Dinner

I wish I could say that this is an entree at my house, but alas … no. This is an offering at El Celler de Can Roca, a three-star Michelin restaurant in Girona, Spain, about an hour northeast of Barcelona. El Celler is run by the three Roca brothers, the eldest of whom, Joan, prefers to describe himself and his brothers Josep and Jordi as artisans, rather than artists. Regardless, their approach in the kitchen is artistry, and as the three Michelin stars would indicate, the food must be pretty good. Just for fun, I went on-line to see when I could get a Saturday night reservation for dinner at El Celler. Nothing available through the end of April, 2019.

That brings me to our kitchen. Not much artistry, but the emphasis here is to make it GOOD.  There are thousands of recipe books and thousands more recipes that can be sourced on-line, but I will share with you an abbreviated dinner menu that I have served many times.  It was at the suggestion of my son Greg that I post the details.  I will leave the appies, salad and dessert for you to add to the mix, and go right to the beef.  Years ago, at a restaurant in La Jolla, CA, and in the company of good friends the Bains, I had my first taste of beef short ribs, done well.  Since, I have been on a mission to try to match those short ribs and I may be getting close.  This what my short ribs look like (I borrowed this image because my photo skills are somewhat lacking); served over mashed potatoes, with a veggie on the side. 

I will get to the mashed potatoes in a moment, and will leave the veggies to you.  Here is the recipe for short ribs.

Beef Short Ribs

Start with 4 pounds (more than enough for 6) of thick-cut boneless short ribs.  Place them on parchment paper in a shallow pan and roast them in a 350 degree F oven for 40 minutes.  This will help to get rid of some of the fat.

Separately, start the sauce.  I mince a medium onion together with 2 or 3 tablespoons of minced garlic and add three or four cups of hot water, together with 3 tablespoons of “Better than Bouillon” beef flavour.  I use a wand to then blend in a can of diced tomatoes, 6 ounces of tomato paste, pepper, and a tablespoon of either Italiano or herbes de Provence spice mix.  No salt needed as there is plenty from the bouillon. 

Once the ribs are roasted and some of the fat is removed, wash the ribs under warm water to get rid of more fat, then place them in a cast iron pan.  Pour the sauce over the ribs so the surfaces of the ribs are showing.  Braise them in a 325 degree oven for 35 minutes.  Take them out of the oven, turn them over in the pan, and braise for another 35 minutes.  Repeat the process in 35 minute increments for another two hours or so.  If the sauce is reduced too much, add another cup of water with bouillon.  Take the ribs from the cast iron pan, and place in a covered container.  Refrigerate overnight.  Put the sauce in a separate container and refrigerate.  This is the end of DAY ONE.

On DAY TWO the ribs will need another three or four hours of cooking.  Wash the meat again (I really want to get rid of as much obvious fat as possible) and place them back in the cast iron pan.  A fatty yellow layer will have formed on the surface of the sauce.  Remove that layer and pour the sauce over the ribs.  Back into the oven, working with 35 minute increments at 325 degrees F, turning the ribs to again to just show their surfaces (which will get pretty dark brown – that is what you want).  The sauce will reduce and here is where I cheat.  I pour a can or two of beef gravy over the ribs when needed.  And I add a little water each time I add the canned gravy.  It is not unusual for me to use two or three cans, depending on the consistency of the sauce and/or the quantity of meat.  I do add a half cup or more of red wine as well.  In the end, you want the sauce the consistency of gravy – not too thick but rich looking.  Cook the ribs until they are just about falling apart. They should be fork tender and with very little fat. 

I don’t hesitate to encourage dinner guests to sop up the sauce with bread.  Not good table manners, I suppose, but if the sauce and the bread are GOOD, why not?  I enjoy making bread, and it can be so easy, especially the “no-knead” versions.  I don’t have a bread machine, and I certainly am not averse to kneading by hand or using a food processor, but no-knead bread only requires a little time.  And the results can be very satisfying.  Below, no-knead beer bread. 

The beer bread recipe that follows is a variation on a recipe from “allrecipes.com” – a great resource for would-be chefs (or “cook” in my case).  I like to use Guinness, as it gives the bread a nice warm colour and more depth of flavour; and I often add some herbs.  I have also changed this recipe on occasion to substitute a bit of rye flour (1/2 cup will do) and some caraway seeds.  But here is my go-to beer bread …    

No-knead Beer Bread

  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 4 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 12 fluid ounces Guinness (at room temperature)
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon herbes de Provence (optional)

Stir together the yeast, 1/2 cup flour and the warm water in a large bowl.  Cover and let sit in a warm place for 30 minutes.

Add the Guinness, the rest of the flour, salt and the herbes to the bowl.  Mix together until a very sticky dough forms.  It will look very shaggy (think shag rug – ugh).  Cover and let rise for 2 hours.

Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a well-floured surface, flour the top and shape into a loaf.

Sprinkle a baking sheet with cornmeal and move the loaf to the baking sheet.  Add more flour to the top of the loaf and cover with a non-terry cloth towel.  Let it rise again for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F, and place a small pan of water on the lower rack to keep the oven humid.

Slit the top of the loaf with a utility knife and bake on the rack above the pan of water for 30 to 35 minutes.  The loaf should be golden brown and sound hollow when tapped.

Once down, place on a cooling rack.

This will be a large loaf, and more than enough for your dinner party.  But fear not – this makes great toast for the morning after.

Mashed Potatoes

I won’t provide a precise list of ingredients here, but I will say this:  I tend to make a lot of mashed – much more than a dinner table of six might consume.  I use yellow potatoes, because they don’t have a lot of spots on them and I don’t peel them.  I wash them and cut them in half, coat in olive oil, spread them cut-side down on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper and bake for 45 minutes.  I find if you boil the potatoes, they retain too much water. 

Separately, I dice and sauté a medium size onion, together with two tablespoons of minced garlic.  Once I start mashing the potatoes, I add the onion/garlic mixture, along with butter (two tablespoons or more), and sour cream (enough to make the mashed smooth).  I will add maybe a half cup of grated parmesan to the mix, along with at least a tablespoon of salt.  I spray an oven-proof bowl with Pam, add the mashed and top the potatoes with bread crumbs and some more parmesan.  You can make the mashed well ahead, refrigerate and pull the potatoes out and bake for about an hour (at 350 degrees F) before serving.  The potatoes will come out with a nice crust and are ready for the short ribs.  And yes, there will be lots left over …  

 The photo following is not really exciting, but I couldn’t think of what else to do.

But I won’t leave you with potatoes.  Following is an image of El Celler de Can Roca.  The restaurant has a wine cellar holding 60,000 bottles.  The tasting menu will set you back about 200 bucks (U.S), exclusive of wine.  By contrast, on wing night at Eaglecrest Golf Club you can get 10 wings for just under 5 bucks (Canadian), plus a beer for another 5 bucks.  No need to get on a plane, as Eaglecrest is right here in Qualicum Beach. 

More Movie Gems

The Big Short

A little more current than the rest I have surfaced, this movie was released in 2015, with a screen play written by director Adam McKay and  Charles Randolph based on the book written by Michael Lewis about the 2007-2008 financial crisis.  The adapted screenplay won an Oscar.  And there were five additional nominations for Academy Awards.  The cast included Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Brad Pitt (geez, again!) and Marisa Tomei, among others, all good.

“The Big Short” provides a synopsis of the financial crisis.  On the one hand, you see the workings of those involved in high finance (especially those who will profit from “shorting” the market), together with those who attempt to explain just what happened.  Mr. McKay enlists Anthony Bourdain, Selena Gomez and Margot Robbie in cameos to educate the viewer.  I liked Margot’s bit the best; done in a bubble bath with bubbly at hand, and with a very simple explanation of sub-prime loans (as in “if you think sub-prime, think shit”).  Then, as if bothered in the middle of her bath, she tells the viewer to “f**k off.”  Lovely.  And she is that …

A.O. Scott, the New York Times reviewer, said of “the Big Short,” that “this is a terrifically enjoyable movie that leaves you in a state of rage, nausea and despair, (but that) … the work of the movie’s sprawling ensemble is never less than delightful.”

For more financial sculduggery watch “Margin Call,” which features Jeremy Irons as a truly cold-hearted Wall Street type, and, dare I say,  Kevin Spacey. 

In Bruges

Martin McDonagh is an acclaimed playwright, a writer for the screen, a producer and a director.  His most recent achievement is “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” which he wrote, produced and directed, and which received seven nominations for Academy Awards, winning two (for Frances McDormand as Best Actress and Sam Rockwell for Best Supporting Actor).  Mr. McDonagh earlier won an Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film, plus a number of BAFTA and Golden Globe awards.  But this is not so much about Mr. McDonagh as it is about Bruges and the two principle characters played by Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell.  First Bruges: a lovely canal-based city in the north of Belgium, it would be a must stop on any European tour.  However, as portrayed in the film, in the dead of winter and seemingly always at dusk or later, very foreboding.  Bruges below on a sunny autumn day.   

Then there is Mr. Gleeson, “with that noble shambles of a face and heft of a boxer gone to seed, (in the) key role of Ken, one of two killers for hire,” as described by the late film critic Roger Ebert.  The other “killer” is played by Mr. Farrell, who seems to be quite ill-at-ease with his assignment, and who is quite good in his role.  This is Mr. Gleeson below (from his film “Calvary”) in an image that seems to capture his persona.  He is one of my favourite actors and of whom you will read more.

