That Luther/Alice thang

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Luther

BBC America, Netflix, iTunes

Oh Idris.  I love saying that … Idris.  Good morning, Idris.  More coffee, Idris?  Oh, er, sorry ’bout that, but every time I try to write about the fantastic British drama “Luther,” I start drooling over my keyboard thinking about its sexy star, Idris Elba.  But now I must write about it, because his equally charismatic co-star, Ruth Wilson, aka Alice, is starring in a new series on Showtime (“The Affair”*), and there I go dreaming about that Luther/Alice thang all over again.

In “Luther,” Wilson plays Alice, a scheming, sociopath-turned-advisor of sorts to Chief Inspector Luther (Elba), and their dynamic is utterly fascinating.  She’s dangerous, he’s the law, yet they’re captivated by each other’s minds and begin to rely on one another in wholly unexpected ways.  Thankfully, their strange, can’t-look-away connection is an ongoing thread throughout this tough and taut three-season series, as all of their scenes together crackle with an undeniable spark and almost sexual charge. In true TV detective fashion, Luther’s mind is brilliant and his soul is tortured, and oh yeah, did I mention sex-on-a-stick Idris Elba?!  But it’s the Luther/Alice relationship that will keep you on your couch for hours.  See below, go forth and binge.

 

*For you fellow Idris Elba devotees out there, it’s cool to note that Wilson’s co-star in “The Affair” is none other than Dominic West, Elba’s co-star a decade ago in “The Wire.”   Jimmy McNulty, meet Alice!

Best Tomato Sauce Ever (Vol. III)

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Why am I still single if I can make this sumptuous, irresistible tomato sauce?  Let me explain. Years ago, a friend gave me the recipe for Rachael Ray’s “You Won’t Be Single For Long Vodka Sauce,” which promises that if you make her sauce for a guy, he’s sure to pop the question.  Um, still waiting. Then I went to Nick & Toni’s in NYC and had their version, called Penne Alla Vecchia Bettola, and after discovering the recipe online, I am now convinced I will land a prince.  A gorgeous, food-loving, Jewish prince at that!  It’s that good, and the best vodka sauce I’ve ever had, hands down.

If you can’t get to Nick & Toni’s, make it at home. (Thank you, Barefoot Contessa!) While it needs to bake in the oven for an hour and a half and yes, there’s a heck of a lot of cream, its comforting aromas and super-concentrated spicy/sweet flavor will more than make up for the extra calories and cooking time.  This is the third of my three-part “Best Tomato Sauce Ever” posts, yet it might be the first thing I’ll note if I ever join Match.com. (“Or J-Date!” my mother just screamed.)

Nick & Toni’s Penne Alla Vecchia Bettola

Adapted from Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa

  • 1/4 cup good olive oil
  • 1 medium Spanish onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 cup vodka
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans peeled plum tomatoes (San Marzano are best)
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 pound penne pasta
  • 4 tablespoons fresh oregano
  • 3/4 to 1 cup heavy cream (Feel free to use half ‘n half for a slightly less rich taste)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus a little more for presentation

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Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Heat the olive oil in a large oven-proof saute pan over medium heat, add the onions and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes until translucent. Add the red pepper flakes and dried oregano and cook for 1 minute more. Add the vodka and continue cooking until the mixture is reduced by half.  Meanwhile, drain the tomatoes through a sieve and crush them into the pan with your hands. Add 2 teaspoons salt and a pinch of black pepper. Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid and place it in the oven for 1 1/2 hours. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta al dente. Drain and set aside.

Place the tomato mixture in a blender and puree in batches until the sauce is a smooth consistency. Return to the pan.  Reheat the sauce, add 2 tablespoons fresh oregano and enough cream to make the sauce a creamy consistency. Add salt and pepper, to taste, and simmer for 10 minutes. Toss the pasta into the sauce and cook for 2 minutes more. Stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan. Serve with an additional sprinkle of Parmesan and a sprinkle of fresh oregano on each plate.  Good luck!

