Saving Private Ryan


Film (with rating): Saving Private Ryan (R)

 

Studio:
Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment

 

Summary: Following
the Allied invasion of Normandy in June of 1944, a few United States soldiers
go behind enemy lines to retrieve a private whose three brothers have been
killed in action.

 

Review: In
honor of Memorial Day, let’s haul out a classic war film. Steven Spielberg’s
“Saving Private Ryan” is perhaps the most powerful war film of modern
time. Maybe ever. The opening half-hour scene depicting the landing in
Normandy from a soldier’s point of view is unquestionably the most raw, harsh,
violent, visceral depiction of war ever filmed. Spielberg created an utterly
unforgettable cinematic masterpiece that’s both beautiful and absolutely
horrifying.

 

For a long time, I avoided watching this film, since my
grandfather was one of those men storming the beaches. He escaped, barely. Extensively wounded, sent home with the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star, he again never talked
about his time on that foreign shore. But according to many World War II vets
who were also there, Spielberg’s depiction of the event was spot-on. It’s
almost too much to watch. Knowing that more than 400,000 Americans were killed
in WWII made “Saving Private Ryan” almost too painful
to see, especially knowing that my grandfather was nearly one of those 400,000.

 

The casting for “Saving Private Ryan” couldn’t
have been better. While not Tom Hanks’ biggest role, it is one of his finest.
He played Capt. John Miller, the man chosen to lead a team of eight soldiers
ordered to locate and rescue Pvt. James Ryan (Matt Damon). His three brothers
died in the war and his mother is scheduled to receive the telegrams all on the
same day. The powers-that-be, in a goodwill stunt tinged with a P.R. campaign, order
that the surviving Ryan son be sent home safely. Capt. Miller is called to
duty to fulfill the mission. 

 

The acting of the entire cast–including Tom Sizemore, Ted
Danson, Paul Giamatti, Vin Diesel, Edward Burns, Giovanni Ribisi–is beyond
compare, which is saying something, since the film leans heavily on action
sequences. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, who also shot “Schindler’s
List,” brings his talent to the table, as well.

 

But here’s where “Saving Private Ryan” really
shines: Spielberg and his screenwriter, Robert Rodat, created a riveting action
film, an unforgettable human-interest tale, and a philosophical stance on war itself. But since it’s Sir Steven here,
he does all of this in such a way that the messages and images morph together
into a piece of art. He says what he does about war without preaching, without
pulling the viewer from the story. Somehow, in the midst of this action-packed
movie, Spielberg found a way for his characters, and his script, to speak
volumes.

 

Extra highlight:
Check out the director’s message.
Or just find a soldier and tell him or her thanks. 

 

What to serve for dinner: It’s Meatless Monday again!  Now I know many of us will be
barbequing this holiday, but just because we’re forgoing the meat doesn’t mean
we need to shut down the grill, too. Let’s try vegetable skewers and black bean
veggie burgers (allrecipes.com).

 

Skewers

2 medium zucchini, cut into 1 inch slices

2 yellow summer squash, cut into 1 inch slices

1/2 pound whole fresh mushrooms

1/3 cup olive or vegetable oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil

1 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley flakes

3/4 teaspoon garlic powder

3/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

 

On metal or soaked bamboo skewers, alternately thread
zucchini, yellow squash and mushrooms. In a bowl, combine the remaining
ingredients. Brush some of the mixture over vegetables. Grill, uncovered, over
medium heat for 10-15 minutes or until vegetables are tender, turning and
basting occasionally with herb mixture.

 

Burgers

1 (16 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 green bell pepper, cut into 2 inch pieces

1/2 onion, cut into wedges

3 cloves garlic, peeled

1 egg

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 tablespoon cumin

1 teaspoon Thai chili sauce or hot sauce

1/2 cup bread crumbs

 

If grilling, preheat an outdoor grill for high heat, and lightly
oil a sheet of aluminum foil. If baking, preheat oven to 375 degrees and
lightly oil a baking sheet. In a medium bowl, mash black beans with a fork
until thick and pasty. In a food processor, finely chop bell pepper, onion, and
garlic. Then stir into mashed beans. In a small bowl, stir together egg, chili
powder, cumin, and chili sauce. Stir the egg mixture into the mashed beans. Mix
in bread crumbs until the mixture is sticky and holds together. Divide mixture
into four patties. If grilling, place patties on foil, and grill about 8
minutes on each side. If baking, place patties on baking sheet, and bake about
10 minutes on each side.

