REVIEW: Chef

I’m willing to bet that “Chef” is the best movie of 2014 that you’ve never heard of. Well, if you’re a foodie and have a sense of how the internet works. Okay, I realize that’s probably a small contingent of you. Whatever.

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Let’s start by running down all of the A-Listers who are in this film:

  • Dustin Hoffman
  • John Leguizamo
  • Sofia Vergara
  • Robert Downing, Jr.
  • Scarlett Johansson

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Yah. I know. Have have you not heard of this movie? It stars Jon Favreau (of Iron Man and Avengers fame) as Carl Casper, a chef who has sacrificed his relationships (including his now-ex-wife and son) to become an amazing chef. It was all going seemingly well until Dustin Hoffman (who owns the restaurant) shows up and goes all Cruise Director, demanding a clichĂ©d menu, to include chocolate lava cake, to impress the world’s best food blogger and critic. Chocolate. Lava. Cake.

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Needless to say, the critic has nothing but awful things to say about the dining experience and things just go downhill from there, largely thanks to the internet.

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Now, I’m not one to give away spoilers (or if I do, I give a warning right up front), so I’m going to stop with the plot line there. What I will say is the movie made me laugh out loud, as well as embrace my love of food. Seriously, he makes a grilled cheese that made me want to crawl through the TV, face-first into that crunchy, toasty, gooey, melty pile of bread and cheese…

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It’s a show about food and restaurants, so there is a solid level of foul language. But, amid the f-bombs, there are sweet father/son moments, bonds of friendship, and an encouraging story of what it really means to do what you love and love what you do. Check it out on Netflix, and don’t forget to rate it!

Ashley (Finally) Watches Star Wars

Some how I have managed to make it almost 32 years on this planet without seeing Star Wars. Any of them. I know, I know… the horror, the agony, the distress, or something. BUT tonight, surrounded by friends and their kids, we broke that reign of deprivation.

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V Observations from an Adult Star Wars First Timer

I. It is really, really difficult for someone who has seen Spaceballs a million times to not want to throw in every applicable line from the spoof into the original. Comb the desert! While Mel Brooks has always had a special place in my heart, I believe his schwartz genius is that much bigger greater after having seen the real Star Wars.

ludicrousII. C3PO is kind of a jerk, not to mention moody. He could really benefit from some Xanax, ya know, just to level him out. At Disneyland, they made him out to be paranoid and eccentric, but I straight up wanted to reach through the screen and beat him with his own arm. R2D2, on the other hand is a peach and I like him a lot. Beep beep whistle to you, too, doll.

beepIII. I get that Episode IV Luke Skywalker is young, that he lost his dad and is now living a life he clearly doesn’t like, but does he have to be so whiny? For being the hero of arguably the most epic story of the 20th century, can’t he be a little more, oh, I don’t know, alpha? I guess I just expected him to be a little more like Han. Maybe he’ll grow out of it (most teenage boys do), but until then, I will remain disappointed.

lukeIV. Why didn’t Chewie get a medal?! #WarOnWookies Also, I had no idea Storm Troopers could talk. Lastly, was it some inside joke or purely coincidence that the one rebel fighter pilot who wasn’t a toothpick was named Porkins? (Asking for a friend.)

medalsV. When I grow up, I want to be like Princess Leia: unafraid, sassy, and fighting against evil. I’ll have a better shot though (really, girl?) and I’ll be sure to have an accurate and extensive family tree committed to memory. Hey, there are some things that have just become common place in our culture and that’s one of ’em. No movie required.

leiaSo there y’all have it. The honest musings of an adult who sees Star Wars for the first time. We already have plans to watch the next 2 movies and I’m pretty stoked about it, so that’s a good sign, right?

HIMYMMight I remind you that it’s important to approach these situations with grace and without judgment. If you are a fan of the franchise, think of yourself as an ambassador: don’t get all stabby if someone makes Harry Potter or Spaceballs references; give the newbie space to draw conclusions and grow into liking the character. And whatever you do, be mindful that someone can only see this for the first time one time so don’t ruin it with spoilers and commentary or even expectations. There’s a lot of pressure on first-timers to like it, so slow your roll, chief.

