Super 8

(Writer’s note: I was going to review “Batman
Begins” and link it to the opening this weekend of “The Dark Knight
Rises,” but out of respect for those affected by the tragedy that occurred
today in Colorado, I have replaced that review with another one. )



Film (with rating): Super 8 (PG-13)


Studio: Paramount


Summary: A group of friends witness a horrific train crash
while making a super 8 movie and begin to suspect that it was not an accident,
especially when strange events and disappearances start happening around their
small Ohio town.


Review: I loved “Stand By Me,” and this movie,
while different at its surface, has that same flavor. A bunch of kids band
together to solve a mystery. Some reviewers have compared “Super 8″
to “ET” and even “The Sandlot” or “War of the
Worlds,” but I still stick by my “Stand By Me” link. It has that
same coming-of-age flavor mixed with friendship and drama. We’ve even got a
sweet love story, and that really rounds out this summer blockbuster of 2011. It’s
produced by Steven Spielberg and it shows. This has a very vintage Spielberg
feel to it.


This sci-fi thriller has lots of thrills, but it is simply
rich in character development. The band of friends is large, but each character
is so multi-faceted, so unique, viewers don’t run the risk of forgetting one.
No one blends into the woodwork here. The standouts are Elle Fanning as Alice, Joel
Courtney as Joe and Riley Griffiths as Charles, the demanding


As the group gathers one night on the sly to finish filming
Charles’ zombie movie at an old train station, the teens witness a horrid train
crash. (The special effects on this sequence are amazing, by the way.) Almost
immediately, they realize this may not have been an accident at all, especially
when the military takes over, dogs run away and townsfolk start disappearing.


The film is set in 1979, so references to that era’s culture
(the Walkman) and family values add to the movie’s feel. I felt connected to
the characters–even the scary ones–and wanted things to turn out well for them.
The movie had some flaws, though. I didn’t really feel satisfied with the
backstory on Joe’s mom’s death or Alice’s dad’s issues. I didn’t think Joe and
his dad really worked through their own drama. But despite these incomplete plot
threads, “Super 8″ felt satisfying complete at its end.


At the end of the day, it’s the perfect film for a lazy
summer weekend.


Extra highlight: “The Dream Behind Super 8″


What to serve for dinner: Since this is a summertime movie
(both in its feel and in the setting) and it does remind me so much of the
ultimate coming-of-age summer movie “Stand By Me,” let’s eat a
seasonal staple: watermelon. Try Watermelon and Arugula Salad (


6 cups diced seedless watermelon

1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced

1 cup feta cheese crumbles

1/2 cup toasted sunflower seeds

6 tablespoons prepared balsamic dressing

5 cups lightly packed baby arugula

Cracked black pepper to taste


In a large bowl, combine watermelon, onion, feta and
sunflower seeds. Drizzle with dressing and toss to coat. Add arugula and toss
again. Sprinkle with pepper and serve.


What to talk about over dinner: What kind of adventures did
you get into when you were a kid? Who were your friends? Remember the super 8
cameras? Did you ever make movies when you were young? Who was your favorite
character? Did you feel the Steven Spielberg touch on this one? What movie did
“Super 8″ remind you of? What did you think of the creature in the train?
What parts of the movie were unbelievable to you? What did you think about the


Film (with rating): Spider-Man (PG-13)


Studio: Sony
Pictures  Home Entertainment


After nerdy high school photographer Peter Parker meets up with a radioactive
spider, he obtains superpowers, which he must use to battle evil after tragedy
hits his family.


Review: In
honor of the studio’s newly released Blu-Ray version of this film and in
preparation of the highly anticipated “The Amazing Spider-Man” in
theaters July 3, let’s get our Spidey Sense on. In the first movie of the
franchise, we meet Peter (played brilliantly by the wide-eyed Tobey Maguire),
who morphs from geek to hero with just one bite from a genetically altered
spider. The casting is spot-on. Kirsten Dunst is the perfect Mary Jane Watson,
and Willem Dafoe is just about the nastiest Green Goblin imaginable. His
portrayal of Norman Osborne/Green Goblin is, hands-down, one of the best
villains in recent cinema. “Spider-Man” is an extremely successful
and impressive comic-book-to-big-screen transition. It set the bar for all of
the many that followed. Even those who are not fans of Marvel Comics or even
comic books and superheroes in general will have no problem enjoying
“Spider-Man.” The human-interest component and the romance between
Peter/Spidey and Mary Jane give this movie enough substance for nearly any
viewer to grab hold of. The CGI can be a bit over the top, but the movie’s
strong points allow most viewers to forgive any missteps along the way.


Extra highlight:   “Spider-Man: The Mythology of the 21st Century”


What to serve for dinner: Mini pizzas and a side green salad.


