Monday, May 30, 2011

Baked Potato Bar

This is less a recipe than a fun idea for something to do with leftover chili!  This creates a lot of options for different types of eaters - for instance, I had broccoli, turkey chili, and sour cream on my potato. Kyle had butter, Velveeta cheese sauce, turkey chili, bacon, and regular cheese.  You can see a photo of his heart attack meal below.

Baked Potatoes

Suggested Toppings:
Sour Cream
Velveeta Cheese Sauce
Shredded Cheese

Make sure to bake the potatoes in the oven. Yes, you can make them in the microwave in a fraction of the time, but the skins won't be crispy and the potato won't be as delicious.  It takes about 50 minutes to bake them in the oven.

For the Velveeta cheese sauce, you will simply need to slice off a cube of that strange, oddly jiggly substance, and melt it in a sauce pan with some milk.  For my cheese sauce, I used about half a block of Velveeta and 1/2 a cup of milk, which made an unnecessarily enormous quantity of cheese sauce.  So, you might want to try using l/3 or 1/4 of the cheese block and less milk.  The cheese sauce can also be used on the broccoli by itself.

For the bacon, I simply cooked it until it was crispy, drained it on paper towels, and crumbled it.  And as far as the chili, everyone has their own recipe for that, so you are on your own there.

Kyle's loaded potato - a masterpiece of cheese:

Friday, May 27, 2011

Mexican Lime Jerky

Yes, it's true, you can make your own beef jerky!  I've made a teriyaki flavor before, which was pretty good, but when I saw this recipe, I knew it would probably be even better.  If you like spicy food, anyway.

2 large jalapeños, halved, but not seeded
1 cup fresh lime juice
1 quart light Mexican beer, such as Corona or Pacifico
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 pounds trimmed beef top round or bottom round, about 1 1/2 inches thick
Kosher salt, for sprinkling before drying the meat
Black pepper


Start by making the marinade.  Using a blender or food processor, puree the jalapeños along with 1/4 cup of the lime juice. Transfer the puree to a large bowl, then stir in the beer, soy sauce, and remaining 3/4 cup of lime juice.

Next, take the beef and cut it into 1/4-inch-thick slices.  I would suggest pounding the meat out with a meat tenderizer first if possible, this will make it thinner and more like the jerky you buy in the store.  But, if you want it thicker and more like "nuggets", then don't bother!

Add the beef to the marinade, stirring well to coat each slice. Cover and refrigerate for 6 to 8 hours.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.  Remove the beef from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Arrange the beef on foil covered cookie sheets. Sprinkle liberally with kosher salt and lightly with the black pepper.  Bake for about 4 hours, until the jerky is firm and almost completely dry, but still chewy.

Let cool completely before serving. Once done, The beef jerky can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 6 weeks.

Tips - There are plenty of different recipes out there, so if you like beef jerky but don't like jalapeños (what are you, nuts?!), you can omit those or try a different flavor profile.  This is also good if you add a bit of sugar.  The longer you marinate it (overnight is good!), the more flavor the jerky will take on.  Also, two pounds may sound like a lot, but you lose about 50% or more in the drying process, so it really doesn't make as much as you might expect.  Good luck!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Jolly Rancher Vodka

Recently, I had the idea of infusing my own liquor and was planning to do a fruit infusion.  As occasionally happens, I stumbled into a bar, had a conversation with a bartender, and found out something incredible. Well, at least, in my drunken state, it seemed incredible!  The bartender told me that the "newest thing" is to infuse liquor with candy.

I immediately consulted the World Wide Web, and discovered that candy infused vodkas are very popular, particularly Skittles and Jolly Rancher.  Who knew?!  It sounded so delicious that I immediately invested in a large quantity of vodka (Smirnoff) and Jolly Ranchers.