I might mention that the true villain in this movie is played by Ralph Fiennes, with a coldness that matches the evening chill of Bruges.

The Guard

Back to Brendan Gleeson.  In “The Guard” (from the Gaelic “garda”) Mr. Gleeson is the protagonist, a policeman who is no stranger to short-cuts and who is not quite on the level.  But do we mind? 

One might refer to “The Guard” as a buddy movie (typified by “Lethal Weapon” with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, followed by what seems like an endless stream of buddy movies) as Don Cheadle is floated into the “The Guard” as an FBI agent paired with Mr. Gleeson to thwart a major drug deal.  Difficult to fathom why an FBI agent would be sent to Ireland, and why would he need to be black?  Certainly not going undercover.  But I am a Cheadle fan, and I got past it.  And the whole movie works because of Mr. Gleeson.  At one point the Cheadle character says of Mr. Gleeson’s, “  I can’t tell if you’re really (bleeping) dumb or really (bleeping) smart.”

The movie was written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, brother of Martin McDonagh.  As a reviewer said, this movie is “really (bleeping) good.”

Mr. Cheadle and Mr. Gleeson (below) in a less-than-cordial moment.

Amelie

There is something about the ladies of France,  Audrey Tautou (below) being a case in point.  Beauty underscored by a look of innocence, yet with the potential for mischief.  Audrey is the heroine of the 2001 film “Amelie.”  Nominated for five Academy Awards, winning none, but ranked, at that time, as the greatest box office success in French cinema history.

“Amelie” is one of those movies you sit through with a smile, knowing that you have stumbled upon a gem; not quite knowing what to expect, yet expecting nonetheless to be captivated by Audrey’s portrayal of Amelie.  Remarkably, “Amelie” was not screened at the Cannes Film Festival, but was well received pretty much everywhere else.  To me, it is a wonderful representation of French cinema.  There are lots of layers to this movie – all constructed by Amelie.  Most importantly for the viewer, there is Amelie in pursuit of Nino; but more importantly for Amelie, it’s what she does for those around her – whether she is playing cupid for a co-worker; or surreptitiously working to convince her father to travel his way out of his sadness; or gaslighting a store owner to the point where he no longer abuses his employee; and much more.        

As the copy says in the following image, “She’ll change your life.”

Oh, and “gaslighting?”  Had to look it up after seeing it in Wikipedia.  “Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, hoping to make them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the target and delegitimize the target’s belief.”  Amelie does a nice job of it.  So do politicians.

American Hustle

You may recall the 1987 film “Empire of the Sun,” which told the story of a young English schoolboy living in Shanghai at the time the Japanese invasion of China.  The schoolboy is separated from his parents and eventually lands in an internment camp.  Without providing further detail, it is a movie worth seeing, directed by Steven Spielberg, and starring 13 year old Christian Bale as the schoolboy.

And that brings me to “American Hustle.”  A movie that was nominated for ten Oscars, winning none (which must be some sort of perverse record).  The cast includes Bradley Cooper (with hideous permed hair, but terrific), Jeremy Renner (terrific),  Amy Adams (also terrific), Jennifer Lawrence (hilarious and a reminder of just how good an actress she is), Robert DeNiro (in a cameo that would strike fear in the otherwise fearless) and Christian Bale (with what must surely be the second worst comb-over ever).  Christian is remarkable and his performance demonstrates just how versatile an actor he is.  He owns two Oscars; one for “The Fighter,” a second for “The Big Short,” together with three appearances as “Batman” and so much more.  “American Hustle” is worth seeing more than once.

The Intouchables

Not to be confused with “The Untouchables,” the 1987 movie starring Kevin Costner and Sean Connery, “The Intouchables” is a French production starring Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy, neither of whom you may know.  This is a wonderful movie, with M. Sy as Driss, the care-giver for M. Cluzet, as Phillippe, who is a quadriplegic.  The opening scene, with Driss driving Phillippe at high speeds through the streets of Paris in Phillippe’s Maserati, is worthy of any car chase comparison.  And the outcome of that scene is a thing of hilarity.  M. Sy won the Cesar Award (think French Oscar) for Best Actor.  He seems to me to be an engaging combination of a young Eddie Murphy and Dave Chapelle.  M. Cluzet is no slouch either, having won his Cesar in 2007 for the movie “Tell No One.”  I was touched by M. Cluzet’s character as he was able to convey so much emotion despite his disability.  Above all, he seemed to truly relish the performance of his co-star, M. Sy, who is a dude (below).      

Don’t mind the subtitles, as with “Amelie” you will find yourself quickly lost in the charm of the characters.  In the image following, “Driss” takes the wheel of the Maserati, much to the delight of “Phillippe.”

I think I want a Maserati.