Breach (Billy Ray – 2007) B-

I am a big fan of Chris Cooper, and he does not dissapoint here. He plays Hanssen as a guy you want to like, but at the same time you KNOW there is something terribly wrong and creepy with him. As for the screenplay, maybe this is close to how it really happened, but it just was not a terribly interesting movie.

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25th Hour (Spike Lee – 2002) B+

It’s interesting how much we learn and care about the main character played by Ed Norton in no more than 24 hours, his last day before serving a seven-year sentence on drug charges. We even care about his friends and the life he is leaving behind, or maybe it’s the life that he could’ve had. Especially good is his monologue to the mirror and the subtle performance by Brian Cox as his dad. To top it all off, Rosario Dawson has never looked sexier and better than she looks here.

VDP: Spanakopita and Beets with Pistachio Butter

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Tonight’s dinner includes two recipes, both prepared mostly the night before. The Spanakopita was stuffed the night before and baked as soon as I got home from work for dinner. It’s based on another recipe from Leitesculinaria.com. Here, I halved the recipe. I also omitted the dill, since my wife dislikes it.

The filling is made with cooked spinach and onions with a bit of rice which is not very traditional but makes it nice and substantial. Once the cooked filling is cooled I mixed in a good amount of Feta cheese.

I baked this in an 8-inch round cake pan instead of a rectangular one because it is a half recipe. Every layer of phyllo is given a nice brush with olive oil.


Then the top part is folded over and the pie is ready to bake…or rest in the fridge for the next day.

 

I made the beets following a recipe from “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian”. It just sounded like a great idea. The beets are baked in foil, peeled and sliced. The pistachio butter is made with a bit of oil, garlic and pistachios (after being sautéed in the oil). The combo is unusual and very good. One slight disappointment was the look of this dish. In my head, I was seeing lovely maroon beets drizzled with bright green pistachio butter. Well, the toasting process rendered the nuts delicious, but more like olive-brown than bright green.

HKP: Filet Mignon with Simple Syrah Sauce

The Blueprint

Filet Mignon served with Syrah wine sauce, Porcini flavored potato cubes and Enoki mushroom tempura.

The Recipe

I’m usually never a fan of beef filets. They are expensive, relatively bland and way too lean. Did I say they are expensive. Yes, for what they have to offer, the hefty price tag is usually not worth it. I much rather buy a rib eye or a NY Strip instead. So, why did I make this recipe. Well, my wife likes them and it was a sort of special occasion with the in-laws. The picture in the book looks pretty amazing too. So, I figured if I’m buying filets, let’s give this one a whirl.

It’s probably better to start this a day ahead, not because of anything difficult, but there are several steps and two sauces to make. Since I had none of the ingredients on hand, I had to shop and cook everything the same day. First I made the Syrah sauce. I sautéed the shallots, beets, onions and thyme. Then I tossed in the garlic and potatoes and cooked that for a minute. Next goes in a whole bottle of Syrah along with some reduced chicken stock. This simmers for about an hour and reduces. After straining all the solids out, I added some sugar and seasoning to the sauce and reduced it again to the proper consistency.

The Porcini sauce is simpler than that. Unfortunately I could not find fresh or frozen Porcini mushrooms, so I resorted to a trick I use often when I need Porcini flavor. I used about an ounce dried Porcini and a few fresh Creminis. This works great and you end up with a pungent Porcini flavor in the dish. Here, the mushrooms are sautéed first then simmered in some reduced chicken stock for a few minutes. The last step is to puree the sauce and season it. The end result is a thick, but not pasty, porcini sauce.

Next I cooked the potatoes the first time. I cubed them and pan fried them in a healthy amount of olive oil and butter with a few unpeeled garlic cloves. These cook like that until golden on all sides. Once that was done I left them to drain in a colander on top of a bowl until service. When the steaks were roasting, the potatoes are crisped in the pan with more fat, drained and then tossed with the Porcini sauce. I did not use all the sauce here. It just looked like too much and I did not want the potatoes to swim in it. I used it more like a dressing and had about 1/3 of it left in the pot.

