Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

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Film (with rating): Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (PG)
 

Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Summary: When Flint Lockwood’s (Bill Hader) latest
contraption turns water into food, people greedily ask for more and more
edibles, causing the machine to run amok. Now it’s up to Flint, weather girl
Sam Sparks (Anna Faris) and a talking monkey to shut down the machine before
the world is covered in super-sized meatballs!

Review: This film, based on the charming children’s book
written by Judi Barrett and Ron Barrett, can be taken on numerous levels. On
one side, we see a charming tale of a young, misunderstood “geek” who
finally is seen for his true genius. We see mended relationships with fathers
and even an anti-junk food message.

On the other side, we’ve got an
adult-targeted theme about the perils of obesity, gluttony and excess. Yet
either way you look at “Cloudy,” it’s still an enjoyable viewing. And
one bound to make you hungry! The messages, while strong, don’t come across
preachy or painfully obvious. The animation, even without the theatrical 3D
version, is beautiful. It’s not a Pixar film, but it’s not that far behind in
quality. I’m not saying it would give Pixar babies a run for their money, but I
am saying it’s not sloppy seconds.

The characters in “Cloudy” are
enriched and the dialog is a step above some other animated fare. It helps that
the voice talent is so varied and impressive: Hader, Faris, James Caan, Mr. T
(yes, you read correctly) and Neil Patrick Harris. The story is funny, well paced
and deep enough to appeal to viewers of all ages. On this cloudy and wet
Southern California weekend, why not have a movie night with the family? Just
make sure to prepare lots for dinner.

Extra highlight: The Interactive “Raining Sunshine”
Sing-a-Long

What to serve for dinner: What else? Spaghetti and
meatballs! (Courtesy of FoodNetwork.com.)

Ingredients:

     *
1 pound spaghetti

    *
Salt, for pasta water

Meatballs:

    *
1 1/4 pounds ground sirloin

    *
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce, eyeball it

    *
1 egg, beaten

    *
1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs, a couple of handfuls

    *
1/4 cup grated Parmesan, Parmigiano-Reggiano or Romano cheese

    *
2 cloves garlic, chopped

    *
Salt and pepper

Sauce:

    *
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 2 turns of the pan

    *
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

    *
4 cloves garlic, crushed or chopped

    *
1 small onion, finely chopped

    *
1 cup beef stock, available on soup aisle in market in small paper boxes

    *
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

    *
A handful chopped flat-leaf parsley

    *
10 leaves fresh basil leaves, torn or thinly sliced

    *
Grated cheese, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano or Romano, for passing at table

    *
Crusty bread or garlic bread, for passing at the table

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place a large pot of water on
to boil for spaghetti. When it boils, add salt and pasta and cook to al dente.

Mix beef and Worcestershire, egg, bread crumbs, cheese,
garlic, salt and pepper. Roll meat into 1 1/2 inch medium-sized meatballs and
place on nonstick cookie sheet or a cookie sheet greased with extra-virgin
olive oil. Bake balls 10 to 12 minutes, until no longer pink.

Heat a deep skillet or medium pot over moderate heat. Add
oil, crushed pepper, garlic and finely chopped onion. Saute 5 to 7 minutes,
until onion bits are soft. Add beef stock, crushed tomatoes and herbs. Bring to
a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes.

Toss hot, drained pasta with a few ladles of the sauce and
grated cheese. Turn meatballs in remaining sauce. Place pasta on dinner plates
and top with meatballs and sauce and extra grated cheese. Serve with garlic
bread and red wine. 

What to talk about over dinner: If you could invent
anything, what would it be? Do you think Americans are fat? Do we eat too much,
or all the wrong things? Are kids getting heavier? How can we become healthier
as a nation? What have you done that surprised people who didn’t believe in
you? Who does believe in you? Who do you believe in? What is one
health-conscious move we can all start doing today? Ever watch “The A
Team?”

Julie & Julia

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Film (with rating): Julie & Julia (PG-13)

 

Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

 

Summary: A culinary legend provides a frustrated office
worker with a new “recipe” for life in “Julie & Julia,”
the true stories of how Julia Child’s (played remarkably by the talented Meryl
Streep) life and cookbook inspired fledgling writer Julie Powell (Amy Adams) to
whip up 524 recipes in 365 days and write about it. Based on Powell’s 2005 book
by the same name.

Review: This wasn’t on my must-see list for theatrical releases,
which is a shame, because “Julie & Julia” is a truly enjoyable
gem. While not a fan of French food, I still loved watching the real 6’2″
Julia Child on television’s “The French Chef” when I was a kid,
whipping up these ridiculously complex meals in what seemed like complete ease.
I’d try to mimic her voice and cooking style when I played pretend kitchen next
to my mom as she cooked dinner.

So while watching “J&J,” I found
myself transported back to those childhood days. This is not uncommon, as food
has the magical ability to do that. Who hasn’t tasted a dish from the past and
sighed in satisfaction as warm memories flooded our minds as the tastes flooded
our mouths?

