Friday, January 26, 2007

Culinary Verite

During my short stint at film school in the mid-90's I was constantly asked the question:"What's your favorite movie?".
I'd always answer that picking one was impossible, but perhaps I could narrow it down to ten (and even that might be a stretch). Well now that my professional life has taken a decidedly less cinematic turn, the question du jour is now the equally tough: "What's your favorite food?". Which, as I think about it, might even be more difficult to answer (although I'd pay to see the
10-course, winner-takes-all bout: Rustic Italian vs. Royal Thai). So in an effort to answer these questions, simultaneously, I am now going to list my favorite "food films", in no particular order.

Eat Drink Man Woman (1994) The opening scene of this Ang Lee masterwork is one of the most visually stunning filmed food sequences in history. And if you feel like Mexican, rent "Tortilla Soup" a lesser remake with a Latino flare.

Babette's Feast (1987) A Danish film based on the short story by Isak Dineson. If this film doesn't make you want to throw a beautiful dinner party, nothing will. This film was the inspiration for 'Chocolat', just without the metaphysical mumbojumbo.

Celebration (1998) Another Danish film, this one by Thomas Vinterberg, but with a black comedic streak. A great film to watch at family gatherings, provided there are no major skeletons in the closet.

Tampopo (1995) The Japonese noodle film with a great performance from a young Ken Watanabe.

Heavy (1995) This small, indie made by James Mangold is more a story of unrequited love than a foodie film. However, the scenes at the Culinary Institute of America are interesting.

Mostly Martha (2000) German chefs falling in love while on the line. Believable and entertaining, with great scenes in the kitchen.

Big Night (1996) There isn't a "top food films" list that doesn't include this one. I added it simply for the "two starches" scene.

And a few films that aren't really food related, but have really powerfuly scenes involving food or cooking: Goodfellas (garlic), Munich (French cooking, offal), The Cook The Thief His Wife and Her Lover (cannibalism).

Friday, January 05, 2007

It's 2007, Eat Healthy

I'm not one for resolutions, especially when it comes to eating. So I'm not going to lecture about all the great things you can do with white meat chicken and brown rice now that the holidays are over and you want to try and shed the pounds brought on by Aunt Nancy's fruit cake. But if eating healthier without having to resort to chemical-laden "fat free" cheese recipes is your aim, I can point out a couple of cuisines you should get to know better: Vietnamese and Thai.

Both offer assertively flavored dishes that focus on contrast (think: sweet/spicy, crisp/soft, tangy/smooth, etc.). And they derive their flavor primarily from fermented seafood (fish sauce, shrimp paste, etc.), citrus and chiles. Not from tons of oil, butter or other high-fat, high-calorie components. And both Vietnamese and Thai food offer delicious, healthy choices for this time of year, the calendar period formerly known as winter (I'm writing this in St. Louis and it's sixty degrees). A lot of brothy soups and stews full of vegetables and finished with fresh herbs. Here's a recipe for my version of a classic Thai soup Tom Yum Gai.

Thai-Style Hot & Sour Broth with Shrimp Dumplings
Serves 8

Chicken Stock, Homemade 2 Quarts
Lemongrass, Minced 2 Stalks, Inner Leaves Only
Fish Sauce ΒΌ Cup
Chile Oil 1 Tablespoon
Lime Zest 1 Lime
Lime Juice 1 Lime
Lemon Juice 1 Lemon
Kaffir Lime Leaf (optional) 1 Leaf

Shrimp Dumplings
Shrimp, Peeled & Deveined 1#
Shallot, Diced 1 Small
Garlic, Minced 2 Cloves
Oyster Sauce 1/2 Cup
Edamame, Peeled (Soy Beans) 1 Cup
Fresh Basil, Julienned (optional) 1/2 Cup
Gyoza Potsticker Wrappers as needed
Egg, Beaten 1

Bean Sprouts 4 Cups
Favorite Vegetables (Broccoli,
Carrot, Snow Peas, Etc.) as needed
Cilantro 1 bunch
Lime, Cut in 8 wedges 1
Preparation Procedure-

First make the dumplings. Combine shrimp, shallot, garlic, oyster sauce, edamame, and basil in food processor. Blend until comes together, but not so much that it looses all texture (you don't want a paste). Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate for 30 min. or so. Meanwhile, lay out gyoza wrappers on clean surface and brush with egg wash. Top each wrapper with a spoonful of shrimp mixture (about 2 Tablespoons worth), press down so the mixture spreads over wrapper and bring together in the palm of your hand (it should look like a jelly fish without tentacles). Set aside on parchment lined sheetpan and finish remaining dumplings. Bring water to a boil in a wok or large skillet, place dumplings in a bamboo steamer lined with lettuce or some other green so the pasta doesn't stick. Steam dumplings for 5-8 minutes or until cooked through. Turn off heat and keep warm.

For the hot and sour broth, combine all the broth ingredients, bring to a rapid boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and steep 20 minutes longer. Strain, ladle over warm dumplings, bean sprouts and favorite vegetables. Garnish with cilantro, lime wedge and serve.