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**Nobody in the group of people I watched this movie with did any of the aforementioned things, for which I am grateful. No, really. They were awesome. Even the kiddos. 🙂

Review: His Girl Friday (1940)

Around 9pm last night, a case of the Insomnias caught me totally unaware, although not entirely unprepared. I put on the 1940 flick “His Girl Friday” and pick up my latest crochet project under a cozy blanket in my favorite chair. In other news, I like to practice being 80.

grammaIf you don’t want any spoilers, quit reading now. No, right now. Seriously. The plot is in the next paragraph. Don’t scroll down! Can you even have spoilers for a movie that was released 75 years ago? Anyway, you were warned.

he-warned-you_o_1436191So Walter Burns (played by Cary Grant) and Hildy Johnson (played by Rosalind Russell) used to be married, but she divorced him because, apparently, he was more interested in his career as a newspaper editor than he was in being a husband or father. While I would say, “Good onya, Hildy!” she had to have known her dear Walter was a workaholic, cut-throat, manipulative guy to begin with because she worked for him (that’s how the met) and something about a tiger and stripes. Speaking of stripes, check out that ensemble she’s wearing!

Cary-Grant-and-Rosalind-R-001After the marriage ended, Hildy quit her job working for Walter, even though she was the top-notch reporter, and the movie begins with her coming back into the office to tell Walter she’s getting married to a calm, predictable insurance salesman named Bruce because he treats her “like a woman.” Why she felt the need to tell her ex-husband that, I don’t know, but she did. The problem is Walter still wants to be with Hildy, and I don’t think it’s because he loves her or anything, but because he isn’t used to being told “No”.

hisgirlfridaygifWalter then goes on an absolutely ridiculous spree of lies, cheats, set-ups, and manipulations to keep Hildy from getting on the train to Albany with Bruce. I mean, I know it’s supposed to be a comedy, but this is psychotic stuff: setting Bruce up to look like he’s accepting a hooker’s (Marion Martin, below) proposition in front of a bunch of cops, stealing Bruce’s wallet, providing Bruce with counterfeit money, kidnapping Bruce’s mother, and hiding an escaped convict.

Marion-Martin-1Hildy isn’t much better, though. While she tries to protect Bruce from Walter’s shenanigans (because she knows them all too well), she does take part in hiding the escaped convict, but not because she wants the exclusive interview; I really believe she felt the man was innocent and wanted to help him get away from his troubles. That, ladies and gents, is a whole ‘nother can of worms on the Character Flaw Aisle.

hisgirl2In the end, Bruce manipulates Hildy into staying on the job and reporting while Bruce gives up trying to regain the attentions of his fiancee, but Hildy once again picks up on his schemes only to be duped again. But was she duped or did she decide to stay with Walter? It turns out Miss Hildy Johnson is just as addicted to fame, fortune, manipulation, and drama as her darling Walter. That’s right: Hildy and Walter get back together and poor Bruce gets the short end of the stick.

fridaysmile-790x444As you can ascertain, I did not like this movie. And that’s a big deal. I love old movies. I love Cary Grant (Arsenic and Old Lace! Madame Butterfly!). I love Rosalind Russell (The Trouble with Angels is a darling movie, Gypsy, Auntie Mame…) Perhaps that’s why I’m so perturbed by “His Girl Friday”. For a comedy, I didn’t laugh once, but I did give half a chuckle.

mehThere were a few moments with Hildy where she showed some depth of character, mostly when she was talking to the convict, but the rest of the time the characters were so shallow, so ethically outrageous, it really made me question whether this was 1940 or 2015. That’s why I love old movies – they’re so much more than sex, violence, and CGI (computer-generated imagery). The humor was less shock and more wit. I’m not saying that all movies made today are awful or that everything made between 1920 and 1960 was amazing, but something about the films of yesteryear just make me happy.

oldmoviesSo there you have it: His Girl Friday got 2 out of 5 Ashley-approved stars. One star because of the stars who were in it, and one star for my resolve to sit through it.

