Saturday, November 30, 2019

Knives Out

Starring: Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Toni Collette, Ana de Armas
Director: Rian Johnson
Running Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes 

Rating: PG-13

I'm usually weary of movies with all-star casts. For some reason, they tend to disappoint (see 2016's "Mother's Day", 2013's "The Big Wedding" or most movie musicals as a point of reference). But "Knives Out" is one of the most clever, entertaining, keep you guessing 'til the end films I've ever seen. All of the stars killed it (pun intended) and while it does run a bit long, they tie up every single loose end. And there were quite a few to tie up. If you're a fan of murder mysteries and dark comedies, you'll enjoy this fun, Clue-esque flick.

We meet the eccentric Thrombey Family as they're mourning the loss of their patriarch, Harlan (played by the always fantastic Christopher Plummer). Everyone is under the impression that Harlan committed suicide, and everyone also assumes their place in his will. It's only until Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) arrives that anyone suspects foul play, and threads begin to unravel. I loved Daniel Craig in this role. His slow Southern drawl seemingly began as an annoying farce, but I actually became quite fond of this character and his vernacular.

Each family member is interviewed by Detective Blanc and his sidekicks (one of whom is the lovely LaKeith Stanfield) and each one seems to have something to hide. Daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), son Walt (Michael Shannon), son-in-law Richard (Don Johnson), daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette) and grandson Ransom (Chris Evans) become prime suspects. Detective Blanc enlists Harlan's nurse Marta (a stunning performance delivered by Ana de Armas) to help him piece the puzzle together. She suffers from a condition where lying makes her physically ill, so anytime she's questioned, they have a bowl handy for her.

Just when you think you might have a handle on this who-dunnit, the plot swings a different direction. It moves very quickly once it starts approaching its climax. I appreciated this unique, fresh storyline as well as the film work: tight camera angels and contrasting stark and dim lighting added to the element of mystery and reminds you that everyone is a suspect. I highly recommend this entertaining film. You're sure to appreciate this story and its quirky characters. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

An Evening with Carla Hall

It's not often a celebrity chef travels to the Piedmont Triad. Last week, Carla Hall of "Top Chef" and "The Chew" fame did a cooking demonstration as a fundraiser for the Greensboro Public Library Foundation. It was so fun seeing this larger than life (literally - she is 5'11"!) TV personality showcase recipes from her new cookbook, and they were all absolutely delicious dishes. About 80 people turned out for this event, and it was quite an eclectic crowd. Carla married her love of soul food with her appreciation for local and plant-based foods for a fabulous meal. It was fun to be surprised by her inventive flavor combinations. And I want to be her best friend.
The woman herself!
Upon our arrival, we were greeted with a glass of bubbly. That's how I'd like to be welcomed into every room, every day. It was paired with a fluffy Buttermilk Biscuit, topped with Deviled Egg Salad. I'm usually not a fan of egg salad, but this had very little mayonnaise and had great herbaceous notes. She actually demo-ed the biscuits, and a diner at my table won them! So we got to try her biscuits fresh out of the oven. They were spectacular, as you'd imagine.
Deviled Egg Salad on Buttermilk Biscuit
The next course was a Caramelized Leek and Mustard Green Soup, topped with Chow Chow. This was the least attractive dish (hence the lack of photo), but maybe my favorite of the night. It was a shock to my taste buds, this earthy, tangy, satisfying bowl of leeks and greens, and the chow chow brought a nice texture and acidity. This is something I will definitely make again this winter.

Our taste buds were then transported to the Caribbean for Chicken Thighs smothered in a Coconut, Lime and Chile sauce. The chicken was cooked perfectly, and while the sauce was spicy, it wasn't overpowering and provided a really lovely heat. My dining partner doesn't enjoy spicy foods but had no problem with this dish. The Hot Water Cornbread that accompanied it was really fun to try. It was thin, crispy, salty and really delectable to dunk in the sauce.
Caribbean Chicken Thighs
Hot Water Cornbread
Garlicky Pork Tenderloin with Black-Eyed Pea Vinaigrette was some of the best pork I've ever tasted. It was cooked perfectly, which is difficult to do for multiple plates, and the sour, tangy vinaigrette was something I never would have thought to pair with this meat. The pork sat atop Roasted Cauliflower with Raisins and Millet, which reminded me of quinoa. Even the humble Rainbow Carrot was done justice, roasted and topped with Benne (like Sesame Seeds). I've had all of these ingredients before, but I hadn't enjoyed them like THIS before.
Garlicky Pork Tenderloin with Cauliflower, Millet and Rainbow Carrots

Dessert seemed like it was designed just for me - Poured Caramel Cake. I love a good yellow cake with thick caramel frosting, and I never thought I'd utter the words "too sweet", but it was indeed a shock to the palate after the sourness from the previous dish. The creme fraiche on top really helped cut through the sweetness, but don't get me wrong - I still ate every bite.
Poured Caramel Cake
I can't wait to repeat some of these recipes and explore more in Carla's new book, Carla Hall's Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration. She even signed it "Hugs and Biscuits". She is quite a talented chef, and I admire her even more now.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Sokol Blosser Wine Dinner at Cafe Pasta

This week, I attended the most fabulous wine dinner at Cafe Pasta, hosted by my friend and colleague John Batchelor. John selected some outstanding wines from Sokol Blosser Winery in Oregon, and paired them with some of his personal favorite dishes at neighborhood fave Cafe Pasta. I was very impressed with his pairings and encouraged him to do these dinners every other month! Wine dinners are a great way to meet new friends, try new wines and discover new dishes that you might not have had before. And to top it all off, the wines are available at wholesale price, which can save you some mega bucks. It was a really fun night.

We began with Spinach and Artichoke Dip, paired with the Pinot Gris. I'm not a big white wine fan, but this was insanely easy to sip and was the perfect compliment to the creamy dip, studded with huge artichokes. Toasted, buttery pita chips were the perfect vessel for the dip, which is topped with real parmesan cheese. We were off to a great start.

Chicken Picatta over Linguine was paired with the Evolution White, which was the favorite at my table, though I preferred the Pinot Gris. I was impressed with how perfectly the chicken was cooked - it was moist and really delicious with the citrusy, capery sauce. The pasta was nice and al dente, and I appreciated the fresh spinach as a garnish, but also to bring some color to the dish. The more I ate the chicken, the more I appreciated the wine.

One of John's usual go-to's at Cafe Pasta is the Almond-Crusted Salmon, and now I see why. It was so tender and not overcooked, and I don't know how the chef possibly managed a perfect cook for 50+ people! That is talent. The garlicky, almond crust was really tasty, and roasted vegetables like asparagus, peppers, squash and broccoli rounded out the plate. It was paired with the show-stopping Pinot Noir, the flagship wine for Sokol Blosser. It is one of the best Pinots I've ever had, because it's not too light and stands up nicely to the fish. This was my favorite pairing of the night!

To finish things off, we enjoyed "Mom's Cheesecake", which is not your typical NY style cheesecake. This layered a thin ricotta cheesecake atop a light pound cake / angel food - type cake. It was so delicate, not too sweet, and the perfect ending for a big meal. Sliced strawberries and whipped cream accompanied this dessert, and we enjoyed the Evolution Sparkling with this dish. Again, I didn't die for the Evolution like everyone else did, and this was the sparkling version of that, but give me any sort of bubble and I'm a happy girl.

I'll be on the lookout for more of JB's wine dinners, and I'll definitely be returning to Cafe Pasta to get some of these tasty dishes and try new ones, too!