Saturday, July 20, 2013

Well that was fun, now what?

Feels like forever since we last saw each other. I missed you.

Alright, where were we? Oh yeah, you just made spaghetti for the hot redhead and managed to not send yourself to hospital or majorly offend her which of course made the night a  lot more memorable in the long run *wink wink*.

What to do for an encore? You cant make her another simple pasta dish or she’ll suspect that you’re a one trick pony and ordering out after showing you can at least cook something would seem off. Hmm… you need other cooking methods that will seem more impressive than they really are to keep her coming back.

Lets start with mans number one food cooker, the BBQ. Nothing, and I mean nothing, makes you feel more like a man than cooking meat over fire *insert toolman grunt here*.  Most guys learn to BBQ at an early age as it is usually a right of passage handed down from father to son. That said, there are a lot of dads out there that suck using a grill. The basic principle is simple, you put food on the grill which is made hot by the fire underneath and sear the outside which seals in juices and slowly cooks the inside. Not as simple as it sounds as you need to learn cooking speeds and whatnot and there are some higher level grilling techniques to learn but most guys can pass themselves off as moderately useful on a BBQ which is good as it makes you seem more manly if you can do it. In short, girls like guy who can burn tasty meat on fire.

Slow roasting or braising is super easy and makes delicious and tender food which will impress almost anyone. The basic idea is that the slow roasting method breaks down the connective tissue of the meat which makes it fall apart tender. Whatever you make this way can also be served in different methods. For example a beef roast can be served as just a pot roast (using the juices to make gravy) or you can shred it to make beef on a bun (again, use the juices to make the sauce) or you can pre make the roast and shred it to put in a chili or pasta dish which will kick said dish up at least one notch from the ordinary.A way to cheat at this is to use a slow cooker. You can set it early in the day and just let it do it's thing without paying much attention to it.

Rotisserie is SO easy and for some reason impresses people a lot. This qualifies as one of the “higher level grilling techniques” but in reality is ridiculously easy. All you need is the $30 attachment for your BBQ and a recipe. I cooked a ham this way which I dry rubbed with brown sugar, cumin, chili powder and garlic powder. The sugars crystallized and candied the ham… oh my god… Give this idea a try. When you tell her that you have something cooking on the rotisserie out back, she’ll melt right there.

On to the more basic but very useful pan-fry. Anyone can put food in a pan and add heat. It takes skill to make the food tasty and not overcook it or make it greasy. Extra virgin olive oil is your best friend here, do not use butter. I generally use pan-frying in conjunction with other methods. Like I’ll grill steaks and pan-fry some veggies to go with it.

Stove-top methods are generally simple to do. By this I mean things like chili, stew, pasta or whatever. Things you just make by cooking on the stove top. No real mysteries here but man you can make some delicious food by doing this. Remember to stir often as most food made this way are made in large pans that are fairly deep and the food on the bottom can get burned very easily if you ignore it.

Ok, on to some minor things you can do to make your food better.

Deglaze pans. This is an amazingly underused cooking too. So you’re making beef stew and you’ve browned the beef in the big pot and now you have a bunch of brown “bits” cooked to the bottom of the pan which you cannot scrape off. Hit them with about half a cup of liquid while they are screaming hot and the liquid flash boiling off will lift the bits from the bottom and add serious flavor to whatever you’re making. Just remember to add other things to the pan once they lift so you don’t re-burn them to the bottom. When I make my calm linguine I deglaze the pan with white wine after I cook the bacon. That actually brings me to my next thought.

Make your own sauces. Many people are intimidated by this notion but it is really really simple. Instead of buying that jar of Prego, buy 4 roma tomatoes, an onion, some garlic and go home and cook them down and spice them yourself. It seriously is that easy and telling someone that you made the sauce from scratch is sure to impress. This is also something that can be done in advance and stored in the fridge for a few days so don’t give me that nonsense about not having time.Making a delicious sauce is also a great way to hide an unfortunate kitchen mistake like overcooking something so give it a try.

