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.

Continue reading

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)

TrainToBusanFeatured2a

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)

the-orphanage

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.

For more Halloween favorites, Continue reading

Jokers, Parasites and Fear

17 Oct

Why are people so afraid of Joker?

JKR_DAY051_112718_1109459.dng

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.

Something interesting is going on. Continue reading

A Hearty Mushroom Ragout

4 Oct

A delicious Autumn meal I eat year round.

IMG-0993

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.

IMG-1006

Mushroom Ragout over polenta

Continue reading

A Platter of Tomatoes

19 Sep

A perfect way to slide from summer to fall… with an additional secret recipe.

I realize the subject of tomatoes is late given some of you are probably past tomato season. Summer in Southern California, however, starts and ends late (mid-July thru sometimes mid-October) and we remain in the midst of a glorious tomato bounty.

Tomatoes are like my other favorite food, the egg: the uses and recipes for each are endless. Even so, if you’re lucky enough to be in possession of fresh, best of season tomatoes, nothing satisfies like a simple platter of tomatoes.

Platter of Tomatoes

a platter of tomatoes

I realize there are a few sad souls who don’t like tomatoes raw. One of my best friends is such a person… I’m looking at you, Tanja! (We’ve somehow managed to remain close friends.) In my house growing up, we ate tomatoes off the vine like you would a fresh apple. Just pick and bite right in. If it squirts all over your face and runs down your forearm, you know you have the perfect tomato.

Like any good southerner, l don’t serve a meal during tomato season without a platter of tomatoes. This is as ubiquitous on the dinner table in the South as salt and pepper or bread and butter. I’ve easily made over a hundred of these platters and while the prep is fast and easy, there’s an art to the prep as well, a perfect combination of seasoning and herbs to maximize your tomatoes. I’ve tried many variations and have landed on the best.

So scroll down to find out to prepare your perfect platter of tomatoes. Then keep scrolling for the other perfect use for a perfect tomato… 

Continue reading

Cauliflower Steak

13 Sep

A different kind of steak, but just as wonderful.

Cauli steak dinner

pan roasted cauliflower steak

Last week, we had steak and pasta. This week, a different kind of steak… Cauliflower Steak!

Before you run screaming, these are terrific. Even the staunchest carnivore alive might be surprised to find out how much they like these steaks. And yes I’m calling them steaks because, if you slice them thick and cook them properly (easy) they are steak-y satisfying and quite hearty.

I guess in some ways this has been my year of the cauliflower on the blog. I do love cauliflower — so much — and love many preparations, from a simple oven roast to wonderful soups to, of course, my cauliflower pizza crust, my cauliflower mash (updated, btw, with an additional, killer, preparation) and even my breakfast fried rice, which you can make with cauliflower rice. 

These steaks, however, are different from the other recipes and so satisfying. They make a wonderful fall dinner.

Continue reading

A Favorite Dinner Vol. I

6 Sep

Back from Summer Hiatus with a quick easy dinner I love, steak and pasta.

SteakandPasta

NY Strip with a side of Cacio e Pepe

If I’ve learned anything over the years from favorite chefs like Patricia Wells, Suzanne Goin, Nigel Slater and more, often times when cooking simplicity is best. I may love to make cassoulet over seven days, but I love just as much a simple dinner.

One simple dinner I’ve come to enjoy over the last few years is the combination of steak and pasta. It’s not something I ate growing up; we had a cattle farm so we ate a lot of steak, but we always had steak with a baked potato. Whether loaded with everything or dressed only with butter, salt and pepper, a baked potato is a perfect food, particularly when the inside is moist and tender and the outside crispy as hell. Oh my.  After discovering the wonderful combo of steak and pasta, however, I don’t serve a baked potato with a steak nearly as often.

I believe I was turned onto this combo on my first visit to the LA institution Dan Tana’s. Located next to the equally famous Troubador on Santa Monica Blvd, Dan Tana’s has been open well over fifty years and I dare say will be open well over fifty more. An Italian steakhouse with wonderful cocktails, Dan Tana’s serves up terrific versions of Italian classics (the veal parmigiana, for instance, is to die for) but they also serve the Dabney Coleman, a 20 oz New York Strip that might be the best steak I’ve ever tasted. It comes with a side of pasta and the first time I tried this pairing, I knew I’d be having a lot of steak and pasta from then on. 

