The Trip to Spain (Michael Winterbottom – 2017) B+

See The Trip and The Trip to Italy. I love these things but i think we might be getting to the end of the rope here. Not sure if we need The Trip to Denmark next.

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Toast (S. J. Clarkson – 2010) C-

Not having read the source material I have no idea if this film is just a part of the book or the whole thing. In any case, I wish I liked this a bit more. I certainly love cooking, food and movies about the topic and I really like Nigel Slater’s books and his writing. This movie focuses only on Slater’s childhood and late teenage years. Some of that is interesting but there is just too much filler and repetition that left me wondering…what happened to all there interesting stuff? Were there any?

Plum Tart with an Almond Crumble

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Summer is winding down supposedly, even though it is still close to 100 F out there. I do not much like summer in Houston. It’s too hot, too humid too…sunny. Autumn is by far my favorite season and I look forward to its -hopefully- lower temperatures and cooking. Summer does have some things going for it though, like the awesome fruit and sweet corn.

Fruit is what we are talking about when I bring up one of my all-time favorite desserts; the fruit tart (or pie, or gallette,…). This version, created by David Lebovitz is right up there in the Pantheon of amazing tarts. The original recipe, from his book My Paris Kitchen (great book by the way, buy yourself a copy), can also be found on Leite’s Culinaria. The original uses apricots and it is fantastic. The crumble works so well with the tart juicy fruit to add much needed texture and also helps support the fruit and all its juices. It also looks great giving the tart a rustic elegance that is a bit American and a bit French.

Plum

I love the original apricot version but when I wanted to make this recently, no apricots could be found. So, I picked up some really delicious juicy pink plums instead (Plumcots or Pluots specifically). That is really all you need, some delicious fruit and this tart can be made with them.

The dough is pretty classic pate sucrè made with flour, sugar, butter, egg yolks and mahlab. Well, wait a minute. What the hell is mahlab?? That is not traditional French. It is my addition to this dough and to many other things to give them a unique flavor and fragrance. Mahlab is the ground up seed of a specific cherry and is used in tons of Middle Eastern and Turkish pastries and breads. I buy the stuff whole because it keeps better from a local Lebanese grocery and grind it with sugar before adding to the dough. About a half teaspoon went into this dough. You can read a bit more about it here. Since it is made from a stone fruit I like to include it in some breads and desserts that have stone fruits, but really it works in all kinds of stuff. Try it as an alternative to nutmeg in some things and it will give your dish an exotic can’t-quiet-put-my-finger-on-it flavor.

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Mahlab

When the dough is cooled, I pat it down into a spring-form pan. No rolling or anything, just evenly pat it into the pan with the sides of the dough about halfway up the side of the pan. I have tried rolling it and laying it in there. That works too but I’ve come around to using the hand patting method more. I like the process and speed by which I can get it done. It does not have to be perfect, just as even as possible and the sides close to 2 inches tall or so. This gets blind baked with a piece of aluminum and a bunch of beans for weight and then it is ready to fill and bake.

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This filling is fruit, starch, sugar and some vanilla and almond extracts. After the filling goes in the blind baked shell, it gets topped with a generous helping of crumble made from butter, flour, sugar, ground almonds and cinnamon. The pie bakes for a good 45 minutes or so and the edges of the crust get a lovely dark color. It seems too dark almost but it is not, it tastes great and the texture is excellent.

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After it cools a bit, it is ready to go. It is delicious with ice cream or whipped cream of course but it is also delicious on its own at room temperature. The only downside to this lovely dessert are those juicy fruits. It does not keep very well. So, try and polish it off with some friends with in 12 – 24 hours of baking which really should not be much of a problem.

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Slacker (Richard Linklater – 1990) A

I finally got around to seeing Linklater’s breakthrough flick and liked it much more than I expected. The main characters here are the camera and the city of Austin as Linklater follows seemingly random strangers as they walk and talk around Austin. We are the fly on the wall as we listen in, walk with them a bit, they meet someone else and then we follow those and on and on. It’s very difficult to describe why it is good, probably the ease by which these people seem to exist and spew their dialogue or maybe it’s the ultimate voyeurism that this unique format provides. It’s an approach I love in this style of movie making that Linklater honed and perfected in future films like the “Before” trilogy.

