A Simple Favor (Paul Feig – 2019) B

It tries to thread the needle between the comedy, slapstick at times, drama and a thriller. By and large it works and the two leads of Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively do a great job. It does feel like it goes around and around in the last 20 minutes and does not quiet come together.

Light Sleeper (Paul Schrader – 1992) B-

Lots of echoes of Taxi Driver here. Similar New York City at night setting. Close ups of windshields, cars and a good bit of voice over. We also get a man on the edge of society, although not nearly as interesting as Travis Bickle. Here he is played by Willem Dafoe as a mid level drug dealer with no pension plan and is wondering what happens to him next after his boss (Susan Sarandon) quits the business. It’s a fine movie and over all works well. It is tough to stay with it though when it feels like everyone is just acting somehow.

Knives Out (Rian Johnson – 2019) A+

What a fantastic well-constructed time piece of a movie this is. It’s supposed to be a “who done it” like the Agatha Christie stuff and it does that so well. It does it so well that even when it tells us exactly what happened we are still in the “no, no way, something else must’ve happened…” Of course one needs to see it to make any sense of what I just wrote. In any case, everything here is damn near perfect. It’s directed expertly, the performances are all top notch and it looks great.

Cod Almondine, Spinach in Almond Cream and Lemon Sauce

Fish Almondine is a classic dish. Usually made with trout. The fish is floured and sauteed in brown butter with almonds. The sauce is finished in the pan with lemon juice and parsley. It’s delicious and that’s what was for dinner tonight…sort of. This dish loosely based on one from the Rich Table restaurant book has all the elements and flavors of the classic Almondine with a few really nice twists.

The book recipe makes a pureed sorrel sauce as a sharp contrast to the fish. Instead of that I made a lemon sauce based on Italian lemon Marmellata that is awesome with any fish dish. I wanted it refined rather that rustic and chunky (usually it is like a relish). So, I pureed whole lemons in my Vitamix with olive oil, a pinch of salt a pinch of chile flakes and some sugar along with some water to get a smooth sauce with the texture of a loose mayonnaise.

Sauteed spinach is a pretty good light accompaniment to fish. Toasted almonds are frequently added to it. To make it more interesting and special (this was a birthday dinner after all) it is amped up with more almond flavor in the form of almond cream. To make the cream I simmered 3 cups of almond milk and a 1/4 cup heavy cream together until they were reduced to about 2/3 of a cup and became thick. Interesting thing, store bought almond milk has some salt in it. So by the time the whole thing is reduced the cream was pretty well seasoned. Good thing I tasted and noticed before adding any salt!

I sauteed shallots and garlic in butter and added fresh spinach leaves. The spinach cooked in the pan for only a couple of minutes until wilted. Then I chopped it coarsly and added it to the almond cream. This was re-heated when ready to serve.

With the sauce done and the spinach good to go the dinner was easy to finish. As usual, I had brined the fish in a 10% salt water solution for 15 minutes, rinsed it and patted it dry. Even though the original recipe called for trout and the store had some very nice steelhead trout I really wanted a thick white flaky fish today. They had fantastic cod. So I went with that.

Cooking the fish is more or less a classic method for this type of dish. I dredged the fish in flour and cooked it in olive oil till very well browned on one side. I flipped the fish, added some brown butter to the pan and slipped the whole thing into a 400 F oven for about 10 minutes. I basted the fish with the butter and juices about half way through. When I took the fish out of the oven I threw in sliced almonds (these were toasted in butter earlier as the butter was browning), fresh parsley and a good squeeze of lemon juice. The sauce is wonderful and with in a minute or two it gets emulsified into a nice consistency.

To plate it, I had the kids do the whole thing with some direction. They did a good job smearing the lemon sauce on the fancy plates, putting a clump of the spinach. Then a drizzle of the almond cream around the spinach and a piece of fish on top followed by the pan almond-lemon sauce. Everyone one really loved this dish and it will be worth a repeat, probably with trout next time around.

Auto Focus (Paul Schrader – 2002) B+

Another Paul Schrader film thanks to Criterion Channel’s collection. This one is much better than the other one I saw. Bob Crane (Greg Kinnear) hit it big in the 60’s with the TV show “Hogan’s Heroes”. He apparently was also a shallow and uninteresting man. Yet, Schrader makes a very compelling film about him focusing on his odd friendship -if we can call it that- with an electronics expert called John Henry Carpenter played by Willem Dafoe. Both actors do an excellent job here. This is in the early days of video recorders. Bob is famous and finds out that he can use his celebrity to pick up women. Soon they are partying together, having threesomes foursomes and orgies and recording everything to watch later. John is a slime ball and Bob is a weak empty shell of a man. This cannot end well and it does not.

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