Sunday, February 21, 2016

2016 Oscar Predictions

Oscar night is almost here, folks! Cheers to another year of excellent films and top notch performances. I'm busy planning my Oscar party (and by "party" I mean gathering of 2 people to actually watch every minute of the show, very little talking allowed.) Here are my predictions for who will take home the gold!

In case you missed them, click on the films to read my reviews! Happy Oscars!

Best Picture
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant

Should Win: My personal favorites of the year were "Room" and "Brooklyn". While I'm glad these two indies were recognized by the Academy, their nomination is their win.

Will Win: People seem to be on the "Spotlight" train. I wasn't crazy about it, but it's a pretty accurate portrayal of investigative journalism, and tackles a really tough subject with some solid performances.

Best Actor
Bryan "Heisenberg" Cranston, Trumbo
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo "#1" DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael "#2" Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

Should Win: The Academy is incredibly political and for his body of work, my man Leo should take home the gold. Is "The Revenant" his best performance? I would say it takes second or third to "The Wolf of Wall Street" and "Django Unchained", but it was excellent, and enough for him to win his first Oscar. The only upset would be Eddie Redmayne for "The Danish Squirrel" but he just won last year, so it's unlikely he'll win again.

Will Win: My man.

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte "who?" Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Should Win: As much as I enjoyed Larson's performance, this is the most I've ever liked Jennifer Lawrence. I don't think she should have won for "Silver Linings Playbook" - this should have been her Oscar performance, but it won't be since she's already gotten the gold.

Will Win: Brie Larson. Has she earned her stripes? Maybe not, but considering how raw and emotional her performance was, it's definitely enough for her to take Oscar home.

Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Tom "yum" Hardy, The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Should Win: Mark Ruffalo is another one of those actors that should win an Oscar just for his body of work. He was excellent in "Spotlight", much like every other film he has done.

Will Win: Stallone. He's an icon and his Rocky character is so beloved. If "Creed" was as fabulous as everyone says, he's got it in the bag.

Best Supporting Actress
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney "bones" Mara, Carol
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Should Win: Alicia Vikander. Out of nowhere, she nailed every single role she had this year, and this performance struck me to the bone. Her emotion in the film was palpable and promising of a bright career in film.

Will Win: Vikander. Her competition isn't very strong, and her performance was incredible. 

Best Director
Lenny Abrahamson, Room
Alejandro Iñárritu, The Revenant
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
Adam McKay, The Big Short
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road

Should Win: Lenny Abrahamson! "Room" blew me backwards and knocked my socks all the way into the Kodak (Dolby) Theatre. But again, his nomination is his win, so I would say Iñárritu.

Will Win: Might there be a Miller upset? The Academy went cuckoo for the new installment of "Mad Max" and Iñárritu just won last year for "Birdman", so it's possible that Miller's beloved film could get passed over for Best Picture and they honor him with Best Director. Tom McCarthy for "Spotlight" could also be an upset, but I would be the upset one if he did win.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

NC Truffle Dinner

Is there such a thing as too many truffles in one sitting? I did the research for you readers, and the answer is no. I'm talking about the truffle mushrooms, one of those special ingredients that when I see them listed on a menu, my eyes immediately dart to that dish. Truffles are exotic, rare, and...right in our backyard? Yes, Truffles NC is a truffle farm in King that you can visit, and even purchase goodies like truffle salt, truffle honey and truffle white chocolate (HELLO!) I was thrilled to attend a dinner featuring these truffles, benefitting the Children's Law Center of Central NC. Truffles and a good cause? Sold.

Chef Harrison Littell of Five Loaves Catering really outdid himself with every detail of this meal. Each morsel was executed to perfection. He and his wife Andrea are behind the blog TowniesWS. It's always fun to meet fellow Triad bloggers and dine with other local foodies. We took our seats and noticed pats of truffle butter, topped with more shaved truffles at each table. But where was the bread you ask? It was utter torture waiting for it to arrive.

The evening began with a Chocolate Truffle-making demo, to keep with the theme, while we indulged in Truffled Deviled Eggs. My guest said these deviled eggs were the best she had ever eaten, and they were certainly delicious. My egg was purple, from beet juice, which didn't alter the flavor. A yummy mustard and mayonaise filling is made extra special with truffles, and is piped into perfectly cooked egg whites (or egg purples). Homemade creme fraiche and Atlantic Sturgeon caviar top it off. It had a great mouthfeel. Raffaldini Vineyards kindly paired each course with a wine, and we enjoyed the Pinot Grigio with the eggs. I could already tell it would be a fabulous evening.

The description of the first course had my mouth watering the moment I read it: beautfiul ribbons of homemade Tagliatelle pasta is topped with shaved truffles, goat cheese, browned butter (a FAVE) and a sprinkling of parsley for color. The aroma was irresistable. This dish had a perfect salty bite, and the combination of browned butter and truffles truly sent it over the top. The noodles were a nice al dente and it paired beautifully with Raffaldini's Sangiovese.
Are you kidding with these truffles? Insanity!
I was tickled when the second course featured a slightly sweet note, thinking it was an early dessert! It was a sweet and savory flavor marriage that was pretty ingenius. A Fig Gallette combined roasted figs (which look a lot like shaved truffles!), boursin cheese, truffles, micro greens and a hazelnut whole wheat flour crust. A drizzle of a fig reduction rounded out the dish. The crust was nutty and slightly crisp, and I admit I spread a bit of truffle butter on the last bite! A dry rosé was a nice balance to the sweetness of the dish.
Are those truffles or figs I spy? Lucky for me - BOTH.
Finally, a basket of warm sesame bread arrived, and we all reached for the truffle butter at the same time! We were soon distracted by the gorgeous plate of Snowy Grouper that was placed in front of us. The grouper was actually caught the morning before in Southport, NC, and Chef Littell even told us the name of the boat that caught it and the name of the captain! I was so impressed with the emphasis on local throughout the evening. The poached fish was accompanied by an exceptional Sweet Potato, Yukon Gold Potato and Truffle Gratin and roasted root vegetables like radishes, carrots and beets. The truffled beurre blanc that was drizzled across the plate was so rich. It was like Chef melted the truffle butter and added some heavy cream and a squirt of lemon juice. Sensational! The wine was a white Vermentino, comparable to a Chardonnay.
It's like this dish took a bath in truffles.
Chef Littell had his creativity cap on when he planned the dessert course: Truffle and Duck Egg Creme Brulee is about the most indulgent thing I could have ever imagined, and one of the tastiest. Duck eggs have a yolk to egg white ratio of 60:40, as opposed to a chicken egg, which has 40:60. So the custard was extra creamy and rich. A gorgeous, gooey block of sticky honeycomb was oozing out all over the top of the burnt sugar, and was even better when it oozed out in my mouth. I would be remiss not to dwell on the Hazelnut Truffle Shortbread which accompanied the dish. It was an excellent cookie. The La Befana dessert wine was a wonderful sweet note to end on.
Check out those flecks of truffles in the custard! And in the shortbread!
I was so totally satisfied after this meal. The food, the conversation, the cause - everything was wonderful. Chef Littell and Five Loaves Catering are doing tremendously creative work, and anything we as a community can do to support Truffles NC and the Children's Law Center is important. My truffle addiction is getting out of control. Here's hoping my truffle oil will do the trick until I can afford some real ones!