Spaghetti Squash Amatriciana

3 Feb

I love me some pasta but lately I’ve fallen in love with Spaghetti Squash. A quick roast in the oven turns the insides of this amazing gourd into strands pretty close to the real thing. Depending on your diet, spaghetti squash is healthier than pasta. Once you start using it, there are an almost infinite number of ways you can use the ‘noodles’. And except for pesto, every pasta sauce I’ve tried with it sings. 

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Spaghetti Squash noodles

I fell in love with Spaghetti Squash making a marvelous Cacio e Pepe version. Cacio e Pepe, made with pecorino cheese and fresh ground black pepper, is a pasta dish I could eat every night of my life. After making the spaghetti squash version dozens of times, I decided to branch out and invented an oven roasted version of another classic pasta sauce, Amatriciana. The name comes from the Italian town Amatrice, recently in the news as the town was hit badly by a number of earthquakes in 2016.

A spicy tomato sauce made with red and black pepper, red onions and guanciale, I first tried Pasta Amatriciana at a wonderful neighborhood Italian restaurant in New York City, Lupa. That dish blew me away so much I ordered a second bowl at the same sitting. More please. In the years since I’ve made various versions at home, usually substituting pancetta for the guanciale. I still love the pasta version, made entirely on the stove top, but lately it’s this oven roasted version, tossed with spaghetti squash, I eat all the time. 

Don’t just trust me. A great friend of mine, Rob, who is Italian, says he loves the spaghetti squash version better than with regular pasta. (Don’t tell his mother he said that.) Trust me or trust Rob, you will love this version of the classic dish. It might not be the most beautiful plate you’ve ever served, but when it tastes this terrific, who cares?

And you can eat it guilt free!

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Ingredients for Spaghetti Squash Amaticiana

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Best Films of 2016

31 Dec

(With a little TV included!)

Most exciting to me about the films on this ‘best of’ list are the directors, none of whom are old guard. I should state that while I very much believe diversity of all kinds is of the utmost importance in the arts, I myself don’t think about the age, race, sexual identity or gender of an artist when I view a work. Is this a dichotomy? Some would say yes. I think not. A work of art is great or it isn’t no matter who creates or guides it, at least by my own judgement. 

A debate for another post.

Something wonderful is happening in movies, though. Only after I compiled this list did I realize all the directors were younger or less established than the directors we usually find on year-end lists. A very diverse collection of artists were involved in the movies I found worthy of note in 2016. I didn’t compile the list with this in mind, it just happened. Which fired me up.  

Agree with my list or not, the directing (and writing!) talent found here bodes well for the future of my favorite art form.

ARRIVAL

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Denis Villeneuve is my favorite director working today. As evidenced previously in two incredible thrillers, Prisoners and Sicario, Villeneuve builds tension and dread better than anyone. In Arrival he does the same, brilliantly, but for very different effect. A thought-provoking work of science fiction with a dazzling emotional payoff, I’ve seen the movie three times. It gets better and richer with each viewing.

Along with stunning cinematography by Bradford Young and an innovative score by Jóhann Jóhannsson, Villeneuve creates an atmospheric movie that somehow is simultaneously majestic and intimate. All of the actors shine, even in the smallest parts. Jeremy Renner does some of his warmest, most charming work ever. And Amy Adams is my pick for best actor of the year, male or female. Her understated performance is filled with great emotion and depth. She grounds the movie with a quiet power that makes the last twenty minutes even more thrilling and eye opening. A second viewing only elevates her work, given the final revelations. I’m not ashamed to say I wept the first time I saw ArrivalIt’s a masterpiece.

For the rest of the picks, click here to  Continue reading

Best Books of 2016

14 Dec

My annual review of my favorite books of the year. You cannot go wrong with any of these Best of the Best.

The City of Mirrors

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Justin Cronin’s finale to his magnificent ‘The Passage Trilogy’ is everything a fan of the series could want and much more. Heartfelt, suspenseful, emotionally gripping and ultimately uplifting, The City Of Mirrors devastates in the best of ways. The characters Cronin creates are rich, complex and beautifully human. I’ve rarely cared so deeply about the people I follow through a series. I loved the first two novels so much I was a little worried: as wonderful a writer as is Cronin, could he actually pull the finale off and write something that would satisfy the enormous expectations he set up? Oh my. Did he ever.

