Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Finale of Private Chefs of Beverly Hills Season Two: Time for Schmaltz and Honey

Wow. It seems like only yesterday we gathered at Smashbox to shoot these promo shots.

It was a warm February day and I put on Beyonce and Lady Gaga's "Video Phone" to get us all in the mood. Memories.

Tonight, the finale of Private Chefs of Beverly Hills season two airs on Food Network. Is it the last episode ever or just the last episode of the season? Only time will tell. But I'm left feeling wistful and nostalgic this afternoon, thinking back to the days when PCoBH was just starting; like when Chef Brian and I had just forged Team Awesome..

Or when we catered our own premiere party on the rooftop of the Thompson Hotel in Beverly Hills...

And all the people the audience never saw who made the show possible and kept us looking and sounding good...

It's been an amazing journey. Thank you to everyone who came along for the ride!

And, finally, a few recipes from tonight's show. How fitting that we would end on a schmaltzy note.

“What am I…” Chopped Liver with Schmaltz Fried Onions
make 12-16 servings

Reserved skin from 1 chicken, about 1 cup
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 lb chicken livers, trimmed and rinsed well
2 eggs, boiled and finely minced
matzo, broken into bite-sized shards
kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste

In a skillet over medium heat, sauté chicken skin until it releases its fat and the fat begins to turn golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove chicken skin and pour off half of render fat, or schmaltz. Add onions to pan with remaining chicken fat and cook until onions are translucent, tender and caramelized, about 10 minutes. Season with salt to taste.

Remove half of onions from pan and set aside. Raise heat to medium-high and add reserved chicken fat and chicken livers to remaining onions.

Saute livers, turning once, until cooked on the outside but still lightly pink inside, about five minutes. Roughly chop chicken livers by hand and season with salt and cracked black pepper.

Spoon chopped liver onto matzo and top with minced egg and reserved schmaltz fried onions.

“Land of Milk and Honey” Carrot Milkshakes with Saffron Ice Cream and Nutmeg and Cinnamon Cotton Candy
makes 10-12 servings

Saffron “Land of Milk and Honey” Ice Cream:
2 cups cream
2/3 cup half and half
½ cup superfine sugar
½ cup honey
2 large eggs
20-30 strands saffron (about a tablespoon, loosely packed)

3 cups fresh carrot juice
1 cup whole milk
2 cups cotton candy, preferably white or orange
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
edible gold for garnish (optional)

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, stir together cream, half and half, sugar, honey, eggs and two-thirds of saffron. Bring to a simmer and slowly cook, stirring constantly, until cream mixture turns a gentle yellow color, about 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and allow to steep as it cools, about 30 minutes.

Strain and pour into an ice cream maker. Add remaining strands of saffron and process according to manufacturer’s instructions, then freeze until ready to use.

In a blender, combine half of ice cream with carrot juice and whole milk. Blend until thick and creamy. Pour into serving glasses and top with a scoop of saffron ice cream.

Garnish with cotton candy dusted with nutmeg, cinnamon and edible gold (if using). Serve immediately.

Monday, November 29, 2010

"Burlesque" Stars Cher and Christina Aguilera Talk "Gay Fantasia," and Flaming Bananas Foster with Sea Salt Peanuts

When she walks into a suite at the Four Seasons hotel on a Sunday afternoon in November, a black sweater studded with gold sequins wilting off her milky shoulder and skin tight black pants revealing the body of a 20-year-old, the entire press corps takes a collective breath and sighs lovingly, “Cher.”

Ladies and gentlemen; we are in the presence of greatness.

Considering this is the woman who played God on Will & Grace, it makes sense that she’d be taking a break from her blockbuster Las Vegas show in order to promote Burlesque, her return to the big screen after a six-year absence, a film her co-star Stanley Tucci calls, “Gay Fantasia.”

Directed by Steven Antin, brother of Pussycat Dolls founder Robin Antin, Cher co-headlines Burlesque with Christina Aguilera, who makes her big-screen debut as Ali, a small town girl with a big time voice who moves to Los Angeles in hopes of becoming a star. Taking a page from the Coyote Ugly playbook, Ali gets a job as a cocktail waitress at the Burlesque Lounge, a once resplendent nightclub that’s now ailing, and falls under the tutelage of the owner, Tess (Cher), and her rapier witted stage manager (Tucci, who could read the phone book and be compelling) once they discover her incredible abilities. It’s a lush, beautifully photographed movie musical filled with show-stopping song-and-dance numbers, that call to mind films like Gypsy, Chicago, Flashdance, La Cage aux Folles and just a splash of Showgirls (in the funny, campy way minus the sleaze).

Asked why she stepped away from an acting career that earned her wide critical acclaim for iconic roles in films like The Witches of Eastwick, Mask, Silkwood and her Oscar-winning turn in Moonstruck, Cher takes a pull from a Big Glup-sized iced coffee, shrugs and says simply, “I forgot. Nothing came to me that I liked, except a part in Mamma Mia, which I was on the road and couldn’t do. I’ve been busy, it’s not like I've been a shut-in, but I forgot that I like acting so much.”

Effortless and charming, Cher’s performance is also a reminder of just how talented she is. According to Aguilera, Cher’s professionalism and level of performance were the best on-set learning tools she could have asked for on her first film.

“Cher; what a better person to learn from?” Aguilera smiles. “And she is just as good, if not better, in her off-camera moments. She really pushes the other person’s buttons to make them react and make them even better than what the dialogue calls for. She makes it easier for the other [actor].”

In response, Cher praises her co-star’s transition from singing superstar to actress. “She was nervous but she held herself well. I’d be frightened too to walk onto a set where you’re starring in a movie and you don’t know what to expect. I think she did a great job of not being so nervous that it diminished her performance.”

Aguilera admits that she wasn’t always confident and assured. After years of being asked to appear in different films, she says she waited for right project came along because she “wasn’t going to do a movie just to say I did it. I wanted to really believe in something and feel passionate about it.”

First approached by the studio, she liked the idea of a burlesque movie but wanted to see changes made to the character. “It just wasn’t something for me,” Aguilera explains. “[Ali had] no backbone, no bite. She had to have more drive, more passion. They rewrote her and I think they made her into more of a fighter for me,” she says, unwittingly name-checking her own 2003 hit single. Meeting with director Antin, who used things like Caravaggio paintings and Ellen von Unwerth photography to convey the visual world he planned on creating, sealed the deal.

“Burlesque can be presented in many different ways,” Aguilera continues. “He’s a big Fosse fan, he was inspired by Cabaret [and] Liza Minnelli; I knew Steven would do it in a classy, elegant way.”

Asked if Burlesque will be her big screen swansong or just the beginning of another long string of exceptional performances, Cher shares a bit of her life philosophy. “I don’t believe the word No,” she says. “No is a bullshit word that someone made up. I think if you’re an artist, you just don’t care. And if you’re a regular person, you try to care less.”

Burlesque is currently in theaters

What else could you make for Gay Fantasia than...

Flaming Bananas Foster with Vanilla Ice Cream and Honey-Sea Salt Peanuts
Serves 6-8

1 cup roasted unsalted peanuts
1 cup honey
sea salt to taste
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
6 firm bananas, sliced
4 tablespoons dark rum, preferably Myer’s (Can also be used to make a Dark and Stormy to accompany the dish. The drink is equal parts Myer’s Rum and Reed’s Ginger Beer served over ice.)
6-8 scoops good quality vanilla ice cream, frozen yogurt or, if you can find it, Laloo's Goat Milk Ice Cream (delish beyond words)

Combine peanuts and honey and season with salt to taste. Set aside.

In a large skillet, over medium heat, melt butter and add sugar, stirring to combine until sugar melt, about 3 minutes.

Add bananas and sauté another 3-5 minutes, until a thick caramel coats the bananas and they begin to soften.