Enemy (Denis Villeneuve – 2013) A-

It’s a moody strange and captivating movie. Some parts make sense some parts are utterly insane. It’s one of those that get you going to the interwebs looking for “theories” and explanations. I read a few and some are very out there others make some sense and are in sync with the sense I could make out of it after seeing it a couple of times. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Adam, a university professor. He is dating a pretty blond and seems introverted and maybe depressed. One day he sees himself in a movie. He has a doppelganger who is a C-list actor. Naturally Adam gets curious and starts tracking him down. Well, he is also married to a pretty blond, and is expecting a baby soon. This guy though, who goes by Anthony, he is more assured, more outgoing. The two meet and they have much more in common than is reasonable for your run of the mill doppelganger. They soon become obsessed with each other. The film is drenched in yellow tones and seems to take place in a sparsely populated Toronto that looks very alien. I have not mentioned the sex club angle or the bizarre spider imagery that pops up leading up to one hell of a final shot that kind of turns everything upside down.

Ivan Ramen: Toasted Rye Noodles

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Noodles are just awesome. Italian spaghetti, Vietnamese bowl of Pho, a bowl of spicy Thai curried noodles…they are all awesome. A bowl of Japanese ramen is right up there in the culinary Pantheon of noodles. I’ve had a lot of the stuff and I’ve cooked it at home a few times. I have never made the ramen noodles from scratch though. I’ve always bought them.  This time I made the labor intensive and long recipe from Ivan Ramen, the book by Ivan Orkin (well, I did have to make a few concessions when some ingredients where pretty much impossible to find). The noodles are a major component of course and I decided to make them at home this time around.

Ivan uses an interesting and non-traditional mix of flours to make the noodles including rye and some cake flour. Rye is there for flavor and the cake flour for a more supple and tender texture. Before adding the rye I toasted it for about 4 minutes to add an extra layer of flavor. The traditional ramen noodle texture is kind of firm, springy and slippery. It also has a yellow tint (NOT from food coloring). We get that by adding a substance to tilt the mix to be more alkaline. Traditionally a product called Kansui is used. According to this site it’s a mixture of Sodium and Potassium Carbonate.

Toasted Rye Noodles

I did not use Kansui. Years ago, Harold McGee published an article in the NY Times about baking some baking soda to make it perform the same job as Kansui. From the article some cool scienc-y talk (I love Mr. McGee and everyone should have his book On Food and Cooking)

“Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate, which already includes one proton and so has a limited ability to take up more. But if you heat baking soda, its molecules react with one another to give off water and carbon dioxide and form solid sodium carbonate, which is proton-free.”

 In his book, Ivan also recommends using this technique. So, I baked some baking soda and added that to the mix.

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The rest was pretty easy. The flours and liquid plus baked baking soda are mixed for a good bit, about 10 minutes, in the Kitchenaid mixer. Then the dough is allowed to rest and hydrate and soften for 30 minutes. I was concerned that the cake flour will make the noodles too difficult to handle. Indeed, I needed to pass the dough a few more times through the pasta machine’s thickest setting than normal. In the end it came together well and made nice, rye-speckled, alkaline-smelling (in a good way) sheets.

I cut them on the thinnest setting and spread them in a baking pan after tossing them well with corn starch. After our first dinner a few hours later, I stored the remaining noodles in the fridge, covered in plastic wrap, to see how they keep. Again, worked out pretty well. We ate ramen for a few days to follow and the noodles did not stick or turn too brittle. The noodles are delicious. They are slippery but maintained a nice toothsome texture and had a lovely flavor that stood out to all the savory richness of a bowl of ramen. I will be making them again but I might try the Momofuku version next to see how they compare.

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Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie – 2018) A

It’s just amazing that the 6th entry in a movie franchise that is over 20 years old is so damn good. It might arguably be the best. MI really is the best action movie franchise. This one picks up -sort of- on the trail of the previous film (preposterous plot and all of course) and proceeds to one up it with set piece after set piece of just amazing action, chases and spectacular shots. We also get the full set of characters including Luther (Ving Rhames), Benjy (Simon Pegg) and Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). I love them all. Cruise is a real action star and he delivers over and over again. Not sure if his on-foot full speed chase is my favorite or his insane high altitude sky dive or maybe the nutty helicopter chase scene …oh hell, I have to watch it again to decide.