10 Cloverfield Lane (Dan Trachtenberg – 2016) A-

I really loved this tight, well-made flick. Michelle gets in a car wreck and wakes up in a bunker she of course freaks out! Howard tells her it’s for her own good, the world outside has sort of ended…the air is toxic. He’s a survivalist and he was prepared. Sure he seems like a creep but maybe he is right. It’s a locked room drama with only three characters and it could’ve been very conventional and predictable but this one is much smarter than that. Michelle is smart, Howard, played brilliantly by John Goodman, is terrifying but weirdly paternal at times. The twists and turns work very well and -with one small exception- the ending is just brilliant.

Night Train to Lisbon (Bille August – 2013) B-

A lonely professor in Geneva. A suicidal girl in a red jacket whom he stops from jumping. When she ups and disappears he sets off on her trail to figure out who she was and where she went. Lisbon, as the name of the film indicates, is where she came from and we follow him as he digs deeper into the life of a Dr. and revolutionary who died a while back and fought against the dictator Salazar. As he learns more and digs deeper we follow him along through various flashbacks and interviews. It’s a decent movie with good performances, a lovely setting and interesting plot.

Logan (James Mangold – 2017) A-

This film is one of the best treatments of a comic book character since Dark Knight. It’s a solid movie about loss, love, friendship, family and lots of sharp long Adamantium claws slicing through people. Logan is set in 2029 and seems a far cry from the Marvel universe. It’s a movie that stands very well on its own and shows us Wolverine who is aged, hulking and tired. He is not saving the world or travelling through time. He is just trying to take care the the very old Charles Xavier. The X-Men are all gone and really there is no mission here. He is not going to spring back into action and start hero work again. He’s winding down…The plot centers on a little girl named Laura who possibly might be a mutant. She is basically thrown at him and he has no real choice but to try an get her to a meeting spot near the Canadian border. There are a lot of excellent action scenes here and the performances by everyone, especially the young actress who plays Laura and Patrick Stewart as Professor X are perfect. What really makes it work though is how human and character-focused it is. Mangold did not make a superhero movie, he made a movie about a character we like and showed us how great he can be when there is no formula to follow.

Boneless Stuffed Chicken Wings with Black Bean Sauce

Stuffed Chicken Wings-Black Bean Sauce3

Superbowl and wings are perfect party companions. I made wings this Superbowl Sunday but I did not just fry some wings and toss them in hot sauce (as delicious as that is). These are boneless wings stuffed with zippy pork dumpling filling and tossed in a fermented black bean sauce. Boneless chicken “wings” have been a  popular item at various fats food restaurants in the U.S. over the past few years. The problem is they are not wings! They are just boneless chicken chunks, fried and tossed with the same sauce as regular wings. I know my kids love them and could not care one bit when i complain that “These.Are.NOT.Wings!” Ah, the power of marketing.

Chicken Wings

Chicken Wings-Marinade

I had been thinking of making true boneless wings for a while but only got the motivation i needed when I saw this recipe in the modern Chinese book, A. Wong The Cookbook by Andrew Wong. The combination just sounded delicious. As expected, getting those two pesky bones out of the wing is the most time consuming part of this recipe, but after a couple of them the rest get a bit easier.

I briefly marinated the wings in a mixture of maltose, sugar, rice wine and vinegar. The marinade is poured hot over the wings to tighten them. They are then removed, dried and set on a rack in the fridge uncovered. This will thoroughly dry the skin and aid in crisping them in the hot oil.

Chicken Wings-Stuffing

Stuffed Chicken Wings

Removing the bones from the wings will obviously make them lose their structure and they will be…well..floppy. So, stuffing them becomes obvious. It adds a ton of flavor, additional texture and helps them retain their shape. The filling is a classic dumpling filling made from ground pork, ginger, potato starch, chives, soy and sesame oil. I used a small piping bag to fill the boneless wings.

Stuffed Chicken Wings-Black Bean Sauce

In the meantime I prepared the sauce from sauteed red peppers, fermented black soy beans, garlic, ginger, scallions, rice wine and chicken stock. I reduced the mixture by half and adjusted the seasoning. To serve, I fried the wings in plenty of oil till crispy and the filling is cooked through (I used a thermometer to make sure of that). We made a meal of these delicious, crispy juice delicacies with a bit of steamed rice and topped them with plenty of the sauce.

Stuffed Chicken Wings-Black Bean Sauce4

The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos – 2015) A

There is good news and bad news if you do not find a person to marry within 45 days in this world. The bad news is that you will be transformed into an animal. The good news? Well, you can choose what animal you want to be. See it’s very important to belong and find a mate in Lanthimos’ weird, brutal and sometimes funny film. It’s also important to find someone with whom you have something in common like being short-sighted or that both you and your prospective mate get occasional nose bleeds. If that sounds too bizarre, it is and we have just scratched the surface! It’s also like no other movie with its tone and plot. The film gets darker as the story of David (Colin Farrell) and his search for a partner at the “hotel” progresses. It’s not a film that will work for everyone but it is a unique vision. It’s very well-realized, deliberately and confidently directed and the actors all do a very good job. It lacks love and compassion in most of its run time so when we actually see glimpses of those emotions they are a welcome relief until reality sets in and the film gets to its inevitable bleak conclusion.

Pork Tenderloin, Cauliflower and Brussels Sprouts with Cider Sauce

 

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Mid-week dinners do not have to be boring, sloppy or rushed. A meal like this looks great, tastes awesome and comes together in less than an hour. The only shopping i did for this was to stop by at the store to figure out what the protein is going to be. It could’ve been fish or poultry, but the pork tenderloins looked the best.

pork-tenderloin2

I seasoned the pork with salt and pepper and bagged it with a few slices of butter, orange peel and thyme. While the pork cooked sous vide at 60 C I prepared the sauce and the vegetables. Brussels sprouts can really suck if prepared improperly. They can be stinky and mushy. What I do is deeply brown them on the cut side in oil, turn them over and cook them on the other side while seasoning them until they are barely tender. They are deliciously perfect at this point and can take on more flavors like crisped bacon or pancetta, a splash of soy, a drizzle of vinegar,….

Cauliflower is another vegetable that could suck if cooked badly. I, more often than not, roast the florets after tossing them in olive oil in a very hot oven (around 475 F or so). When the cauliflower is browned all over and tender it’s also good to go and can be tossed with more flavorings and seasoning.

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The sauce is mostly reduced chicken stock cooked down with shallots minced and sautéed in butter. The key to making it special is boiled apple cider. It’s a great product that is tart, sweet and tastes like the essence of cider. When sufficiently reduced I swirled in a few knobs of butter to enrich it, give it a nice gloss and tame down the acidity of the boiled cider. Apples and pork are a classic of course and the sauce did not disappoint. It went perfectly with the pork.

pork-tenderloin4

To serve, I patted the cooked pork with a paper towel and browned it all over in butter. I plated the vegetables and topped them with slices of the pork. I drizzled the sauce all around and we tucked in.

pork-tenderloin-veggies-cider6

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi – 2015) A-

When Ricky shows up at his latest in a series of foster families in the wilderness of New Zealand I was not sure what to expect from this film. The family is made up of just a couple, probably a bit older than you’d expect. The man is dour and sullen and played perfectly by Sam Niell and his partner is jovial, hard-working and seems to care for Ricky. Before we know it though Ricky is forced to go on the run with his dour foster uncle into the woods. They are being chased by the government and CPS! It proceeds to be a charming, exciting, sweet and really funny film. Really high marks go to the young actor who plays Ricky as well.