 

What to talk about over dinner: What did you think of the opening scene? Did this
film deserve all five Oscars (including Best Director and Best Cinematography)?
Who was your favorite character? What would it be like if we lost 400,000
Americans in the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? What was it like to
live through WWII? How did that experience change our country? What is the most
powerful war story you’ve ever heard? What’s next for Matt Damon? What is your
favorite Tom Hanks film? Why is he the most likeable guy in Hollywood? What’s
your favorite Steven Spielberg movie? If you could spend one day with him, what
would you ask him? What do you think “Saving Private Ryan” says about
war? Do you agree? 

So for all those serving our country now or in the past, we salute you. Happy Memorial Day.

Mission: Impossible–Ghost Protocol

Film (with rating): Mission: Impossible–Ghost
Protocol (PG-13)

 

Studio: Paramount

 

Summary: The IMF is shut down when it’s implicated as
international terrorist organization in the bombing of the Kremlin, causing
Ethan Hunt and his team to go rogue to clear their organization’s name and stop
a nuclear war.

 

Review: I don’t know how director Brad Bird did it,
but this “Mission: Impossible” was just as good as–if not better
than–the first three. I know people are a bit sick of the never-aging Tom
Cruise (including yours truly), but this movie would not have been half as
enjoyable without him in the lead.

What makes “Protocol” better than
expected is that the energizing plot is driven by all of the actors, and not
just Cruise. Simon Pegg, for example, is amazing as one of Hunt’s team. I
became a card-carrying member of his fan club when he was in “Shaun of the
Dead,” and his British humor was a welcome addition to
“Protocol.” Fans of “Lost” will get to be reunited with a
series fave: Sawyer (aka Josh Holloway) finds his way to the big screen.

 

The action sequences are as hoped–fantastic and not
overdone. The scene with Hunt crawling along the outside of Dubai’s insanely
tall Burj Khalifa  will honestly
make your heart race.

 

The setting is also a highlight of “Protocol.”
From Russia to Dubai, the team travels the globe, giving viewers locations that
are as interesting as some of the action scenes.  The sandstorm sequence is a perfect combination of the two:
setting and action. It’s not to be missed.

 

So on this holiday weekend, sit back, enjoy some insane
action and, for extra fun, watch the first three “Mission
Impossibles” to kick off the summer.

 

Extra highlight: “Impossible Missions”
featurette

 

What to serve for dinner: Start off with a Dubai
staple–falafel–followed by Svitanak, an authentic Russian recipe.

 

Falafel (www.mideastfood.about.com)

1 cup dried chickpeas or 16 oz. can of chickpeas or garbanzo
beans.

1 large onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

3 tablespoons of fresh parsley, chopped

1 teaspoon coriander

1 teaspoon cumin

2 tablespoons flour

Salt

Pepper

Oil for frying

 

Place dried chickpeas in a bowl, covering with cold water.
Allow to soak overnight. Omit this step if using canned beans. Drain chickpeas,
and place in pan with fresh water, and bring to a boil. Allow to boil for 5
minutes, then let simmer on low for about an hour. Drain and allow to cool for
15 minutes.

 

Combine chickpeas, garlic, onion, coriander, cumin, salt and
pepper (to taste) in medium bowl. Add flour. Mash chickpeas, ensuring to mix
ingredients together. You can also combine ingredients in a food processor. You
want the result to be a thick paste.

 

Form the mixture into small balls, about the size of a ping
pong ball. Slightly flatten. Fry in 2 inches of oil at 350 degrees until golden
brown (5-7 minutes). Serve hot, with a side of hummus.

