Showing posts with label Cooking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cooking. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Rosy's Test Kitchen #5: Cooking Successes and Cooking Conundrums - "Eggs!"

Opinions are like....


 
COOKING EGGS!

Everyone has the best method.
(You thought I was going to say something else, didn't you?)

I think that eggs are probably the perfect food.  

They are low in calories, full of protein and it turns out that eggs were not the cause of our high cholesterol.  It was our overindulgence in everything else! They are also versatile because you can prepare them in many different ways and, yes, everyone has their own way of doing it.

As you know, I love to read and collect cookbooks, and I have noticed that many cookbooks tackle the issue of cooking eggs. I am amazed at how different many of the methods are.  And everyone is certain his or her method is the right one.

So I thought I would share with you how I have been cooking eggs these many years and then test a couple of alternative methods and report back and then throw in a couple of my favorite egg recipes as well. 

I want you to know that I took this assignment that I gave myself very seriously. This was a week-long investigation and I have eaten a LOT of eggs!

And I look forward to what your research has discovered:  your methods and tips when it comes to preparing eggs.

So let's get started.

I am going to compare my techniques with some techniques recommended by "Cooking Light," Joy the Baker, and from the book "How to Break an Egg" by the editors of "Fine Cooking."




First, Hard Boiled Eggs.

Here is my method: I place four eggs in a sauce pan in cold water and when the water starts to boil, I turn the heat off, put the lid on the pan, and let the eggs stand for 25 minutes. Then I drain the pot, rinse the eggs with cold water and add ice to the water.  The ice bath makes the eggs easier to peel later.  However, that's how I did it when I had an electric stove which means that when I turned off the burner, there was still some residual heat.  Now I am cooking with gas (yeah, baby!) and wasn't sure how that method would be affected but just tried it and it still works fine.


Here are some methods from the experts and note how confident they are with titles like "foolproof" and "perfect" - we shall see:


 
 

"Foolproof Hard-boiled Eggs"
(Cooking Light March 2017)

Use two quarts of water (not sure why it has to be two quarters - I just cover the eggs), add eggs and bring to a boil.  As soon as the water boils, turn off the heat, move the pan to a cold burner.  Let stand for 12 minutes.  Meanwhile, fill a bowl with water and ice and as soon as 12 minutes has elapsed, drain the eggs, and plunge the eggs into the ice bath. Let stand 5 minutes if using immediately, 10 minutes if saving for later.

 
 
"The Secret to Perfectly Boiled Eggs"
("Over Easy" by Joy the Baker)

Bring a saucepan of water to a full boil (she doesn't specify an amount).  Wait until the last minute to remove the eggs from the refrigerator and gently place them in the boiling water.  Reduce the heat to medium and boil 8 minutes for soft-boiled or 11 minutes for hard-boiled.  Remove the pan from the heat, drain and fill the pot with water and a handful of ice cubes.  Let the eggs rest for 5 minutes.

 
 
"Perfect Hard-Cooked Eggs"
("How to Break an Egg" by the Editors of "Fine Cooking")

Warm the eggs for 4-5 minutes in warm tap water.  This is supposedly to prevent cracking.  Add salt - 1 T. per two quarts of water (no cooking time was recommended so I boiled for 11 minutes as per Joy the Baker).  When finished drain pain and submerge in ice bath.

TIP:  For easy peeling, leave the eggs in the pan after cooking and draining. Put the lid on and shake vigorously.  Once the sound of smashing eggshells stops, remove the pan lid and lift the eggs out of the loose strips of broken shells.


What I learned: In all cases, at least one egg cracked during the cooking process whether there was salt or not, and all of the methods, except mine, of course, produced yolks that were too soft and whites that were slimy, so even though the "foolproof" method was very similar to mine, letting the eggs stand for just 12 minutes did not produce a firm, hard-boiled egg.

Oh, and shaking the eggs in the pan as an easy way to peel them?


You decide.



Verdict:  My method works best for me.  Produces firm whites and firm yolks every time.  And shaking the eggs in the pan?  Not recommended.  The ice water method works best for easy peeling.



Scrambled Eggs:

My method: Crack the eggs into a bowl, add a little water and salt and pepper, whisk the eggs and dump them into a pan of melted butter.  Whisk them around a bit until they are of a consistency I like (soft) and then remove from pan.


Cooking Light's (March 2017) versions:

 
 
"Diner-style Scrambled Eggs:"

  • 1 t. butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 t. black pepper
  • 1/8 t. salt

Melt butter in 8-inch skillet over medium high heat until butter is bubbly.  Break eggs into a bowl and beat them with a fork until slightly frothy.  Stir in salt and pepper.  Add egg mixture to the pan and start pulling the eggs from the sides of the pan into the middle.  Big, fluffy curds will start to form.  Keep pulling the eggs for about 3 minutes.  As soon as the runny eggs are fully set remove from heat.


