Deadpool (Tim Miller – 2016) B

If we are tired of super hero films that take themselves far too seriously then Deadpool is the cure for that. It’s violent,  profane, pretty funny and really knows it’s just a movie. Deadpool, played by Ryan Reynolds, who narrates and breaks that 4th wall frequently, is not in it to save the world.  He just wants to get his messed up face fixed up again so he can get back to making love to his fiance. Oh yeah it’s a love story too I guess.

The Imitation Game (Morten Tyldum – 2014) B

Good film focusing on Alan Turing’s war time accomplishments and breaking the Nazi Enigma machine code. It does not much delve into his personal life beyond the known high level facts. It is in the end a sad story with him basically murdered by the British government in his 40s because he was gay. It’s even more sad knowing that he might’ve accomplished so much more had he lived another 30 or 40 years.

Lowcountry Hoppin’ John and Cotechino

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Cotechino with lentils is the classic, but in the American south eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day is the tradition. So, here the Hoppin’ John stands in for the lentils and a mighty fine stand-in it is too.

Making Hoppin’ John is not difficult but it does pay to have a solid recipe to follow and a good set of ingredients, namely the peas and rice. Ever since seeing chef Sean Brock on the excellent PBS show “The Mind of A Chef” and then reading through his book, Heritage, I have been ordering various grains and legumes from Anson Mills. The Sea Island Red Peas from them are as delicious as they are beautiful and they are great in Brock’s recipe for Lowcountry  Hoppin’ John.

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I soaked the peas overnight in water before cooking them in homemade ham stock along with chopped carrots, onions, celery, a jalapeno, thyme and bay leaves. They simmer until tender and really hold on to their shape. A cup or so is removed and blended with butter to make a red pea gravy. This gravy stays separate and gets seasoned with red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. At service time the Hoppin’ John is dolled out into bowls with rice and the gravy gets added to each bowl as needed. It’s a very comforting and delicious bowl of food and just feels very nutritious. Yeah, I know, “feels nutritious” is a pretty silly term…but well, not sure how else to describe it. It just does….and I can describe it any damn way I want on my little blog anyways.

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Now, onto the rice. It’s Carolina Gold rice also from Anson Mills. It has a lovely nutty flavor and good texture. I followed Brock’s instructions to cook it as well. First I boiled it in plenty of water like pasta until barely cooked. I drained it, spread it in a small baking sheet and put it in the oven at 300 F. I dried it for about 10 minutes, dotted it with butter and gave it a stir. After another 5 minutes or so the excess moisture was gone and the rice was perfectly cooked. The grains were cooked through with a slight toothsome texture and separate.

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I made the sausages the day before. I rarely make them the exact same way every year. This time I based them on a recipe from the Napa butcher shop called The Fatted Calf and their book, In the Charcuterie. I’ve been cooking them sous vide for a while as well. I did a side by side this year though just to see if anything is gained by cooking the sausage in a pot of water in the oven at a low temp. Well, sous vide wins. The one that went in the oven lost a whole lot more volume and was not as evenly cooked as the sous vide ones. It was not bad by any means but I will be sticking with using my precision cooker for upcoming Cotechino cooks. 

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Winter Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan – 2014) A

I really do not recommend watching this Turkish long film if you are tired or close to your bed time. This does not mean it is not good or I did not like it. On the contrary it is an effective beautiful moody play of sorts set in a remote cold Turkish village and centers around a wealthy hotel owner. It’s just mainly a series of long conversations with little plot in between and that gives it the feeling of a play. It does need focus and attention to keep up with the dialogue and get the most out of it. The man is Aydin who sees himself as an actor and writer. He has a controlling in a passive aggressive way relationship with his young wife Nihal. His sister also lives with them, she had a recent divorce and is generally resentful of Nihal and Aydin. We also meet some of Aydin’s tenants and those who owe him money or apologies. As the weather turns colder and the snow comes in people stay indoors, animosities come to the surface and conversations get more heated, more philosophical and fueled with alcohol… It sounds odd but it is tough to describe.