 

Svtinak (www.ruscuisine.com/)

1 lb chicken fillet

3 oz cheese

2 tbsp mayonnaise

4 ea garlic cloves

1 ea egg

3 oz dried and finely ground bread-crumbs

4 tbsp butter

salt

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Shred the cheese, add finely
chopped garlic and stir in mayonnaise. Divide fillet into small and large
pieces and salt them. Spread the filling on a large piece, put a small fillet
piece in the centre and fold into half-moons with a little piece inside. Soak
in the beaten egg and roll in dried and finely ground breadcrumbs. Fry until
light brown in a pan with enough oil to cover the bottom and come partially up
the sides just a bit. Then cook until soft and tender in the oven, about 20-30
minutes. Check at 15 minutes for readiness.

 

What to talk about over dinner: What was your
favorite location? What was your favorite action scene? Was this your favorite
“Mission: Impossible?” Why or why not? Why doesn’t Tom Cruise age?
Why was “Shaun of the Dead” so funny? What’s your favorite Cruise
flick? I’m going with “Risky Business” and “A Few Good
Men.” Oh, and “War of the Worlds.” Least favorite? Mine is
“Knight and Day.” Didn’t his character in “Tropic Thunder”
steal the show? Who is going to see Cruise’s new film, Rock of Ages? Breaking
news: There’s a “Top Gun 2″ in the works! Can the Mav do it again? Do
you believe that Cruise did most of the stunts himself in “Protocol?”
Did you hear about the drinking game from this movie? Every time there’s a
close-up of Cruise where he gives that cocky grin, you drink. Just make sure
you’re not driving anywhere if you play this, because by the 45-minute mark,
you’re sure to be tanked.

 

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

http://captainsdead.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/ferris.jpgFilm (with rating): Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (PG-13)

Studio:
Paramount

 

Summary: A
high school slickster is determined to take a day off of school and have some
fun.

 

Review:  Maybe it’s spring fever, or perhaps a
yearning to be back in high school (I tell you, that “Glee” kick has
really messed with my head!). Or maybe it’s just a deep desire to take a day
off. Whatever the reason, I went vintage this weekend and pulled a classic out
of the vault. “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is one of my favorite John Hughes
films. It’s got romance, adventure, the Chicago skyline, comedy and Charlie
Sheen, all wrapped up in a fuzzy blanket of teen angst and emotion. Matthew
Broderick stars as the title character in this 26-year-old (good Lord! It’s
that old?!) film, and despite all he’s done in his very accomplished career, he
can’t outrun “Bueller….Bueller.”

 

For those of you not familiar with this movie, it’s about
Ferris, a savvy teen who decides the day is too beautiful to be spent in
school. So he gets his girlfriend and best friend to take a day off with him
and enjoy the sights, sounds and escapades this day holds for them. We’ve got
baseball, a parade, museums, fancy cars, swanky restaurants. Ferris does more
in one day than I’ve done in the past year, I think.

 

One thing that makes “Ferris” such an all-star
movie is the all-star cast. Jennifer Grey plays Ferris’ angry sister (who tries
to pick up Charlie Sheen in the police station. Classic scene!) and Jeffrey
Jones is the unforgettable Ed Rooney, who makes it his mission to destroy
Ferris and keep him in high school another year. The comedy is beyond classic.
One-liners and laugh-out-loud scenes are the norm here. Hughes, the master of
the teen comedy and teen angst, knew just what he was doing with “Ferris.”
He not only captured the essence of the teenager, but he encapsulated the
spirit of Chicago. Classic. I saw the movie for the first time all those years
ago, and to this day I still recite the lines. And I still want a Ferris
Bueller-style day off.

 

Perhaps the Ferris-ism I took most to heart was the main one
from the movie: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around
once in a while, you could miss it.” So true, Ferris. So true. After
enjoying a trip back in time to the 1980s this weekend, take a note from
Ferris. Stop and look around a bit. Life does move pretty fast, you know. Don’t
miss it.

 

Extra highlight:
Skip it. Call in sick to work and go visit the museum or catch a baseball game.