Pay attention while you cook. No that isn’t a cooking method but it is important. It really doesn’t look good for you when you burn the steaks because you HAD to kill the ancient dragon on Skyrim. And that isn’t even addressing the safety aspect of not paying attention in the kitchen. Cuts and burns can be serious and even life threatening so watch what you’re doing.

And finally, less is more. I’m sure I’ve said this before but you don’t need to add 400 ingredients to a dish to make it taste good. Keep it simple and be creative.

Ok, I’m done for today. Class dismissed.

Pulled Pork

1 three-pound pork roast                                          1 Cup Ketchup
¼ Cup Cider Vinegar                                               1 Med Onion Chopped
3 Tbsp Brown Sugar                                                 2 Tsp Dry Mustard
2 Tsp Chili Powder                                                   2 stalks celery

  1. Place tenderloin in slow cooker or oven roaster with about a cup of water and some salt and pepper. Slow cook (slow cooker on “low” or oven set at 185F) for 4-5 hours. Remove from slow cooker and shred using 2 forks.
  2. Add cider vinegar, ketchup, brown sugar, dry mustard and chili powder to water/roast drippings left in slow cooker and put on high to heat through or if using oven put juices and spices in a large saucepan and bring to a boil on stove.
  3. Add shredded pork, onion and celery and allow to simmer in sauce for about an hour.
  4. Dish up on buns or rolls.

R.I.P.D.: Underrated?

RIPD has a 12% rating on rottentomatoes right now. I don't typically disagree with professional critics, but I have to say that this is one instance where I do.

Within 90 seconds of the Universal Studios logo, you can tell that this is a stupid movie. Accept it. Embrace it. Set your expectations properly and you can actually have a lot of fun at R.I.P.D.

Ryan Reynolds is a Boston PD officer who is killed during a drug raid, but pressed into service with the Rest In Peace Department, a division of supernatural police that serve 100-year terms rounding up and dispatching 'deados' that have escaped Judgement (as Mary-Louise Parker says, 150,000 people die every day, and some fall through the cracks). Jeff Bridges is partnered with Reynolds as the two try to catch deados and eventually try to avoid the apocalypse.

Story: 2/5 - It's a crappy adventure movie, take it at face value and it's not that bad. Writers Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi (of AEon Flux and Clash of the Titans) do a good job of explaining everything within the story with only a couple of scenes where that is the explicit purpose - within ten minutes, you know everything you need to, and the movie progresses pretty seamlessly from there. There is a distinct lack of creativity or real drama, but it is what it is.

Writing: 3/5 - The jokes were cheap, but they worked. None of the dialogue felt contrived, though going in I was sure that it would. The characters were lifelike and their antics bearable.

Acting: 3/5 - Here's the thing: I love Ryan Reynolds. And Jeff Bridges. And Mary-Louise Parker. And Kevin Bacon. There are no real gymnastics required in terms of emotional range from any of these characters, but they do their jobs well - Reynolds with the snark, Bridges (in a performance eerily similar to his Rooster Cogburn), and Parker with her airy superiority. Everyone is on-point and likeable, right down to cameos by Mike O'Malley and James Hong. Bridges may try a little too hard to steal some of the scenes, but he succeeds more often than not.

Aesthetics: 3/5 - The movie had it's share of 'moments,' short periods where I thought to myself, 'you know, this is kind of fun.' The music was appropriate, and while I thought cinematographer Alwin Kuchler got a little too creative at times, it was fresh and the shots were never boring.

Final Score: 55%

The Lone Ranger: Not Even Bruckheimer

Jerry Bruckheimer has made some of the most entertaining movies of the last 20 years - The Rock, Beverly Hills Cop, Bad Boys, Armageddon, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. This was not one of them. Bruckheimer and his production values, Johnny Depp, and a reported $225 MM budget couldn't get this slow-moving piece of trash off the ground.

