24-second chicken recipe

I’d never roasted a chicken before. I picked up two 4-pound organic chickens at Costco and planned on giving one to Firecracker to make in her slow cooker, but as the weather got warmer I realized my oven roasting time was about to vanish. So I opened all the windows and tried to remember what I’d internalized from reading Julia Child, and watching her show with Jacques Pépin. “Jack” as she called him, is a knife wizard and an extremely pragmatic chef, while still honoring his French culinary roots. He shares many helpful shortcuts from his years as an apprentice, and his roast chicken recipe can be recited in 24 seconds:

You can tweet it. Set the oven to 425. Roast it 40 minutes on one side, baste it, and 40 minutes on the other side. End it with the breast side down so the juices soak in. That’s it. Sure, you can rub it with salt and pepper and olive oil or butter, like I did; I put it on a bed of baby carrots, a sliced onion, and a cubed celery root. The prep, including cutting off the wingtips and removing the giblet bag, cutting the vegetables, took about ten minutes. In an hour and a half, I had one of the best chickens I’d ever tasted, and certainly the best I’d ever made.
When I flipped the chicken at the 40 minute mark, I added some olive oil to the pan because the veggies were dry. The chicken released a flood of juices, so this was unnecessary. When it was done I let the bird rest and put the roasting pan on the stovetop, added white wine, and deglazed the sticky bits off the pan, and let the alcohol cook off while I carved it. I’d also never carved one before, so I found this video: How to carve a chicken which helped, but the chicken was fall-apart juicy. The breasts were juicy as Jacques promised. I thought I’d removed the wishbone but actually I was reaching up the chicken’s ass, apparently, and had broken two of its ribs. (That’s a secret Mixed Martial Arts move.) The wishbone was no impediment to carving this small bird and came out clean.
I put the carcass in a freezer bag and saved it for gumbo or soup. You’ll be seeing it again! With the vegetables in wine, the dish was one of the best I’ve ever made. I had a drumstick, a wing, a breast, and an oyster. The tenderloins even fell off the breasts, and I had one while I was carving. I saved half for lunch tomorrow. Yeah, with the amount of weightlifting, mixed-martial arts, and idiotic exercises like tire flipping I’m doing, half a chicken is lunch. This would have been even better with the addition of garlic, spices of your choice, or if I’d had more prep time and could have patted the chicken dry and left it salted in the fridge for a day to make the skin extra crispy. That was the one deficiency; the skin wasn’t very crisp because all the fat soaked into it, even though I trimmed a lot of the hanging fat and skin off the neck.
Next recipe? Christopher Walken’s chicken with pears:

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

Best Animated Feature

This is part of The LAMB Devours the Oscars.

The Academy Award for Best Animated Feature is only as old as 2001. Ten years prior, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast broke out of the animation ghetto and was nominated for Best Picture. In the next decade, Pixar would explode onto the scene with Toy Story, a technical breakthrough that ironically brought us back to animation’s sentimental, universal roots. The sequel Toy Story 2 came in 1999, and surpassed the original in both visual and emotional achievements, and in my mind, should have been nominated for Best Picture. It won the Golden Globe that year for Best Comedy/Musical, and I have a niggling feeling that the Academy recognized that animation just ain’t for kids anymore, and that influenced their decision to give them a separate but equal category.
And yes, I chose words with bad connotations for a reason. For while it is nice for animated film to be recognized at the Oscars, it is unfortunate, especially now that CG has become so prevalent, to be shuffled off into their own little category. Is 300 an animated film? Is Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Should Persepolis be forced to compete with Ratatouille? Both are excellent films, but one chose a simple visual style over Pixar’s insanely detailed character designs, where you can count rodent hairs, if you want a future job as an FDA food inspector. By pigeon-holing them in the same category, Persepolis is at a distinct disadvantage. Perhaps it’s no different than comparing Frost/Nixon‘s simplicity with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button‘s visual excess, and giving Animated Features their own category helps raise awareness for them.
However, the rules for the category seem to favor the big 3. The rules state:

In any year in which 8 to 15 animated features are released in Los Angeles County, a maximum of 3 motion pictures may be nominated. In any year in which 16 or more animated features are submitted and accepted in the category, a maximum of 5 motion pictures may be nominated.