 

What to serve for dinner: In honor of one of my most-favorite cities, serve
up some deep-dish Chicago-style pizza (foodnetwork.com). To pay homage to
“Abe Froman, Sausage King of Chicago,” add some sausage to this pizza
pie. Follow it up with a handful of gummi bears for dessert. Preferably warm
and soft.

 

Pizza Dough:

16 ounces water

1/8-ounce yeast

1/2-ounce salt

2 pounds bread flour

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup cornmeal

 

Toppings:

2 cups tomato sauce, jar or homemade

2 cups shredded mozzarella

1/2 cup sliced mushrooms

1/2 cup spinach, shredded

1/2 cup grated Romano

1/2 cup sliced pepperoni

1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Sausage, cooked and sliced

 

In a mixer combine the water and the yeast and allow the
yeast to dissolve. Add the remaining ingredients except for the cornmeal and
begin to mix the dough using a dough hook on low speed. Once a ball is formed
mix on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes until the dough becomes elastic and
smooth. Remove from the mixer and place in a bowl coated with olive oil. Allow
the dough to rest for approximately 4 hours. Once the dough is rested, place on
flat surface and dust with some flour.

 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a deep baking dish or
deep-dish pizza pan, spread the dough using your fingers at the bottom of the
pan and make sure to have enough dough to come up the sides of the pan
approximately 1/2-inch high.

 

Begin by placing a layer of the mozzarella cheese on the
bottom of the crust. Add the tomato sauce and all of the toppings. Place in the
oven for 30 to 40 minutes until golden and crispy.

 

What to talk about over dinner: What was your favorite scene? Favorite adventure?
Did you have a friend like Ferris in high school? Were you Ferris? Are
you still that guy? What would you do if you could take a Ferris-style day off
tomorrow? What was your favorite line from the film? Why was John Hughes such a
genius when it came to the teen-angst drama/comedy? What was your favorite one?
Don’t even get me started on “Sixteen Candles.” I could talk about
that all night. What were the best parts of the 1980s? Where was the best place
you went to when you ditched high school? I think mine was the Oscars. Or
should I say, the parking lot near the Shrine Auditorium as we stood so far
back from the red carpet we could only manage a tiny glimpse of some actors’
heads as they rushed inside. But hey, I’d say that counts as a quasi-Ferris
moment. It would only be a true Ferris-style adventure, though, if I had
managed to walk down the red carpet myself, get inside the ceremony and finish
the evening dancing with Tom Cruise at the Governors Ball. 

Joyful Noise

Film (with rating): Joyful Noise (PG-13)

 

Studio:
Warner Bros.

 

Summary: A
small-town choir and its feuding choir leaders (Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton)
set out to win a national competition despite overwhelming odds and obstacles.

 

Review:
Perhaps it’s because I’m addicted to “Glee” episodes streaming
online. Or maybe because I have watched “9 to 5″ three dozen times.
Or that I was one of the 19 people who loved “Beauty Shop.” Whatever
the reason, I found “Joyful Noise” surprisingly enjoyable. At first
blush, the film looked to be at risk for major clichs, canned lines and syrupy
song numbers. But in reality, the Todd Graff-directed piece turned out to be
rather charming. The insane musical talents–not just of Parton and Latifah, but
of the entire cast– greased the wheels of “Noise” so that it sailed
right past most of the sticky parts. It’s like “Glee” and
“Footloose” and “Sister Act” with a sprinkle of “Steel
Magnolias” for good measure. Parton showcased her trademark feistiness,
portraying G.G. with enough Southern spunk and fire to please her fans. And
really, who doesn’t like Dolly Parton? The woman is an icon.

 

As is Latifah. With her character bent on keeping the church
choir as traditional as possible, she clashes with G.G., who feels a more modern
twist is needed. The two dish out some campy lines, but also some hysterical
ones. A great scene is where G.G. pokes fun of her “facial
enhancements” during a food fight with Vi Rose (Latifah), who tells G.G.
she may have lost herself in the world of cosmetic alterations.

 

“God didn’t make plastic surgeons so they could
starve,” snapped G.G.

