had at one of my favorite places in the world, Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn. This rustic inn, located in one of the most beautiful locales imaginable, is one of the best havens from the outside world you can find. While the inn is down the road from a couple of the most expensive hotels in the world, Deetjen’s itself is very reasonable. And romantic. And relaxing. No phones, no TV’s, not even locks on the doors. Comfortable beds, a glorious woody setting right across from the Pacific… I get lost there for days.

Deetjen’s has a terrific restaurant that serves breakfast and dinner, both glorious. The restaurant’s Eggs Benedict are the best I’ve ever had. Ditto their Blueberry Pancakes. Best ever as well. At night, the restaurant is soft lit, warm, romantic and, again, rustic. Oh, and wonderful food. For me, Deetjen’s is heaven on earth.

The last time I was lucky enough to stay there a few nights, they offered a special salad made with cabbage, zucchini, tomatoes and a variety of nuts, lightly tossed in a wonderful pesto vinaigrette. I liked it so much I ordered it two nights in a row then came home and figured out my own version.

This is a terrific salad, very much a ‘throw together’ salad that is virtually impossible to mess up. Just be sure to include a variety of nuts and don’t miss using the peanuts: they help give the salad a wonderful, salty kick. While you can make this any time of year, I make it all summer, it’s great on a cold winter’s night as a starter to your dinner. Or as part of a buffet with other winter salads and dishes. Or, if you are eating light, a solid meal on its own. Get the recipe here: Nutty Pesto Vegetable Salad.

A Great Movie You’ve Probably Never Seen, Vol. II

26 Sep
MosesI ain’t about to leave some poor little child stranded in the middle of nowhere. I’ve got scruples too, ya know. You know what that is… scruples?
 
Addie: No, I don’t know what it is but if you’ve got ‘em, it’s a sure bet they belong to somebody else!
papermoon1973dvd
               
In 1972, Warner Bros released What’s Up, Doc? starring Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal. Streisand was already a worldwide star and O’Neal was coming off the huge success of Love Story two years before. Directed by Peter BogdanovichWhat’s Up, Doc? was a smash hit, the #3 box office hit of ’72 behind The Godfather and The Poseidon Adventure. A wonderful homage to the great screwball comedies of the 30′s, the movie also launched the film career of the brilliant Madeline Kahn. In the very first scene, with the words “Howard… Howard Bannister,” Kahn firmly established herself as one of our most extraordinary comedienne/actors. Her wig alone is genius:
click the photo for the clip

click the photo for the clip

As wonderful as is What’s Up, Doc?, even better is Bogdanovich’s next film, a movie that seems to have fallen off many people’s radar. Easily one of the best films of the 70′s (which we’ve previously established is the greatest decade for film) the movie is also one of my personal favorites of all time: Paper Moon.
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Based on a novel Addie Pray, Paper Moon was adapted by Alvin Sargent, garnering his first Oscar nomination for the script. (He won the WGA award however.) Sargent went on to win two Academy Awards for adaptations: Julia and Ordinary People. At age 86, Sargent is still writing in Hollywood, having worked on, among other things, the last 4 Spiderman films. That’s one hell of a career.

To play con man Moses Pray, Bogdanovich again hired Ryan O’Neal.  Bogdanovich also rehired Madeline Kahn as ‘Miss Trixie Delight’…  Kahn’s first appearance in Paper Moon is one of my favorite first appearances of all time.  

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Kahn is so good in the movie that although her role is small, she was nominated for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.  Finally, in a stroke of genius, Bogdanovich cast Ryan O’Neal’s daughter Tatum as Addie in her first appearance on screen. Tatum O’Neal is so stunningly good she deservedly won the  Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the role, still the youngest person ever to win an Oscar. (note the incomparable P. J. Johnson in the background struggling with the suitcases.  This also was her first movie and she is brilliant.)

Exquistely shot in black and white, Paper Moon is one of the most entertaining movies you will ever see. I screen this for people frequently, given that even many cineastes have not seen it. Each time, the room is filled with howls and laughs all the way through. Yet the movie has a rich complexity under the comic surface. It also has a lot of heart without becoming in any way saccharine.