Spoon honey nuts over ice cream and top with a light sprinkle of sea salt.

Add rum and carefully ignite with a torch lighter, match, or by gently tipping pan into burner flame. Shake pan until flames subside.

Spoon bananas over ice cream and peanuts and serve.

Getting "Tangled" with Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi, and Brothers Grimm Cherry-Chocolate Mousse

Rapunzel, the tale of a long locked princess trapped in a tower, began as a Grimm fairytale but has gone on to infiltrate culture on all levels, from bedtime stories to Beastie Boy lyrics to the classic farce, Airplane! In the new film, Tangled, the tale is rewoven once again.

Renamed because Disney felt The Princess and the Frog would have fared better had it not had the word “Princess” in the title to alienate male ticket buyers, Tangled infuses the classic story with a strong feminist streak, dazzling beauty that actually justifies it’s 3D projection, and Alan Menken music, one of the touchstones of Disney’s great late 20th century films like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Little Mermaid. Featuring the vocal stylings of Mandy Moore (actress, singer, designer, well adjusted former teen star) and Zachary Levi (Chuck’s Chuck), Rapunzel’s golden locks are fitting considering the film is the fiftieth released by Disney.

Sitting down with the actors at Disneyland, where the night before they’d met their character counterparts in the park, neither had fully absorbed the enormity of what it meant to be part of the Disney legacy.

“You can’t get more classic than being part of a Disney animated film,” Moore beams, tucking a stand of shiny brown hair behind her ear with a nail painted a sparkly nude. “For me, that’s something I’ll have in my back pocket for the rest of my life and I feel so honored, so lucky, to think this film will be around long after I’m gone.”

“Some people have been working on [this movie] for seven years,” Levi points out. “It’s pretty incredible how long it takes to make an animated movie.”

Asked what excited them most about their parts, beyond being plucked from a field of about 500 actors, all jockeying to be the next Disney prince and princess, Moore says, “I loved having the opportunity to portray a young woman who is so fearless. She’s not a victim, she’s not naïve; she’s open and warm, engaged and spirited and ready to embrace the unknown, whatever comes her way. What I knew about Rapunzel was the sort of damsel in distress who lets down her hair so the prince can save her and our story kind of flips that on its head.”

“I consider myself to be a walking cartoon anyway,” Levi blurts, gesticulating wildly and beaming like he just got a new set of Star Wars bed sheets. “I kind of felt at home doing it. A little bit.”

“I love musical theater and I’m a huge Alan Menken fan,” Moore continues, “To be a Disney princess in a Disney film, it has been a total dream come true, but it wasn’t until I got until the studio that I realized, ‘Oh my gosh, how am I gonna do this? How am I going to get through this?’”

For both actors, stepping into the recording booth had unexpected challenges and they relied on directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard to shepherd them through the process. The directing duo came up through the ranks at Disney, beginning as interns and first worked together in the animation department on Mulan in 1998.

“They balance each other out and finish each other’s sentences,” Moore points out. “Bryon was really good at picking up where Nathan left off. They’re really good partners because they worked in tandem. And they were just as excited to be there as we were.”

Now that Tangled is completed, their place in the Disney pantheon secured, Levi admits watching the film can be a bit cringe-inducing. You know the answering machine phenomenon, where you hear your voice and think, “I sound like that?” I asked Levi if voicing an animated character is the ultimate version of that.

“Yeah, it is, totally! One hundred percent,” he nods. “Mandy keeps saying, ‘Oh, I heard it and my voice sounds so shrill but Zach’s got this classic Disney hero voice,’ and I’m like, ‘What are you, cra—I sound like Seinfeld. I sound just nasally.’ I don’t feel like I sound good and I feel like she sounds fantastic.”

Tangled is currently in theaters

In honor of Rupunzel's German roots (ohhh, the puns are just too easy today!), a dessert befitting a Bavarian princess:

Chocolate Mousse with Wine-Soaked Cherries and Whipped Cream
Serves 6

6 oz. good quality semi-sweet chocolate, chopped, plus extra for shaving
4 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Wine-Soaked Cherries-
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 cup granulated sugar
zest of one lemon
3/4 pound cherries, pitted

Whipped Cream-
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt chocolate in a double boiler.

While chocolate is melting, separate eggs.

Beat yolks with 2 tablespoons sugar until they become light yellow and creamy.

Temper yolks with a few tablespoons of melted chocolate before adding the rest of the chocolate, stirring until well combined. Set aside.

Beat whites with remaining tablespoon of sugar until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

In a large, cold bowl, beat cream until stiff peaks form.

Gently fold both egg whites and cream into chocolate-egg mixture. Spoon mousse into individual serving bowls or one large bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

To prepare cherries, combine wine, sugar and lemon zest in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and add cherries. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until slightly reduced, about 10 minutes. Cool.

To serve, whip cream with sugar and vanilla. Top mousse with cherries and whipped cream.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How to Be Your Own Private Chef: Thanksgiving Edition

On my calendar, there is no greater date than Thanksgiving, the one day a year where indulging in four thousand calories in a single sitting earns zero guilt or shame. In fact, it’s a national pastime.

More often than not, I feel my obsessive love affair with food carries a bit of a stigma or is met with bland indifference. It’s incredibly rare for someone to get as excited as I am when I tell them about the amazing taco I had last week or the blissful breakfast sandwich I’ve been fantasizing about for days. But on Thanksgiving, the entirety of the United States joins me in glorious gluttonous revelry as hundreds of millions become fixated on the preparation and consumption of a single meal.

Brined, jerked, BBQed, fried or herb rubbed? Garlic mashed, sweet with bruleed marshmallows or au gratin? Pie or cobbler? Is the stuffing cornbread, oyster or Stove Top? Do we even need a salad? These are the consuming questions that barrage families in the days leading up to the main event.

Let's get ready to ruuuuumble, ya'll! It's Turkey Time once again.

In recent days, I've gotten quite a few queries about how to make the best possible Thanksgiving dinner. Here are a few tips that guarantee a succulent bird and a happy crowd...

Commandment #1: Thou Shalt Flavor-Inject!

Everyone knows that brining your bird before roasting is one of the best ways to get a juicy turkey. Recently salt cures have come into fashion as well, and while both are smart, if messy, my recommendation is that you should also invest in a flavor injector.

Used after you brine and before you roast, a flavor injector, which looks like the needle Travolta used on Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, imparts even deeper flavor and juiciness. But don't stop at a one shot deal. Wash your injector well (you don't want raw turkey ick spreading) and use it multiple times during the roasting process, re-injecting each time you baste.

All you need is a big ass needle (available at places like William Sonoma or Bed Bath and Beyond) and a flavor injection mixture.

Turkey Flavor Injection

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup chicken broth
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (full of umami goodness)
a dash of hot sauce (optional)
1 spring (about two tablespoons) fresh rosemary
1 spring (about two tablespoons) fresh sage
1 spring (about two tablespoons) fresh thyme

In a small saucepot, bring all ingredients to a boil. Straining mixture and allow to cool slightly. Inject away!

Commandment #2: Thou Shalt Not Abide Lumpy Gravy

Gravy should not be indiscernible from the mashed potatoes! Lumps be gone!

I've found that the easiest way to create smooth, beautiful gravy is to use Wondra when making my roue. Take 1/2 a cup of the pan juices from the roasting turkey, heat it in a small saucepan along with 3 tablespoons unsalted butter and whisk in 1/2 a cup of Wondra. Cook over medium heat 45 seconds-1 minute, whisking constantly before adding the rest of the turkey drippings in a slow, steady stream. Add 1/4 cup white wine and bring gravy to a boil, whisking constantly, until gravy reaches desired consistency. Serve warm.

