The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck – 2006) A

When we watch a movie part of the experience is a sense of voyeurism. If it’s a good one we get involved in the story, we start caring. We want to know what will happen to the characters and develop an emotional connection. It’s the power of good movies. What happens when the subjects of observation are real people instead of characters from a script? One might get even more attached. In this gem of a film set in East Berlin in the years before the wall was brought down we meet a government agent who is exactly in this predicament. He is a Stasi agent who is very good at his job, bugging and spying on citizens suspected of crimes against the ruling party. When he is tasked with bugging the apartment of a playwright and his actress girlfriend he slowly becomes involved in what is happening. His ideology is challenged by characters he starts caring about. Corruption and injustice that he was previously blind to becomes more unnerving. The film is perfectly plotted and acted. It gives us a clear picture of the sad and tragic world that was East Germany all wrapped up in the story of one man and his decisions between right and wrong.

Stories we Tell (Sarah Polley – 2012) A

This is a hybrid of a film. Part documentary, part narrated story and part plotted scenes. Sara Polley sets off to make a documentary about her family and the stories she has always heard around the dinner table, from friends and siblings. She does that with perfect scene recreations, interviews and a script narrated by her father. She does not expect to uncover all kinds of truths about her parents and especially her free-spirited interesting actress mother who died of cancer a few years back. It’s a sweet and really touching story of families, parenthood and the itch to really find out who you are.

Alien: Covenant (Ridley Scott – 2017) B+

It’s not too common that a sequel makes the film that came before it a bit better and make more sense. Covenant does that for Prometheus. I had a good time with this flawed movie and enjoyed the various set pieces and the main themes, especially the first 45 minutes or so. We still have a problem with smart people doing stupid things and that’s where it mainly fails. On the other hand it looks great, has some excellent action sequences and we have a very interesting character played again by Michael Fassbender in the synthetic person role. He drives a lot of the plot and the whole Alien series. Thumbs up for very creative alien-out-of-human busting scenes as well.

The Handmaiden (Chan-wook Park – 2016) A

It’s a well-crafted, really beautifully shot twisting and turning film. Set in the early 20th century Japanese-occupied Korea it is the story of three people, an heiress, her hand-maiden and her would-be husband. The fiance has plans to marry the rich heiress away from her creepy abusive uncle. The plan is hatched with the handmaiden who is supposed to encourage her to marry him after which the poor bride will be shut in an insane asylum and they make off with a fortune…that’s the plan from the first 15 minutes of this 2.5 hour movie. It is divided into three parts and varies perspectives in each one where in the end it comes together quiet beautifully and perfectly. It is a delight to see how skilled Park Chan-wook has become. He tells a complex story with clarity, attention to detail and excellent camera work.

Pork Shoulder, Grits, Roasted Carrots and Garlic

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Work has been really crazy these last couple months or so. I’ve had several posts I wanted to get up here but have not had the time. So, it’s really nice to take a short break and get this posted. It’s a very nice and great looking dish of pork cooked slow and portioned into various pieces. It’s served with grits, roasted carrots and green garlic carrot-top sauce.

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What to do with a head of garlic that starts sprouting? Well, let is sprout some more. I put it in a shallow bowl of water and left it by the window sill for a week. I got nice very sharp tasting green garlic. I figured it will make a nice garnish and maybe a good component in a sauce.

Yonder Way Farm pork is stellar and one of my favorite cuts that I get is the pork shoulder roast. Every so often the pork shoulder cut is from lower on the primal, closer to the back and the chops. This piece is amazing and has various different muscles from the tender eye/chop on one end to the slightly tougher shoulder end. I wanted to cook the whole thing and portion it out.

It’s a long process I took to cook this one but pretty simple. The talented couple from Ideas in Food frequently post about seasoning and salting meat and letting it dry uncovered in the fridge for days before roasting or CVaping. So, I followed one of their processes, salted the pork and let it sit in the fridge for 24 hours. I then added seasoning to it, a basic rub of paprika (smoked and sweet), pepper, a touch of garlic powder, dried thyme,.. and sent it back to the fridge for another 24 hours or so.

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To cook the pork I packaged it with garlic and spring onion greens. I cooked it sous vide at 59 C for about 6 hours until dinner time. When it was done I divided the roast up into tender inside loin, the ribs and the outside skin side. I got each one of those pieces properly crisped and browned as needed to get some awesome varying textures for service.

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Grits can be one of the most insipid foods if you are unlucky enough to eat the instant glop. Using good quality coarsely ground grits like the ones from Anson Mills makes a dish that is light years apart from the instant stuff. I cooked them in water and stirred in a healthy dose of butter towards the end plus a handful of chopped chives. Other than the grits I picked up a couple of bunches of colorful carrots. I roasted these with a  bit of honey, salt and pepper.

Carrots

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The carrot greens were very nice and i did not want to waste them. So, along with some spring onion and garlic greens they got blanched in boiling water and shocked in ice water. Then I blended them with a bit of water, maple vinegar and butter. It was a bit on the thin side so i blended in a bit of Ultratex-3 to give it some body and texture. It’s a product that thickens at cool temperatures, does not mask any flavors and does not produce the snotty mouth-feel that too much Xanthan gum would impart.

I love using spring onion bulbs as i do here and I frequently do that. I cut them in half through the root and bag them with butter and salt. After cooking them sous vide at 85 C for about 45 minutes they are good to go. All I do to them is give them a good sear in a hot pan before plating.

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On each dish I centered a dollop of the grits and a small pile of the carrots. I put a rib on one end followed by the “skin” and the tender loin. I garnished with the spring onions, the carrot top sauce and garlic greens

The final dish turned out really well and met my expectations. Recently we had dinner at a high-end Spanish restaurant in Houston and, while it was good, it was not at the same level as the prices they were charging. One specific dish we got was an Iberico pork plate that cost a pretty penny and sounded awesome on the menu. Again, it tasted fine but it looked like there was very little effort to “make it nice”. A slab of pork, some potatoes and a little else. What I would’ve expected is something more like this dish that I am very proud of. It is elegant, delicious, involved thought and work and everything in it works to make a great whole.

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