Saturday, December 31, 2005


There are tons of variations on hummus, but this recipe is pretty much ye olde classic. It comes out so much better than what you can buy at the grocery or deli... at about 1/5th of the price!

The recipe calls for Tahini, which is Middle Eastern sesame paste. Health food stores, Middle Eastern groceries, and even some large chain groceries have started to sell it. It needs to be stirred well before you use it. If for some reason you can't find tahini, or you don't have it on hand, simply use an equivalent amount of toasted sesame seeds. Put them into the food processor first and crush 'em up good.

The dried chickpeas take longer than the canned but you'll get a much better hummus with them.

1 cup dried chickpeas (or about 2-3 cups canned)
1 bay leaf
1 small onion
2 cloves (optional)
2-3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup tahini
1 teaspoon salt
10 sprigs Italian parsley
olive oil
Pinch ground cumin
Dash soy sauce or miso paste (optional)

1. Pick through and rinse the dried chickpeas and then soak them in a bowl of water to cover overnight or for at least 8 hours.

2. Drain, rinse and then put them in a pot with just enough water to cover. Peel and cut the onion in half, sticking one clove deep into each onion half. Throw the onion into the pot along with the bay leaf.

3. Bring the contents of the pot to a boil over medium heat and then reduce the heat to low, cooking until the chickpeas are very soft. This could take anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours or longer depending on your chickpeas.

4. Drain the chickpeas--reserving some of the cooking liquid--but removing the bay leaf, onion and cloves.

5. Put the lemon, tahini and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and process until the mixture is thoroughly combined and aerated. It will sort of resemble cream cheese.

6. Add the chick peas, the salt, and about 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid. Taste, and then correct the seasonings with more salt, lemon juice, broth, soy sauce or even miso unil you have the hummus at a taste and consistency you like. It's best to let the flavors meld for an hour or two at room temperature before serving.

7. Spread hummus on a plate and make a dimple in the center. Fill the dimple with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and then sprinkle in the ground cumin. Garnish with kalamata olives and chopped parsley. Serve with toasted pita bread.

At Long Last Panda Cam

Who needs to cook or watch movies when there's Panda Cam? For that matter, why would anyone want to eat, sleep or do anything when there's Panda Cam? This, my friends, is what the Internet was made for.

Click the link and then scroll midway down the page to get yer live Panda Cam.

Watch mama Mei Xiang and baby Tai Shan live 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in the National Zoo.

Friday, December 30, 2005

The Flower of My Secret

The Flower of My Secret (1995) Pedro Almadovar's eleventh film, tells the story of a woman dealing with rejection, loss and abandonment. I know how that sounds, and before you run screaming from the video shop, know that under Almadovar's light, expert touch, the film is funny and entertaining, and also moving, without ever being sentimental or maudlin.

Almadovar regular Marisa Paredes plays Leo, a writer who creates trashy but popular romance novels under a pseudonym, while her own all too real marriage is falling apart. Determined to start a more respectable literary career, she decides to create a new life by applying for a job at the literary section of a prestigious Madrid newspaper, without telling them of her pseudonymous writing. Her first assignment: review one of her own novels, which she savagely skewers in print. (Almadovar understands that writers are their own harshest critics!) But rather than being the path she thought would give her direction, the new-found role only adds another layer to her sense of confusion and misdirection. She wanders, lost, as her mother says, "like a cow without a cowbell."

Viewers familiar with Almadovar's work will recognize all his strengths here in full flame: complicated, likeable and interesting female characters; a wonderful plot that is simultaneously casually meandering and tight; strange--but somehow successful--shifts and combinations of tone accompanied by playful riffs on serious themes of identity, relationships and reality. Unfortunately some weaknesses are on display, too. The stunning backgrounds (beautifully shot scenes of Madrid, the gorgeous apartments, empty courtyards, the wine bars, the flamenco dancers, and an idealized Spanish villa in the countryside) can make Leo's problems--though still very real and worthy of attention--have that "trouble in paradise" feel, somewhat akin to Woody Allen's good, but similarly faulted, 'problems-on-the-Upper-East-Side' films. It wouldn't make a good double bill with "City of God" is all.