Commandment #3: Thou Shalt Honor All Stages of Thy Cranberries

When making your cranberry sauce, along with some orange zest, walnuts and a can of crushed pineapple, try adding both dried and fresh fruit. Dried cranberries give cranberry sauce a more interesting texture and better flavor than fresh cranberries alone. I also like adding some tart dried cherries as well.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tonight on "Private Chefs of Beverly Hills:" The Smith Island Cake Fail

This week on PCoBH, I was asked to make a Smith Island Cake, the official cake of Maryland. Having never made, let alone seen, a Smith Island Cake before, I took to the web and discovered it is a ten layer cake, iced with a thin, boiled cocoa and evaporated milk icing, sprinkled with candy bars.

Simple enough, right?


Exhibit A: Just trying to get the 10 layers out of my apartment and to set proved difficult enough. Check out the Leaning Tower of Layer Cake...

My favorite thing about this photo is the magazine, Bon Appetit, and the DVD, Kings of Pastry, in the background.

While the Smith Island Cake proved mildly disasterous once I tried to assemble it (turns out the candy goes on top, not between the layers, and the frosting was way too thin even though I followed the recipe to a tee), here are some other offerings which were delicious slam dunks...

Rockfish Galettes
Yields 10-12 servings as an appetizer

1 pound Rockfish (Striped Bass) fillets
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Salt and Old Bay Seasoning to taste

Galette Dough:
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1/3 cup (about) ice water
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) chilled butter, cut into 12 pieces
Truffle Oil and chives to garnish (optional)

Begin by making galette dough. Whisk egg yolk and vinegar together in a small cup or bowl and add ice water. In a food processor, pulse flour, salt and butter until a course, crumbly meal forms. Add liquid and quickly run processor just until a ball of dough forms. Immediately stop processor, remove dough and flatten into a disc. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 350. Place rockfish on a lightly greased sheet pan and season with lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and Old Bay Seasoning to taste. Roast until fish is firm to the touch and flakes easily, about 15-20 minutes depending on thickness of fillets. Set aside.

Remove galette dough from refrigerator, lightly dust with flour and roll out to ¼ to ½ inch thick. Using a 1 ½ to 2” cookie cutter, or a lightly floured glass, cut dough into circles and place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Score each circle with the tines of a fork and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown. If the galettes are puffin up too much, place a second, ungreased cookie sheet on top of the first to weight the dough down slightly.

Remove galettes from oven and top with warm flaked rockfish, truffle oil and chives (if using). Serve immediately.

Hand-Cut French Fries
yields 6-8 servings as a side dish
3 large Russet potatoes, well scrubbed
24 oz vegetable, canola or peanut oil
sea salt and malt vinegar to taste
Optional seasonings:
Old Bay, truffle oil, parsley and fresh chopped garlic, hot sauce, parmesan cheese and red chili flakes, fresh herbs

Leaving the skin on, cut potatoes into long thin strips and place in a large bowl of clean water to remove some starch, prevent them from sticking together and stopping the oxidizing process.

In a cast iron skillet fitted with a thermometer or a small fryer, heat oil until it reaches 275-300 degrees. Remove potatoes from water and pat dry. Working in small batches, fry potatoes (also called blanching) until they go from shiny to matte, about 3-5 minutes. Drain well on paper towels. Heat oil until it reaches 350 degrees and fry potatoes again, also in small batches, until they are golden brown and crispy on the outside but soft and chewy on the inside. Remove from oil, drain well and toss with sea salt and malt vinegar, or any other seasoning you prefer. You can also fry fresh herbs such as rosemary, sage and thyme with the potatoes. Serve hot.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Fall TV Report Card: Lone Star Flunks, Hawaii Five-O Aces

You knew this was going to be a rough Fall TV season when straight out of the gate, after just two episodes, Fox cancelled Lone Star, a show that earned glowing critical praise and should have been given more time to grow.

Since then ABC, who we like to call Always Be Cancellin’, took an axe to My Generation, which we admit we meant to watch, purely for True Blood’s Mechad Brooks, but never got around to (like most viewers it seems), and Maura Tierney’s The Whole Truth, while NBC cut Undercovers, which we were rooting for simply out of J.J. Abrams love, but seemed destined for failure after we saw the pilot, and Jimmy Smits’ Outlaw.

With many series still on the proverbial “bubble,” we decided to celebrate the new shows that earned season passes on our DVR this fall rather than the ones we love (what up, Blue Bloods?) that will probably be lone gone by February.

Moving to the head of the class, AMC’s The Walking Dead, which has already been renewed for a second season. Starring Andrew Lincoln, who audiences may remember from his devastating turn in Love Actually, where he proclaims his love for Keira Knightley Bob Dylan-style on a series of cue cards, this show about the survivors of a zombie apocalypse will have you squealing, jumping and clutching your pearls.

Although we were initially hesitant about Hawaii Five-O 2.0, one viewing made it instant must see TV. And not just because of the boogie-on-your-couch theme song or all the super foxy man candy on display. Sure, Alex O’Loughlin and Daniel Dae Kim make great TV, but it’s swaggering Scott Caan who steals the show and we’d bet gets the nod come Golden Globe and Emmy time.

Every DVR needs a guilty pleasure and ours is Hellcats. The CW show about a group of competitive college cheerleaders is surprisingly delicious viewing right down to its catch phrase, “Shake it like you’re from Memphis.”

Written for Sheknows.com

Here's a delicious TV dinner to tuck into along with Hawaii Five-O's man meat, my homage to Hawaii's outstanding fish and strong Asian culture.

Panko-Crusted Fish Sticks with Asian Slaw

The best part about this recipe is you can easily trade tilapia for chicken and have an equally delicious dish that’s a serious crowd pleaser. The secret to these sticks is panko, Japanese bread crumbs that impart an airier, crispier, lacier crust which stays crunchy longer and sucks up less grease than traditional bread crumbs. But don’t think I used panko just because this recipe includes an Asian slaw. Panko can and should be used in any dish, from your mac and cheese topping to eggplant parmesan, where you’re looking for a light crunch.

Serves Four

Fish Sticks
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon wasabi powder (can be found in the Asian section of most supermarkets. If you can’t find any powder at the market, ask nicely for some of the paste at your local sushi restaurant, they’re usually happy to oblige such a small request.)
2 cups panko (can be found in the Asian section of most supermarkets)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1 1/2 pounds tilapia fillets, cut into wide strips
Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 425. Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil and lightly coat with non-stick spray. Set aside.

Place egg in a wide shallow bowl and add soy sauce and wasabi powder. In another bowl, combine panko, oil and sesame seeds.

Dip tilapia into egg, shaking off excess, then into panko mixture, pressing to adhere. Season with salt and place on prepared baking sheets.

Bake until lightly browned, about 15-20 minutes, rotating baking sheets from top to bottom halfway through cooking.

Meanwhile, make slaw.

Asian Slaw:
1/2 cup peanut butter, smooth or chunky depending on your preference
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
Juice and zest of 1 lime
1 2-inch piece ginger, grated
1 jalapeno, diced
1/4 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
1/4 cup mint, roughly chopped
1 English cucumber, thinly sliced
1 head red cabbage, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, cut in long thin strips
1 yellow bell pepper, cut in long thin strips
1 carrot, shaved into ribbons with a vegetable peeler
1 green onion, green and onion parts, as thinly sliced as possible

In a food processor or blender, combine peanut butter, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, lime juice and zest, ginger, jalapeno, cilantro and mint. Pulse just until dressing comes together. Check for seasoning and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine cucumber, cabbage, bell pepper, carrot and green onion. Toss in dressing, reserving any remaining dressing for later use (it keeps in the refrigerator beautifully for up to ten days), and serve.

Mark Wahlberg Disses "The Happening"

At the press conference for his new film, "The Fighter," Mark Wahlberg was perkier than we've seen him in years.

