Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Pasta with a Creole Cream Sauce and Chicken Sausage

This dish was inspired by a container of Creole seasoning that my dad gave me.  I've always enjoyed these flavors, but had never cooked with them before.  I am really happy with how this turned out.
When I made this dish a month or so ago I posted a picture and description on Facebook.   Several people commented that they wanted the recipe.   Unfortunately, I hadn't followed a recipe.   I just made it up as I went along.  Which is what I do with most things in my life.
So I finally had a chance to try the dish again and wrote down the recipe along the way.  I even took pictures for you.  I hate when recipes don't have pictures!

Disclaimer: This is my first time ever writing an actual recipe.   I had no idea how difficult it is.  I have a new respect for chefs and cookbook writers.  Please let me know if you see any mistakes or if I need to expound on something further.

Servings: 2.5 (1)   
Calories: you don't want to know
Time: 15 minutes

1/2 box of pasta of your choice (2)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 package of Italian-style chicken sausage - PRE-COOKED(3)
1 tbsp Tony Chachere's Original Creole Seasoning(4)
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp chili powder
3 tbsp UNSALTED butter
1 cup heavy cream
Salt to taste
Shredded Parmesan cheese

Begin cooking pasta of your choice according to the directions on the box.

Cut up sausage into medallions or bite size chunks.

(Please excuse my cell phone pictures. This sausage does not look appetizing at all but I swear it was good.)
Heat olive oil in a 10"-12" heavy bottom skillet over medium-high heat.

Once olive oil has heated (you'll see ripples) add sausage then sprinkle with creole seasoning, pepper and chili powder.

Cook for 2-3 minutes over medium high heat to get a nice "browning".
Lower heat to medium and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes to heat through.  (Remember: the sausage I'm using is precooked.)

Remove sausage from pan and place on a paper towel over a plate to drain excess oil.

Put pan back on burner over low heat.
Add a tablespoon of butter to deglaze the pan - while the butter is melting, scrape up all the "tasty bits" at the bottom of the pan.(5)
Slowly add the next 2 tablespoons of butter while stirring and scraping the pan.
When butter has melted, turn heat back up to medium.
Add 1/4 cup of cream and stir.
Once cream is incorporated, add the next 1/4 cup and so on until you've incorporated the whole cup.

At this point, you should taste your sauce.   You'll probably need to add a pinch of salt to bring the cream and butter together - but don't add too much since the creole seasoning is very salty.
If needed, add more butter and/or cream until the flavor and consistency are just right.

By now, your pasta has been cooked and drained.
Return your pasta to the pot, add the sauce and sausage and stir.   Serve with shredded Parmesan cheese (which I forgot this time so it's not in the picture) and enjoy!

Special Notes:
  1. Feeds 2 adults and one toddler, or 2 people with some leftovers.   (It's great the next day!)
  2. We like San Giorgio's Trio Italiano, which is a nice combo of shells, penne and corkscrews - lots of places for the sauce to pool. 
  3. I've also made this with traditional Italian Sausage and with boneless/skinless chicken breasts.   If you use chicken, you'll want to go heavy on the Creole seasoning to bring up the flavor "volume."   Obviously, if you use chicken or uncooked sausage, you'll want to cook it longer than I've indicated in the recipe.  My sausage came pre-cooked.*
  4. We like things very spicy at our house, so if 1 tbsp of the Creole seasoning scares you, maybe start with 1 or 2 teaspoons.
  5. I use a high-temp silicone spatula that is firm and not at all floppy - it works great for this type of thing.   Also, "tasty bits" is a highly technical term.
This dish would also be fabulous with vegetables added.  I think red peppers and mushrooms would be especially tasty.
Many thanks are due to my parents, PBS and the Food Network for teaching me to cook.  And many, many thanks to Dan for eating my experiments. :)

*They have pre-wrapped sausages but they don't have pre-wrapped bacon. Well, can you blame them?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Best Picture Nominees - 84th Annual Academy Awards

Quick reviews of each movie and my opinions on their "Oscar-worthiness" - ranked from best to worst.   