1.75 liter bottle of vodka
3.75 lb bag of Jolly Ranchers
5 glass bottles with stoppers

You can modify this recipe to whichever bottles you get (there are many different sizes and shapes available). 
The bottles I got were 17.5 oz capacity and cost less than $5 each

Here's where I purchased the bottles:
The vodka doesn't need to be expensive– the Jolly Rancher flavor should smooth out any cheap vodka bumps!  I used 24 Jolly Ranchers for each flavor.  Note - the flavors in each bag are totally random.  The first couple of small bags I bought had a disproportionate amount of watermelon and blue raspberry, which is why it is smart to just get the big bag, which has around 40 of each flavor.  That way you'll have plenty of leftover Jolly Ranchers, for eating or future infusions.
Start by unwrapping and separating the Jolly Ranchers by flavor.  The five flavors are apple, cherry, grape, blue raspberry, and watermelon. This is literally the most time consuming and difficult part.  Once you've unwrapped the first 100 or so, you might be exhausted!  But don't worry, you're nearly done.  Drop the separated candies into each individual flask.

Next, pour in the vodka.  You can use a funnel or just be careful not to spill!  Fill each bottle to nearly the top of the neck.  The vodka will begin to take on the color of the Jolly Ranchers immediately, as it begins breaking down the candy.
Put your flasks into the refrigerator and let them chill for a couple of hours. Return to shake every few hours, to encourage the candy to dissolve.  The flasks should be ready in 10-24 hours - the more you shake it, the faster the candy disappears.  It is actually a little disconcerting how fast they dissolve.... it makes you wonder what vodka does inside your stomach!
I made mine during the day, and they were ready the very next evening.  Luckily I had the common sense to stop on the way home and get a bottle of Sprite! 
These look very pretty when they are finished and would make great gifts.  I am planning to label a few bottles for that very purpose.
They are also incredibly delicious, so another option is to keep them all for yourself!  When they were ready, we tried all of the flavors and argued over which was the tastiest.  Major contenders were watermelon and the green apple, but honestly it's hard to choose because they all taste so intense.  Yum!
Be careful though - it honestly tastes so good, it is easy to forget that it's basically pure vodka.... which can lead to headaches, nausea, and unexpected sick days!
You can mix any of the flavors with club soda, 7-up or Sprite, or just serve over ice.  Or make a martini!  Either way, I suggest keeping the vodka chilled, cause it just tastes so much better that way.

Other variations on the recipe that I saw used rum or tequila instead of vodka, but that seems like it would interfere with the flavor of the candy.

All in all, this was a fun, easy, and cheap project that resulted in a delicious, drunken night.  I am planning to experiment with Skittles next, before I move on to something sophisticated and adult (snooze!) like fruit.  Cheers!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Chile Relleno with Ranchero Sauce

I don't usually order chile rellenos in restaurants, even though I like them, because often times I find them to be greasy. Cooking them at home solves this problem!  This is tasty and can be served with or without the sauce, as an appetizer, or an entrée.

4 poblano peppers
1 pound queso fresco cheese
3 eggs
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup oil

Ranchero sauce:
3 cups diced tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup chopped onion
jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons cooking oil

Char the poblano peppers at high heat either on the grill, or in the oven, whichever is more convenient.  Either way, coat with a bit of olive oil first.  Grill and char the peppers on both sides. Once blackened, place in a plastic bag for 10 minutes to sweat out any moisture. Then slice the peppers down the middle and remove the seeds, leaving the tops attached.  Stuff the peppers with strips of the queso fresco, using toothpicks to close the peppers back up.

Separate the egg yolks from the whites. Add the egg whites to a large bowl. Reserve the yolks. Beat the egg whites until they fluff up. Add the flour and yolks and mix well.

For the sauce - start by heating the oil.  Cook the garlic, jalapeño and onions for 2-3 minutes. Reduce the heat and add the tomatoes, cilantro, and tomato sauce. Then add the seasonings and simmer for about 5 more minutes. Serve the sauce chunky, as is, or let it cool and then blend it.

Add oil to a frying pan over medium heat. Dip the stuffed peppers into the batter and fry until golden brown on both sides. Remove from the oil, sprinkle lightly with salt and move to a serving platter.  Pour the tomato sauce over the cooked chile rellenos on the serving platter and serve.