Maybe it's because he spent four and half years fighting to get the film made, eventually signing on as a producer, and knows he has a winner on his hands and will be getting thanked in Christian Bale's almost certain acceptance speeches for his role as Micky Ward's "squirrely" brother, Dickie.

Or maybe he was just feeling feisty.

Either way, Wahlberg served up the most refreshing moment of honesty we can remember ever seeing during a press day, one that causing a thronged room of cynical journalists to erupt in spontaneous applause and laughter.

When asked about his chemistry with Amy Adams, Wahlberg said, "We had actually had the luxury of having lunch before to talk about another movie and it was a bad movie that I did; she dodged the bullet." Without any prompting, Wahlberg continued, "And then I was still able to--I don't want to tell you what movie—alright, 'The Happening.' F--k it. It is what it is. F--king trees, man. The plants. You can't blame me for not wanting to try to play a science teacher. At least I wasn't playing a cop or a crook. But she didn't do the movie and we got the chance to work together again."

Actors admitting when their movies are terrible is one Hollywood trend we'd love to see more of. That, and more frisky Wahlberg.

Written for NBC's Popcorn Biz

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Behind the Scenes of Private Chefs of Beverly Hills: The Great Artichoke Heart War of 2010

Anyone who watches Private Chefs of Beverly Hills or reads our press knows that Chef Brian is my favorite; I call us "Team Awesome" and consider him my brother-from-another-mother.

But on tonight's episode, when we're tasked with catering a party for Alison Sweeney of Biggest Loser and Days of Our Lives fame, that love evaporated when The Great Artichoke Heart War of 2010 erupted.

Even though there was a moment when I honestly thought it might be the end of Team Awesome, Goonies never say die and we're better than ever now. Within hours, we were back to playing kissy-face, giving each other high fives and chest bumps.

Here's the recipe that got our battle started, one I'd still go to war for, it's that good...

Mini Grilled Artichoke Hearts with Low Fat Spinach and Artichoke Dip
makes 10-12 servings as an appetizer
2 cans extra small artichoke hearts, preferably Reese, packed in water, drained and patted dry
1/2 onion, finely diced
1 tablespoon olive oil1 cup Greek yogurt, preferably Fage 2%
1 cup fresh spinach, julienned
1/2 cup low-fat mozzarella cheese, shredded
4 tablespoons parmesan
3 tablespoons fresh basil, julienned
dash of nutmeg
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Halve all but two artichoke hearts and grill (a grill pan may be substituted) until lightly charred and warmed through. Keep warm in a low oven (175 degrees) while preparing spinach and artichoke dip.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Sauté onions until tender and translucent. Add spinach and cook until wilted and all moisture in the pan has evaporated, about 3 minutes. Chop reserved artichoke hearts and add, along with Greek yogurt, mozzarella and parmesan. Cook until cheese has melted. Add basil and nutmeg, season with salt and pepper and serve on top of grilled artichoke hearts.

And the recipe for my new obsession, Kale Chips...

Kale Chips
1 bunch fresh kale, stems trimmed and leaves washed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
kosher or sea salt and red chili flakes to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Wash kale and dry well.

Toss kale leaves in oil, vinegar, salt and chili flakes. Place leaves in a single layer on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake 25-30 minutes or until crispy.

If you'd like to make the White Bean Puree that accompanied it, here it is as well:
2 cans cannelili beans
1 tablespoon sage, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled
3 tablespoons olive oil
juice and zest of one lemon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt to taste

Puree all ingredients until smooth. Serve on top of kale chips.

A Serenade by Zachary Levi and the Cuteness of Mandy Moore, Stars of Disney's "Tangled"

Interviewing the Directors of Tangled, Nathan Greno and Byron Howard

Monday, November 15, 2010

An Online Dating Update--I'm Only "Good-Looking"?

I honestly don't know how I feel about this.

Opening my inbox tonight, I found an email from OKCupid proclaiming me "good-looking." It explained that I'll now see better looking people in my searches and offered reassurance that this isn't a mass email, but, if I was unsure, to "go ask an ugly friend."

There's no need to get all feisty, OKCupid.

The new distinction brought on a sudden rush of guilt and annoyance. Guilt because lately Rachel and I have been playing "Hot or Not," casually stubbing out suitors' dreams with a one-star rating and laughing our asses off, not realizing it actually had some sort of impact, and annoyance because I was only deemed "good-looking." What a wane distinction. But it got worse. Reading the email more carefully, I realized it only qualified me in the upper 50%.

Excuse moi, OKCupid?

I graduated high school at 16 and college cum laude, I walked and talked by the time I was nine months old, I run an 8 minute mile, I was Miss San Francisco and I've made out with movie stars; 50% my ass! Give me the upper echelons or give me death!

All this in the midst of a serious crisis of conviction. Two weeks into my online dating experiment and I only have one date to show for it and zero prospects on the horizon. Might my new qualification up my ante? Perhaps, but I'm feeling a bit deflated and when I feel deflated I crave a burrito. But this is a big week for me and I need to try to keep it tight and right so I'm going to attempt to squelch those craving with the same Mexican flavors I love, but in a healthier vessel with...

Potato and Onion Tortilla with Spicy Pickled Carrots and Grapes
makes 8 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 potatoes, peeled and diced
2 onions, diced
7 eggs
1/4 cup milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Spicy Pickled Carrots and Grapes:
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch thick pieces
2 cloves garlic peeled and sliced
1/2 white onion, sliced
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 bay leaf
8 peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup pickled jalapenos
2 cups seedless grapes, green and red

In a large saucepot over medium-high heat, bring vinegar and water to a boil. Add carrots, garlic, onion, peppercorns, salt and bay leaf. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 5 minutes.

Add jalapenos and grapes, reduce heat to low and simmer for another 5 minutes.

Remove from heat, cover and chill overnight in pickling liquid.

To cook tortilla, preheat oven to 350 degrees and heat oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.

Add potatoes and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Whisk together eggs and milk, season to taste and pour over browned potatoes and onions.

Reduce heat to medium and cook until tortilla is set around edges, about 3 minutes.

Place skillet in oven and baked until tortilla is cooked through and firm to the touch, about 5 minutes.

Slice and serve with pickled grapes and carrots.

The Trailer for Cary Fukunaga's "Jane Eyre" Debuts...This Calls for Spicy Tuna Tartar!

At the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, Cary Fukunaga made a triumphant debut with his first feature, "Sin Nombre," winning both the Directing Award and Excellence in Cinematography Award. Written and directed by Fukunaga, every frame was stunning, haunting filmmaking. Focus Features quickly snatched up the film and the young--and, it must be mentioned, very handsome—director, smartly signing him to a three picture deal.

His next film, "Jane Eyre" bows in theaters on March 11, 2011, and, having just watched the trailer, what I can't figure out is why it isn't being released in time for Oscar consideration.

Starring Alice in Wonderland and The Kids Are All Right’s Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre, a governess whose life is fraught with romance and tragedy, the diabolically sexy Michael Fassbender ("Inglorious Basterds," "Fish Tank") as Jane's employer, Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax, Jamie Bell as St. John and Sally Hawkins as Mrs. Reed, the film is a new adaptation of Emily Bronte's classic novel that's much darker and more gothic than audiences may expect.

In a 2009 interview, Fukunaga said, "I've spent a lot of time rereading the book and trying to feel out what Charlotte Bronte was feeling when she was writing it. That sort of spookiness that plagues the entire story... there's been something like 24 adaptations, and it's very rare that you see those sorts of darker sides. They treat it like it's just a period romance, and I think it's much more than that. It's all about tension and creating that sense of horror underneath."

Sinister and seductive, I can't wait to see what Fukunaga's second offering and career goes next. He's definitely a talent to keep your eyes on.