The only review you need to read (besides mine) is Christopher Orr's: Somewhere, around the hour-and-a-half mark, The Lone Ranger makes the fateful decision not to end. Worse, the movie keeps not-ending for another full hour.

Story: 2/5 - As Orr writes, the pacing in this movie is atrocious. At one point, our heroes confront the villains, and while it does not feel climactic, I found myself hoping the movie was over. The movie was about 60% done. As far as plot, the big twist is very obvious, and there is never any real sense of drama. I kind of liked the general storyline of the first act.

Writing: 2/5 - There was nothing even close to new or challenging in the dialogue - the jokes were recycled and leaned heavily on Depp's delivery, and most were downright stupid (the horse dragged him through the poop!). There was no wit or cleverness to any of the comments.

Acting: 3/5 - I actually liked Armie Hammer as The Lone Ranger. Depp was what you would expect - a carbon copy of Jack Sparrow in facepaint. He was the highlight of the film, but it was nothing new or exciting from him. Many of the smaller bit parts and character actors did a great job of re-creating the feel of the West - I'm looking at you, James Badge Dale.

Aesthetics: 4/5 - The high point of the movie for me was the first half-hour, which was filled with cool shots of guys riding around the desert in dusters, the sun in the distance and a colourless tone added in post-production. At one point I turned to my friend and said that I wished this was still a genre - and I do; modern Westerns like Open Range, 3:10 to Yuma, and Appaloosa were fantastic movies. The Lone Ranger really makes you appreciate the art form.

Final Grade: 55%

Addendum: I should note that I saw this movie with two people, my white friend and another aboriginal friend of ours. One was actually pretty offended and you only need one guess as to which one it was. I was actually glad that I got to see it with somebody with a dog in the fight, as it were. The movie supposedly took great pains to avoid being offensive, with Depp allegedly learning the Comanche language, and getting the go-ahead from a Comanche nation. Still, the movie relies heavily on Native American customs for the vast majority of its humour, and I am frankly surprised that there has not been more uproar about it. Maybe if more people were seeing the movie, there would be.

Pacific Rim: This is Shit

Making movies is hard. Making compelling movies is really hard; and making a compelling film out of a robot/monster mashup must be impossible -- if it's not, Guillermo del Toro does his best to assure us that it is in his most recent movie, Pacific Rim.

The movie is about giant (like, two Godzillas tall) monsters that enter our world through a rift in the Pacific ocean, and how humans created the Jaegar program (the movie subtly reminds us that Jaegar is German for 'hunter'), basically Godzilla-sized robots to fight them. As humans discontinue the Jaegars for some reason, the last remaining pilots (rangers) launch a last-ditch effort to close the rift and save humanity.

Story: 1/5 - The movie gets a break for being about monsters fighting robots, but even with dulled expectations, the suspension of disbelief pact between us and the movie is totally shattered. As the robot is about to lose the fight, the pilot suddenly exclaims, 'Wait, we have one more weapon - a sword!' The monsters aren't magic or anything, they are flesh and blood - guns and missiles work. They could kill these things with bunker-buster missiles, and they never even try to explain to the audience why they don't. Why do they wait to attack the monsters until they are at a city? Why are the governments of earth set on discontinuing the Jaegar program, even as it is proved time and again the only effective way to deal with the threat? There is nothing addressing motive for any character or plot point.

Writing: 2/5 - Considering what the movie is, the writing isn't bad. It is very par-for-the course, with some decent comedy (I got a kick out of Ron Pearlman's dialogue) and cookie-cutter exchanges.

Acting: 3/5 - Based solely on Idris Elba, who is very convincing as the aging, conflicted commander of the Jaegar program. Charlie Day, of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, was exactly as expected - which made his scenes entertaining, if nothing else. Charlie Hunnam is solid, but I don't see him breaking from the mold he cast in Sons of Anarchy.

