Friday, August 27, 2021

The Fearrington House Restaurant

I was absolutely thrilled to celebrate my 34th birthday and check off another bucket list item last weekend, by dining at the Fearrington House Restaurant in Pittsboro. It was unbelievably splurge-worthy, and unlike some other high-end restaurants I’ve been to, it’s worth every penny. My fiancé and I were stuffed to the gills with some delicious morsels, and agreed that it was one of the best dining experiences we’ve ever had. It's one we'll treasure for a long time. So if you happen to be in the market for a celebration, The Fearrington House Restaurant is your spot.

Love a personalized menu!

Our amuse bouche was a 3-parter. Instantly, I was intrigued: 1) Pernod-Chanterelle cream filled up the inside of a puffy Gougergie, which oddly enough reminded us of the flavors in a Ginger Snap. Unfortunately, the licorice flavor in the Pernod was just too overwhelming for me. 2) Tomato Gelée with Basil Mousse, a fresh Tomato, and Rosemary dust was like a perfect bite of a summer garden. It was a very interesting play on textures, having the tomato both raw and in gelée form. 3) An Herb Mousse with Peaches, Pearl Couscous and Popcorn Dust – while texturally playful, it was much sweeter than expected. It was like they used kettle corn dust, when salty, buttery popcorn might have been a better flavor.

Amuse bouches #1 and 2

Amuse bouche #3

I love a good bread service, and at Fearrington, they don’t mind if you get all 3 breads (I did!) The Parmesan Cornbread, Epi Baguette and Whole Wheat Challah were all fabulous, but my favorite was the whole wheat challah. The REAL star of the show was the disk of softened butter that had been rolled in flaky sea salt – OMG – save me from myself!! Soft, warm bread with salty butter is heaven on Earth. It does not get any better than that, folks. Believe me! (The 5 exclamation marks used in this paragraph are warranted here!)

Ooh bread-ven is a place on Earth

My sweetheart and I opted for the seasonal 3 course tasting menu, and got more food than we could have ever bargained for. They definitely want you to leave full, and leave full we did. My first course was a Farm Fresh Egg with Asparagus, Parmesan Mousse, Quinoa, Mushrooms and Brown Butter. There must have been 3 different sauces on the plate, each better than the last. I love eggs and this dish elevated the humble ingredient so beautifully. I appreciated the umami from the parmesan, brown butter and egg yolk, and it made for a very satisfying first course.

For my main course, I enjoyed Seared Halibut with Peas Two Ways (mashed and puréed) with White Asparagus. The Halibut was cooked beautifully – it practically melted like butter under my fork – and I appreciated the contrasting textures to the tender fish. A really beautiful, light summer dish, and again with the multiple sauces. I detected a bit of mustard in one of them, which brought a necessary acidity to the dish.

A pre-dessert amuse bouche was a bite of Lemon Cake with Guava Mousse and a Shortbread Crumble. I thought the cake was fabulous and moist, but found the guava to be disappointing and oddly floral (and I just developed a newfound guava obsession thanks to my recent trip to Miami!) But alas, I was ready for my MAIN dessert.

I lost my marbles entirely for the Sticky Toffee Pudding with Butterscotch Sauce, Whipped Cream, Cream Cheese Ice Cream, Bruléed Bananas and a Maple Banana Bar. The cake was insanely tender and soaked up every bit of the butterscotch sauce that was poured tableside (I should have asked to keep the serving dish it was poured from!) The bruléed bananas had that lovely crème brûlée crunch, but the Maple Banana Bar really didn’t need to be on the plate – everything else just totally stole focus. I didn’t make many notes about this dish because I was so in the zone enjoying it. You cannot go wrong with sticky toffee pudding. Making it is a real labor of love but so, so worth the work!

I was 100% satisfied at this point, but when the server brings you a little tray of bite-sized nibbles to accompany your bill, it lessens the financial blow, and convinces me that I can find a little more room for these goodies. My favorites were the chewy Blueberry Caramel and the pillowy Coconut Marshmallow, but the Apricot Gummy and Mint Chocolate Wafers certainly earned their places on the board.

As if everything wasn't already enough, we received a box of beautiful truffles upon our departure, each with a unique fruit filling - lavender, raspberry, strawberry and orange. If you're keeping count, this marks dessert #4!! I love a little take home gift at the end of the night, and these jewels were *almost* too pretty to eat.

If you’re looking for a place near the Triangle to splurge, look absolutely no further. You will leave incredibly satisfied. The team at Fearrington will take fantastic care of you, and I was grateful for the opportunity to be in their hands.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Stillwater

Starring: Matt Damon, Abigail Breslin, Camille Cottin
Director: Tom McCarthy
Running Time: 2 hours, 19 minutes
Rating: R

I can't remember the last time I saw a movie with Matt Damon as the lead. It may have been as far back as "The Martian", but I must say, he is absolutely spectacular in the new movie "Stillwater". Loosely inspired by the Amanda Knox story, this film focuses on an oil-rig roughneck from Stillwater, Oklahoma, who vehemently works to free his daughter from a French prison. While a bit too long, it's a captivating, anxiety-ridden story, with great performances. If you're looking to get out of the house (or if you can stream it at home), give this one a watch.