So if fewer than 16 animated films are released in L.A. County, the Academy only nominates 3 films. And if fewer than 8 are released, there’s no category that year. There have not been 5 nominees since 2002, when Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away won.

This year it’s just the big three: WALL-E (Pixar), Bolt (Disney) and Kung Fu Panda (Dreamworks). The rules are why the excellent Horton Hears a Who! was overlooked, and I found it to be one of the most beautiful films of the year, and certainly better than Bolt and Kung Fu Panda for storyline. And I really liked Panda! Blue Sky Studios, who made the Ice Age movies, did a great job adapting Horton to the big screen and expanding it to feature length. It’s a shame it couldn’t be nominated. Waltz with Bashir, an Israeli soldier’s nightmares after the first Lebanon war, sidesteps the animation cubbyhole by being in a foreign language; Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea didn’t get a U.S. release, so it’s out.

But let’s get on to the Big Three.

1. Bolt
Bolt is the story of the star of a TV show I can summarize as “24 meets Inspector Gadget– he’s a super-powered cyborg canine protecting Penny, a kidnapped scientist’s daughter from the maniacal clutches of Doctor Calico and his Cackling Kitty Accomplice. The show depends on him thinking everything is real, so one day after a cliffhanger episode, he thinks he really needs to rescue Penny- and gets shipped in a packing crate to New York. Having lost his powers, he takes a street cat hostage, thinking she’s the cat from the show, hooks up with a fanboy fuzzball in a hamsterball, has harrowing adventures, and learns the power of love, friendship and perseverance.

I enjoyed Bolt, but don’t think it deserves nomination over Horton Hears a Who!– it’s good fun, and has an emotional ending, but you can still see the Disney formula from stinkers like Home on the Range affecting it. For example, superstar Miley Cyrus voices Penny, but her character is given no real depth. She’s there to get Hannah Montana fans into seats. In fact, according to IMDb, Chloe Moretz (Dirty Sexy Money) had already voiced the role of Penny before Cyrus was brought in to overdub it. They should have stuck with a real actress. John Travolta voices Bolt and does a fine job disappearing into the part. Susie Essman- the foul-mouthed wife of Jeff Garlin from “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” steals the show as Mittens the New Yawk street cat who shakes down pigeons and teaches Bolt how easily humans throw away their pets like so much garbage. She’s nearly upstaged by the crazy TV fanboy hamster Rhino (Mark Walton), who was just a little too crazy for me. I’m sure the kids loved him.

The humans are all Hollywood caricatures, meant to make us feel like little Hollywood insiders. Part of me wanted the whole “He’s a TV star who thinks it’s real!” gimmick to go away, and actually watch Penny and Bolt escape from endless attack helicopters, but kids have to get their dose of vitamins and irony these days. I can see Disney not wanting to tread on Pixar’s toes when Lasseter & co. have had a lock on the classic sentimental cartoon for decades, but this story feels a little too much like a Hollywood pitch. There’s a hilarious and exciting sequence where Bolt & co. escape from a shelter, and I found the ending genuinely touching, but there was just a little too much cliche here and there for me to consider this great instead of good, even in the small pond of Best Animated Features of 2008. Horton got robbed. TraBolta!!!!

Disney has gotten a lot better. Despite dropping their classic animation department for 3-D after the spectacular micro-managerial bungling of the otherwise good Treasure Planet, they’ve finally managed to claw a toe-hold and stand with the big boys in CG. Bolt may not be great, but it’s a big move in the right direction. Maybe one day they will continue where Lilo & Stitch and The Emperor’s New Groove left off.

2. Kung Fu Panda

I reviewed this in great detail here. I loved Kung Fu Panda, despite it being another Dreamworks film chock full of celebrity voices, because it has heart. It takes a standard kung fu story that could be a Sammo Hung movie, with a fat panda who works in his father’s noodle shop, but wants to be a Shaolin warrior. When he tries to spy on the choosing of the legendary Dragon Warrior at the Temple, he gets inadvertently chosen by the Master for training, and hilarity ensues. Can a clumsy, goofy fat glutton save the village from Tai Lung, the sinister snow leopard?