Aesthetics: 3/5 - Robots fighting monsters is cool, but neither del Toro nor cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (who was much more 'Spy Kids' than 'Pan's Labyrinth') make an effort to get us out of our seats with interesting shots.

Final Grade: 45%

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Open Championship 2013: Muirfield

The golf season's 3rd major is upon us this week, and the game's best pays a visit to Muirfield. Muirfield is said to be the home of where golf's rules were first enforced and it has hosted the Open to some great champions. Here's a look at the notable winners there in the last handful of decades:

2002 - Ernie Els (also the defending champion of the Open)
1992 - Nick Faldo
1987 - Nick Faldo
1980 - Tom Watson
1972 - Lee Trevino
1966 - Jack Nicklaus
1959 - Gary Player

There are no slouches on the list, and when Els won back in 2002 it became his 5th career major title. If we are to learn from history, it suggests that the victor this week will not be a no name, come out of nowhere type player; the winner will be a winner. Here's odds from Paddy Power:

Tiger Woods - 10/1
Phil Mickelson - 18/1
Justin Rose - 20/1
Adam Scott - 22/1
Graeme McDowell - 25/1
Rory McIlroy - 28/1
Ernie Els - 28/1
Lee Westwood - 30/1
Sergio Garcia - 30/1

Tiger has 14 career majors but he hasn't won one since the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines (aka the playoff against Rocco on one good leg). Phil won the Scottish Open last week and finally won a tournament on the European continent. Justin Rose is the most recent major winner with his victory at Merion weeks ago. Adam Scott won the Masters this year and nearly took the Open crown last year before a collapse at the end. Graeme McDowell has struggled with his game recently but the Northern Ireland native is familiar with the style of play required to win the Open and finished in a tie for fifth last year. Rory McIlroy is still young, 24, has two career major victories, but his Northern Ireland roots haven't propelled him to an Open Championship yet. Ernie Els, already mentioned, won last year and won the last Open held at Muirfield. Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia have come close to major victories before but have never been able to lock one up.

So who is my pick for this week? I know I have been preaching that previous major winners have had the greatest amount of success through the course's history, but I get the feeling that we won't be seeing a repeat major winner but rather a guy who will notch his first major victory and possibly the first of a few. Thorbjorn Olesen, 23 year old of Denmark, is my choice. He finished in a tie for ninth at last year's Open and managed to finish in a tie for sixth at this year's Masters so he has had recent major success. Odds placed on him are at 100/1 so it could be a profitable week for those placing their money on Olesen.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Wonderful Music of Disney

After growing up a Disney kid, I've now had 22 years and change to think about what I've experienced. At my youngest, I grew up in the golden era of Disney movies with epics like "The Lion King" and "Beauty and the Beast" being released. As I grew up, I witnessed other movies like "Monsters Incorporated" and "Pirates of the Caribbean." Since my roommate is currently on vacation at Disney World, I've got Disney on my mind. Rather than talk about movies, I want to talk about my favorite parts of the movies: the music.

Disney music is often some of the happiest, up-tempo music you will be exposed to. However, it can also be serious and even downright sad if you pay enough attention to the transitions in the music and the lyrics laid on top of them. Without further ado, I want to get into a couple of lists.

Best Movies for Music

("The Sound of Music" and "Fantasia" not included)

HM: Pocahontas

Irene Bedard's voice on "Colors of the Wind" pretty much puts this movie in the discussion. The movie doesn't exactly stick to historical accuracy, but the songs in this movie are great. Rather than being upbeat, funny, and directed at kids, the songs in this movie seem to be more aimed at adults. I didn't enjoy this soundtrack a ton as a kid, but I love listening to the songs now.

HM: Aladdin

"A Whole New World" and "Friend Like Me" drive this soundtrack, and they are great.

