Thursday, August 26, 2010

Thai-style Mussels with Coconut Milk and Lemongrass

Here's an novel idea for cooking mussels with Thai ingredients. It's simple and should impress your friends or significant other when they come over for movie night. Here's what you need:

1 lb. mussels (washed and debearded)
1/2 can coconut milk
1 stalk lemongrass (chopped up in a blender)
2 medium sized shallots (minced)
2 cloves garlic (chopped fine)
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon chopped cilantro leaves
1/2 cup water
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fish sauce (optional)
1 Thai bird chili chopped (optional)

Using a wok, heat up a couple of tablespoons of oil and sauté the garlic, ginger, shallots and lemongrass until fragrant. Add the cleaned mussels into the wok and stir to mix all the ingredients together with the mussels. Next, add the coconut milk and water (and fish sauce), stir well and let the liquid come to a boil. When all the mussels have opened up, add the chopped cilantro and season with salt and pepper.

And you are done. Yes, seriously, you are done. Simple and delicious. Try it!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Walking Dead - The Next Big TV Series from AMC

AMC is the new HBO. There I've said it. Much like the cable channel FX is the poor man's HBO, AMC is slowly becoming my favorite TV channel for great new original series. With highly acclaimed shows such as "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad" and the recent premiere of "Rubicon," AMC is gearing up for yet another great show that is on my must-see list and it is coming on October 31st. Yes, on Halloween this year, we will be feted with a new and exciting TV series called "The Walking Dead." After all the copycat vampire movies and TV shows, it is time for the other undead to have their day on our TV screens. Just check out the excellent trailer above and you will understand what I mean. Story does matter there.

Blu-ray Releases & Dinner Pairings: Week of August 23rd, 2010

Lost: The Complete Sixth and Final Season [Blu-ray] Lost: The Complete Collection [Blu-ray]  The Simpsons: The 13th Season [Blu-ray]  The Square [Blu-ray]

Well, here it is folks, this week marks the release of the much-hyped, much-praised and much-maligned final television season of the "Lost" saga. This brainchild of uber-director J.J. Abrams together with Damon Lindelof, Jeffrey Lieber and Carlton Cuse made its TV debut back in 2004 and to be sure, I was one of those enthralled by the possibilities of what might lie behind the mysterious "island" (here's my glowing review of the 1st season). Alas, the next season proved that the show might be losing its way after such a great start. The plot went around the mulberry bush and never recovered (my review of Season 2), frustrating fans like myself who were seeking some (or any) answers to the many, many open-ended questions. From trying to escape the clutches of the island to the return of the Oceanic 6 to the island in Season 5, many mysteries still remained and the final season never bothered (or maybe they couldn't) to answer all of them. Yes, we had some kind of closure but so many sub-plots remained dangling. For what it was worth, the show was unique in the way that it tells its story, using creative ways like flashbacks and even flashforwards (for an entire season). For that, I must commend the show's creators for bringing such a new perspective to storytelling. Also releasing this week, is the entire 6-season collection of "Lost" for those who fans who have not already bought any of the single season sets. Other than the discs, this collection also includes various collectible items for the dedicated Losties. As can be expected, this entire collection will set you back almost $200 on Amazon.

Dinner Pairing:
As for a dinner pairing for "Lost," might I suggest a tropical Hawaiian staple of ahi tuna poke (here's a simple poke recipe), matched with a refreshing Mai-Tai cocktail (here's a list of famous Mai-Tai recipes) that must include a cocktail umbrella to complete the Polynesian theme.

Next on the list is classic TV sitcom and a favorite of many, "The Simpsons: The Thirteenth Season." With the current broadcast of the show in its 21st season, "The Simpsons" have broken almost all TV show records for the longest running primetime show, longest running sitcom, longest running animated show, most episodes, etc. The only problem is, we might be able to own the entire series of the show on DVD or Blu-ray until may be the end of the decade! The home video release is crawling almost 10 years behind the current season of the show. I know the studio tries to create a great DVD package with lots of extras for each season's release and that takes time but come on! "The Simpsons" fans must be the most saintly patients fans in the world! Well, is you are a fan of the show, I don't have to tell you what you have to do this week. Every episode is a classic and the show is so up to date on what to make fun of, it isn't even funny. So get to it!