We meet Bill Baker (Damon) in Oklahoma, as he prepares for a trip to Marseille, France, to see his daughter Allison (Breslin), who is serving a 9 year sentence after being convicted of murdering her former girlfriend/roommate. Prior to the conviction, Bill and Allison were somewhat estranged, so the tension between them is palpable. She maintains her innocence, and he's pretty much the only person who believes her, so when the opportunity to help get her sentence overturned arises, Bill jumps at the challenge.

After making acquaintances with a local, Virginie (Cottin), and her daughter, Maya, Bill begins digging for clues and following leads that Allison's lawyer has chosen to ignore. He comes in contact with some pretty shady characters and does some borderline-illegal acts to get answers. Meanwhile, his hard exterior is softened a bit by his budding relationship with Virginie and Maya. By day, he's super dad, picking up Maya from school and bringing her chocolate croissants, and by night, he's assaulting young men on the street and holding them captive.

The final 20 minutes of the film are thrilling, I just wish it didn't take us quite so long to get there. It's a great detective story, as we watch Bill uncover clues and stay under the radar on his mission. And Damon's attention to detail - the way he speaks and carries himself - allows him to fully disappear in this role. He reminds us that he is one of the great film actors of our time. Bravo, overall.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Herons

Herons Restaurant at The Umstead Hotel and Spa has been on my bucket list for a very, very long time. I was eager to experience their four course tasting menu, and last month presented the perfect opportunity to celebrate. If only the meal was as fabulous as the company!

My sweetheart proposed to me before we went to dinner(!!!!!!), and this splurge-worthy, over-the-top meal seemed like the ideal way to celebrate off the evening. We even got flutes of complimentary champagne to honor the occasion! My kind of place.

Love these teal plates!

The service at Herons is impeccable. They anticipate your every need, and strive to take exceptional care of you. Little touches go a long way: lemon and lime slices for your water, warm lavender oil wash cloths to clean your hands, mini pound cakes to take home with you at the end of the night - they know how to pamper their guests. I was expecting an amuse bouche before the first course, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that we'd receive a small, whimsical bite between all four courses! And the servers seemed genuinely excited to bring us each bite. We started off with a Sunflower/Sunchoke Tuile, filled with Egg Mousse and topped with Caviar. A fantastic way to tantalize the taste buds, and visually stunning.


First Course: Flounder Crudo with Cantaloupe, Caviar and Puffed Grains. I would soon learn that each course is a work of art. I admired the intricate plating and this was a delightful dish for summer. I love discovering unexpected flavors that work well together. Would I have ever paired raw seafood with fruit? Probably not. But as it turns out, I'm a big fan.  


Unfortunately, my sweetheart's first course didn't come out quite like he was hoping. The "King Crab" was presented like this:

Needless to say, he was disappointed that the dish was more green (and frozen) than crab. That should have been a tell-tale sign that our dinner was going to be a bit more avant-garde than we had initially anticipated.

I love a bread selection and at Herons, you get 3 options, each better than the last. A Truffle Parker House roll, Red Cornmeal Muffin and Pretzel Roll were each enhanced by softened, salted butter. This was the most outstanding bread course I've ever experienced.

Our second amuse bouche was a Cornmeal Puff with a Blueberry Foie Gras Mousse. I liked the idea of this, but it did not come together as a successful bite. Foie Gras is a fickle mistress, and she was a bitter one tonight. 

Second Course: A 62 degree Egg with Grits, Mushroom Ragout and Shrimp, with Truffle Crisps for dipping. This was my favorite course of the night, and I was so busy eating it, that I didn't capture a photo! The soft boiled egg yolk married beautifully with the mushroom ragout - super umami. This was a luxurious riff on shrimp and grits. The truffle crisps were a nice touch, but I can ALWAYS use more truffle flavor.

To up the whimsy, we were presented a Mini Pheasant Corndog with Truffle Ketchup. This was super cute and clever. The meat was flavorful and tender and a yummy bite but again, I can always use more truffle.

Third Course: Salmon with Coconut Tartare, Zucchini Linguine, Heart of Palm and Charred Okra, with a Red Curry Sauce. If you read that and thought "how does all of that go together?" you're not alone. I honestly don't know what some of it was doing on the plate. The star was the salmon, which was cooked to absolute perfection. The red curry sauce was a little too sweet, and the coconut tartare reminded me of a diced hard boiled egg with mayonnaise (eek, sorry!) The zucchini linguine was yummy and salty but didn't really have a place on the plate. This was the most confusing course for me, but they can sure cook some salmon.


To get our palates prepped for dessert, we were presented with a Yuzu-soaked Cucumber that was hollowed out and filled with Watermelon Sorbet, and topped with Black Sesame Seeds. I loved the refreshing sorbet, but the cucumber was not yuzu-soaked enough for me. Perhaps a squirt of citrus on top would have rounded this out more.


