Saturday, December 29, 2007

One Movie, Four Thanksgivings

The second movie we are undertaking has been quite an amazing challenge. It is What's Cooking?, a 2000 film by British director Gurinder Chadha, better known for Bend It Like Beckham. For her first film about life in the United States, she chose as her theme the quintessential American icon—Thanksgiving. Ironically, she tells her story from the point of view of four families who are not fully accepted into the mainstream of American life, showing how their Thanksgiving dinners, like their lives, are a blend of what they brought with them and what they found when they arrived. But what makes it difficult for us is that she depicts FOUR full Thanksgiving dinners!

The four families are the Avilas, the Nguyens, the Seeligs, and the Williams. We decided to start with the Williams' family dinner, which consists of the following:

Organic Turkey
Mrs. Williams’ Special Oyster and Shitake Mushroom Stuffing
Grandma Williams’ Favorite Macaroni and Cheese
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Cranberry and Orange Mêlée
Candied Yams
Asparagus with Beurre Blanc
Romaine and Radicchio Salad
Homemade Buttermilk Biscuits
Moroccan Fruit Compote
Blueberry Pie with Graham Cracker Crust
Gwennie Robbins’ Fool-Proof Rustic Pie
Fruit and Nut Cheese Ball with Plain Crackers
Sage and Onion Cheese Ball with Wheat Crackers
Orange Juice
Coffee with Whipped Cream
Red and White Wines
That's quite an amazing lineup! But if you're looking for an elegant Thanksgiving meal, then this menu will certainly fit the bill. Just look at this magnificent salad:

Here's the recipe:
1 large bunch romaine
2 heads radicchio
4 large beefsteak tomatoes
1 cucumber
1 handful of red kalamata olives, pitted
balsamic vinaigrette

Wash the romaine and the radicchio and pull apart the leaves, placing the leaves in two distinct and separate bunches. Score the cucumber with a fork (it looks decorative!) and cut into round slices. Place them in the center of a large bowl. Slice the tomatoes into wedges and build them around and on top of the cucumbers in the bowl. This should create a good base near the top of the bowl to create the romaine/radicchio design, as follows.

With the furrowed side down, and the root end pointing to the center of the bowl, create a pinwheel design of red and green, alternating the radicchio leaves with the romaine, folding in the sides to make a tight arrangement. Place the handful of olives in the center, enough to cover the variety of leaf ends. Drizzle the balsamic vinaigrette over the salad; toss just before serving.

Yield: 8-12 servings
What's Cooking? is a wonderful movie, and the meals depicted really made us hungry! We can't wait to try the other three families' Thanksgiving dinners.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The First Meal

“I had to start braising the beef, pork butt, and veal shanks for the tomato sauce. It was Michael’s favorite. I was making ziti with the meat gravy, and I’m planning to roast some peppers over the flames, and I was gonna put on some string beans with some olive oil and garlic, and I had some beautiful cutlets that were cut just right, that I was going to fry up before dinner just as an appetizer.” --Henry Hill

For our first movie meal, we chose to feature recipes from Martin Scorsese's masterpiece Goodfellas. Now, one might not immediately think of food when calling this movie to mind, but it is replete with delicious recipes and some really memorable cooking scenes: if you remember seeing garlic sliced paper-thin with a razor blade, then you're thinking of Goodfellas, and that's the garlic that goes into the amazing "gravy" (otherwise known as tomato sauce) for the pasta. From the pasta e fagioli to the lush wedding cake, all the dishes are first rate. It doesn't hurt that Scorsese's mother, Catherine, helped with the cooking during the filming, nor that Henry Hill, the subject of the movie, was a trained chef.

Given his family background, Anthony has had a lot of experience with Italian cooking, but Rusty less so, so for us, this meal was both a return to roots and a fun culinary adventure.

Here's one of Anthony's favorites from this movie: Pan-seared Rare Steak

One T-bone or Eye steak
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
½ onion, sliced
2-3 mushrooms, sliced

On a dinner plate, salt and pepper both sides of the steak; set aside. Over a medium flame, saute the garlic in the olive oil for a few minutes. Turn the heat to high, then add the steak to the pan. Cover and cook for 4-5 minutes on each side. At the last minute, add the onions and mushrooms. Cover and cook for a few minutes more. Serve immediately.
Yield: 2 servings

Monday, November 26, 2007

Introducing "Cooking with the Movies"

Following on the success of our previous collaboration, Cooking with the Bible, we have embarked on a new writing/cooking project: Cooking with the Movies: Meals on Reels. Some of our friends think we're crazy, but we seem to be called to cook! Or at least to entertain. And what better way to entertain than to combine performance (film) with eating (cooking)?

What will Cooking with the Movies be? Essentially, a cookbook and film guide, in which we will select 15-20 noted films and re-create the meals depicted therein. What were Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslet really eating in Titanic? Is it that difficult to make the timpano shown in Big Night? And where can one find the recipe for the life-changing chocolate featured in Chocolat? We'll also provide synopses of the films, an explanation of the importance of and context behind the meals, movie stills, and photos of each dish. Some of the other films we'll cover will include Goodfellas, What's Cooking?, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, My Dinner with Andre, Babette's Feast, Monsoon Wedding, and The Waitress.

On this blog, we will chronicle the process of creating and testing the recipes for Cooking with the Movies. As we select the films to include and put together the recipes, we will describe our successes and (perhaps) our almost-rans. Sometimes, the challenges are the most exciting part of writing a book--certainly the most interesting part of cooking!

We may share a recipe here and there as we go along, and we certainly welcome your feedback--after all, we need to know that our instructions are clear, and that any cook can reproduce what we've envisioned. You can comment on the posts here or email us directly. And don't forget to let us know if you have a favorite food film that you'd like us to include!

The finished book will eventually be available from Greenwood Press, and we'll keep you up-to-date on its availability.

Who are we? Anthony F. Chiffolo and Rayner W. Hesse Jr. are the authors of Cooking with the Bible: Biblical Food, Feasts, and Lore (visit for more information). They are also co-authors of We Thank You, God, for These: Blessings and Prayers for Family Pets. Anthony is editorial Director of Praeger Publishers. He is the author/editor/compiler of numerous books, including 100 Names of Mary: Stories and Prayers; Advent and Christmas with the Saints; Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Padre Pio; and At Prayer with the Saints. (The Rev. Dr.) Rayner W. Hesse, Jr., is pastor of St. John's Episcopal Church in New Rochelle, NY. He is the author of Jewelrymaking through History: An Encyclopedia and The Burning Question (forthcoming).

So please join us as we embark on this new adventure. We hope it's a delectable one!