Whole-wheat pita bread (one for each person)

Pizza or spaghetti sauce

String cheese (one for each pizza, or more depending on


Spoon sauce over each whole-wheat pita. Arrange pieces of
string cheese in a web-like pattern on the muffins. Put in the oven at 350
degrees until the cheese melts. Keep an eye on the pizzas so they don’t burn.



What to talk about over dinner: What was your favorite part of the movie? What do
you think of Tobey as Peter/Spidey? Who is your favorite comic book hero? What
do you think about the newest “Spider-Man” movie out this summer?
Will you see it opening weekend? What was your favorite “Spider-Man”
installment so far? What did you think of the action sequences? Too much, or
just right? Who is your favorite comic book villain? If you had superpowers,
what would they be and why? I’m kind of fond of Superman’s flying because why
wouldn’t that be cool? What was your favorite Spider-Man-themed quote?
“With great power comes great responsibility” perhaps? How cool was that upside-down kiss scene? And how funny were the spoofs that followed?

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Film (with rating): Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (PG-13)


Warner Bros.


Summary: Sherlock
Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Dr. Watson (Jude Law) hunt down the evil
Professor Moriarty (a wonderfully villainous Jared Harris) who has unleashed a
plot to start a world war.


Review: Who
knew the sequel would be better than its predecessor? “Game of
Shadows” once again includes Downey and Law as the main players, and their
chemistry and acting talent propel this flick high on the star chart. I’m a fan
of Downey, mainly because the guy once had his life–literally–in the gutter.
And look at him now. Anyone who can transform a life like that gets my respect.
So even before I saw “Game of Shadows,” I gave it the benefit of the
doubt. It did not disappoint.


Directed by Guy Ritchie, the film makes good use of the
gray, drab 19th century London atmosphere as well as other locations
throughout Europe. The action sequences, especially one on a train, are
surprisingly good and anxiety-provoking. One gripe: Ritchie tends to overwork
some of those action scenes, especially when he utilizes the slow-motion
feature. It’s a bit like spice in a recipe. A little goes a long way. Too much,
and all you can taste is the spice, not the food.


But overall, “Game of Shadows” wins. The plot is
clean, the characters are likeable, the actors did a bang-up job with their
roles and the villain is awesome. Harris really carved out a great “bad
guy” in Moriarty. Mostly, I’m impressed that this sequel surpassed the
first in the series. So even with a few faults (come on! Give Rachel McAdams
more than 48 seconds of screen time!), “Game of Shadows” is a hit.


Extra highlight:
Maximum Movie Mode:
Inside the Mind of Sherlock Holmes


What to serve for dinner: For this week’s meatless entre, let’s try a London
staple, veggie style–vegetarian bangers and mash (


4 Yves Vegetarian Spicy Italian Sausages, sliced into rounds

2 medium onion, chopped

4-5 cloves garlic, chopped

Generous handful mushrooms, chopped

Generous handful kale, washed and chopped

2 cup sweet red pepper, chopped 

Generous splash balsamic vinegar

4-6 red potatoes, steamed or boiled 

Butter and milk to taste 


Put potatoes to cook. While they are softening, heat oil in
large saucepan. Add chopped onions and garlic and saut until translucent. Add
chopped sausage and mushrooms and saut, stirring, until sausage looks brown
and appetizing. Deglaze with balsamic vinegar. Add washed kale and pepper, turn
heat down to low and cover, just for a few minutes – don’t overcook.


Mash potatoes with butter and milk. Serve a cup of mashed
potatoes topped with sausage and veggies. Serves four.


What to talk about over dinner: What was your favorite action sequence? What did
you think of the chemistry between Holmes and Watson? How did Robert Downey Jr.
transform his life so dramatically? Do you enjoy period pieces? Are you looking
forward to the London Olympics next month? What’s your favorite sport? Have you
ever been to London? If you could go back in time, would you visit 19th
century Europe? Why or why not? What would it be like to live in that time?
What’s your favorite line from the film? Was the dialog too modern? Do you
think Guy Ritchie ever got tired of being called Mr. Madonna?

Safe House

Film (with rating): Safe House (R)




Summary: A
young and ambitious CIA agent must look after a fugitive in a South African
safe house.  But when that hiding
place is attacked, he and the fugitive are on the run and on a mission.


“Safe House” is a strong, smart, action-packed film that explodes,
thanks to the powerful chemistry and acting chops of the two leads. Denzel
Washington and Ryan Reynolds are perfectly cast in this drama and both showcase
a wealth of acting talent. Who knew while watching “Van Wilder” that
Reynolds had it in him to be such a powerhouse?  Sure, he’s had a few (dozen) bombs in his acting career, but
he’s able to overcome them. Such as with “Safe House.”