Tips:  Other variations include adding beans or rice to the inside when stuffing, or swapping out the cheese for something more exotic. Spicy!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Brown Butter Brownies

My good friend Mark gave me this recipe, which was odd, because the most difficult thing I've ever seen him cook is a hot dog.  But, he claimed these brownies were as addictive as crack, so I thought I'd give it a try.  Browning the butter did change the flavor in a very interesting way - it gave them an almost nutty, caramelized flavor. Delightful!

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9 x 9 pan with nonstick spray. Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Continue cooking, stirring often, until the butter stops foaming and browned bits form at the bottom of the pan.  Remove from heat and immediately add sugar, cocoa, vanilla, and salt. Stir to blend. Let cool about 5 minutes (the mixture will still be hot). Add the eggs one at a time, beating vigorously to blend after each addition. When mixture looks thick and shiny, add the flour and stir until blended.  Transfer the batter to prepared pan.

Bake brownies until a knife or toothpick inserted into the center comes out almost clean, about 25 minutes. Cool in pan before cutting, then serve.

Tips: It really depends on your oven how long these will need to cook - my oven cooks pretty low, so I had to leave them in there for 40 minutes.  The brownies will be softer than normal because there isn't much flour in them. Enjoy!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Throw a Rock Band Party

Last year, for Kyle's birthday, he didn't want a big shindig.  So, I just flew two people in from out of town to surprise him, made a cake shaped like a guitar, and gave him a Rock Band party!  I did honor his wishes in a small way, by only inviting about 10 people.
Kyle's friend Sean flew in from California.  I pretended to have plans and went to pick him up from the airport.  On the way back to the apartment, I had a brilliant idea to dress him up like a present, so we stopped and bought some wrapping paper and ribbons and bows.  Sean lay down on the floor in front of our door, covered in paper and embellishments.  Needless to say, when Kyle answered, he was quite startled.
I decorated the cake exactly like Kyle's bass.  This was not an easy cake to conceal all day!
I also flew in my beloved brother Lee.  When we first bought Rock Band, he was a legendary member of our band (Leah Jean & the Rippers!), so we couldn't have the party without him!
My friend Kate and I dressed up for the occasion.  Finally, an opportunity to wear the leather leggings I had bought on a whim months before!  And the sequin vest, ahem - don't ask, I have crazy ideas about the sort of items that need to be added to my wardrobe.
As you can see from the pics, we pretty much all enjoy a chance to dress up like fools.
I also got a pinata for the event.  They didn't have anything with the proper theme, so I got a winking pirate. Also, since it was the dead of winter, we had to do this in the dining room!
The pinata didn't last very long...
Then we had a little dance party.
And finally, the main event, the game!
Rock and roll will never die.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Citrus Shrimp Tacos with Southwest Cream Sauce

If you want to add more heat, you can adjust the amount of cayenne pepper.

1 pound large shrimp
10 wooden skewers (soak for 10 mins before using)
1 tsp chili powder 
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup lime juice
3 tablespoons lemon juice
8 corn tortillas, warmed
Fresh chopped cilantro for optional garnish

For Southwest Cream Sauce:
1 (16-oz.) container sour cream
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Thread shrimp onto skewers.  Combine seasonings and garlic in a long shallow dish; add lime juice, lemon juice, and shrimp, turning to coat. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes. Remove shrimp from marinade and pat dry with paper towels.

Heat grill to 400 degrees or medium-high.  Grill shrimp 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until shrimp turn pink.  Remove shrimp from skewers and remove and discard tails. Serve in warm tortillas with the cream sauce and garnish with fresh cilantro, if desired.

For cream sauce: Whisk together all of the ingredients until smooth. Cover and chill until ready to serve.  Makes about 2 cups.

Tips:  The recipe for the sauce makes quite a bit, so that could be cut in half, though it is pretty tasty, so the other option is to use the leftover sauce as a salad dressing.  Also, if you don't have access to a grill, you can omit the skewers and cook the shrimp in a grill pan on high heat.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Leah's Pepperoni Pizza Rolls

These are easy to make, and taste much better than the frozen ones!