Continue reading

Breakfast Fried Rice

30 May

(Your next favorite killer comfort breakfast is good for you and has various tweaks for various diets…)

Breakfast Fried Rice

Breakfast Fried Rice, sans necessary extras

After a few years of On Food and Film (time sure flies!), it must now be obvious how much I love breakfast. Savory breakfast at least. Sure, I’ll eat a pancake or french toast if you shove it in front of me but otherwise, savory breakfast rules.

Well, then. Let me give you a savory comfort breakfast that will satisfy you completely. It’s also fairly healthy and can adapt to a variety of diets.

You see, along with loving breakfast, and chicken, and pasta, and salad, and… I love rice. I’ve mentioned that growing up Cajun the starch that was our staple was white rice not potatoes. Rice is a wonderful vessel for so many things… Gravy! Au jus! Red beans! Butter! Gumbo! Etouffee! When I was in grade school, I loved white rice topped with French’s Yellow Mustard (long story). Oh hell, I still do. But I even love rice all by its lonesome.

I also love fried rice. Once a week growing up in my hometown of Port Arthur, Texas, Mom, Dad, my brother David and I went to The Dragon Inn, a restaurant in downtown Port Arthur run by a wonderful man named Johnny. If you’ve seen the final scene of A Christmas Story, you know what Johnny and the restaurant were like, although The Dragon Inn was a long rectangle shooting in perpendicular fashion back from the street. It had a bar on one side and booths all along the other. Painted on the booth side wall, winding the length of the restaurant, was a single, very long Chinese dragon that enthralled me for years. Johnny is who hooked me on Mu Shu Pork, Sweet and Sour Pork, Beef with Snow Peas and amazing fried rice. 

Back to breakfast: I’ve been working out early mornings as of late, with a terrific trainer named Ryan, who suggested the best time to eat carbs was after a hard workout. When he said, ‘You can even use white rice’ I lit up, given I’ve been avoiding rice lately trying to slim down. His suggestion was the only encouragement I needed and voila! Breakfast Fried Rice was born.

Click here for the recipe: Continue reading

Homemade Crème Fraîche??!!

19 May

(how to make homemade crème fraîche you will eat with a spoon, plus suggested uses and recipes)

CremeFraiche

homemade crème fraîche

I can’t believe I’ve been cooking for years and didn’t know I could make crème fraîche at home with 90 seconds of prep. Well. Now I’m making it at least once a week, if not more, using this incredibly delicious and decadent ‘soured cream’ on everything. 

Less tart and much creamier than sour cream, I’ve used store bought crème fraîche for years. It’s terrific in soup and stews, wonderful on eggs, a better way to make creamy salad dressings, and is the perfect foil for both sweet and spicy dishes: it brings a slight tartness to a sweet dessert, adding depth and balance (how ‘chef’ does that sound!) and tempers a spicy dish, such as my skillet chilaquiles. 

Trust me… give this a try and you will ever after always have a jar of homemade crème fraîche in your fridge. The uses are near innumerable. 

Click here for the recipe: Continue reading

Fresno Chilis Will Change Your Life

12 May

(including recipes for a killer hot sauce, a mini tutorial on delicious pan sauces, pickled chilis, and more…)

Fresno Chili and jar

Fresno chilis and hot sauce

Fresno chilis, which look like a red Jalapeño, have become my favorite chili by far. Milder than a Jalapeño, they still have a nice bite along with a slight, lovely sweetness that makes them more versatile than a Jalapeño or Serrano. Because they can be enjoyed even by people who ‘don’t like spicy’, Fresnos are often called a ‘gateway chili’, as you can see in this excellent history of the Fresno:

Fresno Chilis

I stumbled onto Fresnos a couple of years ago because a favorite chef of mine, Nancy Silverton, throws them in just about everything. I made a marvelous chicken recipe of hers, that uses pickled Fresnos, and loved them so much I started throwing them in and on everything: the pickled Fresnos are terrific on pizzas and in sandwiches, I love raw slices in salads, and a gentle sauté of a sliced or diced Fresno transforms most any main dish or side vegetable. They are also wonderful in my baked omelette.

When I started making my own hot sauce (ridiculously easy, as you will see in the recipe below) I really fell in love. This hot sauce is The. Best.

Fresnos are perfect for pan sauces (see recipe below) as well as in an upcoming recipe that will also change your life, Breakfast Fried Rice. 

If there’s a problem with Fresnos, it’s that unlike the Jalapeño or Serrano, they’re not always available year round. Subsequently, when I see them, I buy out the store, make a few jars of hot sauce, pickle some more, then freeze the remainder. 

So look for the Fresno! Buy a bunch and try these recipes… and be on the lookout for Breakfast Fried Rice!

