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Thanksgiving Sides

21 Nov

Few things make me happier than Thanksgiving side dishes. I certainly love moist turkey with crisp skin but ultimately a plate of side dishes is all I need. While I gave you some excellent sides in the Thanksgiving post, here are a few more that will wow anyone at your table .

Recipes and at the bottom of the page.

DRUNKEN  MUSHROOMS

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My good friend Elizabeth Boyd, a wonderful chef, shared this recipe a few years ago and I have been making it ever since. And not just on Thanksgiving! I make them any time I want deliriously good mushrooms.

Except for the ridiculously long cooking time, these are also very, very easy. Don’t let the cook time ward you off. You start them and then basically forget them.

Mushrooms don’t come any better.

NOTE: If you have a large pot, make a double batch. They reduce considerably and also freeze beautifully. You really can’t make too many of these mushrooms.

ST. ELMO’S CREAMED SPINACH

rfl_3658I visited Indianapolis for a film festival a few years ago and fell in love. Who knew? What an amazing city. I also fell in love with St. Elmo’s Steakhouse, a killer restaurant with a world famous Shrimp Cocktail. Seriously, this clubby restaurant with martinis and steaks to die for is worth the trip alone. And then there is the house recipe for Creamed Spinach.

creamed-spinachI love greens cooked just about any way but creamed spinach?? (Or kale, or chard or…) Life doesn’t get much better. This is an easy and particularly terrific version, one I’ve tweaked just a little.

CRAFT’S CREAMLESS CREAM CORN

mirage-heritage-steak-creamed-cornThere are a lot of great creamed corn recipes out there. I’ve even posted one before. This year, however, I went to Tom Colicchio’s CRAFT and had his version of ‘creamed corn.’ When I tasted it, I thought it might be what heaven tastes like. If you like corn, this is The Recipe of all corn recipes. And no cream! Just corn, wonderful corn. Damn.

Here come the recipes and links. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone!

 

RECIPES AND LINKS

Creamless Cream Corn: Click here

 

St. Elmo’s Creamed Spinach

NOTE: you can add a little bit of this or that to the recipe.. more cheese or artichoke hearts, or less, it is very forgiving. Just taste!

Ingredients

2 sticks butter

2 finely chopped onions

6 cloves garlic, minced

6 oz chopped artichoke hearts

1 qt heavy cream

¼ cup lemon juice

3 cups sour cream

1 cup parm

6 lbs frozen chopped spinach

Tabasco (a few good shakes)

Worcestershire Sauce (a few good shakes)

salt and pepper

Directions

Saute the onion and garlic in butter until soft.

Remove from the heat and toss in everything else. Mix well. 

You can cook it on the stove at low for an hour or put it in a baking dish and bake at 350 an hour as well.

 

Drunken Mushrooms

Ingredients

4 pounds button mushrooms

1 pound butter

1 bottle decent red wine

2 T Worcestershire Sauce

6 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups water

4 beef bouillon cubes

4 chicken bouillon cubes

NOTE: any combo of bouillon is fine, all beef or all chicken. I have been using BETTER THAN BOUILLON, which is, quite frankly, amazing stuff.

1 T Dill Seed

LOTS of salt and coarsely ground black pepper

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a large stock pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a slow simmer and cook 5-6 hours with pot covered. Removed cover and let simmer another 5-6 hours, checking every hour or so, until liquid barely covers mushrooms.

Serve in chafing dish at cocktail buffet or as a side dish with beef. Leftovers freeze very well, but there probably won’t be any.

NOTE #1: Don’t let the long cooking time throw you. I usually start the 1st step at night and let them simmer, covered, overnight. 8 hours is fine. Just put them on your lowest setting after bringing them to a boil. A trivet is great for this, btw.

NOTE #2: Check the pictures and see how much they reduce! I always add more mushrooms to the top in the first hour to get as many mushrooms as possible.

