Inherent Vice ( P.T. Anderson – 2014) A

Crazy, weird and after two viewings I am not sure I know exactly what is going on or what is real vs imagined. I know it is somewhat of a cliche but really this movie needs more than one viewing. At first you were like “am I supposed to follow this story?”, you try and fail. On the second viewing you KNOW that the plot -as dense and convoluted as it is- does not matter. So, you let go and just go with the flow of the insane path that Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) starts following after Shasta tells him that her rich boyfriend’s wife and her boyfriend (the wife not Shasta’s) are planning to throw him (Shasta’s rich boyfriend that is) into the loony bin and take his money…and that’s in the first 10 minutes of the film.

This is another of those style and mood over plot. From the character names (Shasta? Amethyst? Sortilege?) to the solid 70s clothing, cars and beach-bum-hippie culture. We get a crazy beam of colors, words and settings that total up to a very immersive experience. The interesting thing is that on top of all the ridiculousness and the drug-addled atmosphere there is a sweet hopeful humanity here and a sense of loss. I am not a child of the 60s or 70s but the film oddly enough made me feel nostalgic to these time and made me feel for the sense of loss of a certain culture, neighborhood and way of life. It’s a funny film most of the time, very funny at times. It’s a movie about relationships about being with the one you love while knowing it’s not a good idea and it will end bad.

The characters are real and surreal at the same time, I’m not even sure Sortilege, our narrator even exists. As for the relationship between the oddest of odd partners, that of Doc Sportello and Det. Christian F. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen? It’s fascinating and Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin go all in for those roles delivering fun, energetic and memorable performances. Big Foot is an actor turned detective (or he could be both at the same time I suppose). He abuses Doc, thinks very little of him or his life-style but also seems to listen and depend on him all the while towing the line between square white-shirt detective and bat-shit crazy.

This is obviously a very polarizing movie and P.T. Andersen’s most inaccessible work yet. It is not for everyone’s taste and that makes sense. I am glad I gave it another viewing and for me it worked very well.

Coppa e Cavatelli: Pork Collar in Whey, Ricotta Cavatelli, Onions and Peas

Pork in milk-Ricotta cavatelli

Pork collar is normally cured and dried and is the delicious coppa that I’ve posted about before. Chefs figured out that this cut can be more versatile than just a salted and cured coppa. I’ve seen several recipes in books and restaurant menus recently that treat this marbled cut like an awesome pork loin. It has a great meat to fat ratio making it ideal for slow roasting or even braising. In this recipe I cooked it sous vide in whey, sliced it and pan-seared it.

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Ricotta cavatelli2

I prepared some good ricotta a day or so before using Jenn Lewis’ recipe from her Pasta by Hand book. It’s a really great book for all things pasta that require no machines or rolling. They are mostly referred to as “dumplings” in her book and she has a fascinating collection of pasta shapes and recipes from all over Italy with ingredients ranging from potato gnocchi to grated “pasta” and 100% semolina pasta.

Ricotta cavatelli

I had pasta in mind to go with the pork and the ricotta became the main ingredient in ricotta cavatelli. The dough is comprised of the homemade ricotta, eggs, flour and a little milk. It comes together quickly in the Kitchenaid mixer and is pretty simple -if a bit time consuming- to roll and form into ridged cavatelli on the little gnocchi wood board I have.

Pork in milk-Ricotta cavatelli4

I hate wasting when it comes to food, I try to use as much of my odds, ends and trimmings as possible. The whey produced by the ricotta making process (I also use Lewis’ recipe from the same book made with half and half, milk and buttermilk) is really tasty stuff and there’s quiet a bit of it. Typically, I mix it with about 1% salt by weight and put it in the fridge to use for cooking, baking or drinking. It lasts a couple of weeks with no problem. Lewis recommends using the whey to slow cook pork in the style of maiale al latte (pork in milk), a classic Italian recipe from Emilia-Romagna. I’ve done that before to cook a chunk of pork shoulder and it was delicious. I refined the same process for the coppa and bagged it with salted whey, thyme, lemon slices and garlic cloves. I cooked that sous vide for [[TEMP/TIME]] and allowed it to cool in the bag.

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For a tasty garnish I went with whey-cooked shallots. This is just whole peeled shallots and an onion simmered slowly in a mixture of whey and butter along with some thyme. The mixture cooks until all the liquid evaporates and the onions are golden meltingly soft and a bit caramelized. To serve, I sliced the pork and used a biscuit cutter to make neat disks. I browned them in a hot pan till crispy on the outside. The cavatelli were tossed with peas and butter. I plated the meat with the pasta around it and topped with the shallots.