The movie starts out with Matt Weston (Reynolds), a bored
CIA rookie chomping at the bit to step his career into high gear, twiddling his
thumbs as the housekeeper in a safe house where nothing happens. All day, every
day. Until Tobin Frost (Washington) breaks it all wide open. Frost is the
agency’s most notorious, most dangerous traitor. He knows something, something
big, and it’s hard to tell exactly what he’s trying to bring down. When he
uncovers some information and narrowly avoids being shot in South Africa, he
turns himself in to the American Embassy, despite years on the run. This brings
him to Weston’s safe house. And shortly after his arrival, trained assassins
attack, and the only two left standing are Weston and Frost.


This is where things get good. We’ve got action combined
with a psychological tug-of-war. Is this a mentor/mentee relationship, or is
Frost yanking Weston’s chain? Who is the real bad guy here? Frost, or someone
else? “Safe House” has a “Bourne Identity” feel to it,
which is not a bad thing. Despite Frost being nailed as a threat, the viewer
starts to see him as one of the good guys. But is he?


Director Daniel Espinosa does a great job blending the
high-octane action sequences with the quiet moments of dialog between Frost and
Weston. That up-and-down emotional rollercoaster adds to the movie-watching


Sure, there are some holes in the plot, the ending is a bit
weak and the whole relationship between Weston and his girlfriend lacks any
chemistry whatsoever. But overall, “Safe House” is exactly the kind
of smart and engaging actioner that would fit in well right about now as we
ramp up to start the summer season in style.


Extra highlight:
“Inside the CIA”


What to serve for dinner: A traditional dish from South Africa: Bobotie (


1 lb beef, minced

2 eggs

2 slices stale white bread 

1 onion, thinly sliced

2 tbsp cooking oil

2 tbsp hot water

2 tbsp sugar

2 tbsp lemon juice

2 tsp curry powder

tsp ground cloves

1 tsp garlic, crushed

1 tsp turmeric tsp salt



The bobotie topping


1 egg, lightly beaten

cup milk

bay leaves or lemon leaves for garnishing



Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Remove the crusts from the
bread and the soak in water for 10 minutes; squeeze out the excess and then


In a large frying pan, heat the oil and braise the onion
until golden. Break the two eggs into a large bowl and beat lightly. Mix in the
minced meat.  Add the onion mixture
from the frying pan, the hot water, lemon juice, crumbled bread, turmeric and
sugar to the mince, mixing well.


Spoon the mixture into a well-greased, oven-proof dish and
bake for 40 minutes, or until golden brown and then remove from the oven.


To make the bobotie topping


Combine the other egg with the milk and beat well. Pour the
mixture over the bobotie and arrange the bay/lemon leaves as garnish. Return to
the oven and bake at 350 o F for 10 minutes, or until the topping has set.  


Serve the bobotie with a large green salad and rice.



What to talk about over dinner: Did you have the ending figured out? At what point
did you start liking Tobin Frost? Did you believe that a rookie like Weston
could do all he did? What was your favorite scene? What did you find the least
believable? Would you ever want to be 
a CIA agent? What is your favorite Denzel movie? How is that man such an
acting legend? Favorite Ryan Reynolds movie? Probably not “Green
Lantern,” right?

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”


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


Falafel (

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

1 large onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

3 tablespoons of fresh parsley, chopped

1 teaspoon coriander

1 teaspoon cumin

2 tablespoons flour



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 (

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



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.


The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Film (with rating): The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (R)


Studio: Sony
Pictures Home Entertainment


Summary: When
a disgraced journalist (Daniel Craig) investigates the disappearance of a
wealthy patriarch’s niece from 40 years ago, he enlists the help of a pierced
and tattooed computer hacker (Rooney Mara). Together, they uncover a lot more
evil than they ever imagined.


Review: I
arrived late to the Stieg Larsson book party. Many people told me to read
“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” but I could not get past the
initial few pages. Boring! Dry and oh so boring! I was told to persevere
through the first 50 pages, and then “trust me, you won’t be able to put
it down.” Well, 50 pages came and went, and the only reason I kept reading
was because of my stubborn Irish ways. But around page 200, something clicked.
And there I sat, enthralled and literally flipping the pages as quickly as I
could, hungry for the next chapter. I tore through  the next two books in Larsson’s trilogy with remarkable
speed. I was hooked.


So when I first saw “Dragon Tattoo’s” trailer, I
knew I had to see the film, despite my usual reservations surrounding beloved
books turned into Hollywood blockbusters. This time around, I was not
disappointed in the least.


David Fincher’s movie (which comes rather quickly on the
heels of the Swedish film versions of all three books) was spot-on good. It
cost a slick $90 million to produce, and while it may not have quadrupled that
total in the box office, it is a mesmerizing, cinematic success. And
“Tattoo” is perhaps one of the most amazingly cast movies I’ve ever
seen. I’m putting this one up next to “Harry Potter” for casting
success. Even by just watching the trailer, I could identify every character.
Spot on.


