Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Below is an article that features the history and a recipe for a dish called "Steak Diane":
Tracing the history of the culinary dish, Steak Diane, proved to be a complicated affair. From some of the articles I have read, the dish's history could be traced back to the late 19th century and early 20th century, when European chefs rediscovered the recipe for an ancient dish that required sauce served over venison. Its sharp sauce was intended to complement the sweet flavor of deer meet. It was named after the Roman goddess of the hunt and the moon, Diana.
But the actual Steak Diane evolved from Steak au Poivre, which was coated with cracked peppercorn before cooked and smothered with sauce. But Steak au Poivre did not include flambéing with brandy in its recipe. Steak Diane did. Sometime during the 1950s, Steak Diane made its first appearance either at the The Drake Hotel, the Sherry-Netherland Hotel or the Colony Restaurant in New York City. Beniamino "Nino" Schiavon, an Italian-born chef who worked at the Drake Hotel. I do know that Steak Diane became a very popular dish for those who hobnobbed within New York's high society during the 1950s and 1960s.
The following is a recipe for the dish from celebrity chef, Emeril Lagassee:
4 (3-ounce) filet mignon medallions
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 teaspoons minced shallots
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 cup sliced white mushroom caps
1/4 cup Cognac or brandy
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup reduced veal stock, recipe follows
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 drops hot red pepper sauce
1 tablespoon finely chopped green onions
1 teaspoon minced parsley leaves
Season the beef medallions on both sides with the salt and pepper. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meat and cook for 45 seconds on the first side. Turn and cook for 30 seconds on the second side. Add the shallots and garlic to the side of the pan and cook, stirring, for 20 seconds. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, until soft, 2 minutes. Place the meat on a plate and cover to keep warm.
Tilt the pan towards you and add the brandy. Tip the pan away from yourself and ignite the brandy with a match. (Alternatively, remove the pan from the heat to ignite, and then return to the heat.) When the flame has burned out, add the mustard and cream, mix thoroughly and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the veal stock and simmer for 1 minute. Add the Worcestershire and hot sauce and stir to combine. Return the meat and any accumulated juices to the pan and turn the meat to coat with the sauce.
Remove from the heat and stir in the green onions and parsley. Divide the medallions and sauce between 2 large plates and serve immediately.
Here is the recipe for the Reduced Veal Stock:
4 pounds veal bones with some meat attached, sawed into 2-inch pieces (have the butcher do this)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups coarsely chopped yellow onions
1 cup coarsely chopped carrots
1 cup coarsely chopped celery
5 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/4 cup tomato paste
6 quarts water
4 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups dry red wine
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Place the bones in a large roasting pan and toss with the oil. Roast, turning occasionally, until golden brown, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven and spread the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic over the bones. Smear the tomato paste over the vegetables and return the pan to the oven. Roast for another 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and pour off the fat from the pan.
Transfer the bones and vegetables to a large stockpot. Do not discard the juices in the roasting pan. Add the water, bay leaves, thyme, salt, and peppercorns to the stockpot and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, place the roasting pan over two burners on medium-high heat. Add the wine and stir with a heavy wooden spoon to deglaze and dislodge any browned bits clinging to the bottom of the pan. Add the contents to the stockpot. When the liquid returns to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 8 hours, skimming occasionally to remove any foam that rises to the surface.
Ladle through a fine-mesh strainer into a large clean pot. Bring to a boil, reduce to a gentle boil, and cook, uncovered, until reduced to 6 cups in volume, about 1 hour. Let cool, then cover and refrigerate overnight. Remove any congealed fat from the surface of the stock. The stock can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or frozen in airtight containers for up to 2 months.
Friday, April 26, 2013
Below are photos from the new biopic about 1930s aviatrix Amelia Earhart called "AMELIA". Directed by Mira Nair, the movie starred Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor and Christopher Eccleston:
"AMELIA" (2009) Photo Gallery
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
"WASHINGTON SQUARE" (1997) Review
I suspect there might be a good number of movie fans who have seen William Wyler’s 1949 movie, ”THE HEIRESS”. This film, which led to a second Academy Award for actress Olivia DeHavilland, was based upon both Henry James’ 1880 novel, ”Washington Square”, and the 1947 stage play of the same title. In 1997, another version of James’ novella appeared on the movie screens. Directed by Agnieszka Holland, ”WASHINGTON SQUARE” starred Jennifer Jason Leigh, Albert Finney, Ben Chaplin and Maggie Smith.