Click here for the recipes: Continue reading

Best Mashed Cauliflower Ever

23 Mar
CAULI MASHED INGREDIENTS

Ingredients for Mashed Cauliflower

In our current Keto/Paleo/Crossfit/Whole 30 obsessed world, with bread and grains and potatoes thrown into the dustbin, cauliflower has become a favorite food. Makes sense to me! I’ve always been a huge fan. Whether it be roasted simply (my favorite) or covered in cheese sauce or somehow otherwise plated, I love me some cauliflower. 

Perhaps because I’m Cajun and our main starch was white rice, I’ve never been a huge mashed potato fan. Roast or baked potatoes? Oh my. I’ll knock an old lady over for stellar roast potatoes or a loaded baked. But somehow mashed potatoes have only been useful as a reason to enjoy an amazing gravy. (Do you really need the mashed, though? How about a bowl of gravy and a spoon? Or, really, just a bowl of gravy and a biscuit? There you are!)

Yet I’ve fallen in love with mashed cauliflower, though it took me a few tries to get right. I loved the taste from the beginning. But I could never get the consistency quite right… it was always just a touch runny. Sure, butter and cream had something to do with that but, hey, you can’t have mashed anything without butter and cream.

Finally, I had an idea and gave it a try… a little cream cheese added to the mix. Wow. Perfect consistency and same great taste, you’ll never know it’s there.

So.. below… honestly, the best mashed cauliflower you’ve ever had. With a little garlic and thyme added in, even you die hard mashed potato fans might be surprised how much you like it. Even without gravy! But whether on their own (I love these mashed all alone) or with a wonderful pan sauce… upcoming in a soon to be posted post… this mashed cauliflower recipe will become a staple. 

Mashed Cauliflower

A bowl of just made mashed cauliflower… I love it all by its lonesome.

For the recipe, click here: Continue reading

Best of 2018 Pt. 2: Everything else

20 Jan

I posted on my favorite films last week… here are my other favorites of the year:

THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE

hohh_105_unit_03033r-h_2018.jpg

Hill House

 

Hands down my favorite anything of the year. Anything. By far.

Mike Flanagan’s reworking of Shirley Jackson’s famous novel (he also riffs generously on Robert Wise’s wonderful 1963 adaptation, The Haunting) is, pardon my french, fucking incredible. Even the master, Stephen King, called it “close to genius.” I’ll one up my hero and say it plainly: The Haunting of Hill House is indeed genius. While Flanagan in his revision uses both the novel and film in clever ways, he’s up to something much deeper than just a horror series. At its core, the series is a penetrating and devastating family drama. It’s as if Flanagan took Ordinary People, magnified the emotional depth of that brilliant movie ten fold, then stuck it inside Jackson’s sick and twisted Hill House, “a house that was born bad.” Every episode scared the shit out of me, and each episode also hit me on a powerful emotional level. The intricacy of Flanagan’s time jumping plot is dazzling. When his technique purposefully dovetails into that intricacy, such as in the justifiably famous 6th episode, a series of single takes designed to look like one, the effect is truly mind-blowing. Don’t shy away from the series because it’s scary…  the family stuff is so universal, anyone can relate to the marvelous, human Crain family.  But be warned, it is indeed scary. Flanagan is the best ‘jump-scarer’ I’ve ever encountered. Those of us watching together starting counting how many shrieks each episode elicited from our group. And there’s this one particular scare… well, it’s the best scare of all time. If you watched the series, you know of what I speak. I had to stop this episode midstream and have a couple of shots of bourbon to calm down before I could finish the episode, though my heart was still racing hours later. As a creative, The Haunting of Hill House is the kind of narrative success that is both enervating and energizing. Enervating because I think, ‘Goodness, I could never achieve that, just stop trying” but also energizing because, for a storyteller, this series reaches the peak for which we all strive. I may never reach such a pinnacle but Flanagan and his remarkable team and superb cast of actors certainly make me want to try.

Finally, though I know people who disagree, Flanagans’ twist on Jackson’s famous last line is electrifying.

 

screen-shot-2018-10-13-at-2-34-48-am.png

The Bent Neck Lady

 

BODYGUARD

bodyguard-lede-1.w700.h467.2x.jpg

Things are going to get intense

 

WHOA. One of the biggest hits ever in the history of UK broadcasting, Bodyguard is a short (six episodes) but far from sweet adrenaline rush I could not turn off. This is ‘call into work sick’ material, because you have to finish it. If you’ve seen it, you know of what I write. If you haven’t, the less you know the better. Richard Madden is stunning as ‘the bodyguard’, he goes deep, goodness and Keely Hawes matches him perfectly. As does the rest of the British cast. Great show, an intense blast to watch. 