10) The Jungle Book

If you can appreciate jazz, swing, and other older forms of music, then you'll probably love this soundtrack. As one of the older Disney movies, the soundtrack has a record player background to it, which gives it an authentic feel. As for the reason it's on here, the top two songs on the track are fantastic. "I Wa'na Be Like You" is one of my favorite Disney songs, and "The Bare Necessities" is punny and fun.

9) Mary Poppins

If you aren't familiar with this soundtrack, then you're missing out. I'm personally not huge on this movie, but I can't leave it out of the top ten. There are too many classics like "Spoonful of Sugar" and "ThatlongwordI'mnotgoingtospelltwiceinonepostsokeepreading."

8) Tangled

Surprisingly, Mandy Moore is exceptional as the voice of Rapunzel in this movie. The song writing is fantastic, it's got a more modern feel, and the songs are really catchy.

7) Lilo & Stitch

Out of all of the soundtracks on this list, this is probably the most unique. The reason for that is that a lot of the song is sung by a native Hawai'ian in the native language. Throw in some great music and a wonderful-sounding kid chorus and you've got a wonderfully crafted soundtrack.

6) Mulan

This is one of the most demanding soundtracks in any Disney movie, simply because it asks a ton of the voice actors to contribute. I don't think one person thought the singing in this movie would be as great as it was.

5) The Little Mermaid

Jodi Benson

4) Beauty and the Beast

Just so many classic songs. "Be Our Guest", "Belle", and "Beauty and the Beast" will forever remain in the hearts of countless individuals as precious memories. The music is well-crafted, and the lyrics are even better.

3) Pirates of the Caribbean (Series)

Unlike most other Disney movies, the music in this series is done via an orchestra led by the legendary Hans Zimmer. I don't know enough about orchestras to go into specifics, but listening to the OST for this series is always a joy.

2) The Lion King

It's easy to just give a ton of credit to Elton John for this soundtrack, and it's a little unfair to other movies that he was so heavily involved. However, he worked on some of the greatest songs ever. The songs on this track are the stars of the Broadway musical, and the John has performed the songs in live concerts countless times.

1) Tarzan

While Elton John is "unfair" on The Lion King's soundtrack, Phil Collins was simply insane on this soundtrack. I've listened to a lot of Phil Collins and Genesis throughout my life, and I've never heard him as good in any of his songs as he is on the Tarzan soundtrack.

Best Songs of All Time

First off, here are the honorable mentions:

"Why Should I Care?"- Oliver and Company
"Zero to Hero"- Hercules
"Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious"- Mary Poppins
"Go the Distance"- Hercules
"A Whole New World"- Aladdin
"Reflection"- Mulan
"Be Prepared"- The Lion King

"Everybody Wants to Be a Cat"- The Aristocats
This was my sister's obsession growing up. Shockingly, she turned into a cat person. Who knew?

Now to the rest of the list:

25) "You've Got a Friend in Me"- Toy Story

Chances are you've heard this song before. Randy Newman's most classic song created for Pixar Studios helped make Toy Story one of the greatest animated films of all time. It's comforting, humble, and uplifting.

24) "Jack Sparrow"- Pirates of the Caribbean

23) "When Will My Life Begin?"- Tangled

This movie is relatively new, so it doesn't get a ton of love and respect for the great Disney movie that it is--for what it's worth, it's got a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Disney got away from serious movies and Pixar to head back into the world of animated films, and they nailed it. This song is the highlight of the movie.

22) "Part of Your World"- The Little Mermaid
21) "Kiss the Girl"- The Little Mermaid

Honestly, Jodi Benson's singing voice is just great--she voices Ariel in the movie, if that wasn't already glaringly obvious. "Part of Your World" is probably the best example of your talents. Meanwhile, "Kiss the Girl" has arguably my favorite introduction to any Disney song ever.