Fourth Course: Peaches with Corn Pudding, Honeysuckle, Creme Fraiche and Hibiscus Ice. Considering we're in the thick of peach season, this seemed a very appropriate dessert, but I could have used more corn pudding and less hibiscus ice - it melted into the creme fraiche and watered down what should have been a rich, luxurious sauce. Stunning, but not satisfying.

The bill was accompanied by Almond Joy Ice Cream Popsicles underneath a beautiful chocolate sheet that said "Congratulations"! These ice cream pops were sensational and I will never say no to seconds on dessert. And the mini pound cakes that we got to take home were perfect with coffee the next morning.


It's hard for me to recommend this place to anyone who is not a foodie (I'm a foodie and still struggled with some of these dishes) but it was very fun to pretend I was on Top Chef. It seemed a bit "fancy for fancy's sake" but it was an experience I will never forget, because it was the best night of my life (so far!)


Friday, July 9, 2021

Poole's Diner

Restaurants are opening back up, and that means I need to dust off my list of must-try spots and give them a visit! Poole's Diner in Raleigh has been on my list for as long as I can remember. Owner/chef Ashley Christensen is something of a celebrity chef, and has been the name most synonymous with Raleigh dining in the past decade. In fact, she won a James Beard Award (the Oscars of the food world) in 2014 and 2019, securing her among the highest ranks of chefs in the country. While she's branched out to open several other bars and restaurants in the Triangle, Poole's remains her flagship. They finally started taking reservations this summer, and you better believe that I snatched up a seat as soon as I could.


The atmosphere is a major contradiction to the menu - at first it seems weird to sit on a swivel stool at a countertop or high top table and pay $12 for beets. But I knew that the food would be exceptional, so I went along with the whimsical, casual environment. The server was open to bringing multiple samples of wine until I found the right one (there were only 3 reds by the glass!) and pointed us in the direction of the chalkboard on the wall to see the menu. I don't love a menu on my phone (sorry) and I definitely don't love a menu on the wall, but I get it. It's all part of the theme.

I'd always heard about the Macaroni and Cheese at Poole's Diner. It's supposedly somewhat legendary. It's $18 and features cheddar, jarlsberg and grana padana. It comes out piping hot and has a crispy cheese topping, over an ooey gooey pile of cheesy, tiny elbow macaroni noodles. It's excellent. But, I've had excellent macaroni and cheese before. My bar was extremely high for this dish, and I hate to say that it did not give me the mind blowing I was quite hoping for. Still, really good.

The roast chicken with pan sauce and mashed potatoes unfortunately were a bit lacking. I usually don't order chicken in a restaurant (sadly they were out of the lamb!) and as I feared, it was a bit dry. The mashed potatoes were fine, never anything that really excites me, and the dish desperately needed the dark, umami gravy that came with it. I expected more here. If you're serving roast chicken and mashed potatoes in your fine dining restaurant, it should be outstanding.

The peas were the surprise star of the meal. Cooked with giant, meaty oyster mushrooms and sherry cream - I could not stop eating this dish! This is how all peas should be served. It was super creative, and my dining partner who "doesn't like peas or mushrooms" devoured it.

Poole's does a great job of taking dishes that you've had, and elevating them. They frequently change their menu according to what's in season, and I thought this was a perfectly good meal. But did it blow me away? No. I'm not sure if I went on an off night, but I have a feeling that if I went another night, I would have a better experience. I'd like to give them another shot, and now that they take reservations, I can do it sooner than later! Maybe they're still finding their footing after being closed for in-person dining during Covid. I know many restaurants are grateful to be open again, and I'm grateful for that, too!

Friday, May 14, 2021

Cuisine & Screen: At Home, Part 39

Y'all - it has been a MINUTE! I hope you're still hanging in there and doing your best to enjoy the "warmer" temps. I'm eager to share some upcoming posts on local restaurants and events, as things slowly creep towards normalcy. But in the meantime...I hope you continue to enjoy reading these at-home posts as much as I enjoy writing them!

CUISINE
This post pays homage to my boo, who singlehandedly cooked a show-stopping Oscars dinner for my mom and me. I had been bugging him for months to make his famous White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake, and finally, my Oscar wish came true. Unfortunately, his secret is no longer safe - it's actually a recipe from Taste of Home! It's absolutely delicious and you won't be able to stop eating it. It's super luscious, rich and thick - it calls for 4 (yes, 4) blocks of cream cheese - and I like that the crust is reminiscent of a shortbread, not that tired graham cracker crust crap (I love alliteration). Get your stretchy pants on and  get the recipe here!


TO DIE FOR.

SCREEN
Léon: The Professional - I know, I know, I am SUPER late to the game on this one. But boy am I glad I finally made it to the game. This film reminds me of a Quentin Tarantino movie - really great music, cool cinematography, eccentric characters - I absolutely loved it. Léon is a hitman who finds himself caring for 12-year-old Mathilda (played by the utterly phenomenal Natalie Portman). He begins training her to become his protégé, and their relationship is surprisingly heartwarming. Gary Oldman slays as the villain (no surprise there). Must see!!

