Tuesday, November 24, 2009

America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

Cookbook: America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
Like/Don't Like: It has never failed me.

If you have been to my apartment you may have noticed the bookcase next to the kitchen. It is four shelves worth of cookbooks. I admit that we may need an intervention. The majority of those cookbooks remain on the shelves. In fact, I would say that most of the recipes we use come from the binder full of Mom's recipes that she gave us years ago and from the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. Because you can't go wrong with either. In fact, you may actually have more success with the ATKFC because, as you know, you can never replicate your mom's food. Your chocolate chip cookies will come close but they will never taste just like hers. You suspect that she may use a little extra butter, and possibly witch craft.

You may have seen the show America's Test Kitchen on PBS. It's my favorite cooking show because 1.) the cooks on it are cooks and not TV personalities which means that they're considerably less annoying and 2.) they make food you would normally eat and they show you how to make it better.

Which is exactly what this cookbook does. It's filled with recipes of everyday food that you would serve your family but each recipe is tested dozens of times to get the best flavor and texture and also the easiest way to get there. Then, instead of just telling what to do, they show you how to do it with lots of pictures and explain why you're doing it. For example, I needed to make a pie crust last night. I've always had trouble with crust, it is either too moist or too dry and never pretty. So I thought that I would give theirs a try. The recipe suggested using a food processor to blend everything together because you don't want to overwork the butter. But I don't have a food processor and it's kind of a pain cutting in cold butter to get the texture you need for the dough. So the helpful tip, as if the cookbook was reading my mind, was to freeze the butter and grate it in. GENIUS!!!!! It worked like a champ. I've never had dough come together so nicely.

I've used their recipe for bread and rolls (first time I have EVER been successful making yeasty breads)(The word yeasty gives me the heebs.), for soup and pot roast and several desserts and they've always turned out terrific. I've seen it at Barnes and Noble but I think it's cheaper at Costco. I think you should get it and then invite me over for dinner. I'll bring a pie.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Movie: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Like/Don't Like: Liked

I'm not sure why I completely forgot that this was a French film and therefore, they would be speaking in French. When this happened my friend Krii and I both looked at each other and said, "huh?" We were tired, okay? Also, the subtitles didn't automatically come on.

So, oui, it is French. Which is irrelevant in regards to the gist of the film but explains a lot when you find yourself thinking, "Boy, that was odd," or "Was that a naked woman I just saw?"

It's a true story about Jean-Dominique Bauby who was the editor-in-chief for Elle and lived a fancy jet-setting French kind of life until one day he had a stroke and was completely paralyzed except for his left eye. He woke up from his coma aware and alert but unable to move or communicate. His therapist discovered that his mind was still functioning and thinking and set out to help him communicate by having him blink his one good eye. Once for yes and twice for no. Eventually he was able to spell out words and sentences by having someone read through the alphabet and he would blink when the letter he wanted would come up.

He wrote a book this way. I just checked on Amazon, it's 144 pages long. He blinked out 144 pages. Which basically makes everyone who has ever wanted to write a book but has gotten hung up on something look like pansies.

The film is partially seen from his point of view, so basically, his one good eye. People come in and out of view and you can hear his thoughts and responses to their questions. You don't actually see him until he starts seeing himself - in reflexions in windows or TV screens. And there are flashbacks to before the stroke which give you some details on how his life was with his job and his kids. It was both sad and beautiful to hear his thoughts (I'm assuming most of it was taken from his book) about what it means to be bed-ridden and paralysed and at the mercy of everyone around you - the person who bathes you, the nurse who turns you tv on or off, the long Sundays when it's a light staff and no one comes to visit. It's amazing to me that instead of falling into some deep despair he managed to not only rally but live the best that he could.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Srida Thai Cuisine

Restaurant: Srida Thai Cuisine
Location: 924 N. Central Ave.Upland, CA 91786
Like/Don't Like: Loved!

Liz (winner of the second Mr. T bookmark) and I get together for dinner every so often to catch up. It is a gab fest. We are both talkers and we generally end up sitting at our table talking for hours while the staff patiently wait for us to shut up and leave.

So it is high praise that at one point in the meal we were both speechless over how yummy the food was.

I've been wanting to try this place for a while. It's right around the corner from my place and it's in that magical shopping center that has the Bra Lady, the moose lodge, the British Emporium and Jouni's cafe. But I'd been kind of turned off by Thai food thanks to the Doc. Anytime she would take us out to lunch she insisted that we go to this Thai place around the corner from the office. It was disgusting. Everything was greasy and tasted about 3 days old. And they used so much lemon grass that you left feeling like you chugged a gallon of Pine-sol.

But I felt like I could go back to Thai and I've been trying to be a good citizen and spend my money locally so Srida was the winner.

We had the green curry and the Crying Tiger - which is a phenomenal name for a dish, right? What I love about Thai food is that there are so many distinct flavors and when it's good Thai you should be able to get all of them without being over-powered by one. The green curry was perfect. You could taste everything individually but they mixed together so well. And it all tasted fresh. The Crying Tiger was a marinated steak with a spicy sauce you could drizzle over it. I wanted to drink it straight from the bowl.

It was cheap - our dinner with tax was under $20, the service was great and the place was clean and nicely decorated. And I can attest that it all tastes great the next day for lunch.

The Avocado House

Restaurant: The Avocado House
Location: 11618 Central Ave., Chino, CA 91710
Like/Don't Like: They give you cookies with your yummy sandwich. Like!

Full disclosure: I know the owners. And I knew every single person who was working there. And half the people in the dining area. It was an old Chino Second Ward reunion practically. So the experience of seeing all these people that I've known for my entire life, including friends that I grew up with whom I haven't seen in probably a decade, may have warmed my heart a bit.

But, as the food is the main reason for going to any restaurant, I'm here to tell you that this food is GOOD. I had the Thanksgiving sandwich (turkey, cranberry sauce, lettuce and cream cheese) and it came with a side of fruit, and a cookie and a pumpkin bar. My sisters and mom all had salads that they loved. Everything tastes fresh and homemade. They do breakfast and lunch and have boxed dinners you can pick up. It's located in a converted home so it has a cozy feel to it. There's a fire place and a large porch you can eat out on. It's just a really cute small-towny kind of place with really good food.

84 Charing Cross Road

Movie: 84 Charing Cross Road
Like/Don't Like: Netflix was right. I loved it.

I think from the moment I first signed up for Netflix years ago this has been on my recommended list. I eventually put it on my queue but even then it barely cracked the top 5 because I kept putting other movies ahead of it. No one but Netflix has recommended it to me and I'm not much for trusting the opinions of a computer. But now I owe Netflix an apology, and possibly some brownies, because it was right. I liked it a lot.

Anne Bancroft is a writer who loves old, obscure, British non-fiction and she can't find cheap copies in New York so she gets the address of a used book store in London (at 84 Charing Cross Road) and asks them to send her specific titles. Anthony Hopkins is the clerk who answers her first request and they start up a correspondence that lasts for a few decades. Most of the movie is told through their letters and it is a very genuine and sweet friendship.

I was kind of destined to like this movie though. It contains all sorts of things I love: books, used book stores, letter writing, Anthony Hopkins, Judy Dench. At one point Anne Bancroft describes the smell as she opened up the first shipment of books and I knew exactly the smell she was talking about. That dust and old glue smell that almost makes me weep.