As a tribute to the show, may I present to you a list of Homer Simpson's favorite foods:
1. Duff beer (of course!)
2. Donuts (with sprinkles)
3. Burgers (flame grilled or just fried on Marge's stove)
4. Hot dogs (a great food anywhere and anytime)
5. Pizza (hot or cold, just bring it on!)
6. Chocolate (yes, the gooey stuff that you can soak in!)
7. Pancakes (flapjacks, to be precise)

Just pick one in honor of Homer and we can all enjoy the thirteenth season episodes one after another.

Another recommended movie in this week's release is "The Square," a thriller set in Australia that has the Coen brothers written all over it. It's got extra-marital affairs, stolen money, murder, deceit, a whole nasty web of entanglements that threatens to spiral completely out of control. You definitely have to check it out.

$5 a Day [Blu-ray]
One more movie released this week and it is a rental at best. It is called "$5 A Day" and it stars the great Christopher Walken together with Alessandro Nivola and Sharon Stone. It has a run-of-the-mill road trip story about estranged father-son relationships and how things get sorted out eventually. Here's my review of the DVD release at Not the best Walken movie but he kinda saves the movie from extreme mediocrity.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Curry Laksa: Singapore's Got Nothin' on Penang

Samantha Brown's Asia: Laksa in Singapore
Uploaded by TravelChannelTV. - Explore exotic destinations and travel videos.

In the region of South-east Asia, street food (also known as hawker food) is king. I'm an avid watcher of Travel Channel programs like "Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern" and "Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations" and every time either of these two gentlemen travel to Singapore, they usually marvel at how good the street food is in that island republic. I always cringe in horror when I hear that. More recently, Samantha Brown, the host of another travel show on that same cable channel, had her own Singapore experience and as I watched that episode (especially the clip above), my cringe factor increased tenfold! I've had curry laksa in Singapore and I can tell you for a fact that it is lacking in flavor. Any local Singaporean (though they won't freely admit it) will tell you that the best street food can only be found in one place and one place only and it is definitely not Singapore. You may be able to fool the tourists but the locals know better.

Well, I'm here to finally demystify the well-perpetuated misconception of Singapore being the street food capital of the region. Singapore's street food is nothing compared to its neighbor up north, the island of Penang, Malaysia. Penang is commonly known as the Pearl of the Orient and is very famous across the region for its street food. Not only that, the island was recently declared in 2007 as a UNESCO World heritage site. For sure, Penang is certainly the original melting pot of cultures and traditions and a foodie heaven. I've known many Singaporeans who will travel up north to Penang just for a taste of the food. Here's a sample of the best food that Penang has to offer.

OK, full disclosure time. I was born and bred in Penang and lest you think that I'm biased in my opinion, well I really can't deny it. But don't just take my word for it. Next time you travel to that region, make a pit-stop in both Penang and Singapore and just compare the food. I'm sure you will be able to tell the difference right away.

So, Travel Channel producers, please get your facts right. When it comes to street food, Singapore's got nothin' on Penang!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Oh Snap! A Red Snapper with Spicy Kale for Dinner!

One of my favorite fish to cook and also to eat is red snapper, commonly found in the Gulf of Mexico. True to its name, the red snapper is of course, red in color both on the outside and also on the flesh (a tinge). Sold both whole and also in fillets, the red snapper is usually cooked with the skin on, which, when seared, provides a tasty and crunchy texture to the sweet flesh. The firmness of the flesh also makes it easy to sauté without the whole fillet falling apart on you, with the skin helping to keep things together.

Last week, I was able to procure several beautiful and fresh fillets of red snapper. Before cooking, make sure that the fillets have been cleaned properly on the skin side, removing any unwanted scales that may have inadvertently been left behind. To properly cook a red snapper, start with a non-stick pan. Trust me, you'll thank me later. Pour about 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil onto the pan and heat it up real well (until it just starts to smoke). Season both sides of the fillet with salt and pepper and start frying with the skin side first. Check and make sure the skin is brown in color and slightly crispy before flipping it over. When the fish is done, set it aside to cool down.

To prepare the kale, clean it by removing the leaves from the main stem. We'll only be using the leaves because the stem is much to tough to chew. Get a pot of salted water boiling and blanch the kale leaves in it until soft. Remove from the pot and cool it down immediately in cold water. Cooking the kale is so simple. Start by sweating some julienned onions in a pan and then add chopped garlic and cook for another minute. Add the blanched kale plus a pinch of red pepper flakes. Season with salt and pepper and you are done.
As for the other side dish, I decided to do a vegetable hash with diced potato, carrots, mushrooms, onions, garlic and shelled English peas. You can also substitute the peas with edamame (soy beans) if you like. I like to sauté them and season with a little soy sauce instead of salt.