HOMECOMING

homecoming-culture-final (1).jpg

Something weird is going on

 

Julia Roberts is having one hell of a year. She gave the best performance of her life in superb Ben Is Back (see last post) and her performance in Homecoming is just as stellar. Yet she’s not getting much attention on the awards circuit… what gives?? Oh well, ultimately, who cares. After 30 years onscreen, she has become one of our best actresses and it was a joy to watch her this year. As for the show itself? Kick. Ass. A subtle mystery that really gets under your skin, I did not hear the podcast upon which the series was based so the story was new to me. Sam Esmail’s decision to approach Homecoming like a classic 70’s thriller in the vein of Alan J. Pakula et al. was a huge turn on to a film buff like me. As was his decision to score the entire series using music from those films. But you don’t have to be aware of that to enjoy. This is another one of those shows I watched and thought, ‘Wow, I wish I had worked on that.” Every performance is terrific, though I have to single out Stephan James and, in particular, Shea Whigham. His turn as a downtrodden DOJ investigator also deserves many more accolades than he is receiving. Finally, the genius move to make each episode 22 minutes instead of an hour made the show incredibly binge-able. Hear hear! Show creators, more of this in the future!

THE TERROR

the-terror-poster.jpg

The Terror, indeed

 

One of my favorite novels, by the great Dan Simmons, became one of my favorite shows of the year. A fictionalized account of Sir John Franklin’s lost Arctic expedition in 1845, this sumptuous adaptation is an atmospheric chiller, no pun intended, superbly directed with an outstanding cast. (Again, those Brits…) You may want to subtitle it, as the accents are pretty thick. Filled with shocks and surprises and deep humanity, The Terror is yet another reason 2018 was one of the best years of television in recent memory.

THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL SEASON 2

181125-fallon-the-marvelous-mrs-maisel-tease_ixrmoc.jpeg

I want to live inside this show

 

Paris! The Catskills! Lenny Bruce! Zachary Levi! Susie! Season 2 of one of the best shows on television was even better than season one. I cannot imagine what they spend on this show and/or how they get away with the production value and music budget. Sublime to watch, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is Amy Sherman-Palladino at her best, which is about as good as it gets. There are too many wonderful moments and performances here to even begin to start listing favorites, but may I say what a joy it was to watch Marin Hinkle’s Rose evolve this season. In the very strong likelihood you see me running around with a plunger over my shoulder, Mrs. Maisel is why.

WESTWORLD SEASON 2

westworld-opening-credits-season-2-clues.jpg

Brilliant. Frustrating. Westworld.

 

My favorite show of 2017, and, admittedly, an intense obsession, thrilled me for 9 brilliant episodes that came crashing down in the season two finale. I’ve friends I trust who love the finale, however, and I need to watch it again after some distance to see if I can overcome my misgivings. Still, those other 9 episodes. Wow. I watched each one twice without plumbing their depths entirely and am still enough of a fan to re-watch all of Season 2 before Season 3 begins… fingers crossed. 

OTTOLENGHI SIMPLE: A COOKBOOK04-yotam-ottolenghi-simple-a-cookbook.jpg

I read a lot of novels this year. And some I very much enjoyed. But for the first time, I didn’t have a novel this year I wanted to put on the list. I still read an amazing book, however: Simple, a cookbook by the extremely talented Yotam Ottolenghi. I have all of his cookbooks and use Jerusalem often. (Click here for a post covering that wonderful book.)  For me, if a cookbook is enjoyable to read and gives me just two or three killer recipes I will use for years, I’m happy.  I’ve been cooking a lot from Simple the last few months, however, and after making ten or twelve recipes, I’ve yet to hit one I didn’t love. This is a bonanza of flavor and food joy. (Do NOT miss the “baked rice with confit tomatoes and garlic”… I’m Cajun, rice is one of my favorite foods in all the world, I’ve eaten white rice happily since the day I was born. This is the best rice I’ve ever had, bar none.)  Simple is hands down the cookbook of the year. 