Serves 4-5

(small photos courtesy of Alexandracooks.com – a great foodie website)

Travel + Food + Balls = Anthony Bourdain

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Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown

Sundays on CNN

Remember when Anthony Bourdain wrote the restaurant exposé “Kitchen Confidential,” cementing his stature as culinary bad boy for the ages?  Turns out, he brings the same sort of bad-ass intrigue he brought to the literary world to CNN, where his travel/food show “Parts Unknown” begins its fourth season next week. “Holy mother of Santa Muerte, please protect my stash of cocaine,” he begins in Mexico, where he dives head first into the world of drug cartels and government corruption, stopping along the way, of course, at the hottest table in Mexico City and the hippest mescal bar in Oaxaca.  In Jerusalem, he re-examines the Arab/Israeli dynamic with aplomb, or rather, over plums, apricots and zucchini from a restaurant’s garden in the West Bank and a watermelon field ablaze with gunfire in Gaza.  And in Detroit, though he likens the abandoned and decaying streets of the once-fabled Motor City to Chernobyl (!), he flaunts its irrepressible entrepreneurship and ends the episode defiantly believing in its comeback. (And its ribs.).

Unlike the dearth of predictable travel and food shows littering cable, “Parts Unknown”  takes you to places, and kitchens, really unknown, and all with Bourdain’s keen eye and voracious appetite.  Think you know Tokyo?  Think again.  Been to Vegas?  Not this Vegas, I assure you.  Bourdain may still be an arrogant celebrity chef with a penchant for eating the balls of a bull, but word has it he goes to Iran and The Bronx in the coming weeks!  I’m going too.

Woo-ha woo-ha! (Song of the Summer)

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Water Fountain

by tUnE-yArDs

“Woo-ha woo-ha!” I heard on the radio back in May when tUnE-yArDs’ new song “Water Fountain” was released, introducing me not only to a very cool band but to a very very cool tune.  As summer finally winds down, I find myself still listening to it, the cheeriest song to hit the airwaves since, well, last year’s “Happy.”  tUnE-yArDs (yup, that’s how they spell it) is actually Indie darling Merrill Garbus and her partner Nate Brenner, who compose some of the most eclectic music out there; equal parts Afro and Indie pop, funky percussive beats and odd rhythms. And all featuring Garbus’ soulful and incredibly unique voice, which really shines on “Water Fountain.”

Most of all, though, the song is just plain old FUN!  It hooks you in fast, builds momentum, and adds layer after layer, leaving you almost dizzy.  Is this Bjork, you think?  Cat Power?  The Talking Heads with a new singer?!  Nope, it’s tUnE-yArDs, no matter how you spell it, and since I can’t seem to get it out of my head nor stop dancing to it, it’s my nomination for Song of the Summer 2014!

Like it?  Check out more tUnE-yArDs, ie. the bluesy “Powa,” and “Gangsta,” explosive and sultry and recently heard in the Netflix hit “Orange is the New Black.”

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More World Cup … Cocktails!

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Why did I only learn about this drink the night after the World Cup ended??  I wanted to enjoy the World Cup, I want to like soccer, I want to call it futbol like cool people, I even want to travel to Uruguay and paint my face.  But let’s face it — I’m a red, white + blue baseball girl to the core, so while I cheered on American Tim “The Human Wall” Howard and marveled at the acting chops of the Dutchmen, I have to admit that I was a little ….. bored.  I promise you I’m no Ann “soccer is foreign” Coulter, and I think it’s a terrific sport, the world’s sport.  I just don’t understand it.