  1. Hugo - I loved this and felt it was the perfect use of the 3-D film medium.   It's directed by Martin Scorsese and his love of movies is evident. Loved it, loved it and did I mention I loved it?  (A+)
  2. The Artist - in case you hadn't heard, The Artist is a silent movie about silent movies.   It's also black and white.   Normally, this might be a death sentence for me, but I really enjoyed it.   Jean Dujardin, the lead actor in the film, is Gene Kelly reincarnated.  His screen presence, mannerisms and overall looks are so much like Gene Kelly's that it was almost eerie but in a completely delightful way.  In fact, delightful might be a great description of the movie as a whole.   (A+)
  3. Midnight in Paris - Owen Wilson plays a young version of Woody Allen in this movie about yearning for the "golden days" of the past.   For Owen Wilson, this is 1920's Paris.   It's fun and quirky and fascinating.  (A+)
  4. The Help - excellent, funny, superbly acted.   All around good movie with an uplifting story.  (A)
  5. The Descendents - George Clooney gets me every time.   (Is there a movie he has made that I don't like?   Oh yeah - - The Men Who Stare at Goats.)  Anyway, George is incredible in this movie, playing your kind-of-Average-Joe, husband and father who wears pleated khakis and can't relate at all to his daughters.  Such a departure from who George really is and the characters he usually plays.   This is a funny, touching movie.   (A-)
  6. Moneyball - It's about baseball and economics.   Very good story with excellent acting.  (B+)
  7. War Horse - it's a movie about a horse that goes to war.   The horse is the main character and the leading actor.  This does NOT make a good movie.   While I liked the cinematograhy the rest of it was just plain awful.   (D-)
  8. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - stunk.   P. U.  (F)
  9. The Tree of Life - Awful.  Choppy. Unsatisfying.  Piece of crap trying to be passed off as a film.   Only redeeming quality was the Mid-Century Modern furniture eye-candy in the first part.   Oh, and it's quite the rip-off of  Koyaanisqatsi which kind of ticks me off.  (F-)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Oscar Predictions and Stuff

Oscar Picks

Who I think WILL win:
Best Actor: Colin Firth
Best Supporting Actor: Geoffrey Rush
Best Actress: Annette Bening
Best Supporting Actress:  Hailee Steinfeld
Director: Tom Hooper
Best Picture: The King's Speech
Best Animated: Toy Story 3
Art Direction:  Inception
Cinematographer:  True Grit
Costume: The King's Speech
Editing: Black Swan
Music (Score):  Social Network
Music (Song): "If I Rise"
Sound Editing: Inception
Sound Mixing:  King's Speech
Visual Effects:  Inception
Adapted Screenplay: Social Network
Original Screenplay:  King's Speech

Who I want to win:
Best Actor:  Colin Firth, James Franco and Jesse Eisenberg are all worthy, but Colin Firth would be my first choice.
Best Supporting Actor:  Christian Bale
Best Actress:  Jennifer Lawrence
Supporting Actress: Hailee Steinfeld
Director: Danny Boyle (not nominated)
Best Picture: Inception 
Cinematographer: 127 Hours  (not nominated)
Editing: 127 Hours
The rest are the same as my picks to win.

My Red Carpet Dress

If I were a celebrity and tall and skinny and ready to take a fashion risk, this is what I would wear to the Oscars:

Reem Acra Spring 2011 Collection

I was going to wear this, but Halle Berry did to an event last week:

Elie Saab - Spring 2011 Couture Collection

Hopefully Tom and Lorenzo would approve!

Best Picture Nominees - 83rd Annual Academy Awards

This was our fourth year attending AMC's Best Picture Showcase.    Like last year, the 10 nominees were split up between 2 Saturdays.   (Some cities do a 24 hour marathon, but Columbus is not one of them.)   This year, instead of unlimited popcorn they gave us $10 AMC gift cards to buy whatever snacks/drinks we wanted.   Great improvement because who can eat that much popcorn anyway...
Thanks again to Eva's grandparents for watching her for us.  It will be at least 16 years before she goes with us!   (More on that later.)

Here was the lineup for the films for the first Saturday:

  • Toy Story 3  (We skipped this one since we had already seen it and actually own it.)

  • 127 Hours

  • The Kids Are All Right

  • True Grit

  • The Fighter

  • Yesterday's lineup was:

  • Winter's Bone

  • Black Swan

  • Inception

  • The Social Network  (We skipped this one, too, since we had already seen it.)

  • The King's Speech

  • I'm struggling with ranking these.   I'm not sure I can rank them 1 thru 10.   I think I'll need to divide them up into 2 categories first.
    Group A - Movies that would have never been nominated if there were still only 5 nominations up for grabs: Toy Story 3, The Kids Are All Right, Black Swan, Winter's Bone.   All are worthy movies which I would recommend to anyone and am so glad I saw them.   No regrets in this bunch.
    Group B - All the rest.    Which gives us 6 movies for only 5 nominations.   But if I rank all of those, and move my 6th favorite to the first category, then a really great movie wouldn't have been nominated.