We Need to Talk About Kevin - Yowza. This is an incredibly unnerving and disturbing story about a woman dealing with the aftermath of raising a son who commits a mass murder at school. From childhood, you can feel the tension between Eva (Tilda Swinton) and her son Kevin (played exceptionally well by Jasper Newell, ages 6-8, and Ezra Miller as a teen). The film itself is jarring and not easy to watch - extreme close-ups, disorienting shots - but that just contributes to these characters' states of mind. It was an excellent film, but it's hard for me to recommend.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

2021 Oscar Predictions

It's been a crazy year for movies and award shows (and literally everything else). The Oscars (my Superbowl) are allegedly going to be a live show, and while it will be a very different ceremony, I'm thrilled for any semblance of normalcy. I did my best to stream as many of the nominated films and watch as many of these performances as possible, but I still have a few to cram in before Sunday. I am getting very excited, people!!

Best Picture

The Father

Judas and the Black Messiah

Mank

Minari

Nomadland

Promising Young Woman

Sound of Metal

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Should Win: This is tough. Four of the nominated films were my favorite of the year. I would be very happy if Judas and the Black Messiah; Nomadland; Promising Young Woman; or Sound of Metal won the big award. If you haven't seen any of these, stop what you're doing and go watch any one of them. They'll blow you away.

Will Win: Nomadland. I think the buzz around this movie (and rightfully so) will push it into first place. The director has it in the bag, Frances McDormand is the favorite, and it was a really great film. I think it's got the momentum to bring home the gold.


Best Actor

Riz Ahmed, "Sound of Metal"

Chadwick Boseman, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"

Anthony Hopkins, The Father

Gary Oldman, Mank

Steven Yeun, Minari

Should Win: At the time of publishing, C&S has only seen half of Ma Rainey, but it only took half the film for me to see that Chadwick Boseman delivers an outstanding performance. In fact, I can only fully speak to Ahmed's performance in Sound of Metal, which was sensational, and he's spectacular as a deaf musician. I just don't think this is his year.

Will Win: Boseman. 


Best Actress

Viola Davis, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Andra Day, The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman

Frances McDormand, Nomadland

Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman


Should Win: As much as I loved Frances McDormand in Nomadland (it's like the part was written specifically for her), I would love to see someone new get honored (she has already won twice!) I loved Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman, but is it an Oscar-worthy performance? Maybe not. From what I have seen of Viola Davis in Ma Rainey, she is fabulous, as usual. I'm just not sure that the competition is strong enough against McDormand.

Will Win: McDormand.


Best Supporting Actor

Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7

Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah

Leslie "Burr, sir" Odom, Jr., One Night in Miami

Paul Raci, Sound of Metal

LaKeith "bring back Atlanta on FX" Stanfield, Judas and the Black Messiah


Should Win: Daniel Kaluuya, by a landslide, and dare I say he should have been included in the Best Actor category? The man just knocked our socks off with this role, amiright? Shout out to Paul Raci, who I had never heard of, and who delivers an outstanding subtle performance as a man running a retreat center for deaf addicts in recovery. He had his hands full with this role and he slays.

Will Win: Kaluuya.


Best Supporting Actress

Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Glenn "always a bridesmaid" Close, Hillbilly Elegy

Olivia Colman, The Father

Amanda Seyfried, Mank

Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari


Should Win: This is another tough category. I'm secretly pulling for Glenn Close. The 8-time nominated veteran should have been awarded long ago, just not necessarily for this role. Maria Bakalova seemingly came out of nowhere and was tremendously over the top in Borat, but the Oscars hardly ever recognize comedies. Yuh-Jung Youn is a beloved South Korean actress who might just pull off the win.

Will Win: Based off award show season momentum, Yuh-Jung Youn is my bet.


Best Director

Thomas Vinterberg, Another Round

David Fincher, Mank

Lee Isaac Chung, Minari

Chloé Zhao, Nomadland

Emerald "best name ever" Fennell, Promising Young Woman


Should Win:
I desperately want Emerald Fennell to get some sort of recognition for her outstanding film, so if she doesn't win for direction, I hope she has a shot at winning for producing or best original screenplay. I would also love to see Chloé Zhao win for Nomadland (and I think I will).

Will Win: Zhao.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Cuisine & Screen: At Home, Part 38

I've officially passed the ONE YEAR mark of doing C&S: At Home posts. I'm eager (like everyone else) to start dining in restaurants again, sitting in theatres and traveling out the wazoo, but I promise to keep doing these at home posts because it's been such a fun outlet for me. I hope they've been just as thrilling for you. And spring has sprung - my beautiful daffodils premiered this week!


CUISINE
Another meatless Monday edition (you've been warned!) But this one is crazy satisfying and very easy to customize. 