Anyone familiar with James’ tale should know that it told the story of one Catherine Sloper, the plain and awkward daughter of the wealthy Dr. Austin Sloper in antebellum Manhattan, who falls in love with a penniless, yet handsome young man named Morris Townsend against her father’s wishes. If one thinks about it, the plot sounds like a typical costumed weeper in which a pair of young lovers kept apart from outside forces – in this case, a disapproving parent. But James had added a few twists to make this story. One, the story kept many in the dark on whether the penniless Morris actually loved Catherine. Two, Dr. Sloper not only disapproved of Morris, but also harbored deep contempt and resentment toward his daughter’s plain looks and awkward social skills. Her crimes? Catherine’s birth had led to the death of his beloved wife. And his daughter failed to inherit her mother’s beauty and style. After a great of psychological warfare between Catherine, Dr. Sloper, Morris and Dr. Sloper’s sister Lavinia Penniman, the story ended on a surprising note for those who have never read the novel or seen any of the film or stage versions. Those familiar with the tale at least know that it ended on a note of personal triumph for the heroine.
Many movie fans and critics seemed incline to dismiss ”WASHINGTON SQUARE” as a poor remake of the 1949 film. I will not deny that in many respects, ”THE HEIRESS” is superior to ”WASHINGTON SQUARE”. However, I would not be inclined to dismiss the 1997 film as a failure. It still turned out to be a pretty damn good adaptation of James’ novel. In fact, it turned out to be a lot better than I had expected.
Jennifer Jason Leigh did an excellent job of portraying the shy and socially awkward Catherine Sloper. Even better, she managed to develop Catherine’s character from a shy woman to one who became more assured with herself. However, I do have one small quibble regarding Leigh’s performance. She had a tendency to indulge in unnecessary mannerisms that would rival both Bette Davis and Cate Blanchett.
Maggie Smith gave an illuminating performance as Catherine’s silly and romantically childish aunt, Lavinia Sloper Penniman. I found myself very impressed by Ben Chaplin’s portrayal of Catherine’s handsome and charming suitor, Morris Townsend. The actor struck a perfect balance of charm, impatience and ambiguity. And his verbal battles with Albert Finney’s character left me spellbound. Judith Ivey gave an intelligent performance as Catherine’s other aunt, the sensible and clever Elizabeth Sloper Almond. I especially enjoyed one scene that featured a debate between Catherine’s father and Aunt Elizabeth over her relationship with Morris.
But in my opinion, Albert Finney gave the best performance in the movie as Catherine’s aloof and slightly arrogant father, Dr. Austin Sloper. The interesting thing about Finney’s performance was that he able expressed Dr. Sloper’s concern he felt over the possibility of Catherine becoming the victim of a fortune hunter. At the same time, Finney perfectly balanced Sloper’s concern with the character’s lack of affection or warmth toward his daughter. My favorite scene with Finney featured an expression of disbelief on his face, as his character noticed Lavinia’s enthrallment over Catherine and Morris’ musical duet.
If there is one aspect of ”WASHINGTON SQUARE” that impressed me more than Wyler’s 1949 adaptation was Allan Starski’s production designs. Under Holland’s direction, Starski worked effectively with costume designer Anna B. Sheppard, Jerzy Zielinski’s photography and the visual effects supervised by Pascal Charpentier to transport moviegoers back to antebellum New York City. In fact, the movie’s late 1840s setting struck me as superior to that shown in the 1949 movie. And because of this, the movie managed to avoid the feeling of a filmed play.