 

The movie features things fans of “Glee” or big
booming voices will love: strong characters, predictable plot twists, romance
and lots and lots of singing. The singing, in fact, stole the show.
“Noise” is not going to win any Oscars for Best Screenplay, but it
will entertain you and make you tap your toe to the beat. Or belt out a diva
song in the shower.

 

Extra highlight:
“Make Some Noise” or, for the Blu-Ray, “Spotlight on a Song:
Dolly Parton’s ‘From Here to the Moon’”

 

What to serve for dinner: In the snappy food-fight scene, G.G. tosses a
handful of spaghetti at Vi Rose. So serve up a plate full of Fettuccini with
Salsa Cruda and Feta (allrecipes.com). Happy Meatless Monday, everyone!

 

1 pound fresh fettuccine pasta

5 ripe tomatoes, chopped

1/2 small red onion, chopped

1 cup chopped fresh basil

1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped

1-2 teaspoons of minced garlic to taste

freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

 

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add
fettuccini and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain. In a medium
bowl combine tomatoes, onion, basil, olives, garlic and black pepper. Toss the
fettuccini with olive oil. Serve pasta topped with tomato mixture and feta
cheese.

 

What to talk about over dinner: What was your favorite song? Who else could have
played G.G. and Vi Rose? What is your favorite Dolly Parton song? How has she
lasted this long in the spotlight? Was the movie too predictable, or
comfortably so? If you could sing like that, what would you do with that
talent? Why do so many great singers get self-destructive? What song do you
sing in the shower? What song do you think you know the words to, but really
just make up the lyrics as you go along? What was your favorite scene from
“9 to 5?” How much work has Dolly done on her face? Is she different
than the average Hollywood star because she’s so open about the plastic
surgery? Who has the worst plastic surgery in Hollywood?

The Vow


Film (with rating): The Vow (PG-13)

 

Studio: Sony
Pictures

 

Summary:
After a horrific car accident, a young wife (Rachel McAdams) cannot remember
the past few years of her life, or her husband (Channing Tatum). He now must
figure out how to make her fall in love with him all over again.

 

Review: Happy
Mother’s Day weekend, everyone. In honor of that, I decided to break out a
romance for your enjoyment. (Sure, I’d rather watch a horror movie or some
crazy actioner on Mother’s Day, but I know I’m a bit off.) Fans of “The
Notebook” or predictable yet satisfying romance movies featuring
love-conquers-all as the main theme will enjoy “The Vow.” It’s got
some of today’s biggest romance players with McAdams (of “The
Notebook” fame, by the way) and Tatum. To add more fuel to this romantic
fire and cause fans to swoon even more, the film is based on the true-life tale
of a couple that went through this same experience and wrote a book about it,
also titled “The Vow.”

 

The story begins with a wild and endearing courtship of
Paige and Leo, two independent and quirky Chicagoans. All too soon, their
happiness is shattered–literally–when Paige is thrown through the windshield in
the wake of a terrible car accident and falls into a coma. When she awakes
(without looking like she was just thrown through the windshield, of course),
she can’t remember Leo, doesn’t understand why she dresses like such a free
spirit and is basically a totally different person than the one Leo married.
But in true romance fashion, the dashing young hero won’t give up, and despite
many obstacles, he makes it his life’s mission to woo Paige and rekindle their
love.

 

Now this is a romance, so don’t expect any real deviations
from the genre. Without issuing any spoilers, let me tell you that this film
won’t disappoint fans of love stories. McAdams is, as always, adorably charming
in this role, even if at times she seems a bit flat. Tatum, easy on the eyes as
he is, portrays Leo with a quiet strength. Overall, the quality of these two
leads helps push “The Vow” past likeable and into memorable.
“The Vow” does get greedy in the clich category, but fans of the
romance movie will most likely overlook those flaws.

 

Extra highlight:
deleted scenes

 

What to serve for dinner: Let’s go with a pre-coma-Paige meal: waffles. Try
chocolate waffles served with whipped cream and sliced strawberries followed up
with a chocolate mojito.