Bon Appetit's Green Curry Lentil Soup strikes the perfect balance of savory, salty and umami, and it's slightly sweet from the coconut milk. As I was eating this, my imagination ran wild thinking of additional ingredients I'd add next time to make it even better! I used butternut squash instead of sweet potatoes (because that's what I had) and I would double the veggies and lentils next time, to make the soup a bit thicker. You could also omit the lentils entirely and serve this over rice, and even add some shrimp. And just a heads up - I used half the green curry paste it called for. Give this vegetarian meal (vegan if you use vegetable broth!) a shot - you'll be surprised how satisfied you are! Here's a link to the recipe.

SCREEN
Coneheads - I took a break from my Oscar-nominated films to watch a 1990s classic. What seemed like a pretty ridiculous premise ended up being actually very heart-warming. I love a good SNL film because the cast is just ridiculous - Dan Aykroyd, Chris Farley, Sinbad, Michael McKean, Phil Hartman, Tim Meadows - how can you not love them all?! The film follows the Conehead family as they struggle to find their way from Earth back to their home planet. It's silly, yes, but the dialogue is funny and delivered fast. This film may not have aged very well over the past 30 years, but I admit that I found myself laughing out loud quite a few times.

Coming 2 America - I'm a big fan of the first "Coming to America", so I'm kind of questioning why we needed a sequel to an iconic classic, and over 30 years later! Eddie Murphy reprises his role as Prince Akeem in the unnecessary albeit funny sequel, and there are a ton of wonderful supporting actors - Leslie Jones and Tracy Morgan to name a few. Prince Akeem discovers he had a son out of wedlock, and the film follows their relationship, as he is the rightful heir to the throne. I think a more interesting story might have been the one focused on Prince Akeem and his eldest daughter, and her becoming Queen. Alas, I am not a screenwriter. There are some laughs, but not nearly as many as the first. The production and costume design are still on point, though!

Friday, March 19, 2021

Cuisine & Screen: At Home, Part 37

It's kind of insane for me to think about this time last year. I had just started working from home, the world was launching into several unknowns, I was single, and I began doing my weekly C&S: At Home posts. With the exception of a few weeks around holidays/staycations, I've been cranking out content for nearly a year! I'm finally approaching the one year mark of these posts, and I hope it's been as fun for you as its been for me.

CUISINE
My beau is officially obsessed with these Pan-Banging Chocolate Chip Cookies, made famous by the New York Times. Here's a link to the recipe but I've discovered a few tips that will make them even more divine. 

1) Brown the butter! This is a surefire way to ALWAYS get more (and better!) flavor out of whatever it is you're baking. I hardly ever bake anything without browned butter anymore.

2) No one has time to bake 1/3 cup sized cookies as the recipe instructs. I was literally having to bake one or two cookies at a time! Instead, use a normal cookie scoop, or do the 1/3 cup, but then half it to form 2 cookies.

3) Underbake the cookies. After you bang your pan once or twice, they're done! This helps them stay soft and gooey on the inside.

4) Because I can't leave well enough alone, sprinkle the finished cookies with flaky sea salt.


SCREEN
Moxie - LOVED! Amy Poehler directed and produced this film based off a book published in 2015. It could not be more timely. Newcomer Hadley Robinson plays Vivian, an introverted teen who forms a feminist group at her school after the patriarchy disappoints her one too many times. Poehler is excellent (no surprise) as Vivian's mother, and the supporting cast of young actors is outstanding too. 

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things -Very "Groundhogs Day", very "Palm Springs", but it's not a tired concept. We meet Mark, already living in a temporal anomaly, and it's very humorous to watch him help people find misplaced keys and save them from bird droppings, and he wins the lottery every single day. He meets Margaret, also living in the time warp, and their friendship inspires Mark to want to break free from this daily repetition. The movie went on just a touch too long, as if they didn't know how to end it, but it's heartwarming when they do. Definitely worth checking out.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Cuisine & Screen: At Home, Part 36

Finishing your week with a pic of my sweet gal Jojo and me.


CUISINE
For our Globes watch "party" last weekend, I thought it would be fun to have a fancy appetizer. I love Buffalo Chicken Dip just like the next gal, but what we came up with was a major hit. I think you could even make this into a light lunch if you added some avocado or a poached egg on top (I personally think anything counts as a meal if you put an egg on top).

Tomato Crostini with Whipped Goat Cheese
French baguette, sliced into 1/2" wedges
4 oz goat cheese
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Pint of Cherry or Grape Tomatoes, halved (or quartered if large)
1 small shallot, minced
1 TB Pine Nuts
Basil, chiffonade
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper

Drizzle the baguette slices with some olive oil and toast in your toaster oven. (If you want to be EXTRA, cut a garlic clove in half and rub it on the bread after toasting.)

Stir together the goat cheese, lemon juice, some olive oil and some salt and pepper. Taste for seasoning.

Heat a few teaspoons of olive oil over medium heat, and saute your shallot for a few minutes, until translucent. Add in the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Cook this for a few minutes, until the tomatoes are soft, then stir in the pine nuts and let cook for for just another minute or two.

Spread some goat cheese on each toasted baguette slice, then top with a spoonful of the tomato mixture. Sprinkle the basil on top and enjoy!