Not Almadovar's strongest work, but a well-crafted, very likeable film nonetheless.

FilmStocker Rating: B+

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Sesame "Beef" and Broccoli

Yes. You read that right. Beef. This recipe uses wheat gluten or seitan, long used by Chinese Buddhist vegetarian monks, to simulate the taste and texture of meat.

I use the Vegeusa brand which I buy at Ranch 99, an Asian grocery on Buford Highway in Atlanta, but seitan--both in its dried and ready-to-use forms--is usually available in most health and Asian food markets.

If you buy the ready to use kind, simply skip the "rehydrating step" given below.

1 package dried wheat gluten
(once rehydrated you should have about 1lb)
Two stalks broccoli (about one pound)
1/2 inch piece of ginger
3 cloves garlic
1 small dried or fresh chili pepper (optional)
3 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 Tbsp Hoisin sauce*
2 tsp rice cooking wine*
1/2 Tbsp yellow bean sauce*
2 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1 green onion, sliced into 1/4 inch slices on the diagonal

*See step 4 about substitutions for hard to find ingredients you may not have on hand.

1. To rehydrate dried wheat gluten: place the dried wheat gluten chunks in a pot of water and bring to a simmer over medium heat. They'll float but good so you'll need to press them down into the water with something: a small plate that fits in the pot, a lid from another pan, etc. Simmer for about 20 minutes or until the chunks are soft, rehydrated and tender all the way through.

2. Chop the broccoli into small florets. Peel the outer layer from the stalk and chop into 1/4 inch cubes. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and throw in the broccoli to blanch it for about a minute and a half. Drain. Rinse the broccoli with cold water to stop it from cooking any more. Drain well and pat dry.

3. Mince the ginger, garlic and pepper.

4. In a small glass or bowl, mix together the soy sauce, hoisin, tomato paste, rice cooking wine and yellow bean sauce. (Some of these ingredients you may not have on hand, but the sauce is very amenable to substitution. Broth, wine, ketchup, chili sauce, miso. It's hard to go wrong. Just remember: soy sauce is the base and primary ingredient. In all you should have about 1/2 cup of sauce.

5. Heat your wok over high heat with a tablespoon of oil in it. When it's VERY hot, throw in the seitan and fry, stirring, until it has picked up some brown spots. Remove from the wok and set aside.

6. Let the wok regain its heat for a moment (You may need to add a dash more oil). Throw in the garlic-ginger-pepper mixture. Stir-fry for about 20 seconds and then throw in the broccoli. Cook for about three minutes or until the broccoli is tender-crisp and close to done.

7. Toss the seitan into the wok with the broccoli and stir-fry together until the seitan is heated through. Pour the sauce into the wok and stir to coat the vegetables.

8. In a few moments, your sauce should coat the veggies, absorb into the seitan and thicken. If not, i.e. if you have a bunch of watery sauce in the bottom of your pan, you'll need to fix that as the stir-fry won't taste good and the sauce will be, well, watery. Push the veggies and stuff up onto the sides of the wok as best you can so that most of the water runs down into the middle. Sprinkle 2 tsps. corn starch into the water and--quickly! or you'll get lumps--whisk it in to the sauce. It should thicken in a few moments over the heat. If not, continue to add a tiny bit more starch until you have a nice thick sauce. Once it's thick, stir it back over the beef and broccoli.

8. Put the "Beef and Broccoli" on a serving platter and sprinkle with the sesame seeds and then the chopped green onion. Serve over rice.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Cranberry Bean Soup with Dandelion Greens

A great soup for cold winter nights. Dandelion greens are most often associated with the spring, but they're available year-round. They're more bitter in the wintertime so they should be used then for soups, not salads.

1 package (1 lb or 2 cups) dried cranberry beans
1 bunch (about 1 lb.) dandelion greens
olive oil
3 carrots, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
3 small or 2 medium onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 small potatoes, diced
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
3 tablespoons Miso, vegetable broth cube or soy sauce (optional)

1. Pick through and wash the dried cranberry beans. Soak them overnight or for at least 8 hours. Alternatively, you can throw them in a pot, bring them to a boil for 10 minutes, then remove them from the heat, soaking for 2 hours.