And there you have it, a delicious red snapper recipe with spicy kale and vegetable hash. Enjoy!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Blu-ray Releases & Dinner Pairings: Week of August 16th, 2010

After a lackluster week of Blu-ray releases where the only highlight was Steve Carell and Tina Fey's only slightly-amusing comedy "Date Night," this week is no different but with two noteworthy films, one a must-see Showtime series and the other, a South Korean action adventure Western (if you can call it that) modeled after Indiana Jones and Q. Tarantino.

So may I present to you.....this week's dynamic duo of Blu-ray release highlights:

Dexter: The Fourth Season [Blu-ray] The Good, the Bad, the Weird [Blu-ray]

Anyone who is familiar with the amazing Showtime TV series, "Dexter," needs no further introduction into the world of  Dexter Morgan ("Six Feet Under"'s Michael C. Hall), who lives a, shall we say, unique dual life: Miami PD's blood analysis expert by day and bad guy serial killer by night. No, no, Dexter's not the bad guy here. His serial killing spree only involves killing the bad guys that manage to wriggle themselves out of the criminal justice system. Yes, Dexter's a serial killer who only kills bad guys. Those are his rules and he follows them to a T. In Season Three, things got a little complicated and the lines got muddied when Miami's high-flying District Attorney, Ramon Prado, played by Jimmy Smits, inexplicably got involved with Dexter's murderous activities and wanted in on the action! To add on to Dexter's mounting problems, his girlfriend Rita (Julie Benz) tells him that she's pregnant. While the third season wrapped itself up pretty neatly, the final scene where Dexter dances with Rita on their wedding day (as we see blood dripping from his hidden injured arm onto Rita's white wedding dress) only hints of any future bloodbath ahead.

So here's Season 4 and Dexter's now a family man, with a new addition to the family, his son, Harrison. Also new this season is Dexter's adversary, the Trinity Killer, a serial killer who kills 3 people at a time in a very specific sequence. How Dexter deftly reconciles his new family life and his old serial killer life is the new challenge for the season. And boy, what a season it is. Do not, I repeat, do not miss "Dexter: The Fourth Season" or you will regret it.

Food Pairing: While one may think to add the appropriately-themed blood sausage to their diet in honor of "Dexter"'s blood-filled adventures, may I suggest a more timid concoction: a Bloody Mary of course! This classic cocktail containing vodka, tomato juice, cayenne pepper, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice should be the official drink of choice when watching "Dexter."

Next, we have, from South Korea, another in a long line of quality films from the peninsula. Following the excellent Hitchcockian mystery, "Mother," we now have a fun action-filled romp through the Mongolian desert with  "The Good, the Bad, the Weird," a play on the Sergio Leone classic title, "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly." Taking place some time in 1930's Manchuria, the film takes us on a giddy journey of unbridled greed and the violence it attracts, all centered around a mysterious treasure map. Here is my review of the film on DVD at the site DVDTown.

Food Pairing: For this action-packed adventure, may I suggest the Korean version of the Japanese sushi, gimbap or kimbap. It is steamed white rice (not vinegared) wrapped/rolled in seaweed paper (nori) together with other ingredients like crab meat, shrimp, omelette, roasted beef, vegetable, etc. Very much like sushi but without the vinegar in the rice. Here's a great site for healthy gimbap recipes. It is bite-sized and a pleasing appetizer for when watching fun action Korean flicks!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Blade Runner: The Final Cut

I used to write DVD/Blu-ray reviews for a couple of internet sites until my job got too hectic that I had to stop (60+ hours a week do get to you!). Writing is a hobby of mine that I really enjoyed doing and since I love movies as well, why not combine both and write about it. My favorites movie genres are sci-fi and horror and one of my favorite films of all time is Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner." When the 25th anniversary of the release of "Blade Runner" came along and the studio was finally releasing the definitive cut of the film, I jumped on the chance to review the DVD release of what was to be known as "Blade Runner: The Final Cut."
Blade Runner (Five-Disc Complete Collector's Edition) [Blu-ray]Blade Runner (Four-Disc Collector's Edition)Blade Runner (Five-Disc Ultimate Collector's Edition)
I am extremely proud of that review and I would like you guys to read it. It was published on the IGN website and here is the link. I hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Those Are Scrumptious Green Lips, My Friend!