But  not only
did they look the part, these actors could deliver. Craig was fantastic as the
brooding and bruised Mikael Blomkvist, but it was Mara’s Lisbeth Salander who
gets the most attention. I am not entirely sure she was selling an Oscar-worthy
performance, but I am sure she did a fantastic job. In the books, Salander is
an extremely complex and multi-faceted character. Mara did a great job trying
to bring those nuances to the big screen.


Overall, the movie did not differ significantly from the
book and even accomplished some fat-trimming, which made the story flow even
better. My husband, who has not yet read the books, had no trouble keeping up
with the rapid plot flow or story twists. So while I found it handy to have
previous knowledge of the story, it is not necessary at all.


Extra highlight:
Check out the “Characters” extra


What to serve for dinner: The film is set in Sweden, so cook up a plate of
Swedish meatballs (


2 slices fresh white bread

1/4 cup milk

3 tablespoons clarified butter, divided

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

A pinch plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 pound ground chuck

3/4 pound ground pork

2 large egg yolks

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

3 cups beef broth

1/4 cup heavy cream


Preheat oven to 200 degree. Tear the bread into pieces and
place in a small mixing bowl along with the milk. Set aside. In a 12-inch
straight-sided saute pan over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add
the onion and a pinch of salt and sweat until the onions are soft. Remove from
the heat and set aside.


In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the bread and milk
mixture, ground chuck, pork, egg yolks, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, black
pepper, allspice, nutmeg, and onions. Beat on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes.
Using a scale, weigh meatballs into 1-ounce portions and place on a sheet pan.
Using your hands, shape the meatballs into rounds.


Heat the remaining butter in the saute pan over medium-low
heat, or in an electric skillet set to 250 degrees. Add the meatballs and saute
until golden brown on all sides, about 7 to 10 minutes. Remove the meatballs to
an ovenproof dish using a slotted spoon and place in the warmed oven.


Once all of the meatballs are cooked, decrease the heat to low
and add the flour to the pan or skillet. Whisk until lightly browned,
approximately 1 to 2 minutes. Gradually add the beef stock and whisk until
sauce begins to thicken. Add the cream and continue to cook until the gravy
reaches the desired consistency. Remove the meatballs from the oven, cover with
the gravy and serve with boiled egg noodles and a side green salad.


What to talk about over dinner: What was different between the book and the movie?
Which did you like more, book or movie? Who was your favorite character? What
do you think of the casting? Which movie has the worst casting? How do you
think the second book in the series will by shaped in Hollywood? What scene was
the most difficult to watch? Did you figure out the ending? Were you rooting for
Salander? What is your favorite book-turned-movie? Have you seen the Swedish
film versions with  Noomi Rapace?
Better than the American version? Who makes the better Salander? What would you
do with Salander’s computer skills?

Harry Pottter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2

Film (with rating): Harry Potter And the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2 (PG-13)


Warner Home Video


Summary: In
this, the final adventure in the epic “Harry Potter” series, the  battle between good and evil, Harry
Potter and Lord Voldemort, escalates into an all-out war.


Review: How
can I even begin to review this? Part of me is remarkably saddened by this
final chapter; I actually avoided seeing the movie in theaters. I didn’t want
the journey to end. Yes, I’d read all the books and enjoyed them immensely. I
knew how the story wrapped up, and I loved it. Yet seeing the closing credits
on this, the eighth movie in the franchise, proved to be depressing.


But another part of me is absolutely thrilled to watch every
minute of “Deathly Hallows Pt. 2.” It’s just that well done, in every
way, from the acting to the plot to the cinematography.


We watched the cast literally grow up this past decade or so.
Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson have been at the helm as the
title characters since they were just grade schoolers, barely bigger than their
wands (and so cute I wanted to move to London just so my future children would
speak with that adorable accent). And now, they’re all grown up, gaining more
and more talent with each passing film. The acting caliber and plot progression
throughout all of the movies has never once stumbled, despite changes in the
director’s chair. Having entire–and fantastic–casts (save Dumbledore) remain
the same throughout this long of a project is more proof that the “Harry
Potter” series is something for the record books in more ways than one.


In “Deathly Hallows Pt. 2,” we continue on with
the second half of the seventh and final novel. And it does not disappoint in
the least. All of the movies have stayed true to the book, and this one is no
exception. The epic battle scene adds even more dimension than did my own
imagination while reading J.K. Rowling’s prose. To say the scene was massive is
an understatement.

But don’t think this movie is so filled with eye-popping
special effects that everything else is sacrificed. No, on the contrary.
Director David Yates made sure that there were quiet moments in “Deathly
Hallows Pt. 2,” the kind that move a film and the viewer. We not only
experience the adrenaline-fueled action scenes, but we feel the emotion and
angst of the characters we’ve grown to love. We see and feel the movie’s plot,
and like the characters, we’re left different for it. Different, and better.