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Will Run For Food

Anyone who knows me understands I am very motivated by food. “Ashley, I know you’re horrified of needles, but I need you to donate a pint of blood today. We can get pancakes after!” or “Any chance you can help me clean out the trash dumpster at the local high school to help find my kid’s retainer? After, we can totally go to the wine bar down the street and order the deluxe cheese plate, my treat!” Hey, I’m just being honest here.

give-it-to-me-gifSo last week, before I started on this half-marathon training schedule, I promised myself a fabulously large cheeseburger if I completed all of my runs. Wouldn’t you know, I was out pounding pavement thinking about ground beef kissed by flames covered in ooey-gooey cheese with a hint of pickle, tomato, lettuce, and grilled onions… Behold, the greatness!

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My beautiful friend Kate got a sitter Saturday and we trekked over to The Rider’s Club in San Clemente. The place opens at 11:30, but on this perfect Saturday morning, the line started around 11:15 and didn’t end until well after we left. It’s easy to understand why: quality ingredients, good service, nice atmosphere, and not too far from the beach.

TheRidersClubCafe2The Rider’s Club parking lot of 6 spaces isn’t the only small thing about the place (seriously, it was like the Austin Powers 12-point turn around trying to get the Jeep outta there) – the food menu is shockingly small. Like, four things small: The Burger, Carnitas Sandwich, Club Salad, and Hot Dogs. They have a nice selection of beer, though; lots of local breweries. If you’re not in the mood for booze, their lemonade is legit. AND they have Mexican Coke.

minionsTrust me when I say I will most assuredly be back to The Rider’s Club, but not on a Monday because they’re closed on Mondays.

Christmas Cookies: Merry Christmas from the Family

Aren’t families great? All of the drama love, politics togetherness, and noise tradition. This is one of my all-time favorite REK songs, and not just for Christmas; you’ll catch me signing it in May and again in October. Honestly, though, I love my big, loud, fun-loving family and am so glad I get to add a whole new branch to the tree in 11 days.

Make no mistake about it, I am a Mega Nerd™ and will read just about anything, including cookbooks. You can imagine my pleasant surprise when I found a cookbook of Adam’s family’s recipes hiding above the microwave. Pleasant surprise turned to excitement when I saw “Aunt Jan’s Chocolate Chip Shortbread.”

girl-reading-book1Scotland has given us many wonderful things, like scotch whiskey, tartan, and history plagued with scandal (paging Mary, Queen of Scots), but one of the unsung heroes of Scotland is a sweet, humble little biscuit called “shortbread.”

william wallaceNo, I haven’t given William Wallace a new nickname, although I think he’d have appreciated being called “shortbread.”

“…they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our FREEDOM!”
– William “Shortbread” Wallace

Aunt Jan’s Shortbread

1 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 cup mini chocolate chips

Because I already have a chocolate cookie for the party, I’m substituting the chocolate chips for toffee bits. Gotta keep it all in the UK family, y’know. Burnt sugar is one of my favorite flavors, so I don’t mind having praline and toffee options. Besides, one is pecans and the other almonds. Totally different. Sorry, chocolate, I’m just not that into you.

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  1. Heat oven to 350*F.
  2. Combine butter and sugar in large mixing bowl. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl down often until creamy (1-2 minutes)
  3. Reduce speed to low, add flour and cornstarch. Beat, scraping bowl often until well-blended (1-2 minutes)
  4. Stir in chocolate chips (toffee bits) by hand.
  5. Press into ungreased 13×9″ baking pan and prick all over with a fork.
  6. Bake 35-40 minutes, until edges just begin to brown
  7. Cool in pan 15 minutes, then cut into bars while warm.