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American Goalkeeper Tim Howard

What I do understand, however, is a good summer cocktail, so when I went out on Sunday after Germany beat Argentina in the Final, I was overjoyed to discover that there’s a companion drink to the Caipirinha, the long-popular Brazilian drink.  It’s called the Caipiroska, equally popular throughout South America and equally delicious.  There’s lots of lime and lots of sugar, yet instead of the Brazilian cachaça liquor, the Caipiroska is made with vodka.  Oh snap, I thought, I’m making these tomorrow!  NYTimes food writer David Tanis says that “Caipiroskas are best served with a beach in view, on the beach itself, or with a beach in mind.”  Anyone know of a good beach in Uruguay?

Cairpiroska
from “One Good Dish” by David Tanis
 
  • 2 small limes, quartered
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 2 oz. vodka
  • Ice cubes

Put the limes and sugar in a cocktail shaker or sturdy glass.  Mash vigorously with a wooden muddler or pestle.  Add the vodka and a few ice cubes, shake well, and pour into a rocks glass.

serves 1

Best Tomato Sauce Ever (Vol. II)

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Facebook: Scarpetta

24 dollars for a small plate of spaghetti?  That’s what I said to a friend when she told me about Scott Conant’s signature pasta dish at Scarpetta, his fantastic restaurant in the Meatpacking District in NYC (with other locations in Miami, Beverly Hills, Las Vegas, and Toronto).  But trust me, it’s not your average plate of spaghetti, no sir.  It’s his simple Spaghetti with Tomato and Basil, and it is simply divine.  His secrets?  A pat of butter at the end (isn’t it always butter?), peeling tons of plum tomatoes and breaking them down with a potato masher (his grandmother’s trick), and infusing his oil with garlic, red pepper and basil, rather than adding them directly to the sauce.  That last bit, which he saves for last, is what defines this dish the most.  As he put it: “The last thing you add will be the first thing you taste,” and that’s so true.

Out of my three “Best Tomato Sauce Ever” recipes, this one is probably my favorite, but I tend to make it the least because it’s pretty labor intensive.  (Ok, and also because I live near the Meatpacking District and tend to pop in to the bar at Scarpetta and eat it faster than you can say “Pass the Ragu” ….. ) You can cut out some of the prep time by using good canned tomatoes (ie. San Marzano) instead of peeling tons of plums, but regardless, it’s so worth the effort.  This simplest-sounding, traditional of dishes packs a mean punch of sophistication and flavor, equaling more than money can buy.

Here is the recipe, below, or for step-by-step instructions by Chef Scott himself, check this out:

http://newyork.seriouseats.com/2009/10/making-scarpetta-tomato-basil-spaghetti-scott-conant-scarpetta-meatpacking-district-nyce.html

Scott Conant’s Spaghetti with Tomato and Basil
@ Scarpetta: New York City, Miami, Beverly Hills, Las Vegas, and Toronto
 
          • 6 oz. spaghetti, high quality dried or fresh
          • Kosher salt
          • Basil – 16 large leaves
          • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
          • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Tomato sauce (2 cups):

          • 12 ripe plum tomatoes (If not in season or if tomatoes lack some flavor, supplement with 1/4 can San Marzano tomatoes)
          • Red chili flakes, 2 pinches
          • Kosher salt
          • 3 tbsp. plus 1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
          • 10 cloves Garlic, whole
          • 3 stems of Basil, leaves on

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Directions:

Place a pot of water on the stove and bring to a boil. Prepare an ice bath by placing ice in a bowl and filling with cold water. Core tomatoes with a paring knife, and discard cores. Score the bottom of each tomato with an “X.” When water has come to a boil, place tomatoes in water and leave for 15 seconds, until skin begins to split away. Transfer to ice bath. When cool, peel with paring knife.

Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise. Remove seeds with your thumb, and set seeded tomatoes aside. Reserve seeds and excess juices. If using canned tomatoes, seed in the same way. In a new pot, place 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, carefully transfer tomatoes to the pot. Add a pinch of salt and chili flakes. Allow the tomatoes to cook for a few minutes until they begin to soften, then smash them with a potato masher. If the consistency is particularly thick, strain excess tomato juices for seeds and add to pot. Cook tomatoes 30 to 45 minutes over medium heat, smashing and stirring occasionally.