    So what does this tell me?   2010 was an excellent year for movies.   Who knew?   I have to say, I'm surprised.

    Now for reviews, with letter grades included.   Some spoilers may be included.
    EDIT: I had to go back and add a squeamishness rating to these, because gore seemed to be a theme running throughout most of these.

    Group A

    Toy Story 3:  I'm a big fan of the Toy Story movies.  I'm a big fan of Pixar movies in general.   It amazes me how their movies NEVER seem to disappoint.   How do they do it?  
    Toy Story 3 is definitely the "The Return of the King" of this trilogy.   It's an epic, grand adventure.   It is symbolic of the struggle between good and evil.  The desire to stay young and innocent and facing the inevitable act of Growing Up.  Like Frodo and Sam, Woody and Andy know what must be done and know that sacrifices must be made.
    On a lighter note, one of my favorite parts of this movie is the introduction of Bonnie's toys.  I love, love, LOVE how they were all serious actors playing their roles to their absolute best.   I wish we could have seen more of this and less of the Day Care shenanigans, but then I guess there wouldn't be enough conflict and drama that way.
    And KUDOS to the writers for creating such a great little girl in Bonnie.   As a mother of a little girl who likes to play super-hero and play with trains and balls just as much as her babies and dollies, it was so refreshing to see that portrayed in a movie.   Bonnie was pretty awesome.
    Squeamish Factor: 2 - There are some very intense scenes involving torture of beloved characters.  ;)
    Grade:  A

    The Kids Are All Right:   I really liked this take on the "modern family" and their issues - - which when you get right down to it, aren't all that different than the struggles of the "traditional" family.
    The story was just OK (one could say it was All Right) but what really stood out in this movie was the Actors.   They made this movie.   Annette Bening is an amazing actress.  In one of the movie's best scenes, she doesn't even need to say a word and we know every single thought and detail that is going through her mind.   She really blew me away.
    Mark Ruffalo (I always wondered why people made a big deal out of him) and Julianne Moore are equally great in this movie.   And the young, and so unusually beautiful, Mia Wasikowska holds her own as their teenage daughter, Joni.  (Named after Joni Mitchell.  I'm kind of surprised that my parents didn't name me that.)
    Squeamish Factor: 1 - For uncomfortable mother/child moments.
    Grade: B-

    Black Swan:  This movie is Crazy with a capital C.   Seriously.   There is a lot of buzz and hype around this movie, mainly because Natalie Portman is a Hollywood favorite.   Also because of the "love" scene between her character and Mila Kunis' character.   And it is a good movie.   Very different and creative.   An art film.   Just not a Best Picture nominee, in my opinion.  Natalie Portman IS very good in it and I'm tres impressed with the fact that Natalie and Mila did their own dancing.   I personally love ballet and it's expressionism - so I appreciated that part of it.
    Warning: This film is not for the faint of heart.  Squeamish Factor: 10 - I can't even begin to explain.

    Grade: B

    Winter's Bone:   This was such a weird story.   It was good, but it was as if you were watching people from another country, or another planet even, but they weren't.   They were Americans.   It's just that we are so far removed from this kind of life that it seemed so alien.  And the next time I think my family is full of hillbillies, I'll remind myself of Winter's Bone.   Compared to these people, my family is full of blue bloods.
    Anyway, Jennifer Lawrence is the young lead actress that carries this film.   She is phenomenal!  I can't wait to see more from this (previously "unknown") girl.
    Warning:  This film is not for the faint of heart.  Squeamish Factor: 9 - For dismembered body parts and squirrel guts.
    Grade: A-

    Group B (which i will now attempt to rank from 6 down to 1 - - #1 is the film I felt was most Oscar-worthy.)

    6. True Grit:  Finally!   A Coen Brothers film with a coherent and semi-conclusive ending.   The most satisfied I've been at a Coen Brothers ending in 10 years.
    Hailee Steinfeld, is deserving of the Academy Award for Best Actress.   However, she is nominated for Best Supporting Actress.   What the HECK?   She supported NO ONE.   All of the other actors supported her, including Best Actor nominee Jeff Bridges.   This was HER movie.
    My only complaints are that it was hard to understand Jeff Bridges' character at times, and Matt Damon was not at his best.  But that's just me being nitpickey.
    Warning: This film is not for the faint of heart.  Squeamish Factor: 7 - lots of violence, some snakes, some dismembered body parts - but this was nothing compared to some of the other movies.