Alrighty, Aunt Jan, I’m gonna trust you on this cornstarch thing. For all I know, she just taught me a fantastic baking hack! If it all goes south, my friend Susanna reminded me, “It’s nothing a trip to Whole Foods can’t fix.” Right you are, dear.

The recipe was easy enough to follow. The hardest part was scraping down the bowl; there wasn’t exactly a load of liquid to keep it all centrally located in the bottom of the bowl.

IMG_7037Confession: The toffee bits package had 1 cup…and a third. What am I going to do with a third cup of toffee bits? Exactly. I dumped them all in. Merry Christmas!

I want this crispy corner piece…

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After 15 minutes, I cut the shortbread into bars. I got 24 little squares out of the pan. Half will go to the party, a quarter will go to a neighbor and a quarter (less one, because I’m going to eat it right this second) will go in a little baggie for me to snack on during my Here Comes The Bride Road Trip this weekend.

Ruling: These shortbread cookies will literally melt in your mouth. The butter and sugar just fall apart, meaning the only texture comes from the toffee bits, which are gooey, sticky, and delicious. If you don’t want something “too sweet” but still want something for dessert, you cannot lose with this recipe. What the cornstarch did, I have no idea.

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Christmas Cookies: Naughty AND Nice

I love The Band Perry. I don’t think it’s possible to listen to their version of this song and not at least have a mini dance party in your kitchen. She’s just so dang sassy: Hey, you! Yah, you. Santa Claus is comin’ to town, dang it, so get your act together, okay?

Previously, I reviewed The Pioneer Woman’s spread cookies. Verdict: Definitely keeping that recipe around for future use! Now, we’re going to move to Southern Living‘s crispy praline cookies. Pralines (say it with me PRAY-leens) have a special place in my heart because they remind me of Texas: pralines, praline cookies, praline ice cream, praline french toast… Delectable pecan candy. Before I had any idea what Louisiana was, I was gumming on these sweet treats at Espinosa’s, our favorite Mexican place. If I had a candy thermometer, I’d just make pralines all the time, weigh eleventy gagillion pounds, and have Type 7 Diabetes, but I don’t and, let’s be honest, that’s for the best, so cookies baked for others it shall be.

Crispy Praline Cookies
Southern Living’s 1001 Ways to Cook Southern, pg 284

IMG_70301/2 cup butter, softened

1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup chopped pecans

  1. Preheat oven to 350*. Beat butter and sugar at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy; add egg, beating just until blended. Add vanilla, and mix well.
  2. Gradually add flour, beating just until blended. Stir in pecans.
  3. Drop dough by tablespoonfuls onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets.
  4. Bake at 350* for 13-15 minutes. Cool on baking sheets 1 minute, then remove to racks to cool completely.

First of all, Step 1 is pretty much 4 steps. Nice try, Southern Living. Secondly, and just for the record, it’s “p’KAHN” or “puh-KAHN.” Now that all that is out of the way, the recipe itself was pretty simple.

As far as getting 2 dozen cookies out of this recipe, everything is bigger in Texas, including our tablespoons, apparently. I got a dozen cookies out of this because, hey, if I’m gonna eat a cookie, I’m gonna eat a cookie.

IMG_7031If I would have been more focused on my spooning and spacing, I would have done a better job, including making a 13th cookie so I can try it and still have a dozen. Also, I’m pretty sure I just realized where “a baker’s dozen” comes from…

High-Five-GIF-1I pulled the less crowded sheet out at 14 minutes, let it cool for a minute on the sheet, then moved them to the counter. The more crowded sheet, well, that needed another minute; I pulled it at 15 minutes, let it sit on the hot sheet for 60 seconds, then moved those to the counter.

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Know how I know they’re going to be great? I can smell the calories. It smells like the childhood treat I remember. I bet I can find a way to sneak a bite… Don’t worry, I’ll run another mile on the treadmill to make up for it.

FullSizeRender (1)Think anyone will notice?

