Tusk (Kevin Smith -2014) B-

I watched this with a smirk the whole way through. It was a fun film. It’s like the ultimate inside joke. The movie that originated from a podcast that I listen to. It’s a crazy mix between slapstick, horror, monster movie and The Human Centipede. We have Michael Parks doing a great job and a very odd performance by Johnny Depp whose French accent seems to come and go for no particular reason. Looking forward to what Smith will be doing next in this universe of his “True North”.

 

Philomena (Stephen Frears – 2014) A

Judi Dench has not been any better than she is here. I loved this story of an old Irish woman teaming up with an ex-BBC political reporter to find her son. She was a young unwed mother sent to a convent in a little Irish village in the 50s. She was put to work, treated harshly and her son given up (or sold) for adoption. Her story is similar to many others from that generation, taken advantage of because they “sinned” and their children given away without a second thought. As one nice nun puts it ‘they really have only themselves to blame’.

Philomena is not particulrly bitter about the church, her faith or the nuns. She stands in contrast to Sixsmith, the reporter played by Steve Coogan, who is bitter about losing his job and initially about this “human story” he’s writing. The true story of Philomena, her journey that takes her to Washington and the discoveries she makes are heartbreaking but in the end we are left with admiration for this funny little woman, her light-hearted banter and her faith. Dench makes her a character I would love to meet, if only to ask that one question: Do you really forgive them?

Terrine de Tête de Cochon

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A pig’s head, or half of one as I have here, is not a pretty thing. No matter what the great Fergus Henderson says a whole roasted half of a pig head is not a romantic meal for two. Most find it unappetizing and gnarly. I get it. It is however delicious. To get to that deliciousness and remove the ugliness we make a lovely terrine with it and if I was serving this at a restaurant, I’d give it a cool French-y name like the title of this post, Terrine de Tete de Cochon as opposed to jellied pig head (or worse, Headcheese!). Everyone ate this at my house from Diana to the kids and enjoyed it.

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I have several recipes for a pig head terrine in my books. It also goes by Brawn in the UK and Headcheese. The process is similar no matter what the recipe is. The main variation is in the spicing and flavoring. The process involves boiling the head in flavored liquid, removing and chopping the meat/skin and packing the seasoned mixture into a loaf or terrine pan to set. I decided to follow the instructions in Jennifer McLagan’s book Odd Bits. She includes two recipes in the book, one she calls for the uninitiated and includes carrots in it with very little “challenging bits” like skin and snout. The other is the more hardcore, or “advanced”, one with those bits and no carrots.

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The picture for the one with carrots looked very cool and I figured the vegetables will make this rich terrine even more appealing. So, I went somewhere in the middle and used a combination of both recipes. I included plenty of skin and such but also made sure to cut up the carrots from the cooking stock and include them.

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The first step here is to brine the pig’s head in a spiced brine for three of days. It is then cooked it in a big pot of water along with split pork trotters, herbs, spices, lemon, aromatics and peeled carrots. The stock is saved for the next step and the meat gets picked off the bone. I cut up all the meat, skin, ear and set it aside.

I clarified the reserved stock the traditional way following McLagan’s instructions as opposed to using Agar. It’s good to practice the classic techniques every so often and I believe the classic method reserves more of the gelatin in the stock and that’s essential to ensuring the dish sets properly. So I stirred the stock with egg whites and minced vegetables and brought the mixture to a gentle simmer. As the protein in the egg white coagulate it glues together all the minced vegetables and forms a raft on the surface that filters any impurities from the liquid and clarifies it. The liquid is then gently strained through cheesecloth. It is pretty much crystal clear and has an awesome full flavor.

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I mixed the meat with the carrots, tarragon, chives, parsley, red wine vinegar and the clear bouillon. After adjusting the seasoning with salt and pepper I packed the meat in a plastic wrap lined terrine pan.After an overnight rest in the fridge, the terrine is ready to go. It is set and very firm.

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I sliced it up and plated it with mustard, pickled okra and cornichons. The bright carrots really are a nice touch for both color and flavor. The meat was balanced and had a terrific texture. I will cut the the meat into much smaller pieces next time around to get better and more compact slices from the terrine. We snacked on this for several days and I vacuum packed and froze a piece. I’m curious how it holds up, especially if I am to bread it and pan fry it.

 

Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski – 2014) A

This is one of those small movies that really stick with you. Filmed in lovely soft black and white and set in the sparse Polish countryside in the 60s. It is the story of Ida, who is about to take the vows and become a Catholic nun. She learns that her parents were Polish Jews and were killed during WWII. Along with her promiscuous alcoholic depressed aunt (who is also a Judge!) she sets off trying to locate where they came from and where they are buried. Ida has one of those faces that are haunting, sweet and smart. The actress does a fantastic job playing off against her aunt’s brash performance. The women examine their lives, the aunt with her situation thus far and Ida with her upcoming vows. They connect, talk a lot and learn form their experience. It is not a crises of of faith story really, more of a person’s connection to the past, the now and the choices to make for the future.

Corn-Ricotta Soup, Shrimp and Brown Butter Mushrooms

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Corn and seafood is a classic and fantastic combination. We see a lot of shrimp and corn, corn bisque with crab, lobster tortellini with corn and off course corn chowder with cod or other seafood. This dish adapted from Sean Brock’s book Heritage is an instant classic in my home. It’s simple to make, is deliciously familiar and new at the same time.

To make the soup I sautéed chopped onions in butter with a bit of fresh thyme and then added freshly shucked corn kernels to the pot. In the meantime I prepared vegetable corn stock which is just vegetable stock with the shucked corn cobs simmered in it for 20 minutes or so. I added the stock to the corn mixtures and allowed it to simmer very briefly just until the corn is tender.

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Shrimp cooks fast and Brock’s method takes advantage of that to ensure it is perfectly tender and moist. Tough and chewy shrimp is a sad thing. I prepared the cooking liquid with vegetable stock, white wine lemons and some herbs and peppercorns. When this comes to a simmer I dropped in the shrimp and turned the heat off. After 20 minutes or so the shrimp was just cooked through. I took them out, allowed them to cool and sliced them into small pieces. Just before serving I tossed the shrimp with creme fraiche, lemon juice, fresh basil and seasoned them. This makes a lovely light and delicious shrimp salad. The leftover shrimp salad worked great in sandwiches for a couple of days afterwards.

Mushrooms

The mushrooms are cooked in sizzling brown butter with thyme sprigs. Nothing more than that. In hindsight I should not have used brown mushrooms. Brock’s original recipe asks for chanterelles. They are light in color but I can never find them. The brown mushrooms got a bit too dark and look like snails! They still tasted awesome but aesthetically they bugged me in an otherwise beautiful dish.

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When ready to serve, I pureed the corn soup and strained it through a sieve. I then put it back in the blender with a few ounces of homemade ricotta cheese and made a luxurious smooth mixture. I laid our the shrimp mixture and a few pieces of mushrooms in the bowls and gently poured the corn soup “table-side”. Earthy mushrooms, savory and fresh cool seafood and the warm sweet corn soup made for a great dish.

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