00-story-image-yotam-ottolenghi-simple-a-cookbook.jpg

The best rice I’ve ever eaten

PADDINGTON 2

artempaddington2sfx.jpg

Wonderful

I quietly scoffed at a couple of friends who told me Paddington 2 was the best movie of the year. Seriously? Well… I might not call it the best of the year but having just watched this delightful movie, I agree it is one of the best for sure. A visual feast that is creative, clever and ultimately heartwarming in the best way possible, Paddington 2 is one of the very few movies on Rotten Tomatoes to score 100%. Deservedly so. Additionally, Hugh Grant is %@$# incredible in it. Like Julia Roberts, he’s been on screen a long time and his gifts are now innumerable and invisible. Great performance, great movie.

53ac5333dd078755004b1032e11d978e.jpg

Our bear goes to prison!

Best of 2018 Pt. 1: Film

10 Jan

Belated Happy 2019! It’s been a long while for a post as I had an incredibly busy fall. Apologies for those who follow! I have a number of posts half-finished, including Breakfast Fried Rice and Heaven In A Bowl… let’s see how much I can keep on track this year. First, though, we begin with the requisite ‘best of’ posts. 

Below are my favorite films of the year. I have more movies listed than usual this year which surprised me because at the end of summer there were only a few movies I was excited about. But it was a strong fall for features. Not all are ‘great films’ but each achieved something wonderful, moved me deeply or took unusual risks that made the film worth mentioning.  In no particular order:

BEN IS BACK

_DSC8585-2.ARW

Ben Is Back slayed me. I’ve seen it twice, fell apart each time and will watch it again soon. It’s unfortunately one of those movies the studio can’t seem to pay people to go see. But I loved it and encourage you to see it. Julia Roberts give the best performance of her career, which is saying a lot, and Lucas Hedges meets her head on. (What a banner year for Julia, who will also appear in the next post.) I’m a big fan of the writer/director, Peter Hedges – yes, he and Lucas are father and son. See this movie.

ROMA

ROMA_Still014_R.jpg

A gorgeous, stunning film I can’t imagine working on TV at home, so Netflix’s decision to leave Roma in theatres for only a few weeks around Thanksgiving is incomprehensible. If you tried to watch it at home and turned it off, I understand. It starts very, very slow and certainly is never a wild ride. But the beauty of the directing, the cinematography (whoa!), the performances and the setting make Roma, for many of us, the best movie of the year. Spellbinding.

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

SpiderVerse_cropped.0.jpg

If even two weeks ago you said to me I would pay money to see Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, much less put it on my ‘best of’ list, I’d have laughed in your face. Yet here we are. Ha ha indeed. Thank goodness friends I trust forced me to go see it. Easily the most original and creative movie of the year, this visual feast is a blast from start to finish. It’s also surprisingly moving. Great film.

SEARCHING

searching.jpg

Another movie most people missed, Searching is another extremely inventive movie, a sharp thriller depicted entirely on social media, a narrative device that would seemingly get old but in these capable young filmmakers’ hands, never does. Anchored by a terrific performance by John Cho, this is another ‘find this movie and watch it’ recommendation from me. Terrific.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE VI: FALLOUT

missionimpossiblefalloutfergusoncruise.jpg

Mission Impossible VI is not only the best action movie of the year (decade) it’s one of my top 5 of the year. Unlike any other series, MI gets better and better with each movie, meaning MI VI reaches pinnacles rarely seen in this genre. Filled with dazzling actions sequences and stunts done real time — take that, CGI! — the movie in the final act also has an emotional impact rare for actions movies. Director McQuarrie and star/producer Cruise, in top form as always, also were smart enough to bring back Rebecca Ferguson from MI V. May I have an enormous swoon for Rebecca Ferguson? Damn. In love. (Even with a porn-stache, I’ll also give a well deserved swoon to Henry Cavill. Oh my.) Movies don’t get much better than this.

GAME NIGHT

timthumb.php.png

I love this movie! I first saw Game Night on a plane, annoying everyone around me as I cackled with pleasure the entire time. I’ve shown it to others numerous times since, laughing just as much each time through. An extremely clever comedy unafraid to push boundaries and go to some dark places, Game Night is smart and clever; the first five minutes are so well done I taught this opening in my screenwriting class last Monday. It stays sharp all the way through, is at times wonderfully shocking and the entire cast is outstanding. (Rachel McAdams also makes me swoon. Damn.) I loved it. 

THE WIFE

0010b198-800.jpg

If Glenn Close doesn’t win every acting award for her performance in The Wife, there’s no justice in the world. By my count, she should already have two Oscars on her shelf. Yet she has none. Please let this be her year. She gives a master class in screen acting in this small but powerful movie. You can’t take your eyes off her. Close’s gifts are so strong she can do absolutely ‘nothing’… such as sit and listen to a speech… and be intensely riveting.  The movie is also excellent. Sony Pictures Classics is expanding The Wife back into more theatres this weekend. Go see it!