"Creamy Soft-Scrambled Eggs"
 
Same ingredients, skillet and egg beating as above except this time you will be using medium-LOW heat and when the butter melts and you add the eggs, you will quickly start stirring with a rubber spatula and keep stirring.  After a few minutes, steam will rise and the eggs will thicken and small curds will form.  If you start to get large curds lift the pan from the burner to cool it down, stirring all the while.  Cook stirring constantly until the eggs hold together like a soft-custard that can spread slightly like risotto.
 



Here is what Joy the Baker thinks is

 
"The Secret to Fluffy Scrambled Eggs"
 
Whisk 3 large eggs, 2 T. milk and 1/2 t. soy sauce (soy sauce?) in a small bowl.  She also uses clarified butter (1 T.) in a skillet set over medium-low heat.  Add eggs and let them sit in the hot pan for 10 seconds and then using a rubber spatula, push and flip the eggs around the pan stirring constantly for four-five minutes until the eggs are just cooked through.  Squeeze with fresh lime juice (lime juice?) just before the eggs are done.
 

Joy also likes to make "Folded Eggs" to use in a breakfast sandwich.

She uses a ratio of 6 eggs, 6 t. whole milk, 6 splashes of soy sauce (she really likes that old soy sauce in her eggs), 1/4 t. black pepper, 6 t. black pepper and 3/4 c. grated sharp cheddar cheese BUT she only cooks one egg at a time so this recipe makes 6 sandwiches so cut this recipe down as you see fit.
 
Basically you pour the egg mixture into a 6-inch skillet tilting the pan to create a very thin, almost crepe like layer. Add the cheese and using a very thin spatula fold the sides of the egg over the cheese creating a small square.
 
This is what it's supposed to look like:


Not as easy as it looks. 

Here is what mine looked like:




What I learned: Adding soy sauce to the eggs gives them a little smoky flavor but I didn't find that it substituted for salt and there wasn't enough of it to really make much of a difference.  The eggs still needed salt.  The "fluffy scramble" only took 2-2 and a half minutes to cook.  If you go 4-5 minutes, I think they will be too dry and I never really got the fluffy part. Also didn't think I would like the soft scramble but it was really good.  You can actually spread the eggs on the toast.  Oh, and I learned that I wasn't very good at folding eggs. 
 
Verdict: Soy sauce is an unnecessary distraction, didn't like the lime juice and except for the folded eggs, no matter the method, they all kind of came out the same depending on whether or not you like your scrambled eggs soft or dry. And milk or no milk?  Couldn't really tell the difference.  So you might as well just whisk your eggs, dump them in the pan and scramble them until they are the consistency you like.  You can't really mess up scrambled eggs - unless you try to fold them!


Fried Eggs:

My method: Whether sunny side up or over easy, I just crack the eggs on the edge of the pan and dump into the pan and let them sizzle until they look good (flipping the egg over at the last minute for over easy), season and then slide onto a plate.

But of course, the experts think otherwise:
 
 
 
"Frizzled Sunny-Side Up Eggs"
(Cooking Light March 2017)
 
You might want to use a splatter screen for these.
 
1 T. canola oil
2 large eggs
1/4 t. black pepper
1/8 t. salt
 
The pan needs to be really hot.  Break the eggs into the pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper and let them sizzle and pop.  Don't move the eggs at all for about 4 minutes or until the edges are crispy and beautifully browned and the whites are set.
 
 
 
"Pristine Sunny-Side Up Eggs"
(Cooking Light March 2017)
 
Same ingredients as above except this time you don't want the pan to be as hot.  You want the heat to be medium-low.  Crack the eggs into the pan and you do NOT want to hear crackling and hissing.  Cook 3 minutes.  After 3 minutes tilt the pan and let the oil pool on the edge and baste the egg whites (not the yolks) with the oil.  Sprinkle with the salt and pepper.
 
 
 
"The Secret to Great Fried Eggs"
("Over Easy" by Joy the Baker)
 
Basically her recipe is the same as the "Pristine" eggs above but she uses clarified butter.  I suppose there could be a debate on the merits of butter over oil - I prefer butter though I don't go to the trouble of clarifying it like she does.  However, she cracks her eggs into a fine-mesh strainer which supposedly keeps the watery part of the egg white out thus creating a nicer looking and more compact fried egg.  Nope.  Too much trouble.
 