SCREEN
Palmer - I gotta say, this film surprised me. It stars Justin Timberlake as a man returning to society after 12 years in prison, and his surprising friendship with a young boy helps him stay on the right path. I love JT as an actor, and he really impressed me. I also thought 8 year old Ryder Allen did an incredible job, as did Juno Temple, who plays his troubled, drug addicted mother. It's available on AppleTV+ and worth a watch for sure.

Pieces of a Woman - The first 30 minutes of this film reminded me of the opening scene in "Saving Private Ryan". Utterly heart wrenching and an emotional rollercoaster. It felt like it was filmed in one take. Unfortunately, the film kind of stalls after that, and drags out a bit too much. Vanessa Kirby and Shia LaBeouf are tremendous as parents grieving the loss of their newborn baby. This is a heavy one.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Cuisine & Screen: At Home, Part 35

The Golden Globes are FINALLY happening this Sunday, so I'm reflecting on the 2020 ceremony, where I was fortunate enough to be in the stands for the red carpet. It was the most exciting moment of my life (so far) and I'm so grateful my mom and I were able to do it, given all the chaos that the rest of the year brought. This year's ceremony will no doubt look very different - who knows if and when red carpets will return? - but I spent the majority of last weekend catching up on some of the nominated films. All three that I watched blew me away.

Best trip EVER!


CUISINE

I'm focusing mainly on movies for this post, but I'll share with you a fun cocktail you can sip on during the show. I don't have a name for it, OR a photo of it. Just trust me.

1 1/2 oz vodka
1 oz chamboard
1/4 oz lime juice
1/4 oz lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a shaker, then pour into a martini glass. Top with bubbly. Cheers and enjoy. 

SCREEN
Promising Young Woman - YIKES. This is a crazy unique and fresh storyline, written by Emerald Fennell and starring Carey Mulligan. Our protagonist is Cassie, who thinks she's doing the Lord's work by tricking men into thinking she's blackout drunk, only to entrap them when they try to take advantage of her. She's a sociopath with a complete and utter lack of conscience, yet you find yourself almost rooting for her. The supporting cast is unbelievable - Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Christopher Mintz-Plasse - just to name a few. Stop what you're doing and watch this. It's impossible not to feel something while you do.

Nomadland - Frances McDormand once again stuns as Fern, a woman who leaves everything behind to live in her van. Her husband's death and the 2008 recession were the driving factors, and we see her learn how to live as a nomad. The cinematography is stunning, and her interactions with supporting characters remind us that there's an enormous world out there; everyone is just trying to find their way through it. McDormand was perfect in this role, and she makes it easy for us to empathize with this character. Highly recommend.

Sound of Metal - Riz Ahmed stars as Ruben, a musician in recovery who also happens to be losing his hearing. This news is devastating to him and his girlfriend/bandmate, rightfully so, but he begins to find refuge in a deaf recovery community. His scenes with veteran actor Paul Raci are the most moving. Ahmed portrays this character's internal struggle beautifully and it's a thrill to be on this journey of self-re-discovery with him.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Cuisine & Screen: At Home, Part 34

Has everyone thawed from yesterday's icing? The icicles that formed on my trees and back deck were quite beautiful, if not a bit menacing. Knock on wood, I'm surprised (and relieved) that we haven't had more aggressive winter weather this year. Here's hoping spring is just around the corner.



CUISINE
I'm calling this entry "An Ode to Miso". It's one of my favorite ingredients because it works in both savory and sweet dishes. It's salty, funky and major umami. Most people are familiar with Miso Soup, but this fermented soy bean paste works wonders in some of my favorite go-to recipes. *For the purpose of these recipes, I used White Miso (but you could try yellow and red too!)

Miso Cod - Once again, my sweetheart and I were inspired by the one and only Chef Curtis Stone to make this dish. For a 1 pound cod loin, stir together 1/3 cup miso, 1/3 cup mirin (Japanese rice wine) and 1 TB sugar in a double boiler, over simmering water. You just want the sugar to dissolve, and it will only take a few minutes. Then spread this mixture all over your cod, and broil (not bake!) until the internal temp is 135. It's crazy tender and flavorful. Serve alongside roasted broccoli, sauteed bok choy, cooked rice - whatever you like. This recipe would also work well with salmon, sea bass or any other thick, flaky fish.

Miso Banana Bread - This is my absolute favorite way to use miso. I use this recipe from Food & Wine Magazine and it's a hit every time. I cover the pan with foil towards the end of the bake time, and check it with a toothpick around the hour mark, so as to not burn it. It's insanely moist and utterly addictive. 

Miso Chocolate Chip Cookies - The only thing better than regular cookie dough? Miso cookie dough. This is the ultimate salty-sweet flavor combination that I love in desserts. Check out this recipe.

Some readers may remember me using Miso to make the caramel topping for my Butterscotch Budino a few months ago, and I would be remiss if I didn't link it for you again here.

