Her (Spike Jones – 2013) A

It’s a rare chance to see something really new in movies and I think Her is one of those instances. It is original in look and concept. The premise is silly I suppose, guy falling in love with his very intelligent operating system but it’s more than that. It is charming, sweet, very funny and incredibly uncomfortable to watch at times.

A Most Wanted Man (Anton Corbijn – 2014) A

I like movies and TV shows (Rubicon anyone?) that portray the drudgery and balancing act of spy work. I loved the other recent film based on a Le Carre  novel and this one did not disappoint. Pillip Seymour Hoffman delivers a very good performance in one of his last roles. He plays the gruff German intelligence officer Günther Bachmann. He is masterminding a high wire act with a small crew to slowly flush out a terrorism network revolving around a Chechen man who was imprisoned and tortured in Russia before making it to Hamburg. The problem is that quick results and high profile arrests are more attractive in this world. Günther meticulously builds alliances, informants and collaborators while at the same time trying to buy time from his superiors as well as the CIA. A Most Wanted Man is a slow film but it is smart, intense and very well crafted and acted (loved Willem Dafoe and Rachel McAdams as well here) from the the first minute to the heart-breaking conclusion.

Cotechino, Lentils, Polenta and Salsa Verde

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Every year for New Year’s Day I usually have a Cotechino served with lentils on the table for dinner. I posted about this Italian sausage before here. It incorporates a good proportion of pig skin into the meat mixture and ends up with the most amazing unctuous rich texture. It’s all offset by balanced spicing and sharp flavors that accompany it.

Cotechino is great with lentils, potatoes or polenta. I was going back and forth between serving it with the lentils or the polenta. Eventually I decided why not do both while at the same time dress the dish up a bit and sharpen the plating and the flavor. I also tried some new methods to take my pictures this time around going mostly manual as opposed to allowing the camera to pick the settings. There is a lot of room for improvement but I like the end result and am hoping to keep playing with that.

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On prior occasions when I made lentils to accompany the sausage, I primarily relied on a recipe that added tomatoes, stock, rosemary…That was a bit much. The sausage alone has a ton of flavor and does not need a heavy-handed side dish to clash with it. So, this time around I made a basic lentil stew. I used, as always, Puy lentils and just cooked them in sautéed onions, celery and garlic before stewing them gently in water with some fresh thyme thrown in. A final dash of salt and vinegar as well as a helping of salsa verde (more about this in a minute) rounded the lentils out very nicely.

I prepared the polenta in the oven (about 4:1 water to polenta ratio, cooked uncovered at 350 F for about an hour). I allow it to set spread about 1/2 inch thick and then cut it into circles. These get a quick dusting of flour and then pan-fried in olive oil to crisp them up.

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I wanted another layer of flavor to the dish and a salsa verde is it. This is one of my go-to sauces for everything from salmon to steak. It’s not the Mexican one that incorporates tomatillos in it. This Italian salsa verde is a herb sauce composed mostly of parsley. It’s basically chimichurri’s  much better sister (sorry Argentinean sauce lovers!) I try to incorporate some portion of basil in there as well and even a few mint leaves if I have them. These get chopped up (as fine or coarse as you like – I like it on the fine side) with capers, a garlic clove or two, sour pickles and a couple of anchovies. To bring it all together a very healthy dose of olive oil is stirred in along with red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Once you make it a couple of times you’ll get the hang of how you like it and can adjust the quantities of the ingredients accordingly. I first heard of it many years ago in Jamie Oliver’s first book and I still like to prepare it like he does, just start chopping the parsley and add more ingredients to the cutting board…chop chop…add a few more ingredients…chop chop…as you go. It’s a marvelous sauce with great flavors and textures.

I tried a new time and temperature to cook the Cotechino sous vide this time as well. Per a suggestion from Jason Molinari  I reduced the temp to 68.3 C and cooked it for longer, 24 hours. I like the result a lot but I think there is still room for improvement. Dropping the temperature to around 65 or 62 C and cooking it for anywhere between 24 and 36 hours might be even better next time around to preserve more moisture and flavor. I sliced the sausage and topped a few of the slices with grated Parmesan cheese before searing all the slices on both sides. The final dish was exceptionally good. Not too heavy, cloying or greasy at all. The flavors worked great and the green sauce looked awesome and was a spot-on complement to everything.

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Prisoners (Denis Villeneuve – 2013) B-

The film really looks great even though it is set in suburbia. It has a strong cast, some are used better than others but most are very good. It has some excellent intense moments as well. The problem is that all these pieces do not come together to make this the excellent film it could’ve been. What we get instead is a procedural that is trying very hard to be meaningful and important. It neglects to be…smart or to make sense at times. Characters behave in nonsensical ways for no reason. It also goes on for far too long. Prisoners is not bad, it is just a painfully long missed opportunity.

The Trip to Italy (Michael Winterbottom – 2014) A-

Funny impersonations, witty conversation, lovely food and a wonderful locale. Very much like The Trip of course and I like that a lot. Coogan and Brydon play versions of themselves and this time it’s Brydon who seems to be getting more of the acclaim and success while Coogan is connecting with his son. All that really is just another frame or excuse for the basic premise of this film…funny impersonations, witty conversation, lovely food and a wonderful locale.