Click below to continue reading and see two clips from Paper Moon:

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“Mariachi Band”

30 Aug

If you follow me on Facebook, you know I produced a record that we launched this week. Here is a little background on the project:

20 years ago a close friend of mine, Chad Holley, called from St. Louis to say he was engaged to be married.  Having not seen Chad for a while and wanting to meet his fiance’, I flew to St. Louis to meet Claire Chamblin, soon to be Claire Holley. There began another close friendship that has only deepened since the great day 10 years ago when Claire and Chad moved to Los Angeles.

Claire is a wonderful person and very good friend who, like my closest friends, patiently puts up with my hyperbolic passion. (I’ve written before about the wonderful arguments, um, discussions we have around the dinner table.) Claire is also an extremely talented singer/songwriter/musician. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing her sing often, a few times even in my own home at magical house concerts she performs in my living room.

Two years ago, I went to see Claire at the Cinema Bar in Los Angeles. One of the songs she sang that night was a new composition, “Mariachi Band.” By the time she finished the song, I knew I wanted to produce it. Convincing her of this, however, took a little cajoling.

Tom Provost and Claire Holley

Tom Provost and Claire Holley

Not many people know it but I, too, am a musician. I was plopped in front of a piano at the age of three and forced to take piano lessons for many years. My first piano teacher was an unpleasant old woman who would cut my fingernails way past the point of comfort and rap my knuckles with a ruler. This did not make me initially enjoy the piano, perhaps the understatement of the year. She also made me do volumes and volumes of “Notes”, which was music theory paperwork designed to teach notes and chords and everything musical on the page.  At the age of 5, this was Not. Fun. It wasn’t even playing the damn piano!

Thankfully, she, well, retired in a way and I moved through a few other piano teachers until I was 18, all much more fun. I also subjected my family to learning the saxophone for band. God bless ‘em. While I remain merely passable at playing the piano, I was actually kick ass on the sax. Good performer or not, the music theory I learned under the old lady stuck with me and I’ve been a music fanatic all my life. Deep down, I always wanted to try producing.

When I heard Claire play Mariachi Band in her beautiful, haunting style, I had a vision for something a little different: more upbeat, a song that would make people want to tap their feet. I wanted to arrange the song in a way that would highlight her beautiful voice. And as a passionate lover of Los Angeles, truly one of the great cities in all the world, I also envisioned an accompanying video that would be a love letter to East Los Angeles, my favorite part of the city.

It indeed took a few more passionate dinners but eventually I convinced Claire to give it all a try. She helped assemble some of the more talented people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. We then spent a couple of days in the studio recording, then mixing the song.

Click to keep reading and see the video!

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My 2012 Review

31 Dec


Well, the year has come to an end, which is a time for many people to reflect. I personally ‘look back and reflect’ about as much as I abstain from food and film. So don’t worry, no emotive reflective ramblings here. 

I am, however, a list guy. I am such a list guy, in fact, I tend to be very grumpy this time of year because other year end lists get it wrong. I finally have a reason to do my own list! (Self created, sure, but whatever works, right?) Thus, without further ado and in no particular order, I present to you my own personal ‘best of’ food and film of 2012, with a few other best of items thrown in.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

silver-linings-3

Until yesterday, I thought this would be my personal favorite of the year. And it still might be. I’ve seen it four times now and and will watch it again, a mini obsession apropos for a romantic comedy — of sorts — about two rather unhinged people. With The Fighter and now SLP David O. Russell, known for being slightly unhinged himself, has catapulted to being one of the best directors in Hollywood. His work in both films is outstanding: simple and straightforward, Click here for the remaining picks!!

Halloween Treats

19 Oct

Today I give you the first of two guest blogs. We’re doing well enough here, I guess, to be asked to post elsewhere! Upcoming will be, natch, a food and film post on a French food and film blog. Today, in preparation for Halloween, I was asked by a great website Dark of the Matinee to ruminate on my favorite scary movies.

So click on over to Dark’s feature Tom Provost and The Movies That Freak Him Out. You can comment there or come back over and comment here. I’d love to hear about your own Halloween favorites.

Try a.. Fig!

30 Sep

A few years ago, my roommate and very good friend, Adam, found a little sapling in the jungle that is the backyard. He identified it as a fig sapling. How he did this, I have no idea; if I get near a plant, it dies. Despite my near presence, Adam nursed that sapling into a short but incredibly prolific fig tree.

When Adam planted the fig sapling, another good friend of mine, Tiffany, who happens to be an amazing chef, told me that I better get ready and learn things to do with figs. She has a couple of fig trees and ‘bountiful’ doesn’t even begin to describe their produce. The upshot? Along with all the other fruit in the backyard, we get a lot of figs each year.