I am not sure if the script came first or this amazing location and architecture came first. Either way one really cannot be separated from the other. Ceylan does a great job filming this beautiful location and it’s various buildings and cave-like rooms. I saw this film in 3 “chunks” late in the evening and every time I could not wait to get back into this very real place, to see it again and listen in on what these people are talking about. In the end, we are left with a very deep understanding of who these people are and kept wondering what are they up to now.

Pork Chops with Sage Salt, Purple Potatoes and Cracklings

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Recently I needed to cook some pork chops for dinner. These are delicious thick ones from free-range pigs courtesy of the local Yonder Way Farm. It was mid-week on a school night and I needed them to be cooked pretty quickly for dinner along with some fried rice. No time for sous vide-ing for an hour and searing and such. I seasoned them, heated up my wok outdoors with an inch or so of oil and shallow fried them for a few minutes on each side until perfectly cooked at 140 F in the center. Boy were they delicious! I’ve been cooking them with this method that ever since whenever I can.

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This particular dish and combination is from a Jamie Oliver recipe, a simple meat and potato dish. What makes it a bit more special is the sage salt rub, the cool potatoes and -if I may toot my own horn a bit- my method of wok cooking the chops. Oliver uses fresh bay leaves for the rub, but I had none and dried ones work very well. I ground up the bay leaves along with fennel seeds and salt in my spice grinder and rubbed that all over the chops.

As the chops sat getting all seasoned up, I prepared the purple potatoes. These are really cool looking tubers. They honestly do not taste much different than your average Russet potato, maybe a tad sweeter. They do have a great color and pattern when raw and make for a purplish blue mash.

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I first boiled them until soft along with some garlic. Judging by the color of the water at the end,  I’m thinking next time I will steam them and see if I can retain more of the color. In the meantime, I rendered several pieces of pork fat taken from the edges of the chops. I used a cast iron skillet in the oven to do that. There was a good 3 tablespoons or so of rendered pork fat at the end along with crispy pork cracklings. When the potatoes where done, I tossed them in the hot pan with the fat along with a pinch of salt and roasted them until browned and crispy. Towards the end I gently smashed them up to get soft potato mixed in with the crispy surfaces.

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Cooking the chops in the wok takes maybe 10 minutes or so. I heat up the wok over a medium-high heat. I use my outdoor propane burner (turkey fryer kit) for all frying, deep frying and stir frying. I add about an inch of oil in the wok bottom and add the chops with one in the center and the remaining around it and up the wok “wall”. After a couple minutes I move them around so that another chop is in the middle and so on. I flip them over and do the same thing. After resting for a few minutes, the chops are good to go.

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For the sauce, I sauteed a little chopped shallots and added hard apple cider. After the mixture reduced I added a spoon of grainy mustard and chicken stock. I allowed that to reduce and stirred in chunks of butter. I plated the chops over the potatoes, added a few pieces of the crispy cracklings and a dollop of creme fraiche.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Gareth Edwards – 2016) A-

This is a really solid movie. Not knowing what to expect for this non-numbered SW flick I went in with middling expectations. It managed to totally win me over with solid writing, exceptional CGI, well-choreographed and setup battle scenes and some very good performances by the likes of Ben Mendelsohn and Mads Mikkelsen. This takes place in the timeline leading up to Episode IV and focuses on how the resistance managed to get hold of the Death Star plans. This was not an easy feat and the film really spends time showing how difficult and costly that was. We even get a solid explanation for that much made fun of (by me at least) “weak spot in the Death Star”. This is overall a war movie and to that end it is one of the more brutal in the series. I wonder how much younger viewers will like how expendable and morally-ambiguous many of these characters are. It introduces a lot of new characters and handles them -mostly- well. The droid K-2SO is great as is the blind temple guard and his buddy. A bit more character development for Jyn Erso  and Saw Gerrera would have made this better. Very few familiar characters here but the few scenes that Darth Vader is in are just great, from his introduction to the terrifying final few minutes of the film with him.

Keanu (Peter Atencio – 2016) C+

It’s a long extended Key and Peele skit that takes the two buddies on the trail of Keanu, the cat. They impersonate drug dealers in a case of mistaken identity and run into gangsters, murderers, strippers, celebrities…Sounds stupid but it works mostly. It kept me entertained and chuckling throughout.