 

Chocolate Waffles (foodnetwork.com)

 

7 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 1 1/2 cups

    1
3/4 ounces sugar, approximately 3 tablespoons

   
1.5 ounces cocoa powder, approximately 1/2 cup

    1
teaspoon baking powder

    1
teaspoon salt

   
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

    3
whole eggs, beaten

    2
ounces unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

    1
teaspoon pure vanilla extract

    16
ounces buttermilk, room temperature

    4
ounces chocolate chips, approximately 3/4 cup

   
Vegetable spray, for waffle iron

 

 

Preheat waffle iron according to manufacturer’s directions.
In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder,
salt, and baking soda. In another bowl beat together the eggs and melted butter
and vanilla, and then add the buttermilk. Add the wet ingredients to the dry
and stir in the chocolate chips just until combined. Allow to rest for 5 minutes.

 

Ladle the recommended amount of waffle batter onto the
center of the iron. Close the iron top and cook until the waffle is crispy on
both sides and is easily removed from iron. Serve immediately or keep warm in a
200 degree F oven until ready to serve.

 

Chocolate Mojito (http://www.hersheysweetrecipes.com)

 

1 lime wedge

3 fresh mint leaves

1/2 ounce Torani White Chocolate Syrup

1 1/2 ounces Gosling’s Black Seal Rum

Club Soda

 

In a highball glass, put lime wedge, mint leaves and syrup.
Muddle together (crush ingredients using a special muddling tool or the back of
a teaspoon) to incorporate all ingredients. Add ice, rum, and top with club
soda. Stir, pulling the muddled ingredients to the top. Garnish with a fresh
sprig of mint.

 

Happy Mother’s Day to all!

 

What to talk about over dinner: What’s the most romantic thing your spouse has ever
done for you? That you’ve done for him or her? What was your favorite part of
this movie? The most “cheesy” part? What’s your favorite romance
ever? Do you like romantic movies or books more? Do you think this or “The
Notebook” was more romantic? Why? What would you do if you had to make
your spouse fall in love with you all over again? Did you think this movie was
more believable because it was based on a true story? Or was it too
“Hollywoodized?” Do you like romances or romantic comedies more? Who
is your favorite lead in a romance? Would this movie have worked with leads
other than McAdams and Tatum? If so, who?

New Year’s Eve


Film (with rating): New Year’s Eve (PG-13)

 

Studio:
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

 

Summary: As
the old year comes to a close and the new year is born, people from all over
New York look for love, hope and happiness.

 

Review:
Katherine Heigl’s character said it best: “There are going be more
celebrities here than at rehab.” So very, very true. “New Year’s
Eve” is packed with more stars than a moonless sky in the desert. We’ve
got an eclectic bunch of actors, such as Halle Berry, Jessica Biel, Josh Duhamel,
Zac Efron, Jon Bon Jovi (*sigh*), Lea Michele, Hilary Swank, Ashton Kutcher,
Abigail Breslin, Robert De Niro, 
and Sarah Jessica Parker. (I kept looking around for Jennifer Aniston. You just know she was contacted about this movie. It has her name written all over it.) Each one stars in a little vignette about
hope, love and forgiveness on New Year’s Eve. It’s a lot like 2010′s “Valentine’s
Day.”

 

So really, folks, we’re not seeing anything new. In fact,
some reviewers have compared watching this movie to sitting through an
impressive party filled with beautiful people who have nothing to say. I
wouldn’t go that far. Yes, “New Year’s Eve” juggles more than its
fair share of clichs, and some of the storylines are downright cheesy. But the
acting isn’t half bad, and with such a huge stage of talent, there’s bound to
be someone in there who resonates with you. Heck, I’d watch it just to see Bon
Jovi. Did anyone else have a poster of him and the rest of the posse tacked to
her ceiling back in the 1990s? Or was that just me?

 

I digress. 