    Grade: A+

    5. The Fighter:  I'm a sucker for a true story.   This one is about a boxer (Mark Wahlberg) who is trying to live up to his brother's former glory.   The brother (Christian Bale) was a boxer who once was the hero of their town, and then became a crackhead, enabled by his nutso mom and dysfunctional family.
    Christian Bale is the most underrated actor - possibly the best actor of his generation.   His performance in The Fighter takes my breath away.   He is Good.
    Mark Wahlburg is also underrated, and I think if he keeps doing movies like The Fighter and less movies like The Happening, he'll be better appreciated.   If you're a fan of "Marky Mark's" bod, he is half naked throughout much of the movie.   So that's always a plus.
    Amy Adams plays Mark's girlfriend and this is her best role yet.   She was really able to show her range - - she doesn't always have to play the "good girl."    And in one of my favorite parts of the movie, she gets to kick a little but.
    Also, the Fighter reminded me of how much I love boxing. 
    Great film.
    Squeamish Factor: 5 - Just the basic boxing movie stuff, I guess.

    Grade: A+

    4. 127 Hours:  Another true story.   This is basically a one man show staring James Franco, as Aron Ralston, the hiker who must chop off hack away at his own arm in order to escape from a crevice in which he is stuck for 127 hours.   (Sorry if I spoiled that one for you).
    I am not a huge fan of James Franco, but his performance in 127 Hours is top-notch.  I was so impressed and it has totally changed my opinion of him (and makes up for his awful acting on General Hospital.  Well, almost.)
    And I have to say that director Danny Boyle and cinematographer were totally robbed for not being nominated.   To be fair, the cinematographers job was made easier by the beautiful landscape of the American West.
    Warning: This film is not for the faint of heart.  Squeamish Factor: 10 - I mean, obviously.  Dude cuts off his arm.  And they show all the detail.   Also, he drinks his pee.

    Grade: A+
    3. The Social Network:   Yet another true story.  
    This movie can be best summed up by it's last scene.   Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg is sitting at his computer, he has just sent a friend request to an ex-girlfriend ("the one that got away") and he keeps refreshing the page to see if she accepts.   It's a lonely, pathetic moment.   One in which a lot of us can relate.   It shows that even with his brilliant mind and billions of dollars, he is just as pathetic as the rest of us.
    The Social Network shows how Facebook has leveled the "social" playing field for us anti-social/techie types.   Which might be why I like it so much.
    No gruesomeness in this  movie.   At least not that I can remember.  Squeamish Factor: 1 (unless social awkwardness gives you the heebee-jeebies.)
    Grade: A+
    2. The King's Speech:  True story!  Yay! 
    Immediately after seeing this movie - which was the last one I saw of all the nominees - I ranked it as number 4 or 5.  
    However, after letting it sink for a bit, I came to a realization.  Colin Firth and Geoffery Rush (and everyone else) are such amazing actors, that the ease of their portrayals of King George VI and his speech therapist, Lionel Logue, respectively, made the movie seem like No Big Deal.   But it WAS a big deal.   It was outstanding.  Bravo!
    Squeamish Factor: 1 (although the stuttering can make you anxious.)
    Grade: A+

    1.  Inception:  NOT a true story.  I don't think.   Dan and I might have been the last people on earth to see this movie, so I had heard a lot of opinions on it beforehand, and had tried my hardest to stay away from spoilers.   Inception totally exceeded all expectations and then some.   That anyone could even dream (hahaha) this stuff up is flabbergasting to me.   It blew my mind.
    I LOVE how the movie started in the (seemingly) middle of the story, just like a dream! 
    The scene when the girl from Juno has her first shared dream, and she folds Paris onto itself?   Perfection.  Paris was the perfect city for that scene.
    A couple of inside things that I also loved: 
    • In the 2nd layer of the main dream, Juno Ellen Page is dressed EXACTLY like Kim Novak's character in Vertigo (one of my favorite movies of all time.)  
    • The song they played to help get them out of the dreams was La Vie En Rose, by Edith Piaf.   Co-star Marion Cotillard's Oscar winning portrayal of Edith Piaf in 2007's La Vie En Rose is one of the best performances ever.   Dan and I cracked up every time the played it and wondered if they picked that song on purpose.
    Inception was great all the way through and had one of the most satisfying film endings that I have seen in a long, long, time.   Way to go against the trend!  :)

    Squeamish Rating: 2 - Just some mild violence.
    Grade: A+

    There you have it.   :)

    I'll post my picks in a moment.   I'm almost out of time!!!