Tip: For a delicate fried egg, once you have the eggs in the pan and seasoned, add 1 t. water to the pan and immediately cover with a lid.  As the eggs, cook, they will steam.  Cook until the egg whites are set and the yolks are to the desired doneness, about 3 minutes for over easy.
 
Tip: For a crisper egg, once you flip the eggs, use the spatula to press down on the edges of the egg as it cooks, which will create a crisp egg-white edge.  Cook to the desired doneness about 3 minutes for over easy.
 
If you want an over easy egg, just flip the egg after the three minutes.

What I learned:  I need to get used to my new gas stove.  I seem to burn everything!

 


That's not a piece of toast that egg is sitting on.  That's the white after sizzling and frizzling!

Verdict: Forget the sizzling, frizzling egg at four minutes, the clarified butter or putting your eggs through a strainer- three minutes on low heat seems to fry a perfect egg sunny side up. 




Poached Eggs:

My method: Boil the water in a shallow pan, crack the eggs into the water and boil on a medium heat for three to four minutes and then using a slotted spatula, remove the eggs and place on a piece of toast or some fancy schmancy dish I have made.


Cooking Light (March 2017) has a "Swirl" method and a "Shallow pan" method:
 
For the "swirl," bring a pot of water with a T. of vinegar in it to a gentle simmer.  Using a whisk, create a little whirlpool in the simmering water and slip in the egg.  Using a slotted spoon, swirl the water around the edge of the pan, gently shaping the egg white.  Cook about 3 minutes.
 
For the shallow pan method, pour about 2 inches of water into a shallow pan (add vinegar) and bring to a gentle boil.  Add the egg and cook for 3 to 3 and a half minutes and remove with a slotted spoon or spatula.
 
What I Learned: Despite the fact that I thought the swirl method would be too time-consuming it actually worked.  The egg came out looking much better than when I just let the egg white take its course.
 
Verdict:  When I feel like having a pretty poached egg, I will adopt the "swirl" method but otherwise, shallow pan, boil the water, crack the eggs and three to four minutes later, I have poached eggs.



Final Verdict:

When compared to the experts, when all is said and done, even though my egg making is very basic and I eschew most of the steps and tips that many cooks adopt such as cracking the eggs into a separate dish and sliding them gently into the pan or adding vinegar to the water, I think I do OK in the egg-making department.  Like life, I tend to just crack the egg on the pan and let things fall where they may and that has worked out fine so far.


Finally here are a couple of my favorite egg recipes:

 
 
"Egg and Tater Bake"
(Woman's Day Magazine)
 


  • 4 c. frozen tater tots
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/4-in. pieces
  • 8 oz. cremini or white mushrooms, halved
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 plum tomatoes, cut into 1 in. pieces
  • 1/2 bunch fresh spinach, roughly chopped
  • 8 large eggs
  • 2 oz. extra-sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
  •  
Heat over to 400 degrees.

Arrange the tots on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes.
 
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion, season with 1/2 t. salt and pepper, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.
 
Add the red pepper and mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are just tender, 5-6 minutes.  Toss with the garlic and tomatoes and cook for 1 minute.  Fold in the spinach and tots.
 
Make 8 small wells in the vegetable mixture and carefully crack an egg into each.  Spring with the cheese and bake the eggs to desired tenderness, 15 to 18 minutes for slightly runny yolks.
 
What I Learned:  The yolks were not runny at 15 to 18 minutes so if you like them that way watch your oven.
 
Verdict:  Yum!
 

 
 
"Brunch Strata"
("Taste of Home" January 2013)




  • 1/3 c. canola oil
  • 1/2 lb. sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 3 small zucchini, chopped
  • 2 med. onions, chopped (about 1 1/2 c.)
  • 1 med. green pepper, chopped
  • 2 c. cubed cooked ham
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 pkg. 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 1/2 c. half and half
  • 12 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 4 c. day old cubed bread
  • 3 c. shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. pepper

In a Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat.  Add the veggies and ham; cook and stir until the veggies are tender. Add the garlic.  Cook 1 minute longer.  Drain and pat dry.

In a large bowl, beat cream cheese and half and half until smooth.  Gradually beat in eggs.  Stir in the remaining ingredients and vegetable mixture.

Transfer to two greased 11 x 7 in. baking dishes.  Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until knife inserted near the center comes out clean.  Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

What I Learned:  This recipe can easily be halved and it also makes a great vegetarian dish - just leave out the ham.

Verdict:  When entertaining guests, make this dish the night before and have it ready to just pop in the oven in the morning for an easy and fast but elegant breakfast dish.  Your guests will say, "DIVINE!!!"


Hope you enjoyed this latest installment of "Rosy's Test Kitchen."  I would love to hear your tips for the best way to prepare eggs and for you to share some of your favorite recipes.