Do a Google search on the New Zealand green-lipped mussel (also known as greenshell mussels) and you will read many articles about its health benefits. Its use in medical circles is normally associated with its pain relieving and inflammation reduction properties. Health benefits aside, the green-lipped mussel is also quite scrumptious!

An important export for New Zealand, the green-lipped mussel can be bought here is the U.S. either frozen in the half-shell (most common) or fresh (rare). It is easily distinguishable from the domestic mussels by its distinctive emerald green markings on the lip of the shell.

Well, I'm here to tell you about a very simple baked green-lipped mussel recipe that'll blow your socks off. It takes less than 30 minutes to prepare from start to finish and is a great party appetizer idea as well as an ideal movie night snack. OK, here's what you need:

1 lb. New Zealand green-lipped mussels (frozen)
1 large shallot (small dice)
3 cloves garlic (chopped fine)
1/2 cup dry white wine (eg. Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay)
1 bunch tarragon leaves (chopped fine)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Parmesan cheese
Panko breadcrumbs
Parsley for garnish
Salt & pepper to taste

First, thaw out the frozen mussels an hour before cooking. Lay them on out a sheet tray and let them thaw naturally at room temperature. While the mussels are thawing, melt the butter in a pan and saute the shallots until soft. Add the garlic and cook for about another minute. Next, add the tarragon and white wine into the pan and cook until it comes to a boil. Turn off the heat and season with salt and pepper. And that's all the cooking you need to do. Now, scoop a teaspoon of the ingredients that you just cooked onto the thawed out mussels (half-shell). The shells act as a natural cup to hold the ingredients. Sprinkle some parmesan cheese onto the mussels, together with some panko breadcrumbs (just enough to cover the plump mussels). Set your oven to 350F and bake for about 5-7 minutes. As you see the cheese melted, turn your oven to broil mode to brown the crumbs for less than 1 minute. Observe the baking mussels closely as you do not want the breadcrumbs to burn.

And you are done! Easy-peasy, isn't it?

Now just pop in your favorite movie and enjoy a scrumptious movie snack like you've never had before!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Shark Week: Grilled Mako Shark Steaks

Discovery Channel's "Shark Week" may be over but in honor of the just concluded 2010 edition of this popular annual event, I have a recipe idea that has a bite! I was in my favorite fish market last week and happened to come across some nice fresh mako shark steaks. Thinking what a coincidence it was, seeing that it was "Shark Week," I thought why not make dinner with those steaks. With a pound and a half of those steaks in hand, I thought long and hard about some recipe ideas on the drive home. Here's a picture of those steaks in their raw state:
Notice the thick leathery dark skin on those steaks. So, I figured that since these steaks were quite similar in texture to swordfish, I decided the best cooking method for them was to fire up the old Weber grill. First, I seasoned the steaks with some spicy seasonings that is made up of garlic and onion powder, red chili flakes, paprika, cumin, coriander, cilantro and vegetable oil. The steaks were about an inch thick, so cooking them all the way on the grill was not going to happen unless you like charcoal shark steaks. After getting good grill marks and letting the seasoning work itself into the steaks, I took them off the grill and finished them in the oven. One method that you can also try is to grill the steaks on low heat by moving the charcoal to one side and cooking the fish on the other side of the grill, away from direct contact with the heat and flames. Cover the grill and let the smokiness infuse into the fish.

Once that is done, I started working on a side dish to go with the shark steaks. Looking through my fridge, I found a head of cauliflower that I had bought just a few days back and decided to go with that. First, I blanched the cauliflower florets in a pot of boiling salted water just to soften it a little. After removing the cauliflower from the pot and cooling it down with cold water, I added 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 4 cloves of garlic (rough chop), half an onion (diced), salt and pepper. Mixing all these ingredients up thoroughly, I popped them into the oven to roast for about 10 minutes at 350F. To get a nice browning on the vegetables, I finish it up with about 2 minutes or less under the broiler.
Finally, I fried some dried anchovies and cut up some scallions and added them to the roasted cauliflower when I was ready to serve. You can also add some red chili flakes for some spiciness. And there you have it, grilled mako shark steak with roasted cauliflower and anchovies.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Blu-ray Releases & Dinner Pairings: Week of August 3rd, 2010

This week, some of the notable and new home video releases on Blu-ray and DVD include the following:

Kick-Ass (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack + Digital Copy)The Ghost Writer (Single-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)Diary of a Wimpy Kid [Blu-ray]After.Life [Blu-ray] A Prophet [Blu-ray]