Speaking of eyes, sorry if it's pervy, but can I just say again how easy on the eyes Mr. Fukunaga is? He shares a magical Keanu Reeves/Joseph Gordon-Levitt Eurasian quality.

In honor of his Japanese heritage (on his father's side) and his overall caliente-ness, how's about some...

Spicy Tuna Tartar on Cucumber Rounds

1/2 lb Sushi Grade Ahi Tuna, finely chopped
1/4 cup good quality mayonnaise, the full fat kind (the low fat versions are far too sweet for this recipe)
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon (or more to taste) chili garlic paste (usually found in the Asian food aisle of most major supermarkets, Red Rooster is a great brand to look for, Sriracha tends to be too sweet)
1 bunch chives (approx 5-6 tablespoons), finely snipped or chopped
2 tablespoons black sesame seed
2 Japanese cucumbers
Additional chives and sesame seeds for garnish

Finely chop tuna. This can be done either with some patience and good knife work or by pulsing the fish in a food processor. But be careful not to make tuna paste, you want the tuna to retain its texture.

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients except cucumbers.

Mix well, cover and refrigerate while prepping cucumbers.

Wash cucumbers and slice into ½ inch rounds, thick enough to support a small mound of tuna.

Remove tuna from fridge.

Now, you can either go the Lazy Man’s Route (which I’m a big fan of) and put tuna in a decorative bowl surrounded by cucumber slices (think of it as Nouveau Riche Chips and Dip) and garnish, or you can go the extra mile and top each cucumber round with a small helping of spicy tuna and top with snipped chives and sesame seeds.

For the experts, tuna can be topped with cucumbers (cut in long, thin strips rather than rounds), daikon sprouts and avocado, wrapped in seaweed and sushi rice, and rolled to make maki or handrolls.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

My First Appearance on Today in LA

It's been a crazy week thanks to all kinds of shake ups in my world, including my new weekly gig on NBC's Today in LA weekend morning show.

Today I rose bright and early--actually, it was so early, it wasn't even bright yet because the sun had yet to dawn--, made my way to Burbank with a steaming cup of PG Tips in hand, fortifying me, and did my first weekend entertainment segment, discussing Unstoppable, Morning Glory and, my new favorite show, AMC's The Walking Dead.

View more news videos at: http://www.nbclosangeles.com/video.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Chef Sasha's Corn Tamales with Garlic Shrimp, Strawberry-Avocado Sour Cream and Pickled Red Onion

Miss Kitty wanted pink food, so I made her pink food.

Unfortunately, this dish didn't make it into the final cut of the show but it was absolutely delicious, despite the fact that its hue was the same as the title of my third favorite Molly Ringwald movie (Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles come first, natch).

Corn Tamales with Garlic Shrimp, Strawberry-Avocado Sour Cream and Pickled Red Onion
makes 6 servings

Pickled Red Onion:
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon salt

2 cups fresh white corn kernels, cut from the cob (approximately 4 ears of corn)
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, at room temperature
1 cup masa harina
2/3 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup warm water or chicken stock
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
14 dried corn husk, soaked in warm water for 30 minutes to soften

Strawberry-Avocado Sour Cream:
1 pint strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce, preferably Tabasco
1 avocado, pitted and smashed
zest and juice of one lime
1 pint sour cream
salt to taste

Garlic Shrimp:
1 lb 16-20 count shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon butter
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Place sliced red onion in a small, non-reactive bowl. Bring vinegar, water and salt to a boil and pour over onions. Refrigerate until cool and ready to use.
Fit a large pot with a steaming rack and tight lid. Over medium heat, bring several inches of water to a gentle boil.

In a food processor or high powered blender, puree half of the corn kernels until smooth. In one large bowl, beat the shortening until light and fluffy. In a second bowl, stir together the masa harina, cornmeal, cayenne pepper, salt, cumin and baking powder. Gradually add warm water or chicken stock until a thick dough forms. Add masa mixture to whipped shortening and add pureed corn, remaining whole corn kernels and cheese. Drain the corn husks and pat dry. Tear 2 of the husks lengthwise into 12 longs strips which you’ll use for tying up the tamales. On a flat work surface, arrange the remaining 12 husks in pairs, each one overlapping slightly. Spoon tamale dough into the center of each husk, roll gently and use husk ties to close tamale packages. Place the tamales on the steamer rack over and steam until fluffy and cooked through, 25-30 minutes.

In a small saucepot, combine strawberries and hot sauce and cook until berries are softened and release their juice. Remove from heat and allow to cool. In a small bowl, combine avocado, sour cream, lime zest and juice and season with salt to taste. Stir in cooled berries and refrigerate until ready to use.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter and add shrimp and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and cook until shrimp are pink and just cooked through, about 3 minutes.

To serve, remove tamale from husk and top with 3-4 garlic shrimp, a spoonful of strawberry-avocado sour cream and several rings of pickled onion, either whole or diced.

Chef Sasha's Mini Strawberry Cheesecake Bites from "Private Chefs of Beverly Hills"

Pink just isn't my jam; it's always been too overtly girly for my taste. Tasked with creating an all-pink party on tonight's episode of Private Chefs of Beverly Hills, I had to dig deep and reunite with my inner Jem in order to create food that would be truly truly truly outrageous.

This dessert is simple and easy to throw together at a moment's notice:

Mini Strawberry Cheesecake Bites
makes 6 servings
12 mini shortbread crusts (available in most grocery or specialty stores)
1 pint strawberries, hulled and diced
1/2 cup cream cheese
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 tablespoon strawberry jam
pink sanding sugar (optional)

Beat cream cheese, powdered sugar and strawberry jam together. Spoon cream cheese filling into shortbread crusts and top with diced strawberries. Top with pink sanding sugar or warmed strawberry jam and serve.

Monday, November 8, 2010

How Not to Sell Yourself on an Online Dating Site

After failed attempts on JDate, Match.com, EHarmony and Salon Personals, a few years ago I decided internet dating simply wasn’t for me. Yes, there are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people who have found the love of their lives online. But I don't think I'm going to be one of those lucky many.

The first of my issues was a little something I like to call "False advertising."

Seriously, what’s with so many people using photos taken a decade ago as their profile picture? Do these guys really think I’m not going to notice they’ve lost their hair and gained 20 pounds in the time it took them to leave the comfort of their computers and meet me for coffee? Don’t they realize, once the "New You" is revealed, it’s going to be a disappointment? If everyone were honest from the beginning, there could either be acceptance and preparation for whomever you’d meet face to face, or we could all cut our losses early and skipped the endless IM chatter. Like so many things in life, online dating is all about managing expectations. I automatically assume the photos shown online are 10-25% more attractive than the person will actually be, but you’re destined for a dumping if the photo you use is the best picture you’ve ever taken. If it’s too good, you’re never going to live up to the fantasies that one shot inspired.

Not that I’m guiltless. One gentleman I met for a gourmet hot dog and coke float at The Stand in Westwood looked downright crestfallen when he saw me in the flesh. No matter how attractive I tried to be while scarfing down my sauerkraut and spicy mustard-topped dog, his disappointed was palpable. I’ve never seen a man so hell-bent on averting his eyes from a woman inserting a phallic object into her mouth.

But let’s say the photo is a pretty accurate representation. You’re pleasantly surprised at first sight and you settle in for the Getting to Know You portion of the date when…Oh God. Do you smell that? It’s…(sniff)…(sniff)…pathetic, needy desperation. Charming. The faintest whiff of that is about as sexy as a pre-date bath in Drakkar Noir. An instant no-fly zone has just been created. Wait, is that stench coming from them or me? I could never really be sure. I’m not saying everyone online is desperate, but there is a certain panic I noticed on all the dates I went on with the men I met that way. The air was filled with "Eau d’Please God, Like Me or I Don’t Know What I’m Going to Do With Myself" by Designer Imposters Body Sprays. It sent me running for the hills every time.