Oh, and if you like my new apron, you can thank my daughter and her Hubby.  It was a well thought-out and lovely Christmas present.  And speaking of presents, anyone who gets the Housewives homage from the picture should get a special present (that doesn't mean you will, but you should)!

Until next time, you fill find me here this coming Friday for my usual reviews.




Thanks for reading!

 

See you this Friday 


 


for my review of 


 
"The Post"

and
  
The Week in Reviews

(What to See or Read and What to Avoid)


 

 and the latest on

 


"My 1001 Movies I Must See Before 


 
 I Die Project." 

 


 

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Friday, May 26, 2017

"Snatched" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new Amy Schumer-Goldie Hawn comedy "Snatched" as well as DVDs "Why Him?" and "Shut In."  The Book of the Week is "My Mother's Kitchen: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and the Meaning of Life" by Peter Gethers. I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "The House is Black."]



Snatched


Emily Middleton (Amy Schumer) is happily planning her upcoming vacation to Ecuador with her boyfriend...until her boyfriend dumps her.  She has an non-refundable ticket.  Who can she get to go with her?  Surely, not her overprotective Mom...

Emily lives in New York City and is your typical millennial - and no offense to millennials, but she is a little, well a lot, self centered and clueless with an Instagram addiction.  When her musician boyfriend breaks up with her she doesn't quite get it.

"I'm breaking up with you," he says over lunch.

To which she cluelessly replies, "When?"

Like I said, clueless.

Well, even though she didn't get it, the break-up is immediate and now Emily is stuck with a non-refundable ticket to Ecuador and can't find anyone to go with her. Worse, she has also lost her job.  She goes home to visit her Mom, Linda (Goldie Hawn), and to lick her wounds.  Linda lives alone and is an empty-nester with a lot of fears.  She occasionally checks online for love, but she is still clearly in Mom mode. She spends her time checking the many locks on her doors and taking care of her agoraphobic grown son, Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz). She also fusses over Emily while Emily takes her mother for granted and basically doesn't approve of her. 

However, while looking through one of her mother's closets, Emily finds an old scrapbook and sees pictures of her Mom from her younger days, traveling and having a great time (this is also a chance for us to also see Goldie back in her heyday which I would bet Goldie wanted us to see since she hasn't made a movie in 15 years).  Emily gets the idea that maybe her mother could be fun and go with her to Ecuador.  After a funny scene where Emily tries to convince Linda to leave her safe environment and have some fun, off they go to Ecuador where Linda plans to sit by the pool and read her book. No mingling with the locals for her!

Meanwhile, Emily meets James (Tom Bateman), a handsome guy who comes on to her in the bar.  He is so handsome and she is so stunned that he wants HER that she throws caution to the wind, much to Linda's chagrin, and goes off with him on a whirlwind tour of the area that includes a party with the locals, where Emily gets very drunk.  But James is a gentleman and returns Emily safely to her room with an invitation for a sightseeing trip the next day. Linda is also invited and reluctantly tags along and that's when it happens....some bad guys ram the car and the next thing Emily and Linda know, they are locked up in a dirty cell.

The two manage to escape the cell, hop a truck and suddenly find themselves in Colombia.  The rest of the film is all about Emily and Linda trying to elude the very bad guy, Morgado (Oscar Jaenada), who didn't take kindly to Emily killing his son.  Emily develops an uncanny and very funny ability to kill bad guys, but more importantly, Emily finally learns that she had her mother pegged all wrong.  Her mother is AWESOME!

Directed by Jonathan Levine and written by Katie Dippold (though I am sure Amy had a hand in it), this is the best comedy to come along in a long while.  Why?  Because it is actually funny.

I know that Amy Schumer is an acquired taste for many.  I actually think she is funny, but sometimes she does go too far with the sex jokes.  Her last stand-up - The Leather Special - was not my cup of tea.  But, hey, I'm old.  I'm not a millennial and probably don't get what millennials like. But that's not to say she isn't funny because she is.

Speaking of millennials, Goldie Hawn might not be a name that young people recognize today.  She hasn't made a movie for 15 years, but for us Baby Boomers she was a household name and made some of the funniest and most enjoyable rom-coms of all time -  "Foul Play," "Private Benjamin," and "Overboard."  Starting out on TV's "Rowen and Martin's Laugh-in," Goldie took ditzy blonde to a new level. 

But no matter what you think of Amy Schumer or whether or not you know who Goldie Hawn is, here is the most important thing - THIS MOVIE IS FUNNY.  Can you believe it?  A comedy that is actually funny.  I haven't seen one of those is a very long time, though I could have done without the scene with the tapeworm.