A STAR IS BORN

hu8ad8nwl4aqqqaimayg.jpg

The classic Hollywood story remade yet again but this time with depth and empathy. Usually filmed in grand fashion, Bradley Cooper’s decision to shoot the movie in an extremely intimate fashion pays off beautifully. His performance also blew me away, he completely transformed into someone else. And he can sing. Loser! Lady Gaga also is terrific and I love the music. The incredible popularity of the movie seems to have people turning on it as the award season ramps up. I guess that’s what comes with popularity. Awards or none, Cooper and Co. have the last laugh. A Star Is Born remains one of the best movies of the year.

BLACK PANTHER

Black-Panther-Marvel-Women-A-Force-Dora-Milaje.jpg

It may not be a great movie but Black Panther has many great elements and performances. More importantly, seeing this in the theatre felt like an enormous cultural event. And it was. There are movies that are of their time and movies that transcend time. Both are important so while Black Panther may be the former, being of its time in no way takes away from the movie. It was also a very enjoyable movie to watch.

FREE SOLO

lead_720_405.jpg

A documentary as riveting and suspenseful as MI VI, Free Solo is a stunner. A fascinating character study combined with intense thriller, Free Solo is also a beautifully crafted documentary. The less you know the better. Find it.

MARY POPPINS RETURNS

mary-poppins-returns1.jpg

A delight from start to finish. I know people obsessed with the original who balked at Mary Poppins Returns but I loved it and am glad it is performing well, given the filmmakers daring decision in the modern era to embrace the look and sound of both the original and classic movie musicals in general. Emily Blunt is practically perfect. Her performance seems so effortless I think a lot of people don’ recognize how damn good it is.  (Biggest swoon of the day for Emily, btw. Lord.) Anchored by Emily and wonderful performances across the board, Mary Poppins Returns creates a glorious world you don’t want to leave. I myself love the songs – whoa, amazing orchestrations, so incredibly lush and beautiful – and you’d have to have a heart of stone to be unmoved at the end when both Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury turn up to create even more magic. Infinitely better than it had any right to be. 

DESTROYER

destroyer-kidman.jpg

Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation is one of my favorite movies of the last few years so I was excited to see her follow up, Destroyer. It doesn’t disappoint. An ultra dark Los Angeles neo-noir, Destroyer is getting a lot of attention for Nicole Kidman’s performance, which is amazing. The entire cast is superb, however; Bradley Whitford, for instance, is hilariously, deliciously slimy in one of many great scenes. Not perfect but Destroyer keeps you leaning forward the entire time. Definitely worthy of any list.

BEAST

beast2.jpg

There are numerous beasts in this stunning debut from writer/director Michael Pearce. Only by the end of Beast can one figure out to whom the title refers and, actually, friends and I are still debating which character deserves the moniker. Moody and creepy, Beast slowly draws you into a beautiful yet disturbing world and Jessie Buckley, as the main character Moll, gives one of the best performances of the year. 

ANNIHILATION

Annihilation.jpg

Okay, yes Annihilation has a lot of problems. But when this daring movie is working, it works so damn well, and takes so many risks, it makes my list. Based on what I considered an unfilmable novel, Annihilation is beautiful and disturbing and thought provoking and often shocking. You can’t take your eyes off it. Alex Garland, who also made the terrific Ex Machina, is bold enough to challenge the audience, asking a lot of us while also asking big questions with his narrative. Stunning visually, this is a movie well worth a look.

Also worth a mention: Bohemian Rhapsody, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Three Identical Strangers, The Favorite, BlacKkKlansman, Cold War, If Beale Street Could Talk

What were your own favorites? What have I forgotten? (Books and TV next week)… Let us know!

 

French Fries at Home

10 Aug

Oh my, I love a good french fry.

When all the elements come together — perfect size (thicker than a pencil), perfect texture (crisp outside, tender inside) and salt — there are few things I enjoy more. Particularly with a wonderful homemade aioli on the side. (Yeah, I left ketchup behind a while ago. But feel free… )

I never make fries at home, however, because it is too much of a pain and too much of a mess. Additionally, as good as a home fry might occasionally be, they never match a fry from a restaurant, given restaurants have the equipment to make amazing fries. 

Well, no longer. 

fries vertical

french fries at home

I’ve written before about an amazing chef, food writer and cookbook author I had the great pleasure to come to know, Patricia Wells. Her cookbook At Home In Provence truly changed my life, an experience you can read about here.