Maybe it’s just that there’s something too contrived for me about meeting a man knowing their intention is to find a mate. Yeah, I want to meet someone too but the bluntness in that kind of hunt has the appeal of the banana you find at the bottom of your purse three days after forgetting you’d thrown it in there. There’s no tango, no flirty glances over the copy machine that lead to drinks, no underlying tension spent wondering “What’s this going to be?” “Does he like me?” Lacking the foreplay of dating cultivated in a more organic environment, I kept feeling like I was on a job interview rather than in the middle of a courtship. We both might as well have clipboards and number two pencils so we can tick off items on a list entitled “Does this person have the qualifications I’m seeking in order to fill my open position?”

As much as I’d love to be with a guy who has a wonderful, winning personality and makes me laugh, the truth is, in the beginning, I’m not laughing at your jokes unless I want to sleep with you. Some people say it takes a woman one hour to decide if she wants to go on a second date with a man. Others contend it takes 30 seconds to decide if there will ever be a physical relationship. I need about five seconds and some good lighting. After that, if the answer is no, we’re both wasting our time and the obligatory internet coffee date becomes an exercise in torture.

Sorry, buddy, before we sat down I knew if you were ever getting in my pants and all those reasons that we were perfect on paper don’t matter anymore because the animal attraction isn’t there. It’s just like two dogs sniffing butts. If you don’t dig what’s going on back there, then why prolong the inevitable? To be polite? Is it polite to lead someone on? If I’m not attracted to you, I don’t care how many siblings you have, where you went to junior high or about the life philosophy you developed after reading The Prophet, The Secret or The Alchemist. We’re done here. And, if I’m being totally honest, I don’t know if the kind of man I want to be with would ever allow himself to be found on an internet dating site. In my mind’s eye, he’s too sexy, confident, successful, driven and well-rounded to need any kind of cyber help.

Having said all that, this week I signed up for OK Cupid, or, as my friend Rachel likes to say despondently, "(sigh) Ohh-kay, Cupid."

So far I've only gone on one date, which was enjoyable, though firework-less, and been propositioned by a man whose profile offered this little gem when prompted to offer his favorite types of music:


I don't know if that's a typo or a warning, and I'm not willing to stick around to find out.

What's funny is, the moment I waded back into the treacherous waters of internet dating, the flood gates of men in real life opened, including a little drunken smooching with a super stud muffin TV actor in a $2000 Hugo Boss suit, including a tie clip and cufflinks (ZZ Top didn't lie; every girl is crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man), on Friday night. "November Rain" is now our song.

What the future holds, I can't be sure. All I know is, the idea of sorting through the online realm of single men who listen to rape (probably the last word anyone should ever use on a dating site), is intensely unappealing. But, then again, so is the idea of sitting home alone on a Saturday night.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Behind the Scenes of "Megamind" and "Your Cold Blue Heart"-Romaine Hearts with Fennel, Orange, Blue Cheese and Pepitas

A press conference with Tina Fey and Will Ferrell isn’t the place you want to be if you’re looking for any sort of James Lipton-y answers to questions about the performer’s “craft.” Parked in what appears to be a wedding reception tent (the first inspiration for many jokes to come) at the back of the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills on a cold, blustery October afternoon, Fey and Ferrell are doing what they always do, making people laugh. Even if it means totally disregarding the matter at hand; which should be discussing their new animated film, Megamind.

But what else would you expect from the former Saturday Night Live cohorts who were responsible for some of the best comedy that show had seen since the early 90s when Mike Myers, Adam Sandler, Dana Carvey and Chris Rock where churning out sketches like Wayne’s World, Coffee Talk and Opera Man?

Megamind is the latest 3D animated offering from DreamWorks, whose last film, How to Train Your Dragon, set a new bar for those looking to contend in the genre. Produced by another comedic dynamo, Ben Stiller, the movie is about Megamind (Ferrell), the most brilliant and committed supervillain the world has ever known. And also the least successful. Over the years, the bulbous headed blue villain has tried to conquer Metro City time and again, failing epically each time thanks to a caped superhero who’s taunted him since childhood, Metro Man (voiced by Brad Pitt). But when one of Megamind’s evil schemes actually goes according to plan, he’s forced to reevaluate his life choices, especially when it brings him closer to Metro City’s comeliest reporter, Roxanne Ritchi (Fey).

“I am one of America’s foremost fake reporters. I’m gonna have a fake show on CNN,” Fey deadpans before straightening up for a moment to deliver a half-serious answer. “It was fun to step into this very archetypal Lois Lane character. I really liked that in this story she’s a modern version of that; she’s active and intelligent--and she looks like Sharon Osbourne, a young Sharon Osbourne.”

Director Tom McGrath (Madagascar) explains that the original concept for the movie was born out of the seed question: What would happen if Superman were out of the picture and Lex Luther and Lois Lane realized they had more in common than they thought? Asked who she’d be more likely to go after, a studly caped crusader like Metro Man or a misunderstood evil genius who looks like a Smurf Conehead, Fey replies, “I think I would go for Megamind. He’s very smart and I really do find the purple undertones of his skin attractive. Beautiful skin. And he’s smaller than me. I like that, I could physically dominate him!”

“He is more petite,” Ferrell agrees.

As for her own rendering as Roxanne, Fey only has the kindest words for her avatar. “I like how she looks,” Fey begins, “I like her short hair, I like that she's brunette and I like that she has an ample can, I'm not gonna lie.”
Attempting to swing them back toward the film, the subject of recording sessions is raised and, shockingly, the pair settles down long enough to offer thoughtful, composed, un-ironic answers.

“I found the recording sessions very freeing because you can really try things,” Fey says. “When you’re filming something, if you’re improvising on film, you don’t want to waste film and waste [the] cameraman's time. If you’re recording things first, you can try a bunch of stuff and it doesn’t matter how you look when you’re doing it, there’s no vanity. I found it really fun.”

“There is a great amount of freedom, feeling you can come up with things on the spot,” Ferrell seconds, before adding. “What is lost in these projects is how hard it is to articulate any sort of emotional gearshift just with your voice. Those are the hardest parts for me. Playing the comedy is one thing but I think there’s real skill for actors who can effectively do that.”

But then, just as quickly as they settled down, they’re off and running again, offering answers like this one from Ferrell: “Traits that I share with the character? There is a part of my body that I cannot go into detail on that is blue.”

Megamind opens November 5.

I was trying to come up with blue food ideas. I thought maybe a Blue Hawaiian dessert, like a cheesecake or ice cream, or Peruvian purple potato salad. But then I decided the color didn’t need to be as blue as Megamind bulbous head and settled on this salad which is zesty, nutty and accented with blue cheese. Easy to throw together and good for any season, from winter to summer, this is one recipe that doesn’t take a genius.

Romaine Hearts with Fennel, Orange, Blue Cheese and Pepitas
Serves two
1 head of Romaine, outer leaves removed
1 bulb fennel, thinly sliced
2 navel oranges, segmented, juice reserved
1/4 cup good quality blue cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup Pepitas, lightly toasted
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
2 tablespoons walnut oil
salt and pepper to taste

Slice romaine heart in half, from top to bottom, revealing two hearts.

Combine fennel, oranges, orange juice, blue cheese, Pepitas, vinegar, oil, salt and pepper.

Toss romaine in dressing and then place one half on each plate, drizzling vinaigrette, orange segments, cheese and nuts decoratively across the heart.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Behind the Scenes of "Due Date" and The Morning Truck Stop: A Grilled Donut with Bacon, Egg and Cheese

If you want to be schooled in comedy, get ready, because class is in session and you will be tested on this later.

Lesson number one: “People who are like a truck with no brakes are inherently funny.”

So decrees Zach Galifianakis when discussing his new movie, Due Date.