 

Garry Marshall, the genius behind many classics like
“Pretty Woman,” tackles “New Year’s Eve” and his stamp is
evident. It’s not one of his better films, but he does his best to keep it from
sinking during the low parts. The film does have some touching moments and some
funny ones (Biel is a hoot). Not quite enough of these to totally overlook the
more unbelievable plot lines, but enough to keep us entertained and interested.
And for those of us who embrace the symbolism of New Year’s Eve instead of the
party-fueled hype, “New Year’s Eve” offers some rays of optimism. Not
many, but enough to keep us satisfied until that first resolution breaks. And
it can’t hurt to watch it in honor of Dick Clark, America’s Oldest Teen, who
gave us many, many years of amazing New Year’s Eves. Thanks, Dick. We’ll
miss  you.

 

Extra highlight:
Gag reel, of course.

 

What to serve for dinner: The ringing in of a new year is filled with
tradition. Let’s celebrate that by serving up some symbolic New Year’s food for
dinner.

 

Start with grapes. In Spain, revelers dine on 12 grapes at
the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Day to ring in the new year–one grape for
each clang of the clock. Then dish up some black-eyed peas with collard greens
for luck (www.nytimes.com). Finish the
meal with pork carnitas (allrecipes.com), since pork is viewed by many the
world over as a symbol of wealth and prosperity.

 

Black-Eyed Peas with Collard Greens

 

1/2 pound black-eyed peas, rinsed

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

3 large garlic cloves, minced

1 bay leaf

Salt to taste

1 large bunch collard greens (1 1/2 to 2 pounds), stemmed,
washed well and chopped or cut in ribbons

2 tablespoons tomato paste dissolved in 1/2 cup water

1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped fresh dill (to taste)

Freshly ground pepper to taste

For topping (optional): crumbled feta or fresh lemon juice

 

Place the black-eyed peas in a large saucepan, cover with
water by two inches, bring to a boil and then drain. Combine with half the
onion and one of the garlic cloves in the saucepan. Add water to cover by two
inches, and bring back to a simmer. Add the bay leaf, and reduce the heat. Add
salt to taste, cover and simmer 30 minutes, until the beans are just tender.
Drain through a strainer set over a bowl.

 

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large,
ovenproof lidded skillet or Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil
over medium heat and add the remaining onion. Cook, stirring, until tender,
about five minutes, and add the remaining garlic. Stir together for 30 seconds
to a minute, until fragrant. A handful at a time, stir in the greens. As the
greens wilt, stir in another handful, until all the greens have been added and
have collapsed in the pan. Add the dissolved tomato paste and stir together.
Add salt to taste. Add the beans and enough cooking liquid to barely cover
everything, cover and place in the oven for 30 minutes, until the collards are
tender and the beans very soft.

 

Uncover the pot, and add a bit of liquid if the beans are
dry. Stir in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the dill, cover and continue
to simmer for another 10 minutes. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Serve warm or hot. If you wish, top with crumbled feta or a squeeze of lemon.

 

Pork Carnitas

 

1 (3 1/2) pound boneless pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into
2 inch chunks

2 oranges, quartered

1 large white onion, quartered

6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

1/4 cup kosher salt

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns

2 bay leaves

 

Place the pork shoulder, oranges, onion, garlic, kosher
salt, cumin, black peppercorns, and bay leaves into a large Dutch oven. Add
water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to
medium-low, and simmer for 10 minutes. Skim off any foam that rises to the top.
Cover loosely, and simmer until the meat is tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Allow
the pork to cool, covered, in the broth for 1 hour. Shred the meat with two
forks. Can combine with BBQ sauce for a pulled-pork sandwich, or roll up the
meat in some tortillas with salsa.

 

What to talk about over dinner: What was your favorite story in the movie? Favorite
character? What was your best New Year’s resolution ever? Worst? How many
resolutions have you kept? Do you even make resolutions? Why are they so hard
to keep? Know any secrets to keeping resolutions? Who has kept her 2012
resolutions? What was the funniest scene in the movie? The most touching? What
was your best New Year’s Eve? Worst? Do you like the holiday, or do you feel
it’s more of a letdown? What would be your dream New Year’s Eve? Have you ever
been to Times Square on New Year’s Eve? Would you want to? Who else could
listen to Bon Jovi sing until next New Year’s Eve?