2. Drain and rinse the beans.

3. Heat 4 tablespoons olive oil in a soup or stockpot over medium heat. When it's hot, throw in carrots, celery, onions, garlic, and potatoes. Let them saute in the oil for 4-5 minutes.

4. Add the bay leaves and the soaked cranberry beans and 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil and them simmer until the beans are tender (anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours, depending on your beans).

5. Wash the dandelion greens well in several changes of water. Strip the leaves from the stalks, discard the stalks and then chop the leaves well. Add the greens to the soup and simmer until the greens are wilted and tender.

6. Stir in the miso, a vegetable broth cube and/or some soy sauce to enrich the broth. Sprinkle in half the chopped parsley.

7. Ladle into bowls and serve with grated Parmesan cheese, a dollop of pesto, a sprinkle of the remaining parsley and slices of crusty French bread.

James Brown in Concert

Listen to James Brown... Live and in concert tonight!

The Hardest Working Man in Show Business will webcast live on on Wednesday, Dec. 28, from Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 Club. The show begins at 9 pm EST. ("Hey, I thought they said it was the 9:30 Club!")

The show will be archived at the same link if you miss the live broadcast.

Listen on-line here.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


Lola (1981) is Rainer Werner Fassbinder's take on that classic monolith of German cinema, The Blue Angel, in which an upright schoolteacher is seduced and ruined by a conniving cabaret singer named Lola, played by Marlene Dietrich. Fassbinder shifts the setting to 1950s Germany, during the "economic miracle" in which Germany rebounded from the war. And he makes the seduction of the "pillar of rectitude" by the singer-prostitute more morally ambiguous.

It's the third in Fassbinder's "BRD" trilogy about the post-war period in Germany: the others being Veronika Voss and the Marriage of Maria Braun. Like those two films, Lola centers on a female character and the whirlwind of circumstances that swirl around her. The story is told in the garish poster-art primary colors of vintage Douglas Sirk and Vincente Minnelli melodramas, belying the sleazy deals and sordid goings-on underneath the surface.

Although the story is somewhat discursive, Fassbinder never takes a false step. At times, his films can seem less like cinema and more like theater, and I mean that in the best possible way. His films share the theater's intimacy, complexity and ambiguity. It's as if a superlative theater company had somehow gotten hold of film equipment, which actually isn't far from the truth. The casts in Fassbinder's film are comprised primarily of actors from his theater troupe, in existence before and during his film career. His films always retain something of the theater's purity, clarity and purpose.

All in all, another great piece in the tremendous output of the prolific Fassbinder.

FilmStocker Rating: A

Iron and Wine in Concert

Have a listen to this Iron and Wine concert recorded at Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 Club and originally broadcast live on NPR on Nov. 30, 2005.

Great music to cook by.

Listen to the concert here.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Banana Bread Pudding with Butter Rum Sauce

2-3 very ripe bananas
1/2 cup raisins
1 loaf French bread
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2-3 tablespoons butter
2 eggs
2 cups whole milk

1 cup sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla

1. Slice the bananas and bread into 1/2 inch thick slices, then toss in a bowl with the raisins and cinnamon. In another bowl mix together well the eggs, milk, sugar and vanilla.

2. Dump the bread mixture into a well-buttered nine-inch square casserole or a similarly-sized dish or pie pan. Pour the liquid mixture on top. Allow to sit for one hour, pressing the bread down occasionally with a large spoon to get it thoroughly soaked with the milk.

3. Bake at 375 for one hour.

4. During the last fifteen minutes of cooking, make the buttered rum sauce (below). Pour the sauce over the pan of bread pudding when it comes out of the oven. Slice and serve warm.

Buttered Rum Sauce

4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup rum
dash salt

1 egg, whisked until light and frothy

Melt the butter over low heat. Stir in the sugar, rum, and salt and continue stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and whisk in the egg. Return to medium heat and stir until thickened. Pour over the bread pudding.