Holland and screenwriter Carol Doyle’s adaptation of James’ novel seemed a lot closer to the original source than the earlier version. At least the movie’s last twenty minutes adhered closer to the novel. I suspect that the movie’s first ten to fifteen minutes – which focused upon an embarrassing childhood incident regarding Catherine and her father’s birthday party – had been the screenwriter’s invention. Personally, I found this sequence rather unnecessary. Doyle could have easily used brief dialogue to reveal the origin of Dr. Sloper’s coldness toward Catherine. But in the end, Doyle’s screenplay basically followed James’ novel.
But after watching the movie’s last twenty minutes, I found myself wishing that Doyle and Holland had followed Wyler’s adaptation and the 1947 stage play. The movie nearly fell apart in the last twenty minutes, thanks to a decision on Holland’s part. Most of the dramatic moments in ”WASHINGTON SQUARE” appeared in the last half hour – Catherine’s realization of her father’s dislike, Morris’ rejection of her after discovering her decision to endanger her inheritance, Dr. Sloper’s death, the reading of his will and Morris’ second attempt to woo Catherine. Out of all these scenes, only Catherine’s reaction to her father’s will generated any real on-screen dramatics. All of the other moments were performed with a subtlety that robbed filmgoers of any real drama. The fact that I could barely stay awake during Catherine’s final rejection of Morris told me that Holland made a serious mistake in guiding her cast to portray these scenes in a realistic manner. There is a time for realism and there is a time for dramatic flair. And in my opinion, those final scenes in the last half hour demanded dramatic flair.
Despite my disappointments in the movie’s last half hour, I must admit that I managed to enjoy ”WASHINGTON SQUARE”. It may not have been just as good as or superior to 1949’s ”THE HEIRESS”. But I believe that it still turned out to be a pretty damn good movie.
Saturday, April 20, 2013
Below is a look at the fictional rogues - male and female - created by Jane Austen in the six published novels written by her. So, without further ado . . .
JANE AUSTEN'S ROGUE GALLERY
John Willoughby - "Sense and Sensibility" (1811)
John Willoughby is a handsome young single man with a small estate, but has expectations of inheriting his aunt's large estate. Also, Willoughby driven by the his own pleasures, whether amusing himself with whatever woman crossed his path, or via marrying in order to obtain wealth to fuel his profligate ways. He does not value emotional connection and is willing to give up Marianne Dashwood, his true love, for more worldly objects. Although not my favorite rogue, I feel that Willoughby is Austen's most successful rogue, because he was able to feel remorse and regret for his rejection of Marianne by the end of the story. This makes him one of Austen's most complex rogues. Here are the actors that portrayed John Willoughby:
1. Clive Francis (1971) - I must admit that I did not find him particularly memorable as Willoughby. In fact, my memories of his performance is very vague.
2. Peter Woodward (1981) - I first became aware of Woodward during his brief stint on the sci-fi series, "CRUSADE". He was also slightly memorable as Willoughby, although I did not find his take on the character as particularly roguish. His last scene may have been a bit hammy, but otherwise, I found him tolerable.
3. Greg Wise (1995) - He was the first actor I saw portray Willoughby . . . and he remains my favorite. His Willoughby was both dashing and a little bit cruel. And I loved that he managed to conveyed the character's regret over rejecting Marianne without any dialogue whatsoever.
4. Dominic Cooper (2008) - Many television critics made a big deal about his portrayal of Willoughby, but I honestly did not see the magic. However, I must admit that he gave a pretty good performance, even if his Willoughby came off as a bit insidious at times.
George Wickham - "Pride and Prejudice" (1813)
George Wickham is an old childhood friend of hero Fitzwilliam Darcy and the son of the Darcy family's steward, whose dissipate ways estranged the pair. He is introduced into the story as a handsome and superficially charming commissioned militia officer in Meryton, who quickly charms and befriends the heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, after learning of her dislike of Darcy. Wickham manages to charm the entire Meryton neighborhood, before they realize that they have a snake in their midst. Elizabeth eventually learns of Wickham's attempt to elope with the young Georgiana Darcy. Unfortunately, he manages to do the same with her younger sister, Lydia, endangering the Bennet family's reputation. He could have been the best of Austen's rogues, if it were not for his stupid decision to elope with Lydia, a young woman whose family would be unable to provide him with a well-endowed dowry. Because I certainly cannot see him choosing him as a traveling bed mate, while he evade creditors. Here are the actors that portrayed George Wickham:
1. Edward Ashley-Cooper (1940) - This Australian actor was surprisingly effective as the smooth talking Wickham. He was handsome, charming, witty and insidious. I am surprised that his portrayal is not that well known.