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Drunken Mushrooms at the start

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Drunken Mushrooms cooked down

A Movie for the Political Season Vol. III

6 Nov

In June of 1979 I was in Dallas, Texas visiting one of my best friends, Lauren Linn. We were dropped off at the movies by our moms who wanted some time away from us. Lauren and I wandered into Being There and my life changed. 

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Starring Peter Sellars in his penultimate performance, Shirley MacLaine and Melvyn Douglas, the Being There is about a simpleton, Chance the Gardener, who stumbles into the world of Politics in our nation’s capital.

 

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Chance the Gardener walking the streets of D.C.

 

It’s a remarkable movie with a genius screenplay by Jerzy Kosinski, based on his short novel by the same name. New York magazine called the stye “deadpan slapstick” which is not far off. It’s a very subtle movie yet at the same time outrageously funny, not in a Bridesmaids / Hangover kind of way but in that the situations that develop are outrageous and then funny. Yet as ridiculous as the situations become in the second half of the movie somehow as movie spirals forward and Chance finds himself higher and higher in the political world, everything remains very down to earth believable. What happens to Chance might indeed be ridiculous yet at the same time everything makes rings true. Which is part of the deft genius of the movie.

 

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Peter Sellers in “Being There”

 

I called the movie life-changing. It might seem odd that a movie so quiet and deadpan could have such an effect but Being There blew me away as much or more so than any action flick that usually gets such a description.

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I did something watching Being There I’ve done only once more since… during the final scene something happens that is so surprising yet so perfect I stood up from my seat in the theater and yelled out loud. I haven’t looked at life quite the same way since then. The movie still hits me the same way every time I watch it. People certainly debate the meaning of the final shot and some feel it goes too far but wow do I love the ending.

 

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Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine and Richard Baseheart in “Being There”

 

Of course I love everything about it not just the ending. You might be shocked to see how little things have changed in the years since, making the movie as relevant today as it was in 1979. There are certain movies from years ago, like Being There and Network, that are stunning in their prescience. Technology is different but the inner workings of politics and the media, as well as broader insights into the human condition, are still the same. How you interprets this can be disturbing, comforting or both.

But don’t let the movie having something to say stop you from watching. It is very, very entertaining. Everything works – acting, writing, directing, production design – in a beautifully quiet, understated way that for me becomes very emotionally affecting. Sellers is of course remarkable. Melvyn Douglas is so touching in the movie, playing a decent, good man. He won his second Oscar for this movie which, like Sellers, he filmed shortly before his death.) MacClaine is terrific as always and she is incredibly beautiful in the movie. There is also wonderful supporting work from all the actors, including two of my favorites of all time, Jack Warden and Richard Dysart.

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Shirley MacLaine and Peter Sellers in “Being There”

If you are as tired of this political season as am I, check out Being There. It may be a balm to your spirits and I promise you will have a wonderful time.

NOTE: this is the last of my “A Movie for the Political Season” posts. I’ve remained generally mute this year and these movies were a way I could discuss the election without mouthing off.

I was very tempted to include another Hal Ashby movie, however, the brilliant Shampoo, written by two of the greats, Robert Towne and Warren Beatty, with a remarkable cast including Beatty, Goldie Hawn, Julie Christie, Jack Warden, Lee Grant and Princess Leia in her very first movie. Political because it takes place in 24 hours on election day 1968, the day Richard Nixon was elected for the first time, Shampoo remains as hilarious and shocking as anything released today. It also has one of the great tag lines of all time:

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Though both are very, very famous, I feel like Beatty and Christie remain very underrated actors. Both are always terrific, all of the time. (It also doesn’t hurt they are two of the most beautiful people to ever walk the planet.) These two great actors starred in three movies together: Shampoo, McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Heaven Can Wait. All three movies are as good as they get, with Heaven Can Wait being one of my favorites of all time.

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Julie Christie and Warren Beatty in “Shampoo”

Oh and the only other time I stood up and yelled in a movie theatre? The ending of another huge favorite, War of the Roses. Wow. Just wow.