In her latest cookbook, My Master Recipes, she details a method of making fries at home that is very simple and doesn’t involve throwing fries into a pot of hot boiling oil. You actually start the fries in room temperature oil on the stove, so the mess is reduced almost entirely.

The result?

The best possible fries imaginable, and not just at home. They rival any fry I’ve had in my favorite ‘french fry restaurants’ all over the country. 

Steak and fries

mmm steak and fries

 

I’ve tried her technique many times now to make sure they really work. (Just taking one for the team, you know, just the kind of fellow I am.) Except for the first time, when I used too many fries and they fell apart, these fries have come out perfectly every single time. Even that first time they tasted amazing; they just were barely an inch long.

I am linking to a more detailed recipe here, which you may want to use as reference, at least your first time. A quicker reminder recipe, for those who have tried it, is below. But, honestly, even if you just use the below recipe, these really are easy and you are still going to have some killer fries! Just make sure you do the measurements right.

You’ll be stunned how easy it is, how the timing works just right every time… and of course, by how wonderful are these fries!

For the recipe, Continue reading

An Easy Fruit Crisp

13 Jul

AND A GLUTEN-FREE VERSION, TOO!

Berry Crisp

Fruit Crisp

If you are anything like me, you love fruit pie but have no patience to make crust. You lost me at rolling pin. You lost me at ‘sift’. You lost me at…

So I’m happy to present to you something just as good as a fruit pie but ridiculously easy. You don’t even have to be that precise, which is a miracle in baking. Seriously… I once started this during dinner, for people who asked for it (people have started to ask for it a lot) so I got up and prepped it, which takes about 10 minutes max. Mind you, I’d had a martini or three so I did it from memory and was pretty damn imprecise with my measuring, throwing this here, tossing this there. And it was still just as wonderful. 

It’s terrific with peaches, which are fresh right now. But I love it even more with mixed berries: blueberries, blackberries and raspberries combined. Or just one of those, if you have a favorite. Or mix in peaches, too, with all the berries. (Don’t peel the peaches, no need for that… see? Easy!)

As noted in the recipe below, if you need gluten free, just substitute Almond Flour for the regular flour. The consistency is a little different but it tastes terrific. I often do it with almond flour anyway because I love the flavor of almonds so much. 

GlutenFree crisp

Gluten-free version made with almond flour

For the recipe,  Continue reading

Your dream breakfast is here

25 May

Expletives were heard the last time I served this. The phrase ‘your new crack‘ as well. And while it is a breakfast dish, you can have it any time of day. I certainly do. It’s a killer late night dish, for instance, after an extra long day at work or, well, whatever you’ve been doing late night.

I give you my Skillet Chilaquiles, a bastardized, easy version of the traditional Mexican breakfast. 

Skillet Chilaquiles2

Skillet Chilaquiles

True chilaquiles are tortillas sautéed in a spicy red or green sauce, often with shredded chicken mixed in. Fried eggs sometimes are served on top. Given my obsession with eggs, it’s no wonder I devised this version over the years using eggs as the actual sauce. What you end up with are tortillas, still a bit crispy, coasted with a luscious sheen of eggs, cheese and chilis. 

Try it once and, like me, you will start keeping all the ingredients on hand.

Chilaquiles ingredients

Ingredients for Skillet Chilaquiles

SKILLET CHILAQUILES  Continue reading

Cauliflower Pizza Crust ? A MUST TRY

11 May
Pizza Ingredients

Ingredients for Pepperoni Pizza with a cauliflower pizza crust

With Gluten-Free/Paleo/Ketogenic interest remaining at a fever pitch, it seems everyone is looking for terrific recipes with low/no carbs and no gluten. I myself am following the Ketogenic Diet; the older I get the more difficult it has become to lose weight and keep it off, damn it! (That gin has no carbs is a lifesaver.) But even if you couldn’t care less about avoiding gluten, today’s recipe — homemade pizza with a homemade cauliflower crust — is a mind-blowing must try. I’ll say ‘damn it’ one more time because this pizza is so damn good.

Pizza!

Pepperoni Pizza with a cauliflower crust

I owe this stunner to my wonderful friend Jeff, an amazing chef who constantly teaches me about cooking. He stumbled onto the recipe, perfected it and encouraged me to give it a try. Jeff and his husband Owen, btw, are in the ‘could care less’ about avoiding gluten camp. In fact, they eat more gluten than any people I’ve ever met… and yet both are annoyingly super slender. I’ll say “damn it” one more time in envy. Fortunately I love them too much to stay very annoyed. 