It seems strange to wax so poetically about a blockbuster
movie (blockbuster, to the tune of $1.3 billion worldwide). But as any fan
knows, “Harry Potter” is more than a film series. It spans the
generations, it teaches us lessons, it shows us that sometimes fate is not just
what is laid out before us but what we make of it. The “Boy Who
Lived” taught us about friendship, believing in yourself, going up against
the odds and knowing that being who you are is sometimes so much harder than
just going with the group. A book that began as a labor of love for one British
writer who wanted to pen a novel for children has now become a worldwide
phenomena, transporting readers and viewers to a magical kingdom filled with
fantasy, friendship and hope.


While it was with sadness that I watched the final scene in
this final “Harry Potter” movie, it wasn’t as traumatic as I feared.
In fact, it was another life lesson at the hands of the boy wizard. Just like
Neville said, trying to make sense of all the tragedy endured in this epic
battle: “Those who die remain with us in our hearts.” The “Harry
Potter” series may not be “dead,” exactly, but it is over, and
it will always remain in viewers’ hearts.


Extra Special:
For a really monumental sendoff, begin a “Harry Potter” marathon,
with all the films watched back-to-back. It may take you more than one weekend,
but what a great way to really become one with the young wizards.  You’ll be flying so high on Hogwarts
fun, you’ll bet someone hit you with a Wingardium Leviosa spell.


Extra highlight:
“A Conversation with J.K. Rowling and Daniel Radcliffe” for a look
into the two people who really are Harry Potter.


What to serve for dinner: You’re in for a treat, my friends. A whole spread
influenced by the magical world of Harry Potter.



Servings: 4

1 cup light or dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons water

6 tablespoon butter

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

3/4 cup heavy cream, divided

1/2 teaspoon rum extract

Four 12-ounce bottles cream soda


In a small saucepan over medium, combine the brown sugar and
water. Bring to a gentle boil and cook, stirring often, until the mixture reads
240 F on a candy thermometer. Stir in the butter, salt, vinegar and 1/4 heavy
cream. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Once the mixture has cooled, stir
in the rum extract.


In a medium bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar
mixture and the remaining 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Use an electric mixer to beat
until just thickened, but not completely whipped, about 2 to 3 minutes.


To serve, divide the brown sugar mixture between 4 tall
glasses (about 1/4 cup for each glass). Add 1/4 cup of cream soda to each
glass, then stir to combine. Fill each glass nearly to the top with additional
cream soda, then spoon the whipped topping over each.



Serves 4-6


pound ground beef

medium jalapeno peppers, ribs & seeds removed

garlic clove, smashed, finely diced

cup diced onion

cup diced carrot

cup frozen peas

packet IKEA Swedish Meatball Gravy mix

cups real mashed potatoes to cover (good frozen or refrigerated mashed potatoes
work here; and for the love of all that is good in this world, please don’t
substitute instant!)

cup shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese

smoked paprika for garnish


small saucepan, make Ikea gravy according to package directions; set aside.
Brown the beef in a large cast iron skillet for about 5-7 minutes; when no
longer pink, remove from heat, drain fat and set aside. On medium heat and
using the same skillet, add jalapenos, garlic, onions and carrot; saut about 5
minutes or until vegetables are softened.


Stir in peas and warm – about 3 minutes. Add cooked beef and gravy; stir
to combine.    Place
ground beef mixture into greased individual cast iron skillets or casserole
dish; cover with a layer of potatoes, top with cheese and sprinkle with smoked


Bake in 350-degree oven for 15 minutes; move rack to broil position and
broil for 2-3 minutes or until cheese gets golden brown. Remove from oven and
let rest for about 10 minutes before serving



Makes 12 Large
or 16 Medium Rock Cakes

4 cups  self-raising flour (or
plain flour, plus 4 tsp baking powder)
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dried fruit (dried cranberries, currants, raisins or sultanas)
4 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup granulated sugar (for sprinkling)

Preheat the oven to 400F. Grease a large aluminum sheet. Sift the flour, salt
and mixed spice together in a medium bowl. Cut the butter into small chunks and
rub it into the flour until it has the consistency of large crumbs.

Stir in the sugar and dried fruit. Beat the egg and milk together. Pour the egg
mixture evenly over the flour/fruit mixture in the bowl. Using a large metal
tablespoon, blend the mixtures together to form a rough dough. Try not to over
mix; this causes the rock cakes to come out hard and tough. Just mix it enough
until the flour is mixed in.

Using the spoon, dollop portions of dough onto the aluminum sheet. They will
fall off the spoon in a rather rough fashion – resist the urge to smooth them
out! Make sure to leave 1 1/2 inches between the mounds as they will spread
when baked. Sprinkle each mound with plenty of granulated sugar. This gives
both good crunch and shine when baked.