And in addition to being funny, the film also has a message.  It actually has many messages: it's about the empty nest, mothers and daughters, girl power and even pokes fun at the U.S. State Department, as in don't expect much help from the U.S. if you get kidnapped overseas.

  • The Empty Nest

It's not easy being a Mom and then all-of-a-sudden you aren't one anymore when your kids grow up.  Linda is having a hard time finding herself and restructuring her relationship with her children now that they are adults, and there is a touching scene toward the end of the film when Linda shares with Emily how difficult it is for parents when their children move on without them.

  • Mothers and Daughters
My daughter and I live thousands of miles apart so because of that we try to do a mother/daughter trip together every year so this film really resonated with me, not just the mother/daughter trip but also because of the generation gap, how difficult it is for mothers and daughters to understand each other.  Mothers have a hard time thinking of their daughters as anything other than that little girl who used to sit on their laps and daughters have a hard time thinking of their mothers as anyone other than someone who is getting in their business and trying to tell them what to do.  I know that now that my daughter is an adult, those trips have helped us understand each other better.

  • Girl Power
Once Emily and Linda decide they need to do something about their predicament and take on the bad guys, they do the requisite "Power Walk."  The Power Walk has now become a cliché.  When the filmmakers want us to be sure to know that the heroes or heroines are now going to kick some butt, there is always the Power Walk, where the actors walk in slow motion toward us, shoulder to shoulder, with determined looks on their faces and an iconic soundtrack behind it.  In the most recent "Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (which I will review next week)," there wasn't just one Power Walk but TWO!  Anyway, Emily also demonstrates more girl power when she discovers that she has a knack for killing bad guys in a couple of very funny scenes.

  • The U.S. Government
When Jeffrey gets the ransom call from the kidnappers, he immediately calls the State Department where he speaks with Morgan Russell (Bashir Salahuddin), a beleaguered bureaucrat who doesn't take kindly to Jeffrey asking that they send in the A-Team.  The only help he can give is to tell him the women need to get to the consulate in Bogata.  Not very helpful considering the women are miles from Bogata with no money.  Jeffrey and Morgan have a contentious and very funny relationship as Jeffrey continues to try to get him to do something to find his mother and sister. 

Amy is very funny and even a bit toned down, but for me, Goldie was the revelation.  No ditzy blonde, here. She is funny, yes, but she also shows her acting chops and why she was and still is, such a big star. She was totally believable as Emily's Mom, and I loved her.

Ike and Bashir were also stand-outs who provided some of the funniest moments in the film.

And then there is Roger (Christopher Meloni).  When the women are on the run, they meet Roger, who is dressed very much like Indiana Jones. They are thrilled to get his help, because Roger appears to be someone who knows his way around South America.  He has a boat (reminiscent of the boat in Herzog's "Aguirre, Wrath of God") and offers to take them down the Amazon to Bogata. Unfortunately, Roger is not what he appears to be and one of the funniest moments in the film is when he reveals his true identity and why he is in South America.

Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack also provide some comedy but seem like after- thoughts as characters.

Rosy the Reviewer says...this is a very sweet film that mothers and daughters should see together (I wish I could have seen it with mine), but more importantly, FINALLY, a comedy that is actually funny.




***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!

On DVD






Why Him? (2016)


What does a Dad do when he doesn't approve of his daughter's choice of husband?

Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) is attending Stanford and, while Skyping from her dorm room with her Dad, Ned (Bryan Cranston), on his 55th birthday, what should he see?  Her boyfriend, Laird's (James Franco), bare bum coming into view as he enters her room with no pants on.  That's our and Ned's first glimpse of Laird.  Not a good start and that sets the stage for what a nut he is and why perhaps Ned would not approve of him.

Ned and his wife, Barb (Megan Mullally, whose voice to me is the equivalent of fingernails on a blackboard) are straight-arrow Midwesterners from Grand Rapids, Michigan (my old neck of the woods, so I know all about those kinds of parents), and when next we see them, the family has flown out to Palo Alto to visit Stephanie, and Stephanie wants them to meet Laird, who it turns out is a billionaire owner of a tech company.

They meet Laird at his impressive compound.  In a classic East meets West culture clash, as in buttoned-up, up-tight East meeting overly-friendly, hugging West, Laird appears and happily shows the family his new tattoo: Stephanie's family's Christmas card picture tattooed on his back, including "Merry Christmas."  Laird is watched over by his major domo, Gustav (Keegan-Michael Key, who is always funny), and one of Gustav's jobs is to attack Laird without warning as a way to keep Laird fit and on his toes, so that is a bit of a shock to our Midwesterners . Laird is also very liberal with the F-bomb and other profanities, which doesn't go over really well either.  Not a great start.