Continue reading

Winter Greens Lasagna

11 Mar
Lasagna

Winter Greens Lasagna

Everyone loves lasagna yet I know great cooks who won’t bother to make it at home, myself included for a long while, because it seemed too much work. 

Not true, not true!

I’ve learned over the past few years lasagna can be pretty damn easy to make, particularly when someone reveals to you, as my great friend and great cook Tiffiny told me, that you don’t have to boil the lasagna noodles. That blew my mind, given the one time I tried to boil the noodles, then layer them, was a nightmare of near biblical proportions.  I never got that tray of lasagna into the oven and I never tried again until Tiff told me, no you don’t have to do that. Just layer them into the lasagna out of the box.  Genius.

Ultimately, lasagna is simply layers of flavors you stuff in the oven and bake. Yes, the layers themselves determine how good it will be and you want to make sure it isn’t too dry. But particularly with some quality store bought ingredients, you can prep and layer a terrific homemade lasagna in 30 minutes or less. Lasagna also sits beautifully so you can prep it on a Sunday, have it ready to shove in the oven when you get home Monday and then have wonderful leftovers all week. 

Continue reading

The Horror of “Get Out”

23 Feb

A week away from the Oscars means a rumination on a nominated movie is a great idea. A good friend and writing mentor, Jeff Meyers, has a take on “Get Out” I find extremely thought provoking and fascinating, so much so I asked him to let me post his ideas here. Whether you liked the movie or not (I realize as much as it invigorates many of us it befuddles others) , I think you will find his essay worthy of consideration and discussion.

It’s no secret that, historically, horror has been regarded as junk entertainment, a genre that relies on cheap thrills and lurid subject matter to draw audiences. And while critics have been willing to extoll the technical and cinematic achievements of the genre, they typically overlook the thematic, intellectual, and emotional resonance of the genre.

The well-deserved nomination of Get Out for this year’s Best Picture Academy Award is only the sixth time a horror film has been considered for such an honor. The first, 1973’s The Exorcist came 45 years after the Oscars were first introduced. Since then, only The Sixth Sense, Black Swan, Pan’s Labyrinth (Best Foreign Language Oscar) and Silence Of The Lambs (the only one to win… and regarded, by some, to be a thriller rather than horror), have been given such regard. Classics like King Kong, Bride Of Frankenstein, Psycho, Alien and The Shining were all, notably, overlooked.

Exorcist small

This dismissal of horror as a serious-minded expression of cinematic art and opinion has such a long and pervasive history that even some its own practitioners feel a need to distance themselves from the label, lest they be devalued as artists. 

In the introduction to The Walking Dead graphic novel, creator Robert Kirkman insisted that his goal was not to scare anyone, and that he wasn’t writing horror but rather “social commentary and character.” Writer-director Jordan Peele asserted that Get Out is not a horror film but rather a “social thriller.” 

With all due respect, Kirkman and Peele are wrong. While genre labels are often fluid and inexact, there is little doubt that a graphic novel that involves hordes of flesh-eating zombies, and a movie about a mad scientist that cuts out the brains of his victims in order to replace them with someone else’s brain qualify as horror. The rejection of the label is undoubtedly the result of those long standing dismissals of the genre. 

Continue reading

Spicy “Get Well” Chicken Soup

5 Feb

I’ve been sick for a month and I never get sick. Apparently the whole world is feeling it. For me, every time it seems over, with my defenses down a different bug comes barreling in and takes over. Plus, try as I might when I don’t feel well, I don’t eat well. Comfort food city, you know?

But I hit a wall this weekend: “I’ve had enough of this $@#%~!” 

So I created a spicy chicken soup designed to shock my system with fresh, healthy and spicy ingredients, something I could detox on all week. 

Spicy Get Well Soup

Turns out, though, it also happened to end up one of the best soups I’ve ever made. This is light, fresh and incredibly healthy soup with a spicy kick.  But you don’t have to have the flu to love this soup. I’m even having it for breakfast. It’s that good. 

If you do have the flu, an appetizer of my garlic salad and a bowl of this chicken soup will have you well on the way to recovery. After a weekend of eating both, I seriously feel 100 times better.

And so I present to you: 

TOM’S SPICY “GET WELL” CHICKEN SOUP

This is a great “throw a bunch of stuff in a pot without worrying too much about the amounts and it still comes out amazing” kind of recipe. You could easily vary the ingredients and it will turn out well. But use the specific ingredients noted here the first time you make it to get the genius. Then you can start messing with it.

Continue reading