Bake in the center of the oven for 15 minutes – smaller rock cakes will take
about 12 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack immediately and let cool fully before
eating. Best eaten within a couple of days.


What to talk about over dinner: What was your favorite “Harry Potter”
movie? Book? Why? Least favorite? Why? Favorite character? What life lessons
did this series teach you? How did the books appeal to both young and old
alike? Why were they so successful? Why were the movies so successful? Has
there ever been anything like this Harry Potter phenomenon before? What will
come next? What’s on the horizon for the stars of this movie? Will there ever
be any more Potter news from Rowling? Will Daniel Radcliffe ever step away from
Harry’s shadow? How did they (Emma, Daniel and Rupert) become some of the
world’s biggest movie stars, and yet still remain “normal” and
trouble-free? Lindsay Lohan, are you listening?


Photo #41

Film (with rating): Inception (PG-13)


Warner Bros. Home Entertainment


Summary: Dom
Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio)  is a
skilled thief, best in the dangerous art of extraction: stealing valuable
secrets from deep within the subconscious during the dream state. One last job
could give him his life back, but only if he can accomplish the impossible–not
to steal an idea, but to plant one.


Review: This
film has been out for a bit, but it’s getting another look now that it’s up for
the Best Picture Oscar at the 2011 Academy Awards. And a well-deserved nod it
is. “Inception” is a true “thinking” film, a blend of
thriller and thinker and sci-fi, all wrapped in an action-packed ride. It’s
about dreams, what they mean, how they can be manipulated. And it’s so worth
seeing. Or seeing again. And again.


DiCaprio is amazing as the thief-for-hire who can hijack
dreams in order to get dark secrets. Since so much of this film’s action
sequence takes place during those dream states, the visuals are, pardon the
pun, mind-bending. The cinematography is amazing, and director Christopher
Nolan did not fail in his attempt to bring something unique to the box office
this summer. Sure, it’s a bit like “The Matrix” films, but unique
enough so viewers don’t feel a sense of copycat dj vu.


This uber-complex movie is not a great flick to watch when
your brain already aches from a 12-hour workday. Instead, check it out on a
lazy Saturday afternoon, then watch it again later that night or on Sunday.
“Inception” is a bit confusing, but in a good way, and repeat
viewings are actually enjoyable and productive. As I said, this is a thinking
film, but one that will leave you satisfied, not confused. For long.


Extra highlight:
“The Inception of Inception” or, on Blu-Ray, try the “Extraction
Mode” in-movie experience.


What to serve for dinner: According to a small study in the International
Journal of Psychophysiology,
spicy food can be one cause of really
bizarre dreams. Combine that ingredient with DiCaprio’s favorite food–pasta–and
let’s serve up some Spicy Baked Macaroni (Giada De Laurentiis/



1 pound elbow macaroni pasta

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 pound assorted mushrooms, quartered

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes

1 (10-ounce) package frozen spinach, thawed and drained of excess liquid

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2 cups bread crumbs

1/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus 1/3 cup

1/4 cup Romano, plus 1/3 cup

2 tablespoons butter, softened, plus 2 tablespoons

12 ounces mozzarella cubed (about 2 cups)

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg



Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted
water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still
firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta.


In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add
the mushrooms, onion, and garlic. Cook until the mushrooms are tender and the
onion is golden, about 7 minutes. Add the tomatoes, spinach, and red pepper
flakes. Stir to combine and cook until heated through, about 5 minutes.


In a small bowl, mix together the bread crumbs, 1/4 cup
Parmesan, and 1/4 cup Romano. Spread the softened butter in a 9 by 13-inch
glass baking dish and sprinkle half of the breadcrumb mixture inside the dish
to coat.


In a large bowl combine the vegetable mixture with the
cooked macaroni, cubed mozzarella, the remaining Parmesan and Romano cheeses,
and the nutmeg. Spoon into the prepared baking dish, top with the remaining
bread crumb mixture, and dot the top with the remaining butter. Bake until the
top is golden brown, about 30 to 40 minutes.



What to talk about over dinner: Do you believe people can manipulate dreams? Can
someone else infiltrate your dream? Do you think this would ever be able to
happen? Why or why not? What was your best dream? Worst dream? Can you change
the course of your own dreams? Do you believe dreams mean something? What
influences our dreams? Have you ever had a reoccurring dream? What was it? What
was your favorite scene in the movie? What is your favorite DiCaprio movie? Do
you think “Inception” has a shot at the Oscars? If not, what film
does? What do you think of this year’s hosts? What about “Inception”
winning for Best Cinematography? Visual Effects? Original Screenplay? Did Nolan
get snubbed in the Directing category?


