The Talented Mr. Ripley (Anthony Minghella – 1999) A

I was looking through Netflix for a movie with the late great Phillip Seymour Hoffman and this popped up. He is not the leading man here but as always, even in the small roles he does a fantastic job and steals every scene. As for this film, well I think it’s a little masterpiece. I’ve seen it years before and I just do not think I appreciated it at the time. It’s well executed and beautifully shot, much like a piece of excellent jazz or a fine opera. It tells the story of Tom Ripley (Matt Damon), the poor young man who by a coincidence of sorts gets to befriend the rich heir Dickie Greenleaf in 1950s Italy where the film is set. Ripley discovers that he loves the lavish lifestyle of this playboy and like a spider (or maybe a chameleon is more apt) starts moving into his life the whole time getting by with a mix of deception, fake geniality and good luck. The story twists and turns as Ripley uses his talent for deception and mimicry to subtly build a lavish life for himself while wrecking everyone else’s.
Jude Law plays Dickey and Gwenyth Paltrow his girlfriend. She initially trusts Tom and then slowly turns against him as her instincts tell her there is something not right with him. Both actors do a great job here as does Damon. It is a movie that jumps across Italy from the south to San Remo, Venice and Rome. The direction is solid, the movie looks amazing and the camera work is masterful. It succeeds in making us at times sorry for Ripley while repulsed and creeped out by him. He is a creature who epitomizes selfishness while showing the world the facade of the sweet down trodden kid from New York.

R.I.P: Philip Seymour Hoffman (1967 – 2014)

He was an every man. He was not by any means your typical Hollywood star in looks or in the roles he chose to play on the big screen. He was one of my favorite actors. Actually right now I cannot think of anyone who comes even close. Hoffman played many supporting characters and some leading roles and he owned every one of them. Even in shitty movies, he was great and brought humanity to his characters enough to make you care or chuckle. I remember him first as the journalist Lester Bangs from Rolling Stone in Almost Famous and his memorable line to the young William Miller”…I met you, you are not cool”. Hoffman was cool and was not. He played roles that made us care about those undesirable and sometimes repulsive people in our society and he played them so so well, like the “perv” phone breather in Todd Solondz’s Happiness. I think that’s a great movie, but I mostly remember him.
True, Hoffman played several leading roles and won an Oscar for his brilliant portrayal of Capote, but to me his most memorable role is Scotty J. in P.T. Anderson’s Boogie Nights. It’s a small role in a film that is over 2.5 hours long spanning decades but that one scene when Scotty is making his pass/confession at Dirk Diggler is one of the best, heartbreaking and pathetic all at the same time.
Philip Seymour Hoffman was not one of the best actors of my generation. He was the best actor of my generation and will be sorely missed.

Red Wine Pappardelle with Oxtails and Carrots

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It’s been a while since I posted about a homemade pasta on these pages. Not because I have not made any but the majority is stuff I’ve posted about before or similar to what I’ve posted about before. Well, here comes something I made recently and was so sublime that I had to post about.

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The blue print is really a traditional dish of fresh pasta and braised meat. The emphasis is on bold flavors with a recipe courtesy of the book Collards and Carbonara from Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman. It’s a perfect title for a book where the authors put their American south spin on Italian flavors. This is a hearty dish with lots of red wine. It is everywhere. The pasta is actually made from eggs with a good helping of red wine – almost half egg and half red wine. The end result is not so much red as brownish. What I really loved about the pasta is the thickness. Instead of rolling them relatively thin as usual, the authors instruct us to roll them to the 4 setting on the pasta machine. This results in noodles that are relatively thick. I honestly had my doubts here but I figured I’ll give them a go and see what happens.

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I should not have worried. The cooked noodles were the perfect foil to the rich hearty oxtail stew.  They had a lovely texture to them that is equally soft, substantial and chewy. I started the oxtails basically a week before by making a beef demi glace. I prepared a big batch of beef stock in my pressure cooker and allowed it to sit in the fridge until the fat solidified. I removed that and reduced the stock with more aromatics (shallots, thyme, black pepper) and red wine until I got about a pint of the most amazing beef reduction.

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The stew is pretty straightforward. Brown the meat and cook it for a long time with some garlic, mirepoix, a whole bottle of red wine, the demi glace and water. When the meat is fall off the bone tender it is removed and picked from the bone. The cooking liquid is reduced and strained. The meat and cooking liquid are stored separately. Again, this is an important detail that I think makes the recipe much better during the finishing steps. Meanwhile I prepared a mix of small purple and orange carrots by cooking them sous vide bagged with butter at 85 C. They were cooked till tender but remained firm and retained a nice color.