Dreamworks learned that you don’t need to recognize the voice actors to get asses in seats. Jack Black does his Jack Black thing, but everyone else blends into their character and doesn’t go all Robin Williams wacky on us. Seth Rogen and David Cross are delightfully amusing as Mantis and Crane; Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, and Lucy Liu have understated spots as Tigress, Monkey and Viper. As you can see from the animal choices, they did some kung fu movie research before they made this, as the “Furious Five” are modeled after the 5 Animal Styles of Shaolin Kung Fu. And while much of the gags are on panda’s big belly and goofy nature, when Master Shifu- played perfectly by Dustin Hoffman- decides to train the big galoot, the fantastic “chase the dumpling” sequence is as exciting as any such “battle” from a real kung fu film.

They even inject some emotion into the tale with Mr. Ping (the always-excellent James Hong), Panda’s unlikely father, who is a duck. I expected this to be forgettable but fun, and it ended up surprising me. I would not mind being forced to watch this a dozen times with kids, and while Jack Black may grate on my nerves on the sixth viewing, Dustin Hoffman’s wizened red panda and James Hong’s hilarious duck characters will keep endearing the story to me. And the tragic character of Tai Lung, voiced by Ian McShane, is not your typical villain. It also helps that the animation is gorgeous; if this is the first kung fu film you’ve seen since critics told you to see Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

My full review has plenty of gushing, so I’ll try to hold back. Imagine a simple story about a trash-compacting robot in the far future, the last of his kind still dutifully cleaning up our mess on Earth. His only friend is a cockroach, until one day he gets a visitor from above. And for the entire first act of the movie there is no real dialogue. Now imagine being in a theater full of kids watching this first act, with few if any big splashes or booms to keep them occupied. I thought it would be a nightmare of squalling and kicking and whining. But when I saw WALL-E at an early show, the kids were silent. It was as gripping for them as it was for me, watching this comical little robot go through his daily routine of crushing junk, saving little doodads that caught one of his mechanical eyes, finding Twinkies for his cockroach pal to sleep in, and watching a battered VHS tape of Hello Dolly. When Eva, a flying robot seemingly designed by Apple’s SETI division arrives, we get a touching cybernetic love story that brought tears to my cynical old peepers.

It’s so damn effective that you almost don’t want WALL-E to have his adventure, where he meets the apex of human consumerism on a space ark where they await Earth’s renewal. This was a terrific gamble, sticking such an obvious jab of social commentary in such a sentimental film. Chaplin did it, but he was Chaplin. Well, Pixar got away with it because they’re Pixar- I think they only people who complained were Fox News and the Fat Acceptance wackos who envied the Buy-n-Large hoverchairs. The movie doesn’t give us easy solutions or perfect endings, which is even braver. It says that fixing things will be hard work, but we can do it. It speaks volumes more than the insipid Oscar-bait of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and if I had my druthers it would be competing there instead of this category.

So, my conclusion?

This year Pixar has it cinched- WALL-E is not only a new masterpiece on a visual and technical level, but simply one of the best stories this year, animated or not. If people think The Dark Knight got screwed out of a Best Picture nomination, WALL-E fans should be even angrier at the Animated Feature category. At least the Globes separate Comedy/Musical from Drama, which seems a bit more fair. I think as more movies like Beowulf, 300, and Sin City blur the lines between animated and traditional film, this category may disappear, or perhaps used for only traditional hand-drawn animation. Time and technology will tell. Disney is returning to traditional feature animation with The Princess and the Frog this year, and both Kung Fu Panda and Ratatouille have credit sequences that seem to yearn for the old days of hand-drawn. Let’s hope we see more of it, and this category can get more than 3 nominees in the years to come.


Greasy Spoons – Crif Dog, NYC. Bacon wrapped hot dogs!

I seriously thought about renaming this blog “Movies, Beer and Hot Dogs” (especially since moviesbeerandhotdogs.com is available) but changed my mind. After all, sometimes I write about hamburgers, or music. But this time it’s about hot dogs. If they’re good enough for Christopher Walken, they’re good enough for me:

Walken In L.A.