Photo #2

Film (with rating): Salt (PG-13)


Studio: Sony
Pictures Home Entertainment


Summary: CIA
officer Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) will be tested in loyalty, strength and
survival when she’s accused of being a Russian spy. She goes on the run, using
all of her skills as a covert operative, to elude capture.


Review: James
Bond with big lips. Or “The Bourne Identity” with boobs. That about
sums up “Salt.” And that’s not a bad thing at all. “Salt”
is a high-speed, mega-intense action thriller that ramps up within the first 10
minutes of the film and does not slow down. It’s not a “thinking”
film in the slightest, but one where you can lose yourself in the roller
coaster ride and enjoy the trip.

Jolie, while almost too beautiful and petite
to play a kick-butt punching bag, is wonderfully cast as Salt. She takes her
Lara Croft role and ramps it up, steroid style. It’s nice to see her back on
the screen as an action hero instead of in a dramatic tear-jerker. No, she
won’t win an Oscar nod for “Salt,” but then again, that’s not such a
bad thing. Not surprisingly, it’s been reported the film was originally written
for a male lead (rumored to have been Tom Cruise). But Jolie’s inclusion as the
main character doesn’t seem forced at all, but rather quite believable.

Sure, some
of the action sequences, fight scenes and escapes are a bit steep on the
believability scale, and the entire film and its characters are without a lot
of depth; in fact, the whole Salt character is really empty and
one-dimensional. But those facts don’t ruin the film.

Remember, this is not a
thought-provoking movie filled with characters who stick with us for life. It’s
an adreneline rush. Just hang on for the thrill ride, and enjoy the


Extra highlight: “The Ultimate Action Hero.” Or
for Blu-ray, try the “Spy Cam: Picture in Picture Track.”


What to serve for dinner: Let’s go with a Russian dish, such
as Russian salmon and potato salad with a side of Russian cabbage borscht  (


Russian Salmon


* 2 eggs

* 3 medium baking potatoes, peeled and cubed

* 1 tablespoon olive oil

* 1 large onion, chopped

* 1 (16 ounce) can salmon, drained

* 1 cup mayonnaise, or as needed

* 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, for garnish


Place eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring
water to a boil and immediately remove from heat. Cover and let eggs stand in
hot water for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from hot water, cool, and peel. While
the eggs are cooking, place the potatoes in a saucepan with just enough water
to cover. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until tender.
Remove from heat, drain, and set aside. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat.
Add onions, and saute until lightly browned and translucent, about 10 minutes.


Flake salmon and spread it over the bottom of a glass baking
dish or serving dish. Spread the sauteed onions over the salmon. Gently spread
a little bit of the mayonnaise over the onion layer. Top with potatoes, and
spread enough mayonnaise just to add moisture to the layer. Finally, slice the
eggs, and cover the layer of potatoes. Spread mayonnaise over the eggs, and
garnish with chopped parsley. If you wish, you can reserve some of the egg to
chop and sprinkle over the top as well. Chill for one hour before serving.




* 1 1/2 cups thinly sliced potatoes

1 cup thinly sliced beets

4 cups vegetable stock or water

2 tablespoons butter

1 1/2 cups chopped onions

1 teaspoon caraway seed (optional)

2 teaspoons salt

    * 1
celery stalk, chopped

1 large carrot, sliced

3 cups coarsely chopped red cabbage

black pepper to taste

1/4 teaspoon fresh dill weed

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

1 cup tomato puree

sour cream, for topping

chopped tomatoes, for garnish


Place sliced potatoes and beets in a medium saucepan over
high heat; cover with stock, and boil until vegetables are tender. Remove
potatoes and beets with a slotted spoon, and reserve stock. Melt butter in a
large skillet over medium heat. Stir in onions, caraway seeds, and salt; cook
until onions become soft and translucent. Then stir in celery, carrots and
cabbage. Mix in reserved stock; cook, covered, until all vegetables are tender,
about 10 minutes. Add potatoes and beets to the skillet. Season with black
pepper and dill weed. Stir in cider vinegar, honey, and tomato puree. Cover,
reduce heat to medium low, and simmer at least 30 minutes. Serve topped with
sour cream, extra dill weed and chopped fresh tomatoes.


What to talk about over dinner: Do you think
“Salt” would have been a better film with a man in the lead role? Why
or why not? Do you like Angelina Jolie better as a dramatic actress or an
action hero? Are there other female stars who could have played this role in
“Salt?” Who? Do you think it’s hypocritical of Jolie to be all about
peace and humanitarianism in her real life, but play violent characters on
screen? What challenges do people face when they adopt overseas? Are there too
many “thinking” films these days, too many remakes or too many
blow-up-and-beat-up actioners? Why was the box office down in 2010? What was
your favorite action scene? What country do you think Brangelina will choose
for their next adoption?