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To bring it all together while the water came to a boil for the pasta, I sautéed the halved carrots in oil until slightly charred. To that I added the oxtail meat and browned slightly, then a whole lot  of chopped herbs (rosemary, parsley, thyme) and more red wine and allowed that to reduce. In went the reserved braising liquid and the whole thing reduced slightly to get a nice consistency. I tossed in the freshly cooked pasta and some splashes of the boiling water and served. It was a really comforting, rich and beautiful bowl of pasta. The handfuls of fresh herbs in there brought a fresh and bright note to the bold flavors. That whole was perfect for the cold weather we had been getting and the leftovers were just as good.

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Honey and Spice Roasted Pintail Duck, Beets and Fennel

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To be perfectly honest, I am not a 100% sure this guy was a Pintail, more like 90% sure. We shot several Pintail ducks during a hunt this season. We hunted in a flooded marsh next to large rice fields and almost all of the ducks, including the Pintails, where covered in a thin layer of lovely white fat. According to Hank Shaw and his wonderful new book Duck, Duck Goose “Pins” make for fantastic eating and those covered in white (not yellow or orange) fat are almost guaranteed to be delicious. He is right on both counts.

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The inspiration for the flavor of this recipe is a famous dish from the Manhattan restaurant Eleven Madison Park. Chef Humm from EMP serves a fantastic roasted duck, served whole and then carved table-side. I’ve never had the dish but I’ve been pining to try it out ever since I saw it online a while back (just Google Eleven Madison Park duck). The bird is coated with lavender, honey and spices and then roasted in a hot oven until golden brown and crackly. This seemed like a great way to try on my Pintail using the Hank Shaw method of roasting a whole small duck in a hot oven.

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I patted the duck dry well salted it and let it rest in the fridge for a few hours. Before cooking, I dried it well again and coated it with honey then sprinkled it with a mixture of toasted and coarsely crushed coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds and salt. I put the duck on a few branches of fennel in a cast iron pan and then baked it in a very hot oven (about 500 F) until the breasts registered 135 F on a meat thermometer. Following Hank Shaw’s method, I carved the breasts off the bird at that point and let them rest on more pieces of fennel. The rest of the duck went back in the oven at a lower temperature so the legs can finish cooking completely and tenderize a bit. Right when the legs are cooked, I returned the breasts to a hot pan, skin side down to crisp them up really well without overcooking.

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The cooking method worked exceptionally well. I ended up with a lovely pink breast meat and tender well cooked duck legs. To serve I paired the bird with roasted beets -I always seem to end up with beets and duck somehow- sauteed beet greens and a fennel salad coated with a lemon dressing. I finished the dish with a pan sauce made by quickly cooking down some shallots in the fat in the roasting pan and de-glazing the whole thing with some  white wine and water. I adjusted the flavor of the sauce with a little apple balsamic vinegar, mounted it with butter and drizzled over the plate. The duck was fantastic with sweet caramelized flavors, crispy skin and wonderful fragrant spices. This really is the best wild duck I’ve cooked so far.

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I did serve this with a simple side dish of Puy lentils. I used the smallest tenderest beet leaves raw. These got tossed with a balsamic vinaigrette and went on top of the lentils. As good as these lentils were, they really were not needed. The duck plate was satisfying and filling enough and required not extra starch.

Hard Eight (Paul Thomas Anderson – 1996) A-

In P. T. Anderson’s debut feature film we meet an older experienced Reno/Vegas gambler. He walks into a diner and seems to pick a young man in random who is down on his luck. He teaches him the ropes of slick gambling and how to game the casinos, legally. The film then moves forward some time and the two guys are mentor and student. The young man looks up and respects the older man. So, when he gets in some deep doodoo due to a cocktail waitress he calls the only man who might be willing to help. The whole time we are wondering why on earth that sharp old guy, played subtly and perfectly by Philip Baker Hall, is so patient with the bad stupid decisions that the younger man is making. We do get an answer that clears it up, but the strength of this film is in its assured direction and excellent performances form all involved.

Three Stars (Lutz Hachmeister – 2010) B

Chronicles several restaurants from NOMA to Arzak and discusses the stress and hard work that goes into attaining the coveted *** from Michelin as well as what it means to a restaurant if attained. It also cuts to interviews with Jean-Luc Naret the Directeur Général of the Michelin Guide and he tells us mostly what does NOT matter to Michelin. White table cloths? Nope. Fancy setting and silverware? Nope. According to him it’s all about the food and how it’s served. It’s an ok film but does not add much to anything really and we don’t learn  much about Michelin by the end of the film than we did in the beginning.