While the tomatoes are cooking, prepare the basil-garlic oil. Take a small saucepan and place the remaining 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil in the pan. Add garlic cloves, basil, and chili flakes. Slowly heat to allow the flavors to transfer to the oil. When the garlic is lightly browned, remove from the heat and cool for 5 minutes. Strain the oil and combine with the tomato mixture.  Remove the sauce from the heat and adjust the seasoning with additional salt, as needed.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Heavily season with salt, until it tastes as salty as a broth would. Cook the spaghetti in the water and remove when it is just shy of al dente—depending on the pasta, 3 minutes for fresh, 10 minutes for dried.

Roll basil leaves into a cylinder and thinly cut lengthwise into a chiffonade. Set aside.

While the pasta is cooking, place the sauce into a sauté pan, heat slowly, and reduce slightly. Add the pasta to the sauté pan along with a bit of pasta water, to add starch and seasoning, and finish cooking, over medium high heat. The sauce should coat the pasta and look cohesive. When you shake the pan, the sauce and pasta should move together.

Remove from the heat and add the basil, cheese, and butter, tossing gently to incorporate. Divid the pasta among individual, wide shallow bowls. Adjust the seasoning, drizzle with oil if desired, and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Hola….. George.

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El Xampanyet

Hello… Newman.  Hola … George?  What would you do if one of the most iconic of TV characters worked at a bar near you?  Go there almost every night, like I did?!  I truly think that when I lived in Barcelona for a year, I chose an apartment in the Barrio Gotico, or Gothic Quarter, to be near the bar Xampanyet, where the spitting image of George Costanza, the curmudgeon from the TV classic “Seinfeld,” worked.  El Xampanyet (pronounced sham-pan-YET) is a small, traditional tapas bar across the street from Barcelona’s famed Picasso Museum, and two things make it a local favorite: the homemade cava they serve, and its decidedly unhip vibe in a neighborhood bursting with trendy, modern hot spots. But what made me return to it night after night was the owner’s uncanny resemblance to grumpy, jumpy George, aka Jason Alexander, Jerry Seinfeld’s not-so-loveable sidekick.  Same smile, same stature, same bald head. The cava-serving Signor doesn’t speak English, but in my barely there Spanish I’m pretty sure he told me that he heard that a lot. Not from the locals, of course, but from the tourists visiting the museum and then taking his picture afterwards. So why not stop in, try the bubbly cava and some delicious Catalan anchovies or Pa amb tomàquet (tomato bread) and do your best Elaine dance outside, just like I did!

El Xampanyet
Calle Montcada
Barcelona, Spain
 
Bar Xampanyet . Tapas . Barcelona

George Costanza doppelgänger?

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Jason Alexander as George Costanza

JT/JZ!

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Justin Timberlake & Jay Z

“I got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one,” I sang to the doorman of my chi-chi apartment building the other day. “Say what, white girl?!” he laughed. “Hit me!” I replied with a fist bump as I tried to act cool.  But acting it was as I only really discovered Jay Z’s music last summer, when I caught the Justin Timberlake/Jay Z stadium tour at Fenway Park, and full disclosure: I went for JT but I left for JZ!  Yup, I’m one of these cougar-aged women who secretly love the curly-haired, former ‘Nsync singer … If I had kids, they’d be mortified by my dancing to “Sexyback.”  So I bought the tickets, eagerly awaiting to see my love live for the first time.  Yet I found that Timberlake’s music is much better suited to a smaller, more intimate setting, while the inimitable Jay Z blew the invisible roof off!  His stuff was grand, theatrical, fun, and funny.  It had rhythm and panache – never mind his outfits – and I was relieved that I knew at least a few of his hits.  So if you’re like I was until recently and one of the few in the universe who’s not a fan of Beyonce’s better half, check out my favorite tracks, below, and just try not to sway and smile.