Let's start with the star release of this week and it is "Kick-Ass," inspired by the comic book of the same name. The story centers around a geeky teenager, Dave (played by Aaron Johnson) who decides, on a whim, to become a "superhero" even though he has no superpowers to speak of. Using the pseudonym "Kick-Ass," Dave goes out to fight crime but only to find his own ass kicked in his first attempt, resulting in serious injury. With some nerve damage and metal plates inserted into his body, Dave finds that he is able to withstand a considerable amount of pain, more than the usual human being. Soon, he teams up with a father-daughter crime-fighting duo, Big Daddy (Nic Cage) and Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz) to battle against the local crime boss Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong). At first glance, this movie may seem like a child-friendly movie but it stays true to its source material and received an R rating  for profanity and violence. "Kick-Ass" has received mostly positive reviews from critics and is worth at least a rental, if not a spot in your movie collection.

"Kick-Ass" Dinner Pairing: How about a kick-ass juicy 10 oz. Angus burger cooked medium-rare with bacon and egg, melted aged cheddar cheese and some freshly fried french fries. Call it the all-American kick-ass Big Daddy burger, fit for all superhero wannabes (and sidekicks as well)!

Next is "The Ghost Writer," the Roman Polanski-directed political thriller starring Pierce Brosnan and Ewan McGregor. Brosnan plays a former British Prime Minister, Adam Lang and McGregor, an acclaimed (and unnamed) ghostwriter, who is hired to complete the PM's memoirs. Taking over from his predecessor, who was killed in an accident, the ghostwriter stumbles upon clues that links Lang to the CIA. At about the same time, Lang is accused of authorizing the illegal seizure of terrorist suspects and renditioning them to the CIA for torture, a possible war crime. In typical Polanski flair, "The Ghost Writer" will keep you at the edge of your seats as it carefully navigates all the possible outcomes with precise pacing and well placed red herrings. Not an instant classic but a well-directed and well-acted film that should be on your Netflix list.

"The Ghost Writer" Dinner Pairing: A stodgy political thriller featuring a British Prime Minister should conjure up images of Beef Wellington, a traditional British fare recently made famous by Chef Gordon Ramsey on his scripted reality cooking shows. Named after the Duke of Wellington, this dish is made up of a beef tenderloin coated with pâté and mushrooms and wrapped in puff pastry and baked. For some intrigue along the same lines as the movie, maybe you can try using lamb instead of beef. Here's a simple recipe.

"Diary of A Wimpy Kid" brings the beloved children's book series of the same name to life on the big screen. Middle school is an awkward time for many kids and things are no different for our protagonist, Greg, played Zachary Gordon. Greg, for all his good intentions, wants badly to fit in with the "cool kids" in school but finds a big stumbling block in the form of his good-natured, portly, red-haired best friend, Rowley (Robert Capron). It is a funny movie about how Greg navigates the booby-trapped minefield of middle school (often not successfully) and is able to teach us some valuable life lessons while at it. Kids who have read the book series will get a big kick out of this movie and is sure to entertain everyone else as well. Great recommendation for family movie night.

"Diary of a Wimpy Kid" Dinner Pairing: Let's just say we'll do away with the school cafeteria food presumption and kick it up a notch with some lobster mac and cheese, for which I have the recipe here. You'll love it and I'm pretty sure the kids will too.

The other notable releases this week include "After.Life," that on the outset, seems like an intriguing psychological thriller starring Liam Neeson as an undertaker who can speak to the dead, who in this case is Anna, played by Christina Ricci. The question is, is she really dead or is there something more sinister coursing through the funeral home? Though it may have not been positively reviewed, "After.Life" may be worth a night of cheap horror with a tub of caramel popcorns (my favorite) on hand.

Saving the best for last, Jacques Audiard's foreign language gritty crime drama, "A Prophet," is a movie of the highest quality. The actors may not be familiar at all to stateside audiences but that just adds to the authenticity of the story. Malik (Tahar Rahim), a young man of Arab descent, is sent to prison for a crime that he denies being involved in. The prison is controlled by members of the Corsican mob and Malik finds himself terrorized by Reyeb (Hichem Yacoubi), who is a snitch and is about to testify against the mob. Of course, the Corsicans will try to stop that from happening and recruits Malik to end Reyeb's life and receive their protection in exchange. Not content with just being a mob stooge, Malik rises through the ranks within the prison and his actions in the past may yet come back to haunt him. A powerful tale of survival within a brutal system, "A Prophet" is highly recommended viewing.