Robin Hood


Photo #2

Film (with rating): Robin Hood (PG-13)


Universal Studios Home Entertainment


Summary: A
unique retelling of the classic tale of Robin Hood (Russell Crowe), an expert
archer who tries to save the corrupted town of Nottingham from the clutches of
a despotic sheriff.


Review: First
off, this is not the “Robin Hood” of your youth, nor is it for
today’s youth. That’s not to say it’s good or bad. Just different than what
some might believe they’re in store for.


Many reviewers have been peeved that director Ridley Scott’s
“Robin Hood” is not a modern version of the Errol Flynn classic, nor
is it historically accurate. Then others gripe that all the “fun and
fantasy” has been ripped from a classic fable and replaced with the dark
reality of 12th century England. But let’s step back here. This is
Scott and Crowe, teaming up one again. Think of “Gladiator:” Was that
fleshed from the history books? Probably not. Same with “Robin Hood.”
It was not created to be viewed as a documentary or a glorified version of


When judged on its own, the film is not bad. Don’t try to
make it a documentary or a “Gladiator Part 2,” or else you will be
disappointed. Scott successfully took lots of creative license in his latest
movie, mixing his own vision in with historical truths and Hollywood
style.  See it for the amazingly
strong cast (which also includes a superb Cate Blanchett, once again shining in
a period piece) and the beautiful yet brooding cinematography.


It also appears this movie is a prequel to other films,
which will most likely detail the more well-known legend of Robin Hood. That
explains some of the deviations from the Robin Hood lore we’ve all grown up


Crowe displayed his acting prowess once again, but in this
role, he unfortunately seemed a bit understated.


If you’re looking for a dark, mysterious action film with
flavors of a classic legend, “Robin Hood” will work for you. If you
want a swashbuckling tale with Friar Tuck, Merry Men and lovely and docile
Marion, then rent the Flynn version. This one will not please you. For me, I
enjoyed it. I went in knowing I was getting a dark period-type piece with lots
of action, brooding and atmosphere. I didn’t really care about those Merry Men


Extra highlight:
“Rise and Rise Again: Making Ridley Scott’s ‘Robin Hood'”


What to serve for dinner: Rather than dine on 12th century food,
let’s dish up a few menu items famous at the Robin Hood British pub in Sherman
Oaks. Whip up some steak and kidney pie ( with a side of
Scotch eggs ( and the best English beer you can find.


Steak and Kidney Pie


* Pastry for 1-crust pie

1 beef kidney

2 lbs. round steak, cubed

2 tablespoons oil, drippings, or shortening

2 cups chopped onions

    * 2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

1/2 tsp. dried thyme

1 bay leaf

2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

2 cups water

4 cups diced raw potatoes

6 Tbs. flour


Cover beef kidney with lightly salted water, cover and
refrigerate overnight. Drain; cut out tubes and white membrane with scissors.
Dice meat. Brown kidney and steak in hot fat. Add onions, seasoning, and 1 1/2
cup water. Simmer until meat is almost tender, about 1 hour.


Blend together flour and remaining 1/2 cup water; stir into
meat mixture. Continue cooking and stirring until mixture thickens. Pour into
3-quart casserole.


Roll out pastry slightly larger than top of casserole. Place
over meat mixture and trim to overhang 1″. Fold under and flute against
inside edge of casserole. Cut several steam vents in center. Bake at 425
degrees until lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Serves 8.


NOTE: You can use the milder-flavored lamb kidney instead of
the beef, if available. You can skip the soaking.


Scotch Eggs


1 quart oil for frying

4 eggs

2 pounds pork sausage

4 cups dried bread crumbs, seasoned

1 cup all-purpose flour

4 eggs, beaten


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat oil in deep-fryer to 375
degrees. Place eggs in saucepan and cover with water. Bring to boil. Cover,
remove from heat, and let eggs sit in hot water for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove
from hot water, cool and peel. Flatten the sausage and make a patty to surround
each egg. Very lightly flour the sausage and coat with beaten egg. Roll in
bread crumbs to cover evenly. Deep fry until golden brown, or pan fry while
making sure each side is well cooked. Bake in the preheated oven for 10
minutes. Cut in half and serve over a bed of lettuce and sliced tomatoes for
garnish. If mustard is desired it looks beautiful over this.


What to talk about over dinner: Compare this to more traditional tellings of the
legend. Did you like it or not? Why? Would you have preferred a more
“merry” telling of the tale? Do you think Crowe did a good job? What
did you think about Blanchett’s Marion? What is your favorite Crowe movie? How
many pairings have Crowe and Scott done? What was the best? What do you want to
see Crowe do next? Do you think this is a prequel to a more traditional
retelling of the Robin Hood legend? Or do you think Scott just tagged on the
Robin Hood name to attract viewers to his brooding, dark actioner? What is your
favorite period piece about this time in English history? Has Crowe finally
shed his bad boy personal image?