Food and Film: Babette’s Feast

I personally find food-focused films hit or miss – not much in the grey area. The great films of this genre are few and far between, but it seems like the most successful of them all seem to have one thing in common: a focus on how food nourishes ourselves, our spirits, and our connections with one another beyond the table. Whether it is the act of preparing the food, the act of sharing it with others, or just savoring a few bites on our own palate, there is something to gastronomy that taps into parts of us that have nothing to do with the tongue or stomach.

I’ll admit that I cry every time I watch Ratatouille.
I think Toast is a sheer delight.
The Hundred-Foot Journey is flawed, but lovely.

I watched Babette’s Feast (or Babettes gæstebud) after years of hearing that it is the foodiest foodie film of all time. Anyone who knows me knows that I really try to avoid anything that is hyped too much and that an almost sure-fire way of getting me to NOT watch/read/listen to something is to tell me that I HAVE to. But no one really did that to me with this film. I’ve known it to be a paragon of food cinema only through articles and lists I’ve read over the years in books and magazines and on internet lists. My expectations were tepid.

It’s a “foreign film” from a time (1987) when they were only shown in art houses or on obscure television channels/PBS. I thought it might be too precious or take itself too seriously and ultimately be a disappointment. It is at times too precious and always takes itself too seriously, but it is also funny, and sweet, and touching, and lovely. I think it’s a movie to watch on your own or with someone you know is able to handle a slow burn and quirky storytelling, but I encourage any food lover (especially those who love French food) to take a break from life and lose yourself in this movie for a couple of hours. I watched it by myself over coffee and breakfast on a rainy summer morning and I think that might be the best way to see it.

I’m always looking for suggestions for films about food, so if you have some, please comment!

Hamburger Soup: Redux

When I talked to my mom over the weekend, she said they had a cold snap back in Pennsylvania and that she was planning to make Hamburger Soup – a dish that immediately takes me back to my childhood. There’s something that seems a little low-brow about it, but I can’t figure out why; all the ingredients are pretty standard healthy, whole foods. I guess it is because it’s simple and you can throw it together in a snap, but aren’t so many great recipes like that? There’s absolutely no trick to this soup and it never fails to make me happy.

I made a few minor upgrades from mom’s version: ground chicken/turkey instead of beef, fresh vegetables wherever possible (instead of canned or frozen), and chicken stock instead of plain water. Feel free to add seasonings as you like – I use some dried oregano and basil, but I think paprika, a little chili powder and any seasoning salt blends you like would be welcome here. Think of how you want your perfect vegetable soup to taste and go with that inspiration.

In my opinion, this is the perfect soup to transition from summer to autumn. Make extra; it always tastes better after sitting in the fridge overnight.

Heat 2-3 TBSPs of olive oil over medium-high heat in a big soup pot until shimmering, but not smoking. Add 1 pound of ground chicken, turkey, or beef and cook/stir until brown an crumbly. Add 1 medium onion, diced; 2 medium carrots, diced; and 3 stalks of celery, diced. Stir to combine, season generously with salt, and saute until vegetables begin to soften. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste, along with any herbs/seasonings you like. Next, add a large can of diced tomatoes, along with all the liquid, and 4+ cups of chicken, beef, or vegetable stock (homemade, if possible); just add enough to bring it up to “soup” consistency. Again, stir to combine and bring to a simmer. At this point, I add fresh or frozen corn and lima beans because that’s what my mom always did, but you can add any vegetables you like. Simmer for about 15 minutes, or longer, if you aren’t in a rush. This is the kind of soup that I tend to let sit out on the stove for awhile to cool after I eat, but I always go back for a second (or third) helping.

Simplest Strawberry Ice Cream

I’ll keep this post as simple as this recipe. I love ice cream. Chocolate is almost always my default, but when I make the time to make my own, I tend to gravitate to whatever fruits are in season. While strawberries are not technically in season right now, I feel like they are more in season now that in, say, November. I went all organic on these ingredients, but I am not convinced that that had any significant effect on the flavor. All I know is that this is easy, delicious, and sure to please. Looking forward to trying this with peaches and other berries before the weather turns frosty and I turn to bread pudding.

Clean and slice a pound of strawberries into the size you would want to eat in ice cream into a large, non-reactive bowl. Squeeze a little lemon juice over them (no more than a teaspoon). Mix in ½ cup of sugar and let stand for at least 10 minutes, up to 30 minutes, if you have time. Place ½ to ¾ of the fruit mixture in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Add two cups of heavy cream and pulse to combine (be careful NOT to whip it/whip it good). Stir in the remaining fruit and transfer to a container and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or overnight, if possible. Freeze according to your ice cream maker instructions. For this one, try to remove the ice cream from the maker just as soon as it sets and isn’t too freezy. Particularly good for breakfast.