But Laird is trying very, very hard to win Ned and Barb over.  He has put in a bowling alley at his home, because he knows Ned likes to bowl and even has Richard Blais on tap to fix them their meals.  Unfortunately, Blais has prepared edible soil and plantain foam (You "Top Chef" fans will remember that Blais always liked his foam).

So overall Ned is not impressed.

Here is your classic comedy where a seemingly normal young woman has her boyfriend meet her parents and the  boyfriend is decidedly NOT normal and strangely everyone can see that except the girl.  Think "Meet the Parents."

But Ned loves his daughter and wants her to be happy, so despite his misgivings, he says he will give Laird a chance.  Unfortunately, Laird has no filter, overshares, and is very inappropriate, and when he tells them that Stephanie and he are living together and he plans to pop the question, Ned goes ballistic. However, Laird wants Ned's blessing and says he won't marry Stephanie without it.  Just give him until Christmas Day to prove he is worthy.

So now the incentive for Ned is to not give his blessing and to dig up dirt about Laird to prove to Stephanie that she shouldn't marry him.  But naturally it all backfires on Ned.

Laird throws a big Christmas party and does everything he can to impress Ned and Barb.  Kiss, Barb's favorite band, even shows up. It seems that everyone is won over by Laird except Ned. 

James Franco loves to play odd characters that bely his good looks - that nice head of hair and that dazzling smile.  So many in fact that at this point, it would actually be difficult for me to take him seriously in a romantic drama.

Bryan Cranston must have wanted to shed his "Breaking Bad" character and remind us that he can do comedy (he did do comedy earlier in his career with "Malcolm in the Middle."). How else can you explain his being in this film after recent successes in dramas such as "Trumbo" and "All the Way? " And unfortunately, I don't think comedy is his forte.  He seems forced here and is actually just not very funny, even when subjected to some cringe worthy scatological scenarios, one of which has Ned trying to cope with a paperless Japanese toilet.

Despite my not being able to cope with her voice, Mullally is an excellent comedienne and provides much of the humor in this film.  She is expert at under-her-breath, throwaway lines, so listen for those, and she has some of the best lines.

Directed by John Hamburg and written by him with Ian Helfer (Jonah Hill is credited for having something to do with the story too), this is the story of an uptight Midwest conservative learning from a spaced-out West Coast millennial, which could have been rich fodder for some fun, but doesn't hit the mark. It's even got a bit of a metaphor, though it falls into overly sentimental territory: Ned runs a printing company in a world that is becoming increasingly paperless.  I get it. The lack of understanding between the older generation (paper) and millennials (paperless), right?  

For the first hour, this film was mildly amusing as we got to know Laird and could see the steam coming out of Ned's ears, but then I got bored waiting for this thing to resolve itself.   This plot - daughter brings unsuitable suitor to meet the parents - has been done to death and didn't bring anything new to it.

You know you are in trouble when Kiss and a Japanese toilet play a major role in a film.

Rosy the Reviewer says...not why him?  Why ME?





Shut In (2016)


A widowed mother and her disabled stepson live an isolated existence  with a storm coming in this thriller where some strange and scary things start to happen.

Naomi Watts stars as Mary, a child psychologist with a very difficult stepson, Steven (Charlie Heaton) and difficult issues of her own.  Steven has just unwillingly gone off with his Dad to boarding school while she stays behind. En route there is a car accident.

Flash forward six months later...

Lifetime movie cliche anyone?  (for more information on Lifetime Movie cliches, see my blog post "Lifetime Movies: A Baby Boomer's Appreciation"), and that flash forward is not the only Lifetime movie device you will encounter in this film.

Anyway, Mary's husband has been killed in the car accident, and now the stepson is living alone with Mary.  Unfortunately he was badly injured in the car accident, and he is a paraplegic with brain damage.

Mary is informed that one of her patients, a little boy named Tom (Jacob Tremblay), who is hearing impaired, is going to be transferred to another school in Boston. Mary is not happy about that, but there is nothing she can do. Later, Mary hears glass shattering and her car alarm going off. Naturally she goes outside in THE DARK all by herself or this wouldn't be a classic thriller about a woman living one her own with a disabled son who would be no help to her should something bad happen.  

Entering the garage, Mary finds one of her car windows smashed in and Tom, that little hearing-impaired boy I mentioned earlier, fast asleep on the backseat. She brings him inside, but after discussing him on the phone inside her office, when she returns, she finds her front door standing open and Tom is nowhere to be found. Mary informs the police and they search for Tom while Mary continues to hear sounds in the night and to experience strange, dream-like horrors.