(I hate that 3 of my 4 tracks include Kanye “Father of North” West, but, sigh, they’re good collaborators and great songs. Notice, too, that I did not include any of his songs with JT.  Not my faves.)

“Otis” – Jay Z & Kanye West (featuring Otis Redding)

“99 Problems” — Jay Z

“Ni**as in Paris” – Jay Z & Kanye West

“No Church in the Wild” — Jay Z & Kanye West, featuring Frank Ocean

 

 

Lady Macbeth

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6CLAIRE-UNDERWOOD

As “Orange is the New Black” launches anew on Netflix, I still can’t stop thinking about the network’s other, and original, binging stalwart, “House of Cards.”  With all due respect to Kevin Spacey, it’s Girl Power on Netflix as the ladies, or in this case, the lady, shines. Not since Edie Falco as Carmela Soprano has an actress’s look so perfectly embodied a character, but Robin Wright as Claire Underwood is P E R F E C T I O N.  Her portrayal, her character, her look is the thing that stands out the most this season, as the former Princess Bride transforms into an Ice Queen for the ages. Machiavellian to the core, with a long, lean runner’s body and a short and sleek hairstyle, her androgynous yet sexy Claire is Lady Macbeth in couture.  Whether it’s a Zac Posen shift dress and Louboutins during the day or a strapless evening gown by Armani or The Row at night, this powerful political wife is calculating in what she wears — fittingly in only black, navy or neutrals — and careful in how she wears them.  The subtlety of her palette lures you in; the boldness of her pieces spit you out.  Her look is her character - striking, sophisticated, severe and ice cold – and Robin Wright, with her acting chops honed and her enviable physique toned, pulls it off with aplomb.  Frank Underwood sure commands attention, but when the missus walks into a room, full of purpose and Prada, attention is served.

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And for heaven’s sake, will someone please tell me how I can get my hands on this absolutely fabulous white suit she wears in Season 2 (chapter 25), which made me gasp when I saw it?  Narciso Rodriquez, maybe??  Alas, I have no power lunches to attend, but at least I can go as Claire Underwood on Halloween, natch!

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Whose gorgeous suit am I wearing?!

Go Charlestown Chiefs!

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What is icing?  How about high sticking?  If you don’t know, then you probably won’t be tuning in to the Stanley Cup Finals, which start tonight.  What’s the Stanley Cup?  Oh dear…. you might want to check out my recipes (see: cakes, icing).

The Stanley Cup, of course, is the championship playoffs of the NHL (National Hockey League).   As an avid sports fan who follows baseball, football, basketball and SportsCenter pretty religiously, I’ve always wondered why I never got in to hockey.  My father loved the Detroit Red Wings, my brother lovingly taught me and my sisters what a hip-check was, and I was fascinated by the players’ gorgeous skating during the one game I saw live.  But watching on TV?  Zzzzzzzzzz.

The one thing I do love about hockey, however, is the movie “Slap Shot.”  A raw and raunchy comedy from the late ’70′s, it stars Paul Newman in his oh-so-sexy prime, as the veteran coach/player of a downtrodden minor league hockey team (the Chiefs) who realizes that dirty play and fighting is what brings in the fans.  The roster of characters is priceless, especially the completely clueless Hanson brothers, three bespectacled goons who are so outlandish that if the movie came out today, they’d get their own spin-off. Having just seen it for the first time in years, I was struck by a) how Connie Britton/Tammy Taylor-ish Paul Newman’s wife is, b) they didn’t wear helmets in the ’70′s?!? and c) only Paul Newman could look manly in a long leather coat with fur trim. Oh, and for the umpteenth time, I pee’d my pants during the final (hockey) scene.  Don’t believe me?  Forget ESPN and the Yankees and the French Open tonight and check out this hilarious sports gem of a movie, eh?

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