Right before cooking the steaks and actually throughout, I made the Enoki tempura. I am not sure why I never made tempura before. I guess I thought it would be difficult or something. If there is one thing I learned from this dish, it’s that ‘Tempura is Easy’. Very easy and so damn delicious. I had roughly twice the amount of Enoki mushrooms required by the recipe because they only come in this one size package at Whole Foods. The tempura was so delicious we almost ate it all and had none to garnish the plates with! It was nice and crispy and the small thin mushrooms retained their juiciness and flavor. For the batter I mixed carbonated water with baking soda, flour and salt. That’s it. I cut off the root end of the mushrooms and separated them into small clusters. These were tossed in the batter then deep fried in 350 degree oil for a minute or so. The last batch came out of the hot oil just as the steaks were coming out of the oven ready to be plated.

So, 15 minutes or so before plating, I browned the steaks in olive oil and butter, then put them in the oven till they were medium rare. To plate I put a pile of the Porcini potatoes and topped that with a filet. Next I swirled some butter in the Syrah sauce and drizzled some on top of the meat and some around it. Last but not least I topped each steak with a few Enoki tempura pieces.

The Tasting Notes

It was good, very good. I am not saying I’ll be cooking a piece of beef tenderloin once a week, but this cut of meat, when treated right and cooked rare can be a thing of beauty. This is one of the best, not actually the best Filet Mignon I’ve had. Ok, well, I almost never ever order it in a restaurant, but still this was fantastic. The earthy pungent potatoes, with a piece of the buttery meat dabbed in the intense sauce then followed up by a piece or two of the tempura is the way to go here. The lovely combination of taste and texture is remarkable.

There Will Be Blood (P.T. Anderson – 2007) A-

A bit slow, but never boring and accented with sharp music and drab cinematography. Daniel Day Lewis should definitely win the Oscar for this  memorable and tough performance. Another actor who had a very small but memorable role here is the old guy with the leathery face who played William Bandy. Apparently his name is Colton Woodward and according to IMDB, he’s never done anything else. Other than Day Lewis, he probably had the longest close up shot of his face, you just have to see it to know what I mean. I was also acutely aware of the average shot length here. One brilliant one lasted at least one minute or maybe two. I’d love to know what the average shot length was here.

VDP: Swiss Chard, Shallot and Goat Cheese Tart

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Why is this a tart, not a quiche? I am not exactly sure, but I can give it a shot. This here is a quiche. It’s got a lot more eggs, it’s about 2 inches thick and the whole point of it is the custard, not the ‘filling’. A savory tart on the other hand uses eggs more like a binder, something to set the filling ingredients in place. Whatever you call them, these types of tarts are an amazing way to have a vegetarian dinner that is satisfying, beautiful and delicious.

This recipe is based on one from Leitesculinaria.com for a swiss chard and leek tart with goat cheese. I had no leeks, or rather I forgot to buy the stupid leeks. So, I used some shallots instead. I also blind baked the tart a bit longer without the beans to get it nice and brown. Other than that the recipe is made as is.

The end result, with the sweetness of raisins and shallots, the crunchy pine nuts and the twang of the goat cheese is nothing short of sublime. It really tastes as good as it looks.

VDP: Braised Vegetables and Tofu, Thai Style

Thursday, February 7, 2008

This Thai-inspired dish is based on a “Quick Braised Vegetables, Thai Style” from Mark Bittman’s “How To Cook Everything Vegetarian“. It is not an exact replica because I did change a few things, some due to availability and some to make it more to my taste. The dish should include eggplant, but I could not find any decent ones. So, eggplant was axed out and instead I got some good soft tofu (Banyan Foods  brand, made here in Houston). The other vegetables are green zucchini and yellow squash in addition to onions and other aromatics.

The recipe is pretty easy, I first sautéed the onions and added some kefir lime leaves and garlic. Next goes in the rest of the veggies and are cooked till almost done. I added a can of Thai coconut milk to the mix and some lime juice, fermented yellow beans, Kecap Manis (a sweet thick soy sauce) and cilantro. After this cooks and thickens for a while -well, a while is about 10 minutes- I toss in the tofu, some fish sauce and corrected the seasoning. That’s it.

Steamed sticky (glutinous) rice is one of our favorite accompaniments to Southeast Asian meals. It does have to be soaked in water for preferably a few hours. I usually soak it in the morning before work. By the time I get back I drain it and steam it in the steamer basket of my pasta pot. I just pile it in the basket and never loose more than a few grain through the holes. It steams for about 30 minutes to cook through. It works so good with stuff like curries, because it soaks up the sauce very well and has a nice nutty taste and an awesome toothsome texture that really stands up to strong flavors.