If you’ve read the first two, do not miss this book. If you haven’t read the series, get The Passage and start now.

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Scott Frank is one of the best screenwriters working today. I teach every year two of his masterworks, Out of Sight and Minority Report. This year, he published his first novel. Wow. Your first novel is this good, Scott Frank? What’s with these talented people? I’d be annoyed but damn did I love this book.

It’s hard to define Shaker. The novel is a mystery of sorts and kind of a thriller, yet it is literary in many ways and often very, very funny. I love how hard it is to describe in one word. Perhaps the best single word to use is original. Shaker also ranks with the best of narratives that explore and celebrate Los Angeles, a city I love passionately. The novel begins with an earthquake. Frank’s sharp description of the quake and its aftermath is both scary and hilarious. Perhaps most surprising to me was the emotional weight the novel had by the end. I gasped out loud a couple of times in the final pages and was appropriately shaken for days afterwards. I’ll say it again, I love this book.

(BTW, please find and watch another movie written and directed by Frank, his slam dunk adaptation of Lawrence Block’s A Walk Among The Tombstones. Few people saw this movie when it was released, which is such a shame. The movie is so rich and detailed you still feel as if you are immersed in a novel. This guy Scott Frank is going places.)

For more picks, click here to Continue reading

Drop Dead Drop Biscuits

9 Dec

Those who follow my blog regularly are well aware I don’t bake. I have no patience for precise measuring nor, even worse, weighing anything. (So ridiculous! Not gonna happen.) Which means if I post a recipe that involves dough and baking, you can know beyond a shadow of a doubt the recipe is easy as can be. And near impossible to screw up. And pretty damn good!

I present to you, Drop Biscuits.

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Drop Biscuits

I stumbled across this recipe a few years ago, tried it, tweaked it and have been throwing these together ever since. While they may not be the most beautiful biscuits ever created, they are a breeze to make, they taste great and are quite fluffy inside!

Depending on how you flavor them, they are wonderful with butter and/or for mopping up delicious juices on your plate. Another plus is that they freeze beautifully. So you can make a big batch in an hour or so, freeze some and then during the holidays whenever you’d like warm biscuits with a meal just pull a few from the freezer, rewarm them in the oven and in minutes you will have what people will think are fresh biscuits. 

I served these just recently on Thanksgiving, warmed in the oven straight from the freezer, and everyone seemed to enjoy them. People had seconds. When I made them the week before, I did not have baking soda, I used the wrong amount of yogurt, and they still turned out just as intended. Once all I had on hand was crème fraîche so I tried that… again, they worked perfectly. Friends will be seeing a lot more of these in the upcoming weeks.

Give them a try. You will not be sorry.

Click for the recipe: Continue reading

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!

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Thanksgiving Ideas

18 Nov

Note: This is a repeat of last year since, well, these are some of the best Thanksgiving recipes you can find and I am making them again. I will be posting new ‘side dish’ recipes on Monday for more ideas…

Below find my personal Thanksgiving favorites. This is a bit of a ‘best of’ but there are a couple of recipes new to the blog and I stand behind each, they will not do you wrong. 

GRAMERCY TAVERN’S CRANBERRY DAQUIRI

Cranberry Daiquiri

I wrote about this one for Christmas but it is perfect for Thanksgiving as well. Make the cranberry syrup now, it will keep in the fridge all through the holidays. I love this because it is not too sweet. Divine.

For the recipe, click here.

THE JUDY BIRD

Russ Parson's "Judy Bird"

Russ Parson’s dry brined turkey is justifiably famous. The ‘Judy-Bird’ is hands down the best turkey I’ve ever eaten. Perfect crisp skin, delicious moist meat. It is also the easiest recipe imaginable. NOTE: It needs to sit three days with the salt brine so get your turkey now!

For the turkey recipe, click here.

FOR THE REST OF THE THANKSGIVING RECIPES, CLICK HERE > Continue reading

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.

For the rest of the post, click here: Continue reading