A Delightful Stir-Fry

13 Dec

This feisty and ultra-satisfying vegan dish turns carnivorous in one simple step

Winter may seem an odd time for a stir-fry. Aren’t vegetables best in the spring and summer? But most of the vegetables used in a stir-fry… onions, peppers, mushrooms, carrots, zucchini, broccoli, etc… are available year round. On a cold night, yes, a hearty stew or soup is wonderful… but so is a delicious bowl of perfectly cooked vegetables. Finished with a savory sauce and fresh herbs, this stir-fry will satisfy the hungriest soul.

StirFry ingredient line up

Stir-fry lined up and ready

I’ve been playing around with this recipe for a while, working to get it just right. I discovered there are two keys to making the best stir-fry possible:

  1. the order in which you cook the vegetables
  2. the sauce you use to bring the dish together. 

When it comes to cooking the vegetables, for ease you certainly can throw everything in a sauté pan and quick cook the vegetables all together. But different vegetables have different cooking times and if you cook everything together, you end up with a less than satisfying mush. Additionally, I like certain vegetables (onions, chili peppers, garlic) cooked down soft for flavor, while others (colored bell peppers and zucchini) I like to remain just a touch undercooked to give the stir-fry different layers of texture as well as a satisfying crunch. It takes a little more time to cook this way, but the final dish is infinitely better. Acid and fresh herbs at the end brightens the dish enormously. 

As for the sauce, most recipes I saw online were way too sweet. Experimenting with a variety of choices, over time I narrowed the sauce down to three savory ingredients with a dollop of honey. It’s killer. A lot of stores are carrying these ingredients now but you can easily order them from Amazon; just click the links in the recipe. It’s worth having these in your pantry.

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An Elevated Potato-Leek Soup

6 Dec

This revamped classic, flecked with fresh herbs, hides a delicious addition

My dentist said, “soft foods only for a couple of days.” Who was I to argue? For me that meant making both the best macaroni and cheese ever, and soup.

But which soup?

In fall and winter my mom often made a terrific and comforting potato-leek soup. Bingo: perfect for cold weather and just what the dentist ordered. But I have no recipe from mom. A wonderful cook, she rarely used recipes and when she did, she deviated every time, giving each dish her personal flair. So I had to come up with my own.

Potato leek soup

elevated potato-leek soup

Looking at various recipes online, I realized most versions of potato-leek soup are solid… and boring and a little bland. Most are also ridiculously simple, which is certainly a plus, but little time is taken at the start to prep the ingredients to insure the soup has depth of flavor. Many versions do no prep, instead throwing raw leeks, potatoes and onion in a pot with broth, boiling, then blending… easy, yes but, again, bland and a bit lifeless. I wanted to see if I could liven it up without taking the comfort out of the dish. After a little experimentation, here’s a fresh yet rich version of the classic.

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Your Perfect Thanksgiving

23 Nov

While this is an amalgam of previous Thanksgiving posts, I hone every year. I know you have your favorites! We all do. But trust me… add a few of these (the cocktail and the turkey in particular.. and the dips… and, well, you know… ) and you will have the best dinner ever. Hell, just follow it all! I won’t let you down. 

Not a lot of writing below… you can scan other Thanksgiving posts for more detail. If it’s on the list below, I’ve made it many times, it’s easy, and your friends and family will be thrilled. 

COCKTAIL

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Cranberry Daiquiri

This is my signature cocktail for people from Thanksgiving thru New Years. Not too sweet and incredibly tasty. Once you have the syrup made, you can make it fast anytime:

Cranberry Daiquiri

DIPS

Pim Cheese corn dip

Spicy Pimento Cheese Dip

The pickle dip is killer. The pimento cheese dip is now referred to as “crack” by everyone who has tried it. Both will make you supremely happy:

Dill Pickle Dip

Spicy Pimento Cheese Dip

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Breakfast Tacos

17 Nov

A Texas staple that will become a regular part of your repertoire

Breakfast Tacos

Breakfast Tacos

It was called The Lazy Daisy: a 24 hour restaurant on ‘the drag’ in Austin, a locally owned Denny’s like place that was so much better than Denny’s. When I was in college at The University of Texas at Austin, The Lazy Daisy was always filled, even at (or particularly at) 2:30 AM in the morning after all the bars closed and people wanted good sustenance to help mitigate their buzz.

“The Daisy” as we came to call it, was also one solitary stumbling block from my fraternity house. The most inebriated person in the world, and their equally drunk date, could manage to get there in minutes on foot.

Needless to say, many of us were fixtures.

While I enjoyed a lot of different foods at The Daisy — they had surprisingly good salads, for instance, and a better than decent chicken fried steak — by far the greatest menu item, which I came to know intimately, were the breakfast tacos.

Breakfast tacos are one of my favorite foods. They are so incredibly satisfying I’m always shocked I can’t find them anywhere but Texas. Yes, breakfast burritos are ubiquitous. I like them, too. But there are subtle yet huge differences between a breakfast burrito and a breakfast taco. Give me a breakfast taco any time.

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Halloween Favorites

27 Oct

 Some terrific scary movies you might not have seen…

Halloween week! You gotta watch at least one scary movie, right? Let me give you a few choices you may not know, movies you can easily find right now. 

Note: It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find classic movies online… some favorites I wanted to list here… Ils (Them), Session 9, The Haunting, Rebecca, The Innocents… are not available, which is a problem. Still, this is a wonderfully scary list.