20) "You'll Be in My Heart"- Tarzan
19) "Belle"- Beauty and the Beast
18) "Heigh Ho"- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
This one gets a video AND a summary just because I say so. "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" was the first major motion picture put forward by Disney. Since this is the major song from said movie, this song gets on the list by default. If you listen to the way the song is constructed, the song really seems to set the foundation for the way all Disney songs are framed. It's happy, peppy, and just fun to listen to--and some of those guys had goddamn amazing voices.

17) "Friend Like Me"- Aladdin

16) "If I Didn't Have You"- Monsters Incorporated
15) "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?"- The Lion King
14) "The Bare Necessities"- The Jungle Book
13) "The Circle of Life"- The Lion King

If I were to make a list of the songs that were objectively greatest and not just my favorites, this one would probably top the list. Elton John doesn't perform the song in the movie, but his recording of it is nothing short of incredible.

12) "Davy Jones"- Pirates of the Caribbean

11) "Hawai'ian Roller Coaster Ride"- Lilo & Stitch

Top 10 

(hint: these are all getting videos and summaries because they're worth it):

10) "Beauty and the Beast"- Beauty and the Beast
"Tale as old as time" might just be the most recognizable Disney lyric of all time. However, that's certainly not where the song stops being great. From the lyrics to the vocals to the melody, this song is just all around easy to love.

9) "Be a Man"- Mulan
Who knew that military drills set to Disney music could work? Well, in this song it absolutely does.

"(Be a man)
You must be swift as the coursing river
(Be a man)
With all the force of a great typhoon
(Be a man)
With all the strength of a raging fire
(Be a man)
Mysterious as the dark side of the moon"

Just a freaking amazing chorus, if you ask me (especially starting at the 3:00 mark in the video). It's not lyrically great, but it's still awesome.

8) "Be Our Guest"- Beauty and the Beast
"We'd like you to relax and pull up a chair as the dining room proudly presents: your dinner"

Have you tried the gray stuff? It's pretty delicious. One of the catchiest songs I can remember, and you'll learn a lot about different types of food. Oh, and the part where they mock Cogsworth is naturally incredible.

7) "He's a Pirate"- Pirates of the Caribbean

Probably not Hans Zimmer's greatest accomplishment, but this song is just great. Naturally, my high school uses this song at commencement ceremonies (we the Pirates, go figure).

6) "I Just Can't Wait to be King"- The Lion King

So many great puns in this song, and I find the antics of Zazu to be particularly great. I'd rather you listen to this song than read my words about it. "If this is where the monarchy's headed, count me out!"

5) "Under the Sea"- The Little Mermaid
Little known fact about me: I "sang" this song in second grade in front of my class. It was terrible, but this song is not. Sebastian is one of my all time favorite Disney characters, and this song is the biggest reason why. The chorus is so damn catchy.

4) "I Wa'na Be Like You"- The Jungle Book

I'm a big fan percussion and smooth beats, and this song has the greatest beat in Disney history. While the song lacks in great vocals, the lyrics are great. I love the way Disney broke off from their traditional songs to make a song like this. The opening few lines are just great. "I'm tired of muggin' around."

3) "He Mele No Lilo"- Lilo & Stitch

Just listen, guys. Such a fantastically written song (especially the bridge). Lilo & Stitch is criminally underrated in the Disney world.

2) "Son of Man"- Tarzan

Phil Collins was a BEAST (pun intended) when he worked on this soundtrack. The intro, the chorus, the bridge...everything about this track is just incredible. If you need more to like about this song, watch Tarzan and notice the timing of when the track is used. Much like the next song on this list, it is the song that transitions you from one part of the movie into the next, and it fits so incredibly well.

1) "Hakuna Matata"- The Lion King

This will by my favorite Disney song until the day I die. I've loved it ever since the first time I heard it. There's plenty of great humor within the song, and Pumbaa's story is pretty hilarious. Plus, it's got the catchiest chorus in Disney history. As a final kicker, it teaches a great life lesson:

Don't dwell on the past. Live in the present and focus on what you can control. Make the most out of your life.