What the hell is happening?

This genre - a woman all alone plagued by things that go bump in the night -  always has certain criteria.  Glad you asked.  Let me share those with you:

The Top 20

#1 - An idyllic but very remote location.  What could possibly happen in a beautiful place like this?

#2 - The woman is alone or with someone who can't really help her, in this case the only other person with her is her stepson who is a paraplegic.

#3 - Next, expect the unexpected - it's always the least likely person or our heroine does something least likely.  Just think least likely. 

#4 - Our heroine has to be troubled - in this case, she is having problems dealing with her stepson and actually dreams of drowning him.  She is also an insomniac which calls everything she sees into question.

#5 - The woman goes out into the dark alone to investigate a noise and opens up the gate thus possibly allowing bad guys to get in.  And right here, I have to say, I shouted at the screen (I am prone to that kind of thing when I get frustrated), WHY???  What woman in her right mind would hear a noise out there in the dark and go out by herself to investigate - without a gun?

#6 -  A black cat jumps out making us all jump and then we and our heroine breathe a sign of relief thinking that it was only the cat that made the noise.  If only.

#7 - A knock on the door.  DO NOT ANSWER THE DOOR! (I am shouting at the screen again)

#8 - Another strange sound and she goes outside AGAIN, this time leaving the front door open, forcing you to scream "WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS WOMAN?!"

#9 - A nightmare scene occurs, so now we are questioning truth vs. reality.  Is Mary imagining all of this?

#10 - I am now reminded that next time I am home alone at night I am going to be terrified.

#11 - Oh, geez, now she is going down into a dark basement by herself!

#12 - A dark figure runs across the screen behind her.  SHE IS NOT ALONE!

#13 -  Many gotcha moments that make you jump, most of which turn out to be nothing, thus letting your guard down so when the big payoff comes you really jump out of your seat.

#14 - A reminder that all bad things happen at 2am (my mother warned me about that).

#15 - There is a warning that a big storm is coming.  Of course there is.  And the power could go off. And of course it does because in movies like this the lights always go off so that our heroine can go down in dark basements by herself like an idiot.

#16 - Phone goes dead. Of course.

#17 - Cat and mouse game begins.

#18 - Friend who comes to check on our heroine gets killed.

#19 -  Big twist.  Things are not as they appear - and it all goes crazy.

#20 - Our heroine stops being a victim and goes ballistic.

There you have it.  Any questions? 

Directed by Farren Blackburn with a screenplay by Christina Hodson, this film asks the question: who is really the shut in here?  It also asks, just how many movies exactly like this have you already seen?

Rosy the Reviewer says...a psychological thriller that checks all of the above boxes and, despite the usual good performance by Watts, prompts me to ask:  Why?  You've probably seen this film already a million times on Lifetime.




***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***



201 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?





The House is Black (1964)



A short documentary about a leper colony in northern Iran.

Written and directed by Forugh Farrokhzad, this 22 minute black and white short combats the "ugliness" of lepers in a leper colony by using poetry, religion and gratitude, challenges you to see beauty in creation.  The film was meant to shed light on leprosy so that something could be done about it.

The film starts with a black screen and a narrator warning about the images to follow. It makes the case that leprosy is a disease of the poor and with proper care and medical treatment it can be cured.  However, the way that people with leprosy were treated was to segregate them and neglect them in leper colonies.

People in the leper colony are seen eating, having medical treatments, in class and going about their daily lives.  There are children playing but also people with rotting flesh and parts of their faces and bodies eaten away. The images are sometimes difficult to look at.

All of the images are accompanied by narration by Farrokhzad of her own poetry and religious readings and begs the question:  Is there still beauty in creation when the creation isn't beautiful? Can beauty be found in ugliness?  Despite deformities, can one still be grateful for what one does have? 

It was the only film directed by Farrokhzad before her death in 1967.  During shooting she became attached to a child of two lepers, whom she later adopted.  The film received little attention outside of Iran but has since been recognized as a landmark in Iranian film and helped to pave the way for the Iranian New Wave of filmmakers.

I think this film would have been more meaningful having done a little research beforehand.  Seeing the film cold, it was difficult to see the point but understanding why the film was made and something about the filmmaker makes the film more potent.

Why it's a Must See: "At once lyrical and extremely matter-of-fact, devoid of sentimentality or voyeurism yet profoundly humanist [this film] offers a view of life in the colony...that is spiritual, unflinching, and beautiful in ways that have no apparent Western counterparts; it registers like a prayer."
--"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die."