SCREEN
Judas and the Black Messiah - I'm finally getting around to watching some of the films that are getting awards show buzz. There's a lot of talk surrounding this one, and rightfully so. Daniel Kaluuya is superbly charismatic as real life Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton. I'm calling it now - go ahead and give the man his Oscar. Fans of LaKeith Stanfield will be excited to see him in this film, but Kaluuya's role is far juicier. Jesse Plemons and Martin Sheen make appearances too, as an FBI agent and J. Edgar Hoover, respectively. I was captivated by this story, one that has been clearly swept under the rug and largely kept out of history books. I found it quite fascinating and encourage you to give it a watch.

Little Children - I first saw this when it came out in 2006 and loved it. I recently read the book by Tom Perrotta, and thought it would be fun to revisit the film. It's hard to believe that Kate Winslet was only 31 when she made this movie - her maturity and complexity in this role earned her a deserved Oscar nomination. She plays Sarah, a bored housewife who has an affair with Brad, a bored stay-at-home dad. The storyline of a child molester lurking in the neighborhood brings an underlying sense of unease, with Jackie Earle Haley mastering this role. It's definitely not a feel good film, but it's got a great score and it's an interesting character study.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Cuisine & Screen: At Home, Part 33

Happy Valentine's / President's Day weekend everyone! I was ELATED to get an early Valentine's Day surprise from my beau. I honestly don't know that I had ever received a dozen red roses, and they are absolutely stunning. 

CUISINE
In an effort to be more health conscious, we've decided to go all in on "Meatless Mondays". There are so many meat alternatives these days, but if you're not into the "Impossible" or "Beyond" options, look no further than Jackfruit! It comes in a can at Trader Joe's and when cooked, has the texture of pulled pork or chicken, and it acts as a sponge, soaking up anything you flavor it with. 

To make Mexican-inspired Jackfruit, drain the jackfruit and give it a rough chop. Saute a bit of onion, garlic and bell pepper (if you have any) in some olive oil over medium high, then add in your jackfruit. Sprinkle in some taco seasoning, or any combination of the following spices: chili powder, cumin, cayenne, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper. Add in a little chicken stock or water, and cover the pan. Let it cook for about 5 minutes, then taste for seasoning. Serve it with your favorite taco bowl ingredients like rice/quinoa, beans, salsa, guac, cilantro, jalapenos, cheese - the options are endless! You will NOT miss the meat! 

SCREEN
The Goonies - Yes, I am 100% aware of the fact that I have been living under a rock and had never seen this iconic 80s film. But I'm an only child, who didn't have an older sibling to make me watch it. I admit that I was rolling my eyes during the first 30 minutes, but it actually became quite the tale of adventure, and this group of young actors (Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Corey Feldman, to name a few) really tug at your heartstrings. I actually really enjoyed this movie, and I love the fact that I can make (and get!) Goonies references now.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Cuisine & Screen: At Home, Part 32

I'm eagerly anticipating the first UNC-Dook basketball game of the season, which happens to be tomorrow (Saturday night). I love the rivalry, and it brings back great memories from my 4 years on the Hill. This is one of my favorite photos of all time, taken at the bar Four Corners, which we used to frequent. I think every receipt should close with this, and that a pint should still be this cheap!

I will always remember.

CUISINE

My sweetheart and I have been watching a lot of "Take Home Chef", the 2006-08 TLC show that introduced the world to Chef Curtis Stone. We've been inspired to recreate several of his dishes, most recently Shrimp Curry. It can seem intimidating to attempt a dish without an actual recipe, but we were actually thrilled with how this came out and wrote down what we did, so we could easily replicate it. She's not a looker, but she sure does taste good. Thank you for the inspiration, Curtis!

3/4 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined (you could also use scallops, chicken, or any meaty white fish!)
2 TB butter
1/2 white onion, sliced
1 TB ginger, minced
1 TB garlic, minced
1 1/2 Roma tomatoes, diced
2 TB red curry paste
1 can coconut milk
1 TB tomato paste
1 tsp Tikka Masala Spice blend
Salt & Pepper
Cooked Rice & Naan for serving
Cilantro and Cashews for garnish - optional

Over medium heat, melt 1 1/2 TB butter and add your onions. Let them soften and begin to caramelize, which will take about 10 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, tomatoes and curry paste. Cook this for a few minutes, until a dark color is developed. Add the coconut milk, tomato paste and Tikka Masala Spice blend and stir to combine. Let this simmer for about 10 minutes or until thickened. Taste for seasonings, adding s&p as needed, then add your shrimp and cook for about 5 minutes. Serve this over cooked rice, alongside some warm naan, and you'll be good to go. If you want to make it a bit extra like me, garnish with some cilantro and cashews.

Shrimp Curry with Saffron Rice

SCREEN
Thank You For Smoking - I don't know how I let this one slip by me. Aaron Eckhart is in the role of his lifetime as Nick Naylor, a lobbyist for the tobacco industry, who can enamor and persuade just about anyone he speaks to. He seems to crush it professionally, but we see his struggles at home and in his relationship with his son. It's a dark comedy with a killer supporting cast including J.K. Simmons, David Koechner, Rob Lowe, Robert Duvall and more. If you missed it like me, go back and check this one out!