Pork in milk-Ricotta cavatelli2

The Visit (M. Night Shyamalan – 2015) B+

The movie really hinges on the two kids in it doing a good job and they do. The older sister of the two siblings is a budding documentary film-maker and we see the whole movie through her lens as she and her rap artist wannabee little brother go visit their grandparents in rural Pennsylvania. They’ve never met them before and quickly realize that there is something really wrong with grandma here…It’s a bit predictable but the film works well. The acting is good, the scenes are tense and finally Shyamalan makes a movie that is actually worth watching.

Cod, Green Bouillabaisse and Aïoli

Cod-Green Bouillabaisse5

It’s very much a stretch calling this mixture of spring vegetables a Bouillabaisse, but it gives you an idea at least about the flavor profile. In Happy in the Kitchen chef Michel Richard serves this “Bouillabaisse” with nothing more than the Aïoli and croutons (like a real Bouillabaisse). I’ve always loved the idea of this vegetable stew that is emblematic of spring but also wanted to make it more substantial. So, why not add a seafood element? While we are at it, a few pieces of ultra crispy roast potatoes a la Heston Blumenthal (really the best roast potatoes ever!) stand in for the crouton and are a natural with the garlicky aïoli.

Green Bouillabaisse

It’s really a more labor heavy project to make a good vegetable dish than what people might assume. There is a lot of washing, trimming, peeling, drying, chopping, slicing and dicing…far more than searing a piece of meat and serving it with rice. Making vegetarian food -good vegetarian food- with nuance, balance and variety is an admirable task. Here I trimmed and quartered large globe artichokes first and let them sit in a mixture of water and lemon juice.

Cod-Green Bouillabaisse2

Other vegetables that went in here in a specific order so that they will cook perfectly include fennel, leeks, onions, tomatoes (pureed), minced garlic, zucchini, squash and leafy greens. The mixture, just like a traditional Bouillabaisse, is flavored with white wine, saffron and an anise flavored spirit; Pernod in this case.

Green Bouillabaisse2

Cod-Green Bouillabaisse3

I wanted a mild light fish to go with the vegetable Bouillabaisse. Fresh halibut or turbot would have been great, but no luck this time. What they had at the fish counter are some good thick cod fillets. I bagged the fish with olive oil and cooked them sous vide. Cod has very little connective tissue, even for a white fish, that’s why it is great in fish and chips. Cooked sous vide though, we really have to be very careful to move the fish gently so as not to break apart.

Bouillabaisse is often served with a garlicky olive oil emulsion called rouille. This sauce does not contain eggs and relies on the gradual addition of oil to garlic and bread crumbs to maintain some stability. For this dish though, I went with a garlic aïoli. Homemade mayonnaise is ridiculously easy to make with a hand (stick) blender and a tall narrow container. It’s a trick I first saw Spanish chef Jose Andres do by dumping all the ingredients in the container, the oil floats to the top and the egg sinks. The blender goes all the way to the bottom and as it is whirring away you slowly start lifting it up as the mixture emulsifies into a perfect mayonnaise. Here is a video showing this method (go to about minute 3:00). This time I added extra lemon juice and a few cloves of minced garlic. It is awesome with the fish, the vegetable stew and the crispy potatoes.

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The Man from U.N.C.L.E ( Guy Ritchie – 2015) B+

I liked this much more than I thought I would. It’s a really fun 60’s spy movie with cool characters, good solid direction and an awesome look! The locations, the sets, the actors…it is a superbly shot movie. From Guy Ritchie too. I did not think I’d enjoy another film from this guy since Snatch. The plot revolves around a collaboration between a KGB agent and a CIA spy in order to stop something big from happening. In between them we have a lovely German (or is she British??) damsel who is a key to helping them accomplish their goal. It’s the interaction between those three, their dialogue and timing, and their chemistry that adds so much to the film beyond the convoluted plot. Setting it up mostly in Italy? That helps a whole lot too.

Man From Reno (Dave Boyle – 2014) C+

Funny that I watched this around the same time as The Man From U.N.C.L.E. This one is not as good. It’s an interesting mystery, mostly in Japanese and set in San Francisco. We get some ok performances here and some not so ok ones. I had it on as I was lounging around cooking a brisket on the smoker. It’s fine for that sort of occasion.