I’d never tried figs. Or, well, my only experience with figs growing up was eating Fig Newtons. Enough said. I eventually had a real fig at some point, but it was ghastly and I never wanted to try eating a fig again.

I think a lot of people are not fond of figs because there are some bad, gummy figs out there. Seriously.

But also there exists …..

One night I was at my favorite LA restaurant, Lucques, which was opened by my favorite chef Suzanne Goin, about whom I’ve written before. She opened Lucques along with her genius business partner Caroline Styne. It was a Lucques’ Sunday Supper, a wonderful night where you basically eat what the chef cooks that day. Late in the evening, dessert came to the table. And it was… figs and pecorino cheese on a plate drizzled with honey. I thought, “Huh, what? Where’s the hell is the dessert??” Thankfully, I was with… my friend Tiffany! (Funny how things works that way.) Tiffany happily dove in. I shrugged and tried the “figs and pecorino and honey” and… wow, oh my goodness. It was incredible. The figs were so moist and tender and full of flavor. Nothing like the terrible fig I’d had before. Combined with the pecorino cheese, with its salty tang, and also the honey… well, it was divine. I learned yet again that simplicity rules with cooking. Just a few top-notch ingredients, simply prepared, can be better than the most elaborately prepared dish.

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A Near Perfect Food

18 Feb

I was raised in the South. Port Arthur, Texas, specifically, a coastal town a literal stone’s throw from Louisiana. Being so close to Louisiana, many people in my hometown were Cajuns, my father’s side of the family included. Throw ‘The South’, ‘Texas’ and ‘Cajuns’ all together and you end up with people who overflow with hospitality and share a deep, intense love for food.

The house in which I was raised was no exception. My parents were two of the most hospitable people I’ve ever encountered. Someone was always in the guest room, on the sofa, borrowing the car, invited to dinner. Additionally, our life as a family revolved around food. What and when we would eat took precedence over just about everything else.

I tend to live by the example my parents set. If someone enters my home, their comfort is my goal and I feel embarrassed unless they immediately have at least the offer of food and drink. Given the house is a bit of a train station, with a parade of people coming in and out the door, I’ve developed some staples over the years I can throw together quickly or, better yet, have sitting in the fridge ready for use. The goat cheese spread below is first on the list, given the ease with which it is prepared. Oh, and then there’s this: it tastes really, really good. No, really. Even people who think they don’t like goat cheese devour this.

This stuff is so good, in fact, most of my friends get irritated if it doesn’t hit the counter soon after they arrive. Where’s the goat cheese? On the rare occasion I’ve been slacking and haven’t a ramekin of this waiting in the fridge, watch out.

Trust me. There is a reason this is the first food item I am posting on this blog.

GOAT CHEESE SPREAD

- 3 cloves garlic, peeled
- Fresh Rosemary  (1 or 2 sprigs)
- 11-14oz log of quality unflavored goat cheese, in big crumbles
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- Olive oil
- Fresh black pepper

1) In the food processor, chop the cloves of garlic and the fronds off the rosemary sprigs.

2) Add the goat cheese, the lemon juice, and a few grinds of black pepper (don’t be shy with the black pepper) along with a couple of healthy glugs of good quality olive oil. Start the processor and blend, adding olive oil as needed. You want it creamy but not too soft and smooth, not runny. Add more pepper to taste if you like.

3) I put it in small ramekins such as in the picture. This recipe will usually fill three or four 4-oz ramekins. Cover them with foil and stick in the fridge. You can serve them right away but they get even better over time.

4) Before serving, take the spread out of the fridge and let sit on the counter for about 15 minutes so that it softens just a touch.

5) Serve with crackers, fresh rustic bread and/or crudite. Oh, and white wine. Always “serve with wine”, right?

** This keeps in the fridge at least a week. I’ve waited much longer to serve it, once over three weeks, and no one has yet died. It serves many purposes beyond a perfect appetizer. This spread is terrific to have waiting when you come home from a vacation, for instance, and the house is usually empty of good food. Or on a night when you don’t have time to cook and want a light supper. A ramekin of this spread, some olives and some good crusty bread is a great dinner for me. Additionally, some studies indicate goat cheese doesn’t cause the lactose problems of other types of dairy. Give it a try.

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