Short Rib Stew

30 Oct

Fall has arrived. Which means in Southern California we are lucky if it gets down into the 60’s! Still, we’ve had some wonderful gray days as of late which means I don’t need to make up excuses to make food that sings of Autumn. 

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Short Rib Stew

One big Fall favorite is a beef stew recipe I’ve developed over a number of years using short ribs instead of stew meat. This is an easy recipe in that any level of cook can prepare it. It takes a little time, yes, as it has a number of steps but each step is simple. The beauty of the recipe is you can make it on a day when you have some time to putter in the kitchen — I usually do this on a day when I can do emails or other work while each step is cooking or when I want to cook other things at the same time.

Making it on such a day is perfect because the stew freezes beautifully for later use or, if you are having people over for dinner or you want dinner/lunch later in the week, make the stew a day or two or few before and let it sit. It only gets better with time. Then the day you serve/eat it is a breeze.

Finally, it is difficult to mess up. This is a dish that won’t be ruined by adding a little more of this, a little less of that, excluding an ingredient you don’t like, etc. Make it as is and you will love it, but if you adapt the recipe or start just throwing things in the pot, it still will turn out well. 

This stew is perfect for the Paleo/carb free crowd as well. Eliminate the already small amount of flour (a substitution is included), then serve it a way I love which is over sautéed spinach rather than potatoes or pasta. Voila.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.
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Your Ultimate Green Salad

11 Aug

Oh my, do I love salad. Of all kinds. Cobb Salad, Antipasto Salad (coming soon), Cole Slaw, Greek Salad, Salad Nicoise, Panzanella (OMG), Tabbouleh, Caprese… I can’t get enough. And while my ‘last meal’ would probably include a Caesar Salad, ultimately my favorite salad is a green salad. Of a very specific kind.

Green Salad Ingredients

Green Salad ingredients

One reason I love green salad is that I love lettuce. Love. It. Basically, I’m a rabbit. Years ago I saw my dear friend Tanja eating lettuce out of a bag like potato chips and I thought, ‘Yep, that’s another reason why we are such good friends.” Crispy, crunchy heaven, that lettuce. The basis for all green salad.

The term green salad, however, can conjure an image of a pitiful scattering of withered lettuce served for free before something better arrives. As the late great comedian John Pinette said, “Salad is not food. Salad comes before food. Salad is a promissory note that food will soon arrive. If my brain sees a salad it says ‘Something good is going to happen soon, wait right here.'” This might be true at a low-rent diner but it misses the genius of an amazing green salad.
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Why Black Lives Matter Matters

12 Jul

For many years I was very ‘involved’ politically. During that time I had passionate experiences on both sides of the political aisle. It has been years, however, since I’ve posted anything publicly. A few years ago, a frustration and weariness set in, causing me to think “What’s the point?” I also realized I was doing more harm than good given my predilection for winning any argument no matter the cost or even whether I was on the right side of the debate. There was also my intense viewpoint, i.e a big fat mouth. So I’ve remained silent, for the most part happily so. 

Like everyone else, the events last week unnerved me. After a lot of thought, I decided to make a rare post on events more weighty than food and film. 

For those who don’t know me, a few declaratives are in order that relate to the title of this essay. Few people will agree with me on every one of these statements of belief. I humbly ask you to continue reading if you react negatively to any of them. Nor am I asking you to agree with me when you have finished. Just hear me out all the way.

As for my declarative statements:

Socially I have ended up fairly liberal, though I definitely have a few conservative positions as well. I am a believer in God, a person of faith. I cannot stomach either of our presidential candidates. I believe in the Second Amendment, but that does not include the right to automatic weapons. You could not find a more ardent, fierce supporter of the police, our amazing men and women in blue. And I believe the statement ‘Black Lives Matter’ is of the utmost importance, though it took me a while to accept this last belief.