This week, The Onion picks up another popular syndicated column: Christopher Walken’s “Walken in L.A.” For the last two years, Mr. Walken has provided his readers with consistently insightful commentary into the entertainment industry. His column already appears regularly in Variety and Rolling Stone, as well as in dozens of smaller newspapers and magazines. We’re proud to welcome this celebrated actor and columnist to our pages.

Do you enjoy eating hot dogs? I hope you won’t be put off by my frankness when I tell you that I absolutely love them. In fact, I enjoy no food item more than a freshly-boiled hot dog. Now, I’ve done a lot of movies, and it’s true that I’ve worked with quite a few celebrities who did not share this opinion. I’m sorry to say that these people have always angered me.

There are two types of people in this world: those who eat hot dogs whenever it is possible to do so, and those who opt to do other things with their free time. Who do the latter think they are kidding? What pastime could be more rewarding than the consumption of hot dogs? I haven’t yet found one, and I don’t expect to in my lifetime. Unlike other foods, hot dogs can be eaten at any time, in any place, and it is not necessary to cook them. Now, I ask you: Why not eat hot dogs? They are delicious.

I carry a bag of hot dogs with me wherever I go. I eat them from the bag whenever I get the urge, regardless of the circumstances. When I make a movie, my hot dogs are my co-stars. If, in the middle of a scene, I decide I want to consume a hot dog, I do so. I waste the director’s time and thousands of dollars in film stock, but in the end, it is all worth it, because I enjoy eating hot dogs more than I enjoy acting. This bothers some people. I was supposed to portray Batman, but when Tim Burton learned of my hot dog cravings, he asked Michael Keaton to wear the cape. To this day, I am peeved about this.

When we filmed The Dead Zone, I ate over 800 hot dogs a day. It was necessary. My character needed to come across as intense as possible, and I found the inspiration for that intensity in my intense love for hot dogs. The director, David Cronenberg, said that he would never work with me again. I kept eating hot dogs when the cameras were rolling, and that seemed to bother him. I say fuck him. He doesn’t even like hot dogs.

I would like to end by emphasizing once again that I really like to eat hot dogs. If any of you people disagree, I loathe you. I despise you. Not only that, but I also despise all your loved ones. I want to see them torn to pieces by wild dogs. If I ever meet you in person, I’ll smash your brains in with a fucking bat. Then we’ll see who doesn’t like hot dogs.

Next week: My thoughts on Woody Allen, hot dog hater and shitty director.

-Shamelessly reprinted from The Onion

Crif Dogs – wrapped in bacon, and yes slathered in strange toppings.

When you walk down St. Mark’s Place, many eateries cry out for attention. They seem to have taken over most of the used record shops, though some still remain. There are the requisite Indian and Japanese places, there’s a place that sells only Hummus, there’s a replica of the old 50’s Automat called BAMN, all done in pink… and next door is Crif Dog, calling to you with a giant wiener poking out with “Eat Me” written on it in mustard script.

The lewd signage

If you venture down into the basement you’ll be greeted with a disco ball and a big menu, a few classic arcade games including a sit-down Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga, a bar with stools and a few small tables. There’s also a glowing pink door to the left that is a trendy secret nightclub of some sort, so don’t go in there to pee. The wait wasn’t too long, and the drunks were orderly; there’s a note tacked to the menu that says “There’s an Asshole Button for a reason! Be nice to your servers!” I guess some of the New Yorkers are jealous about Chicago’s infamous Wiener’s Circle where the curses fly to and fro. I’ve been there too, and while I can enjoy a Chicago dog with the pickle and other toppings, on the poppy seed bun, the crisp fried dogs at Crif’s are much more to my taste.

Notice the Stoner packs. Know your customer!

I demanded that we go to Crif Dog after Katie mentioned that they make hot dogs wrapped in bacon. Now I’d heard of such a thing, but never experienced it. She also mentioned toppings like sour cream and avocado, or pineapple. Say what you want about California pizza, but I’ve always liked Hawaiian pizza with pineapple and Canadian bacon (though pineapple-pepperoni works better, in my opinion, or pineapple-ham and hot yellow banana peppers). So this was a must-visit. We went to Mara’s Homemade for dinner that night, and sampled Abita’s excellent seasonal brew, Strawberry Harvest Lager, over a bucket of crawfish boil. Then wandered to the Continental, for $10 for any 5 shots, and after a few hours there it was time for drunk food. That’s where Crif Dog comes in handy.