They’re sweet, but not cloying so. The pecans are wonderful, but I bet I could pack another half cup in there. Southern Living says you can put a cup of chocolate chips in there, but why? These are praline cookies, not brown sugar-chocolate chip-pecan cookies. Look at me, being all Judgy McJudgerson. Oops. Sorry, y’all!

Verdict: If you want a taste of the south, these little morsels are worth the sticky trouble. You could easily serve ’em up with a cup of chickory, coffee, or (if you want to be an adult about it), bourbon.

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Christmas Cookies: Little bit of chocolate

Oh, King George. Definitely one of my favorite Christmas songs. If you haven’t heard it and you feel like tapping your toes and channeling your inner fat kid, I highly recommend it. Then again, I highly recommend all things George Strait and all things cookies.

I have a Christmas cookie exchange party tomorrow morning, plus a few neighbors and a winner for the caption contest, so it’s a baking frenzy up in here! I’ve gathered 4 cookie recipes and will review them for y’all:

“These small, yummy bars are called Spreads for three reasons. First, the cookie dough base is spread all over the baking sheet. Second, the melted chocolate chips are spread all over the top of the baked cookie. Third, and most important, one’s bottom spreads after eating too many of these.” -The Pioneer Woman

IMG_70251 cup (2 sticks) butter

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 to 8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 350* F.
  2. Add the butter and brown sugar to the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
  3. Mix together until it’s all smooth an wonderful.
  4. Add the egg and vanilla…
  5. And the flour and salt…
  6. And mix again, scraping the sides to make sure everything mixes and mingles.
  7. Throw the dough onto a baking sheet and use a dinner knife to spread it into a rough rectangular shape about 1/3 inch thick. Bake for 15-17 minutes, or until golden brown.
  8. Sprinkle the chocolate chips all over the top, then return it to the oven for about a minute. When you take it back out, the chocolate chips will have softened.
  9. Use a knife or spatula to spread the chocolate all over the surface of the cookie.
  10. Then set it aside for a while, long enough for the chocolate to set!
  11. When you’re ready to serve ’em up, use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to slice them into uniform squares.

If you want the variations Ree suggests, you’re going to have to buy the cookbook. I’m not gonna give away all of her secrets! There are tons of good recipes in there, like homemade tortillas, eggs in hashbrown nests, and watermelon sangria! If you have a foodie on your Christmas list or a gift exchange with ladies who love PW (they all do, trust me), this is a great gift. 

helpful_tipsI used a big piece of parchment paper on my baking sheet, just to be on the safe side, and I’m glad I did. I was able to move the cookie to the counter, have a clean baking sheet, and move on to the next batch lickety split! I also used softened butter since all the other recipes called for it; might as well leave ’em all out on the counter. After all, we’re not making biscuits – ain’t that right, Cookie Monster?

cookie monsterMy grocery store didn’t have semisweet chocolate chips (they were out – womp, womp), so I used milk chocolate. Clearly I’m not losing any sleep over it. Use whatever you want: peanut butter, dark chocolate, butterscotch, white chocolate. Before the chocolate sets, crush some candy canes and throw ’em on top or sprinkles if you want to be festive.

Swedish ChefY’all, Ree wasn’t kidding when she said use a knife to spread the dough. That was the hardest part! I usually rely on my trusty rubber spatula, but that was most definitively a poor choice. Sorry, Spatula…

IMG_7027Spreading the dough was the hardest part. I used my biggest baking sheet; maybe next time I’ll use a smaller one so I can make the edges a little more uniform. The crispy edges are my favorite, though, so I think I’ll just cut them off and hoard them for myself.

IMG_7029The spoils of baking are delicious!

The only other thing I noticed was the chocolate had a hard time setting on the counter. Chalk it up to heat, humidity, sugar content, I don’t know, I’m not a scientist, but I popped it in the fridge and it was perfect in 2 hours.

Overall, this recipe was easy, cheap, and delicious. Definitely one to keep!