The film, which reunites Galifianakis with his Hangover director, Todd Phillips, offered the comedian the chance to go mano y mano with Robert Downey Jr. who stars as a high-strung father-to-be forced to hitch a ride across the country with a train wreck aspiring actor (Galifianakis) in order to make it to his child’s birth on time.

Looking over the trio’s cumulative bodies of work, you realize these men are responsible for some of the funniest moments in recent film history. Perhaps that’s why Due Date is drawing inevitable comparisons to the comic classic, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, another odd couple road comedy.

But Phillips, looking polished and professional, sporting a crop of short salt and pepper hair usually hidden under the curly black wig he sports in cameos as “Mr. Creepy” (The Hangover) and “Gang Bang Guy” (Old School), says the movie they feel the most related to is “in an odd way, Rainman.”

“It is a road movie [but], at its core, it’s about Zach’s character having just lost his father and Robert, who’s about to become a father for the first time, and why they needed to meet at this moment,” Phillips offers, in a moment of surprising sincerity.

Asked why the theme of fatherhood was appealing to a “Frat Pack” director whose films usually center on men clinging to their faded youth, Phillips replies, “I started making movies about college kids and I tend to grow with my movies, they’re always about my age range. That’s the next step in life; fatherhood. It seemed like an interesting thing to mine, both for emotion and comedy.”

Much like Bradley Cooper in The Hangover, when asked about his part, Downey Jr. admits he was sort of playing Phillips, though, he adds, “Every time I feel I really hit critical mass is when the director and I become a third thing and that’s the character. I always feel I’m playing an aspect of the director--an appendage--especially when he’s an auteur. It's a way of making him a proud parent.”

Phillips is quick respond by lavishing praise on his star, applauding Downey Jr.’s “producerial brain.”

“He made me a better director because he’s constantly challenging what we’re doing in the larger, bigger picture. Robert thinks of the movie as a whole. He’s basically another writer in the room,” Phillips says. “Not to discredit the writers.”

“No, it’s a great script--which made me hate it even more,” Downey Jr. smirks.

“Yeah, Robert has an aversion to all things typed, I’ve learned,” Phillips replies. “Even if we just rewrote the scene on a napkin, he felt better about it.”

Phillips explains that he and Downey Jr. has “lots of spirited discussions” over the material, which they crafted and re-crafted as they shot.

“Every morning, [Robert would] have the [day’s script] and say ‘Okay, what are we really doing?’” the director recalls.

“And [Zach] was like a hostage child we’ve taken who’s watching dad and dad just hash it out,” Downey Jr. says, laughing at the memory.

“Yup, each morning there was a meeting,” Galifianakis nods, “Todd yells, Robert yells back. There was a discussion for at least an hour—”

“Sometimes three—” Phillips corrects, chuckling.

“Every morning,” Galifianakis nods.

“But, to be honest, this was the most healing project I’ve ever worked on,” Downey Jr. says. “I’ve never come up against anyone who is so confident and thoughtful and spontaneous. He’s just in a class by himself. And Todd is the best director I’ve ever worked with, bar none.”

“Did you all get that?” Phillips deadpans.

“And did you get what he said before it?” Galifianakis asks, before turning to Phillips and admitting with a laugh, “You know, I thought he was talking about you the whole time but then he switched over!”

Due Date opens November 5.

originally written for Metro Newspapers

Combining road food with pregnancy level cravings for salty-sweet indulgence may I introduce...

The Morning Truck Stop: A Grilled Donut with Bacon, Egg and Cheese

Inspired by Dunkins’ old “Time to make the donuts” commercials, I started thinking about how good a donut is when you first wake up. There’s nothing like the jolt of pure sugar glaze and fried dough when you’re still a light groggy and that inane little voice inside your head which barks “A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips” or “Do you really need to eat that?” has yet to stir from its slumber. Taking a page from the Luther Burger and McGriddle, I realized donuts are the perfect vessel for a breakfast sandwich that’s salty, sweet, crispy, cheesy and utterly yolktastic. All you need to finish this bad boy off is a hot cup of Joe.

Serves Four

4 strips high quality bacon (preferably applewood smoked but turkey or soy can be substituted), sliced in half
4 eggs
4 thin slices mild cheddar cheese
4 glazed donuts, original or maple if available, sliced in half

In a skillet over medium-high heat, cook bacon until crisp.

Remove bacon from pan. Reserve half of resulting bacon drippings and lower heat to medium. Do not clean the skillet.

Carefully crack eggs into pan, two at a time, and cook until whites are firm but yolks are still runny, gently flipping once if desired, about two minutes.

Remove from pan and repeat with remaining eggs. Set aside.

Return 1 tablespoon remaining bacon grease to pan and swirl to coat. Place donut halves, cut side down, in skillet and grill until golden brown, about 90 seconds-2 minutes.

Flip and top four donut halves with cheese. Cover and continue cooking for 1 minute, until cheese begins to melt.

Remove donuts from pan and top with two half-pieces of bacon, a fried egg and donut top.

Serve immediately.

And then go for a three-mile run.

But it’s totally worth it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Hollywood Bites Reviews: "127 Hours"

"127 Hours" starts like a freight train, a really fun, brakeless freight train, rolling downhill at top speed. Kinetic and pulsating, in typical Danny Boyle fashion it careens around corners, playing snap-the-whip with the audience as you race to keep up with the frenetic pace the Oscar-winning director of "Slumdog Millionaire" sets from the onslaught.

James Franco, tan, handsome, a vibrant livewire, charges off into the wilderness, his internal soundtrack vibrating the walls of the theater. The music, just a touch too loud, plays as if you stole someone's iPod and are running away from the scene of the crime, the last song they were listening to still blasting. In front of you, the Utah landscape, all red rocks and blue sky, stretches as far as the eye can see as Franco romps over and through canyons, in a rugged Cirque du Soleil performance.

Then, suddenly, he's scrambling, falling and—boom—trapped, a boulder pinning his arm to the side of the canyon. The music stops, replaced by silence and labored breathing, and the title card appears: "127 Hours."

In that moment, panic sets in, both for the viewer and the character Franco is embodying, as you realize you're trapped here, in the story, in this canyon. And that, my friends, is damn fine filmmaking!

Walking into "127 Hours," there are certain things most audiences already know. The film tells the story of Aron Ralston, a mountaineer who became famous in 2003 when he amputated his own right forearm after it got trapped by boulder during a climb in Utah, an ordeal he chronicled in his riveting 2004 memoir, "Between a Rock and a Hard Place."

With the ending a foregone conclusion, a narrative that amounts to a one-man show and your lead immobilized for ninety percent of the movie, how do you create a compelling piece of cinema?

Welcome to the genius of Danny Boyle.

Every frame of "127 Hours" is riveting thanks to Boyle's unparalleled storytelling abilities and Franco's Oscar worthy master class of a performance that ricochets from emotional peak to valley in a hairbreadth.

Equal measures heartbreaking and exhilarating, we can't think of another film we've seen that elicited such an auditory response from an audience outside of the occasional cheap thrills of a horror flick meant to make you jump. The simplest moments, like a sliver or sunshine or a dropped object, earn gasps and whimpers from viewers, while the film's climatic scene, one meant with cries and shouts, is viscerally tangible.

When the movie was announced back in January, we wrote, "If anyone can make a solitary man trapped in a canyon compelling, it's Danny Boyle." Boyle calls the film, "an action movie with a guy who can't move." We call it a serious Oscar contender.

written for NBC's Popcorn Biz

Stuck with some time to kill? Try these amazing slow roasted tomatoes. The flavor of the tomato, especially in summer, becomes hyper-intensified but also surprisingly sweet. Try them over crusty bread with a little butter or soft cheese, or pureed into an incredible rainy day soup

Slow Roasted Tomatoes
12-15 ripe tomatoes, halved (a mix of in-season heirloom tomatoes is best in summer, in winter, try to find Odorikos)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons Herbes de Provence
salt and pepper to taste
6 cloves garlic, smashed

Preheat oven to 200F.