Drunk food requires grease to kick your liver into gear and a spongy carb material to soak up alcohol and keep it in your stomach, to give the liver a fighting chance. A hot dog, ensconced in bacon and fried crisp in oil, enrobed in a gummy bun and slathered in all and sundry toppings, is the top gun in the drunk food arsenal. Some prefer a pizza burger. Up north they have their poutine, or gravy cheese fries as we’d call them here in the States; Disco Fries in Jersey diners. Over the pond it’s a chip butty or a bacon chip butty, a sandwich made of bacon, fries, and butter. Now those concoctions will certainly do the job, but in New York City there is no food more ubiquitous than the hot dog. On Bourbon Street you have your Lucky Dog vendors, but in the city the blue and gold Sabrett’s umbrella is the beacon that will lead you to salvation. But if you’re near St. Mark’s and Avenue A, Crif Dog is the only way to go.

Sadly I think they no longer serve beer. Or at least PBR. Die, hipster!

Despite the fancy names on the menu, they make a fine down-home dog with few pretentions. I was impressed by the Spicy Redneck, a bacon dog with chili sauce, jalapenos, and cole slaw. It wasn’t very spicy, but it tasted very good. I much preferred the Tsunami, which is a bacon dog with teriyaki sauce, pineapple, and a few green onions. Both of these overwhelmed the hotdog and bacon flavors, so in later visits I might try a plain ol’ bacon dog, and I’m told their burgers are worth a try too. Firecracker had a Philly Tube Steak- cheese and onions, and the Chihuahua, with sour cream and avocado. They also make a Good Morning, with bacon, cheese and egg, but I didn’t want to push my luck.

They’re a great find and make some fine hot dogs, but the Redneck was very light on the chili and spices. For $4.50 you can spare a little more chili, right? Well, at least the “Knuckle Sandwiches are still free.” It’s not a bargain, but it’s a unique hot dog experience and $20 for a filling meal for two isn’t that bad in NYC; you might dirty water dogs at Gray’s Papaya a lot cheaper, but you’ll be going back for more if you only get their 2-dogs and a Papaya drink special.

Romance & Cigarettes

Romance & Cigarettes
We watched this overlooked musical by John Turturro last night. Ebert had given it four stars, but then again he gave “Across the Universe” four stars. I guess he’s a sucker for musicals. It’s pretty good and very original, sort of like a Sopranos musical- without the mob. Its set in the Jersey-NYC area, with at least one scene in Linden.

James Gandolfini is an ironworker on the Manhattan bridge with his buddy Steve Buscemi, who is sort of a pervert philosopher. James is cheating on hs wife Susan Sarandon, with redhead Kate Winslet (it is specifically mentioned that the curtains match the drapes) who looks better than ever, a curvy Brit broad shaking her goodies all over the place every chance she gets. They break into song now and then, classic rock, doo wop, American standards, James Brown. There are a few great set pieces, such as when Gandolfini is a fireman having to put out Winslet’s flame, and they are very entertaining. Turturro leans into artsy territory now and then, as men in the street howl Bukowski-esque ballads to the female pudenda, but it is always leavened with heaping spoonfuls of Italian-American, Brooklyn-style humor.
My favorite is when Sarandon confronts the mistress and uses the childhood joke, “‘twat did you say? I cunt hear you!” Things liven up when her cousin Bo, played by Christopher Walken with a black patois, bowling shirt and chinos up to his neck, shows up to help her set her marriage in order. He of course gets his dance scene, no point in having Walken in a musical without showing his chops.
Things lean toward melodrama near the end as they patch things up, but it’s a unique take on an old story, with lots of good laughs at the jokes and chuckles at Turturro’s deranged imagination.
I’d give it a solid 3 out of 4 menthols for reaching for the stars and making a unique musical that is very funny, and might be better on Broadway.
You know, especially after Gary Gygax’s death, “Gandolfini” sounds like an Italian wizard. “You gotta problem widdat Sauron? Take it up with the union, ya jamook.”