TRAIN TO BUSAN (Netflix)

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If you haven’t seen Train To Busan, this is your watch. It’s a remarkable movie. Not only is this hands down the best zombie movie ever made, Train is an equally gripping emotional rollercoaster, a beautifully crafted movie that goes much deeper than your usual scary movie. Think of the emotional depths of something like Ordinary People… combined with zombies. It’s that good. The first 45 minutes is textbook craftsmanship on how this kind of movie should open. The rest? Whoa.

If you think a zombie movie can’t make you weep, you haven’t seen Train To Busan.

THE ORPHANAGE (Hulu)

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The Orphanage goes just about as deep emotionally as Train To Busan. A woman returns to the orphanage where she was raised, now an abandoned mansion. She buys the house with her husband, intending to turn it into a home for sick children. More a classic ghost story than horror, that’s all you need to know.

Awesome, with an Oscar-worthy performance by Belén Rueda.

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Jokers, Parasites and Fear

17 Oct

Why are people so afraid of Joker?

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In the September 25th issue of The New Yorker, Pauline Kael asked “Are people becoming afraid of American movies?” 

This was, of course, 1978, not 2019. Yet it seems likely the great film critic would have asked the same question forty-one years later, given the critical hysteria over Todd Phillip’s Joker.

Kael continued: 

When acquaintances ask me what they should see and I say The Last Waltz or Convoy or Eyes of Laura Mars, I can see the recoil. It’s the same look of distrust I encountered when I suggested Carrie or The Fury or Jaws or Taxi Driver or the two Godfathers before that… They don’t see why they should subject themselves to experiences that will tie up their guts or give them nightmares….Discriminating moviegoers want the placidity of nice art—of movies tamed so that they are no more arousing than what used to be called polite theatre. So we’ve been getting a new cultural puritanism… and the press is full of snide references to Coppola’s huge film in progress, and a new film by Peckinpah is greeted with derision…

The parallels to today should be obvious to anyone following much of the critical reaction to Phillip’s brilliant and deeply unsettling masterpiece.

I’m a fan, obviously. Joker is one of the best films I’ve seen in years. If left me shaken, disturbed and in need of a double shot of Bulleit. Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, the troubled man at the center of the movie, delivers one of the great cinematic performances of all time. Brimming with dozens of cinematic references, the movie is gorgeously crafted: this was a crew that working overtime on every single frame. Joker resonates on a deep emotional level, particularly for those of us who have struggled personally or dealt socially with madness. Joker is upsetting for many reasons, not the least of which is that although it’s set in fictional Gotham of 1981, the movie thrusts many troubling aspects of our present society in our face, forcing us to bear witness.

The movie certainly has many fellow defenders. Joker won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival where it received an eight minute standing ovation. And the public is supporting the movie with wild abandon: the film is a smash hit worldwide, already earning over half a billion dollars.  In the US alone it had the biggest October opening weekend ever and broke even more records this past weekend, its second. Hitting #1 the second weekend is telling: films can have a big opening but then fall off once word of mouth spreads a movie is a stinker. Joker is not falling off. People are continuing to go see it. 

Yet many critics are assaulting the movie. I don’t mean the typical “I didn’t like this and here’s why” type of reviews. Before Joker’s release two weeks ago these critics were clearly trying to hurt the film, cripple its box office and wipe it from memory before it could get going.

Here’s a quick look at what some of these critics had to say:  “a viewing experience of a rare, numbing emptiness.” “ punishingly dull”, “pompous, grim, relentlessly one-note”, “Dangerous”, “pernicious garbage” , “grim, shallow, distractingly derivative”, a dangerous manifesto that could inspire incels to commit acts of violence” and “wildly dull and mundanely uninteresting”, which, if you’ve seen the movie, even if you hated it, has to appear ridiculous given what happens in Joker. To call this particular movie dull and uninteresting is in itself “wildly dull and mundanely uninteresting.”

Clearly the movie is getting under these critics’ skin. They are attempting to render Joker immoral, often wildly misrepresenting the movie and its contents in order to do so.

One frequent attack is that the movie is hero worshipping a killer, that it’s a how-to manifesto for incel violence, and that the movie turns the hero “into an angry guy with a gun and violent disregard for everyone.”

But this isn’t true in the slightest. Joker doesn’t go rampaging through the city shooting at any or everyone (see multiple action movies that garner no critical attacks). Key here are two sequences: one in which Arthur lets a co-worker go free after killing another co-worker: “You were the only one who was nice to me.”  The other is Arthur’s TV appearance. He easily could have been depicted as going on a rampage, shooting into the audience, yet he only kills one man, the man who made fun of him. The violence in the movie, while shocking and horrifying, is nothing compared to normal screen violence (see multiple action movies that garner no critical attacks). In fact, compared to such movies the body count in Joker is quite low.

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A Hearty Mushroom Ragout

4 Oct

A delicious Autumn meal I eat year round.

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I love fall. Hands down my favorite season. It’s not because I look my best in fall clothes… although, to be honest, that is part of it. I love everything about fall: cool crisp sweater weather, football games at twilight, County Fairs, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Fall Back from Daylight Savings Time (an extra hour of sleep, yes!!), earth tones, melancholy (can’t be beat) and of course all kinds of fall food… from soups to stews to root vegetables to pie to, well, any food that warms the soul and speaks to Autumn.

I love Fall so much I even have a playlist I created that makes me feel like Fall, all year round:

To start fall off right I present to you a divine Mushroom Ragout, one you can serve in a variety of ways. Vegetarian to the max (and even Vegan if you omit the final pad of butter) you’ll never think of this as a vegetarian dish, it’s so hearty and meaty and satisfying.

A twist on a ragout by the incredible chef David Tanis (his books are wonderful) this easy ragout will satisfy your soul.

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Mushroom Ragout over polenta

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