2. Peter Settelen (1980) - He made a charming Wickham, but his performance came off as a bit too jovial for me to take him seriously as a rogue.
3. Adrian Lukis (1995) - His Wickham is, without a doubt, is my favorite take on the character. He is not as handsome as the other actors who have portrayed the role; but he conveyed all of the character's attributes with sheer perfection.
4. Rupert Friend (2005) - I think that he was hampered by director Joe Wright's script and failed to become an effective Wickham. In fact, I found his portrayal almost a waste of time.
Henry Crawford - "Mansfield Park" (1814)
I think that one of the reasons I have such difficulties in enjoying "MANSFIELD PARK" is that I found Austen's portrayal of the roguish Henry Crawford rather uneven. He is originally portrayed as a ladies' man who takes pleasure in seducing women. But after courting heroine Fanny Price, he falls genuinely in love with her and successfully manages to mend his ways. But Fanny's rejection of him (due to her love of cousin Edmund Bertram) lead him to begin an affair with Edmund's sister, Maria Rushworth and is labeled permanently by Austen as a reprobate. This entire storyline failed to alienate me toward Henry. I just felt sorry for him, because Fanny was not honest enough to reveal why she had rejected him. Here are the actors that portrayed Henry Crawford:
1. Robert Burbage (1983) - As I had stated in a review of the 1983 miniseries, I thought his take on Henry Crawford reminded me of an earnest schoolboy trying to act like a seducer. Sorry, but I was not impressed.
2. Alessandro Nivola (1999) - In my opinion, his portrayal of Henry was the best. He managed to convey the seductive qualities of the character, his gradual transformation into an earnest lover and the anger he felt at being rejected. Superb performance.
3. Joseph Beattie (2007) - His performance was pretty solid and convincing. However, there were a few moments when his Henry felt more like a stalker than a seducer. But in the end, he gave a pretty good performance.
Mary Crawford - "Mansfield Park" (1814)
Ah yes! Mary Crawford. I never could understand why Jane Austen eventually painted her as a villainess (or semi-villainess) in "MANSFIELD PARK". As the sister of Henry Crawford, she shared his tastes for urbane airs, tastes, wit (both tasteful and ribald) and an interest in courtship. She also took an unexpected shine to the shy Fanny Price, while falling in love with the likes of Edmund Bertram. However, Edmund planned to become a clergyman, something she could not abide. Mary was not perfect. She could be superficial at times and a bit too manipulative for her own good. If I must be honest, she reminds me too much of Dolly Levi, instead of a woman of low morals. Here are the actresses who portrayed Mary Crawford:
1. Jackie Smith-Wood (1983) - She gave a delightful and complex performance as Mary Crawford. I practically found myself wishing that "MANSFIELD PARK" had been a completely different story, with her as the heroine. Oh well. We cannot have everything.
2. Embeth Davidtz (1999) - Her portrayal of Mary was just as delightful and complex as Smith-Wood. Unfortunately for the actress, writer-director Patricia Rozema wrote a scene that featured a ridiculous and heavy-handed downfall for Mary. Despite that, she was still superb and held her own against Frances O'Connor's more livelier Fanny.
3. Hayley Atwell (2007) - After seeing her performance as Mary, I began to suspect that any actress worth her salt can do wonders with the role. This actress was one of the bright spots in the 2007 lowly regarded version of Austen's novel. Mind you, her portrayal was a little darker than the other two, but I still enjoyed her portrayal.