Lightly oil a baking sheet with 1 tablespoon olive oil.

In a bowl, toss tomato halves with second tablespoon of oil, Herbes, salt, pepper and garlic.

Place halves, cut-side down, in a single layer on baking sheet. Tuck garlic in between tomatoes.

Season again with salt.

Slow roast 10 - 12 hours, checking every few hours to make sure they aren’t charring.

Tomatoes will keep refrigerated for up to one week.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Behind the Scenes of "Private Chefs of Beverly Hills:" Chef Sasha's Baklava and Grilled Watermelon and Halloumi Cheese Recipes

Tonight's episode of Private Chefs of Beverly Hills holds a special place in my heart for two very important reasons.

Reason Number One: the day we filming it, I discovered why our outstanding art department smokeshow, Trent, looked so familar to me. That's right, ya'll, he's Trent Ford of "How to Deal" fame.

You remember "How to Deal," don't you? It's from Mandy Moore's prime "Walk to Remember"-"Candy" days and it co-starred Tropical Trent. See! That's him on the DVD cover.

Reason Number Two: We filmed the episode the day before my birthday.

At the end of the shoot, totally oblivious to what they had in store, the producers and crew surprised me with a birthday cake that was a replica of the Tahitian Vanilla Cake from last season, probably the most contraversial item ever featured on the show (and, yes, I am still proud of it).

Carried out by Chef Stuart, who led everyone in a Happy Birthday serenade, I was so shocked and deeply touched, I turned fuschia and burst out laughing, which quickly moved to tears.

It was a moment I will never forget. I know I'm a loud, gregarious, roaring Leo, but the truth is, I'm tough like a cream puff and stuff like that means the world to me.

Grilled Watermelon and Halloumi Cheese “Croutons” with Herbs, Feta and Arugula

makes four servings
4 slices sweet seedless watermelon, with rind
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese, preferably sheep’s milk
1/2 cup baby arugula
1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped
2 tablespoons cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons Italian parsley leaves
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Zest of one lime
1/4 cup Halloumi cheese, cubed
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Heat a grill pan over high heat until very hot.

Sprinkle each slice of watermelon with salt and a pinch of sugar and grill quickly on each side, just until grill marks show and the fruit is lightly caramelized, about 1 minute per side. Arrange on serving plates and sprinkle with crumbled feta, salt and pepper. In a small bowl, toss fresh herbs and arugula with olive oil, vinegar, lime zest, salt and pepper. Place small mounds on top of grilled watermelon and feta. Just before serving, heat a small skillet over medium-high heat and quickly sauté Halloumi until golden and crispy. Garnish each plate with Halloumi cheese croutons and serve immediately.

Rose Water and Orange Blossom Baklava
makes 16 servings

1 pound walnuts, lightly toasted and roughly ground in a food processor or blender
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 package phyllo pastry
1 cup unsalted butter, melted

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cup honey
Zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon Rose Water
1 teaspoon Orange Blossom Water

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine walnuts, cinnamon and sugar and set aside. In the bottom of a greased 9 by 13 pan, place one layer of phyllo and brush liberally with butter. Repeat six more times, buttering each delicate layer, until you have 7 layers of phyllo. Spoon 1/3 nut mixture over phyllo and top with 5 more individually buttered sheets of phyllo. Repeat the process two more times and finish with 7 layers of phyllo. Brush final layer with butter and bake for 50 minutes, until golden brown.

While baklava is baking, make syrup by boiling all ingredients together for 10 minutes.

Remove baklava from oven and pour syrup over it. Cut into squares or diamonds and serve.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Post-Halloween Purging: A Diet and a Dating Site

You know Spring Cleaning? Well, I'm Fall Purging. It's time to clean, cleanse and turn over some new leaves.

When I was younger, Halloween was my favorite holiday. These days, Thanksgiving tends to trump it, but I still have mad love for any institution that mandates diabetic-coma levels of sugar consumption.

Because I've been crazy busy, for the second year in a row I was unable to pull together my dream costume (Richard Simmons), but I did manage to rally for Underwood Farms' Harvest Festival with Ana and Kyle.

In the arts and crafts section, between their namesake pumpkin butter and zesty bean soup mix, Ana found a conspicuous addition. Ummm, which of these things (though delicious) is not like the other?

Between the bluegrass stage and the haywagon, we ducked into the corn maze, which was extra muddy thanks to a little nighttime rain...

But that didn't stop us from conquering it...

Maze complete, we rewarded ourselves with some kettle korn and this amazing homemade orange cranberry bread...

Which kind of made me feel like a heffer, which this cow is, despite the horns. A beautiful Scottish highlander heffer.

The next day was actual Halloween and this year it felt less festive than usual. Maybe that was because I've been so overworked and exhausted lately. Maybe it's because I just wasn't in the mood. Or maybe it's because I didn't have anyone to celebrate it with. You know you're a sad single lady when your idea of a Halloween portrait involves you and your pet holding a mini pumpkin.

No matter how foxy Swayze is in this photo, and, let's be honest, he is dead sexy, after taking it, I realized my life had taken a turn toward all those awful Cathy comic cliches, so easily poked fun at. Single lady, in her 30s, with a cat and no man.

"It's not so bad," I thought to myself, as I packed up some baked goods and Chinese food to visit the Molnars, my friends who are married with a baby, only realizing upon arrival that I was once again the third wheel to one couple and one family.

Feeling a bit worse for the wear, I met up with Rachel and struck out for West Hollywood's Halloween parade where drag queens rule the streets and freaks come out in droves. There would surely be safety in this crowd of 500,000...

But wouldn't you know it, in this throbbing sea of half a million, I saw the last guy I dated. With his new girlfriend.

Salt meet wound.

And that was when I decided it was time to make some changes.

Change #1: I need to lay off the sweets for a little while (she types after finishing a box of Munch 'n' Crunch). No more eating my feelings. The last thing I need right now is to be chubby and single.

Change #2: Despite my serious reservations and previous failures on JDate, Match.com and Salon Personals, I signed up for an online dating site today. Since only one man in a year asked me out on a date, I need to Wu-Tang Financial this ass and diversify my bonds by making myself more available.

Of course, it's only been 12 hours and already I'm regretting it. The very first match the site offered me was a guy I've actually noticed several times at my favorite Starbucks. We've spoken a few times, exchanged names and smiles, and I've started working there more often in the hopes of seeing him. "This is fate!" I thought when he popped up. So I sent him a brief message. Hours later and he's since been on the site, looked at my profile, read my message and not written back. Burn! Such an internet BURN!

So now I'm sitting on my couch, Swayze on my lap, being haunted by two other former hookups (long story), thinking, How can I make myself feel better?

And here's what I've decided: I'm gonna cleanse.

None of this ridiculous maple syrup and cayenne nonsense. I'm just going to eat clean, organic food for the next few days. No mas Red Bull. No mas sugar. No mas Munch 'n' Crunch. Just fruits, vegetables, broths and water.

I'll start tomorrow with my favorite quinoa breakfast cereal and hopefully by week's end I'll be happier, healthier and a little less emotionally bruised.

Oh, and change #3: I just deleted all my exes' numbers from my phone. Because, really, who needs those anyway?

Keep it Clean Quinoa
makes 4-6 servings

2 cups water
1 cup organic red quinoa
1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey
1/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup almonds
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup raisins
pinch of salt

Rinse quinoa well and place in a medium sized pot with all the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover and reduce to simmer. Cook until water is absorbed and quinoa is al dente (about 15-20 minutes).

Serve warm or cold with a splash of almond or soy milk