Rosy the Reviewer says...a grotesquely beautiful film, but certainly not for everyone.
(b & w, in Persian with English subtitles)



 
***Book of the Week***





My Mother's Kitchen: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner and the Meaning of Life by Peter Gethers (2017)



Nothing like a son writing admiringly about his mother.

Peter Gethers is an author, screenwriter, playwright, book editor and film and television producer.  His mother, Judy Gethers, was the daughter of the founder of Ratner's restaurant, a legendary Jewish kosher dairy restaurant on New York City's lower East Side. She herself became a legendary figure in the L.A. cooking scene, when, at the age of 53, she took her first job, working with Wolfgang Puck at Ma Maison, running and teaching at its cooking school with Julia Child, Maida Heatter and Paula Wolfert.  She was known as the "Ma of Ma Maison."  Later she followed Puck when he opened Spago and wrote several cookbooks.

Judy faced several health challenges over her lifetime, but when she suffered a stroke in her 80's, she was robbed of her ability to cook, but through regular visits with her son, Peter, she and he talked about food and her life which culminated in this book.  Through their visits, Peter learned about his mother's favorite dishes, and though he did not consider himself much of a cook, Peter decided to honor his mother by preparing her breakfast, lunch and dinner, each consisting of her favorite dishes - and in so doing mother and son drew closer.

The menus?


Breakfast

  • Ratner's Matzo Brei
  • The Beverly Hilton Coffee Shop's and the Cock'n Bull's Eggs Benedict.

Lunch

  • Barbara Apisson's Celeriac Remoulade
  • Louise Trotty's Chocolate Puddy
  • Joel Robuchon's Mashed Potatoes
  • Yotam Ottolenghi's Quail

Dinner

  • Before-Dinner Drink: Peter Kortner's and The Martini Brothers' Perfect Martini
  • Wolfgang Puck's Salmon Caulibiac
  • The Tornabenes' Buccatini with Cauliflower, Pine Nuts, Currants, Anchovies and Saffron
  • Solferino's Steak with Truffle Cream Sauce
  • My Almost-Made-Up Fava Bean Puree
  • Nancy Silverton's and Abby Levine's French Boule and Challah
  • Romanee-Conti's Greatest Red Wine: La Tache
  • Smoothest White Wine There Is: Batard-Montrachet
  • Burgundian Store-Bought Cheese: Epaisses
  • Martha Stewart's Tarte Tatin

Quite a daunting set of menus for someone who can't cook! 

But therein lies the humor...and the love that exudes from this book. And yes, there are recipes as well as stories about the people, food and drink mentioned in the menus, as well as tales about his family and his growing up years all interwoven throughout the book as he goes on a quest to prepare these special meals for his mother. 

For each meal, Gethers shares the menu and then gives often very funny accounts of trying to find the right ingredients, the proper tools and then trying to prepare the meal exactly as it is supposed to be prepared as per his mother.  It is funny and very touching to envision this grown son wanting to do something like this for his mother.  We mothers can only hope our own sons would care as much.

Gethers also shares what he learned about himself:

"Here's what I learned from cooking with my mother and talking to her and absorbing her wisdom.  Here is what I learned in my search to find meaning in my mother's kitchen: Food is not a be-all and end-all.  It does not provide meaning, though it does provide pleasure.  Nothing that provides pleasure can do so in a vacuum.  It is sharing our pleasure that provides real pleasure.      Love can fade.  Families can break apart.  Nothing you do in the kitchen can really alter that.  But love can also last...And food can be used to celebrate and cement love and family, strength and comfort.  It did for my mother.  It does for me now."

Gethers' recollections of his mother who he clearly admired and loved, and his attempts to get the food just right for her was all very touching.  I cried.

Food is love.  Preparing a meal for someone is an act that shows that love. I have a similar story in my own life, though the cuisine is hardly as fancy. My Dad was an only child and his parents - my grandparents - lived across the street from us.  As they aged (my grandmother was blind), my Dad would stop by their house on his way home from work and prepare their dinner. I wish now that I had spoken more to him about that, what he prepared and how he felt about it.

This book is very much a literary version of one of my favorite documentaries, "Nothing Left Unsaid," where Anderson Cooper talks with his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, about her life, to really try to know and understand her so that when she is no longer around, there is nothing he will regret, nothing left unsaid.

Rosy the Reviewer says...an inspiring book about food and love and a reminder to make the most of our time with our parents.  NOW GO CALL YOUR MOTHER!  Or better yet, prepare her a favorite meal.


Thanks for reading!

 

See you next Friday 

 
for my review of
 

"Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2"


and



The Week in Reviews
(What to See or Read and What to Avoid)


 and the latest on



"My 1001 Movies I Must See Before 

 I Die Project." 


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