Frank Churchill - "Emma" (1815)
Frank Churchill was the son of one of Emma Woodhouse's neighbors by a previous marriage. He was an amiable young man whom everyone, except Mr. George Knightley, who considered him quite immature. After his mother's death he was raised by his wealthy aunt and uncle, whose last name he took. Frank may be viewed simply as careless, shallow, and little bit cruel in his mock disregard for his real fiancee, Jane Fairfax. But I find it difficult to view him as a villain. Here are the actors who portrayed Frank Churchill:
1. Robert East (1972) - It is hard to believe that this actor was 39-40 years old, when he portrayed Frank Churchill in this miniseries. He did a pretty good job, but there were a few moments when his performance seemed a bit uneven.
2. Ewan McGregor (1996) - He did a pretty good job, but his performance was hampered by Douglas McGrath's script, which only focused upon Frank's efforts to hide his engagement to Jane Fairfax.
3. Raymond Coulthard (1996-97) - In my opinion, he gave the best performance as Frank. The actor captured all of the character's charm, humor, and perversity on a very subtle level.
4. Rupert Evans (2009) - He was pretty good as Frank, but there were times when his performance became a little heavy-handed, especially in later scenes that featured Frank's frustrations in hiding his engagement to Jane Fairfax.
John Thorpe - "Northanger Abbey" (1817)
I would view John Thorpe as Jane Austen's least successful rogue. I do not if I could even call him a rogue. He seemed so coarse, ill-mannered and not very bright. With his flashy wardrobe and penchant for mild profanity, I have doubts that he could attract any female, including one that was desperate for a husband. And his joke on Catherine Moreland seemed so . . . unnecessary. Here are the actors that portrayed John Thorpe:
1. Jonathan Coy (1986) - He basically did a good job with the character he was given. Although there were moments when his John Thorpe seemed more like an abusive stalker than the loser he truly was.
2. William Beck (2007) - I admit that physically, he looks a little creepy. But the actor did a first-rate job in portraying Thorpe as the crude loser he was portrayed in Austen's novel.
Isabella Thorpe - "Northanger Abbey" (1817)
The lovely Isabella Thorpe was a different kettle of fish than her brother. She had ten times the charms and probably the brains. Her problem was that her libido brought her down the moment she clapped eyes on Captain Frederick Tilney. And this is what ended her friendship with heroine Catherine Moreland, considering that she was engaged to the latter's brother. Here are the actresses who portrayed Isabella Thorpe:
1. Cassie Stuart (1986) - She did a pretty good job as Isabella, even if there were moments when she came off as a bit . . . well, theatrical. I only wish that the one of the crew had taken it easy with her makeup.
2. Carey Mulligan (2007) - She gave a first-rate performance as Isabella, conveying all of the character's charm, intelligence and weaknesses. It was a very good performance.
William Elliot - "Persuasion" (1818)
William Elliot is a cousin of heroine Anne Elliot and the heir presumptive of her father, Sir Walter. He became etranged from the family when he wed a woman of much lower social rank, for her fortune. Sir Walter and Elizabeth had hoped William would marry the latter. After becoming a widower, he mended his relationship with the Elliots and attempted to court Anne in the hopes of inheriting the Elliot baronetcy and ensuring that Sir Walter never marries Mrs. Penelope Clay, Elizabeth Elliot's companion. He was an interesting character, but his agenda regarding Sir Walter's title and estates struck me as irrelevant. Sir Walter could have easily found another woman to marry and conceive a male heir. "PERSUASION" could have been a better story without a rogue/villain. Here are the actors that portrayed William Elliot:
1. David Savile (1971) - He made a pretty good William Elliot. However, there were times when his character switched from a jovial personality to a seductive one in an uneven manner.
2. Samuel West (1995) - His portrayal of William Elliot is probably the best I have ever seen. He conveyed all aspects of William's character - both the good and bad - with seamless skill. My only problem with his characterization is that the screenwriter made his William financially broke. And instead of finding another rich wife, this William tries to court Anne to keep a close eye on Sir Walter and Mrs. Clay. Ridiculous.
3. Tobias Menzies (2007) - I found his portrayal of William Elliot to be a mixed affair. There were moments that his performance seemed pretty good. Unfortunately, there were more wooden moments from the actor than decent ones.