Fans of food, French cooking and Julia Child will love this film by
Nora Ephron. OK, some true Child fans may hate that some blogger tried to capitalize on Child’s creations in a sort of marathon cooking session. But if you watch it as a tribute to Child, you’ll enjoy
“J&J.” It’s that good. Thanks, in no small part, to Streep’s
incredible acting chops. She portrays Child down to the syllable, and she does
it with respect and clarity. The only drawback here is that there wasn’t ENOUGH
of her on the screen. Adams was good as real-life writer Powell, but that
character wasn’t nearly as interesting as the iconic gourmand.

I wanted to see more of Julia, her life and her struggles.
This film would have even worked as a biopic of the late chef. Many, many
people in the industry and beyond loved her and wanted to see more of her.

“This film is an homage to Julia,” said Susan
Spungen, the food stylist on “Julie & Julia.”

Friend and fellow chef Jacques Pepin remembers Child and the
times he worked with her since the 1960s fondly.

“You have to be happy when you cook and you have to be
happy when you eat. She had that type of attitude,” he said.

Nancy Silverton, chef of Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles, said
her first recollection of Child dates back when Silverton was a child and her
mom studied “Mastering Art of French Cooking.”

“The memory of the joy she gave my mother when my
mother proudly served her first roast chicken” is her favorite memory, she
said. “I can still see the sparkle in my mother’s eye as she served
that.”

 

Extra highlight:  “Family & Friends Remember Julia Child” – Julia’s closest
family and friends tell us about the woman they knew and loved.

 

What to serve for dinner: This is going to be fun, because
the movie is guaranteed to make you hungry. Many of Child’s chef friends
recommend cracking open “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and
picking out anything. But the overwhelming favorite is a roast chicken. You can
pair it with potatoes sauted in butter (“Mastering the Art of French
Cooking” page 526) or peas (page 481). (“Mastering the Art of French
Cooking” and Recipezaar.com.)

 

    *
3 lbs broiler-fryer chicken

    *
1/4 teaspoon salt

    *
2 tablespoons softened butter

    *
1 small carrot, sliced

    *
1 small onion, sliced

     *
2 tablespoons melted butter

    *
1 tablespoon cooking oil

    *
1/4 teaspoon salt

    *
1/4 teaspoon salt

    *
1/2 tablespoon minced shallot or green onion

    *
1 cup brown chicken stock or canned chicken broth

    *
salt

    *
pepper

    *
1-2 tablespoon softened butter

 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Sprinkle the inside of the
chicken with 1/2 teaspoon salt, and then smear in one tablespoon of the butter.
Truss and dry the chicken, and rub the skin with the other half of the butter.

Melt butter in a small saucepan with cooking oil. Leave on
stovetop with a basting brush for later use.

Now back to the chicken: Place the chicken, breast side up,
in a shallow small roasting pan. Scatter the veggies around it, and set it on
the rack in the preheated oven. Allow the chicken to brown slightly for 15
minutes, turning on the left side after five minutes, then onto the right side
for the last five minutes. Baste with butter quickly after each turn so that
the oven does not lose a lot of heat. Reduce heat to 350. Leave chicken on its
side, baste every 8 to 10 minutes, using the butter in the bottom of the
roasting pan once you have used up all of the baste in your bowl. Watch and
adjust oven heat so that the chicken is noisy, but fat is not burning. Halfway
through estimated roasting time (which is 70-80 minutes; so after about 35
minutes), salt the chicken and turn it onto its other side.

Continue to baste regularly. At 15 minutes before end of
estimated roasting time, salt again and flip chicken breast side up. Continue
to baste. Chicken will be done when drumstick moves easily in socket and juices
run a clear yellow.

Let sit on a platter 5 to 10 minutes before carving.

Remove all but two tablespoons of fat from the roasting pan.
Stir in shallot or onion and cook slowly for one minute. Add stock and boil
rapidly over high heat, scraping up bits that are stuck in the pan with a
wooden spoon. Reduce to about 1/2 cup. Season with salt and pepper. Turn off
heat just before serving, swirl in the last one to two tablespoons butter by
bits until it is absorbed. Pour a spoon of the sauce onto the chicken, then
pour the rest into a gravy boat and serve with the chicken.

 

What to talk about over dinner: What is your favorite thing
to cook? Your favorite style of food? Would you ever try to cook the entire
“Mastering the Art of French Cooking” cookbook? Any cookbook? Do you
think all of those “30-minute meals” have ruined the art of cooking?
Have we as a society lost the sacred act of cooking and eating as a family? Who
taught you to cook? What are some of your cooking accomplishments? Disasters?
(My homemade cornbread was so epically horrid, the story is still told around
the Thanksgiving table.) Have you learned anything from Julia Child? Do you think
this would have been a better biopic flick? What can’t Meryl Streep do? If you
could cook one dish perfectly, what would it be? Why?