The Little Things - I was very excited to watch this film. It had so much potential - a compelling plot, brilliant cast, a score by my favorite film composer, an accomplished director - but it unfortunately fell just a bit flat. Denzel Washington and Rami Malek give OK performances as a sheriff and detective working to track down a serial killer in 1990s Los Angeles. The star here, without a doubt, is Jared Leto, who plays the main suspect and is absolutely perfectly cast as this creeper. Fans of closure at the end of a movie (like me) may be disappointed. Watch this film for Leto's performance, and only that. 

Friday, January 29, 2021

Cuisine & Screen: At Home, Part 31


CUISINE
The weather we're having lately certainly calls for some comfort food. One of my favorite crock-pot dishes is Cassoulet, which is essentially a combination of beans, vegetables and meat, and it's easily customizable. My sweetheart and I decided we wanted to be a little EXTRA and add some seared Duck Breast to the dish. It was surprisingly easy and super delicious. 

Sear the breast after liberally seasoning it with salt, and place it in a cold cast iron skillet, skin-side down. Turn the heat on, to medium, and the fat will slowly begin to render. After a few minutes, and once the skin is crispy, flip the breast and let it continue to cook for about 2 minutes. Place the skillet in a 425 degree oven and let it continue to cook for about 4-6 minutes, until it reaches an internal temperature of 135. And the most important step when cooking meat - you must let it rest for about 10 minutes before cutting into it! Then thinly slice and serve. 

Here's the recipe for Cassoulet I used, and it's worth noting that I substituted Smoked Sausage for the Italian Chicken Sausage (you can use any you like, really!) In the past, I've also added some chicken thighs that cook down nicely, too.
Cassoulet with Duck Breast

SCREEN
White Tiger - YES. More like this, please. Vaguely reminiscent of "Parasite", with about a quarter of the subtitles. It's based off a book published in 2008, and tells the story of Balram, a driver for a wealthy family in India who is desperate to flee his live of poverty, using any means necessary. I don't want to give away much more of the plot, and I'd even discourage you from watching a trailer. Jump right in and be prepared to be immediately engrossed.

La Vie En Rose - I'm a big Marion Cotillard fan, and had never seen her Oscar-winning performance in "La Vie En Rose". This biopic tells the story of French singer Edith Piaf, and Cotillard is incredible in her portrayal. It's a pretty dismal story - Piaf grew up in a brothel and was surrounded by drugs and alcohol, and had very little support system. Her talent saves her, if only fleetingly, and by 47 years old, her hard-lived life catches up with her. Stunning hair and make-up, and beautiful music. I recommend this film, but fair warning - it's 2 hours and 20 minutes of some pretty dramatic material.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Cuisine & Screen: At Home, Part 30

It's here. 2021 AND PART 30. I cannot believe that I've done 30 weeks of at home posts, and I'm grateful to all of my readers for humoring me throughout all this. Even when things get back to "normal," I think I'll still do some at home posts and reviews, because it's allowed me to hone my cooking skills and it's been a really fun hobby for me. Last month, I got away for a few days in the beautiful NC mountains, and wanted to share this stunning (and no filter!) view with you all.

CUISINE
A few of my girlfriends and I will occasionally do (socially distanced) themed dinner and movie nights. About a month ago, we watched "The Holiday" and prepared British food. One provided drinks (a Gin Blackberry Smash and Hot Toddies); one provided the entree (Shepherd's Pie); and I provided the dessert, something I've been wanting to learn how to make for a long time: Sticky Toffee Pudding. It took every utensil and tool in my kitchen to make (boiling the toffee sauce on the stove, simmering the dates in a saute pan, pureeing the dates in a food processor, baking the puddings in the oven) but it was so incredibly worth it. I would have eaten all 6 servings by myself. And the good news is that it made enough toffee sauce so that next time I can skip that step and just make the cakes! Here's the recipe I used. 

HEAVENLY

SCREEN
Prom - I am all aboard the Ryan Murphy train, and couldn't be more obsessed with Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Keegan Michael-Key and Andrew Rannells, so it pains me to say that I didn't just lose my mind over Murphy's new film, "Prom". It's a spectacular premise, even if it's a bit far-reaching, and delivers a great message. (Though I really don't know what Nicole Kidman was doing taking this role.) I don't think I've EVER given a negative review of a movie musical (though I didn't see 2019's "Cats") and I don't intend to start now, but this was a bit too long for its own good, and maybe my expectations were just entirely too high. It's a good time, not a great time. Available on Netflix.

Fruitvale Station - Michael B. Jordan can really do no wrong in my eyes. I'm a little late to the game on this film (it came out in 2013) but I watched it on New Year's Day, ironically, because the film recounts the life of a man who was shot and killed by police on New Year's Day in 2008. I don't remember a lot of press surrounding the shooting of Oscar Grant, III - I feel like the shooting of Trayvon Martin was the catalyst for the BLM movement and ample media coverage - but Oscar's is a story worth telling. And Octavia Spencer is phenomenal, as per usual, as his mother. Available on Netflix.