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Best of 2015 Pt. 2 (Books & TV)

15 Jan

Last week I posted my favorite films of 2015. Here is part 2 of my ‘best of’ list:

Only 3 of the many books I read this year make the list… but wow, are these three terrific:

A MONSTER CALLS

No other narrative in 2015 affected me as deeply as this heartbreaking, brutal yet beautiful novel. My good friend Shay handed me A Monster Calls, recommending it highly, and, with no other warning from her, I made the mistake of reading it on a plane. I can’t imagine what the passengers in the surrounding 5 or 6 rows were thinking when, during the last third, I audibly fell apart and then could not pull myself together when I finished. And I don’t cry. (Too much a man… you know…) Patrick Ness’ exquisite prose with deep emotional insight and stunning illustratations by Jim Kay create a book, an experience, that will be with me a long, long time. I will return to it often.

A Monster Calls. Patrick Ness.

WEST OF SUNSET

If you love 1) Old Hollywood 2) Movies and/or 3) F. Scott Fitzgerald, you will be in heaven reading this near perfect rendering of the last year or so of Fitzgerald’s his life as he struggles to survive in the film business and the world at large. I’ve read and enjoyed a number of author Stewart O’Nan’s novels but nothing prepared me for the beauty and craft of his latest, and best. The book is fictional, yes, but based largely on the actual facts of Fitzgerald’s life. Peppered with other real life characters such as Dorothy Parker, Humphrey Bogart and Hemingway, this was pure pleasure to read, even though recounting perhaps the darkest era in the famous author’s life.

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THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN

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Touted by critics as “this year’s Gone Girl‘, Paula Hawkin’s debut novel is even better and, if you can believe it, even darker. A stunning thriller with one of the most complex main characters I’ve encountered in a while, The Girl on the Train blew me away. I read it in two days then immediately read it again, knowing all the secrets, to appreciate Hawkin’s mastery at deception and the best use of an unreliable narrator I’ve ever encountered. Unsurprisingly, the movie is currently filming with a terrific cast, though the movie’s switch of locale from London to New York is baffling and irritating. Read the book, don’t wait for the movie.

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The Best Meal I Ever Cooked

26 Dec

Fitting for the last post of the year, this week I cooked hands down the best dish I’ve ever prepared. It was so good part of me thought ‘Stop now, why keep trying?” Perhaps instead it will encourage me to bigger and better levels. Or maybe I will make only one dish now, over and over. Whatever happens, you must try my version of cassoulet.

It may not look like much right out of the oven, but… wow.

Cassoulet finished 1

As we discussed in the last post, cassoulet originated as a peasant dish, a way to combine a lot of pantry items and left over pieces of meat for a cheap meal that puts everything to use, no waste allowed. Great idea, right? Besides, who of us can resist a big old stewy pot of beans and meat?

Particularly when done well.

Over the years, I’ve cooked many versions of cassoulet and sampled other versions at some of my favorite restaurants. I’ve eaten a lot of wonderful cassoulet.

I don’t mean to be immodest, but it’s the truth: this was The Best.

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I have a small dinner for some friends every year the week before Christmas, so I tried it out on them. The consensus at the table was the same. “Felt like pure love”, “otherworldly” and “I never knew food could taste like this” were among the comments. (Thanks to my friends!) All of which is to say: give this a try! It takes some time but if you break it up over days, it is actually quite easy. Lots of steps, yes, but each step is simple. 

If and when you are ready, or for some great photos, click the link below for a page I created with the step-by-step recipe. With a little planning, you will be on your way to one of the most comforting, deeply satisfying meals of your life. 

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A few of the ingredients…

And Happy New Year! I will return soon with my year-end wrap-up posts, more movie and food posts and, as promised, a quick-fire version of cassoulet from by friend Brian Gerritson that deserves a post all its own.

Until then, Christmas and Holiday blessings… and thanks for reading!

Cassoulet: The Recipe