Chicken Run

Welcome to the new installment of Dinner and a DVD:
Meatless Monday Movies! In addition to our regular Friday feature, we’re going
to also be posting on Mondays. To ease you into the workweek, we’ll feature a
film along with a vegetarian recipe. That way, you can start the week on a high
note, and also do your part to help make the world a bit greener.

 

Film (with rating): Chicken Run (G)

 

Studio: DreamWorks SKG

 

Summary: Rocky the Rooster (voiced by a pre-crazy Mel
Gibson) and Ginger the Hen rebel against the evil Mr. and Mrs. Tweedy in an
attempt to escape the chicken farm and avoid becoming part of a pie.

 

Review: To welcome in Meatless Monday Movies, I’m going with
a modern classic for the family–and a classic that might make you think twice
about eating chicken. The same studio that brought us the loveable
“Wallace & Gromit” claymation shorts created “Chicken
Run.” In fact, “Chicken Run” is the first feature-length
claymation, or clay animation, film. Despite being rated “G,” the
movie is filled with enough humor and layers of comedy to please all viewers.
Loosely based on “The Great Escape,” the witty actioner “Chicken
Run” pairs up the tough-yet-loveable hen Ginger (voiced by
“Absolutely Fabulous’” Julia Sawalha) and cocky rooster Rocky as they
rally the troops to freedom.

 

This film, directed by Britain’s Aardman studios cofounder
Peter Lord and “Wallace & Gromit” creator Nick Park, has just
enough British humor to tickle our ribs, yet plenty of slapstick laughs to
please the kids in attendance. Fans of claymation, escape dramas, WWII films or
maybe just chickens will love “Chicken Run.” Even Mel Gibson’s fall
from grace can’t hurt this film. He was on his game as he voiced the flamboyant
Rocky, as was Miranda Richardson as the frightening and evil Mrs. Tweedy.

 

So enjoy your chicken movie, and chicken-free dinner. Happy
Monday, everyone.

 

Extra highlight: “Hatching of Chicken Run”

 

What to serve for dinner: Let’s try an easy meat-free meal:
vegetarian chili (foodnetwork.com).

 

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions

1 cup chopped red bell peppers

2 tablespoons minced garlic

2 to 3 Serrano peppers, stemmed, seeded, and minced,
depending upon taste

1 medium zucchini, stem ends trimmed and cut into small dice

2 cups fresh corn kernels (about 3 ears)

1 1/2 pounds Portobello mushrooms (about 5 large), stemmed,
wiped clean and cubed

2 tablespoons chili powder

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

4 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped

3 cups cooked black beans, or canned beans, rinsed and
drained

1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce

1 cup vegetable stock, or water

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Cooked brown rice, accompaniment

Sour cream or strained plain yogurt, garnish

Diced avocado, garnish

Essence, recipe follows, garnish

Chopped green onions, garnish

 

In a large, heavy pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat.
Add the onions, bell peppers, garlic, and Serrano peppers, and cook, stirring,
until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the zucchini, corn, and mushrooms, and cook,
stirring, until soft and the vegetables give off their liquid and start to
brown around the edges, about 6 minutes. Add the chili powder, cumin, salt and
cayenne, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes
and stir well. Add the beans, tomato sauce, and vegetable stock, stir well, and
bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring
occasionally, for about 20 minutes.

 

Remove from the heat and stir in the cilantro. Adjust the
seasoning, to taste.

 

To serve, place 1/4 cup of brown rice in the bottom of each
bowl. Ladle the chili into the bowls over the rice. Top each serving with a
dollop of sour cream and spoonful of avocado.

 

What to talk about over dinner: Who was your favorite
chicken? What do you think of claymation? Have you ever watched “Wallace
& Gromit?” What other movies did this one remind you of? How did Mel
Gibson fall so far? What is your favorite British film or television show?
Would you ever go meat-free forever and not just on Mondays? What would you
miss most? How do you think the world will benefit by people giving up meat
just one day a week? Have you seen “Food, Inc.?” What did you think
of that?