Vegetable oil for frying
1 egg
3 tablespoons water
1 squeeze bottle of pizza sauce
1 package sliced pepperoni
1 package string cheese
1 package won ton wrappers


Heat oil in a deep-fryer or large pan on medium high.  Whisk egg and water together in a small bowl.

Remove the string cheese from the individual packages and slice each one in half.  Set a few won ton wrappers on a cutting board.  Lightly brush the wrapper edges with the egg mixture. Squeeze a dab of pizza sauce onto one corner of each won ton.  Place one slice of pepperoni on top of it, and place the string cheese diagonally over that.  

Fold both sides over the edge of the string cheese, and then roll the won ton from the corner, like a burrito. Repeat with remaining wrappers.  Fry the pizza rolls in batches until crisp and golden brown, about 5 minutes.  Remove from pan and place on paper towels to drain, then sprinkle lightly with salt.

Serve with additional pizza sauce for dipping - yum!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Meatball Nirvana

I found this recipe online - it was touted as "the perfect meatball".  I've made meatballs using many different recipes, and I do think this one is as good as it gets.  I did make a few changes, of course!

1 pound lean ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp garlic salt
2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 1/2 tsp dried basil
3 dashes hot red pepper sauce
3 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1 egg
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup bread crumbs


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place the meat into a mixing bowl, and add the seasonings, hot pepper sauce, and Worcestershire sauce; mix well. Add the egg, Parmesan cheese, and bread crumbs. Mix until evenly blended, then form into 1 1/2-inch meatballs, and place onto a baking sheet.

Bake in the preheated oven until no longer pink in the center, 20 to 25 minutes.

Tips - If you turn the meatballs over halfway through the cooking process, they will get browned on both sides.  You can also cook these in a frying pan, if you want them to be more seared on the outside. These meatballs have a very intense flavor (salty, savory, spicy!) and will work well in pretty much any sauce, as an appetizer or main course.  Enjoy!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Caribbean Jerk Pork Chops

This is really good on the grill, but you can also cook it on the stove - just make sure to get the heat really high, to get that delicious sear on the outside.


2 boneless pork chops

Jerk Marinade: 
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 jalapeno (for less heat, remove the core and seeds) 
4 garlic cloves
6 green onions, root removed 
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 teaspoon ground allspice 
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper 
1 tablespoon lemon juice

In a food processor or blender, add the marinade ingredients and process until the ingredients are fully liquefied.  Taste and add seasoning if necessary - it should be relatively hot, to retain any of the spiciness after cooking, so you may want to add a dash of cayenne if it doesn't seem hot enough.

Marinate the chops in the sauce for at least 30 minutes or up to 6 hours.

When ready to cook, remove the chops from the sauce and discard.  Pat dry with paper towels on each side.  Grill the pork on medium-high heat for about 4 minutes per side, or until just cooked through.  Let rest for about 5 minutes, then serve.

Tips -   I like to reserve a bit of the sauce before I marinate the raw meat in it, and serve it on the side.  Also, I've seen various other things added to this marinade, so if you want to switch it up, you could add pineapple, or brown sugar, or an extra jalapeno to make it even more spicy.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Raspberry Crepes with Berries & Cream

My boyfriend Kyle invented this recipe. It's a lovely summer dessert and doesn't take long to prepare at all.

Pancake batter (follow instructions from whichever brand you use)
1 tbsp butter
3 tsp raspberry extract
Red food coloring
1 tbsp white sugar
1 cup whipped cream
1 cup chocolate chips
Assorted berries (strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, etc)


Make about 1 cup of pancake batter according to the directions on the package. Add the raspberry extract, white sugar, and about 4-6 drops of red food coloring (batter should turn a medium pink). Taste the batter, and if it isn't quite sweet enough, or doesn't have enough raspberry flavoring, adjust those ingredients to your liking.

Grease a hot pan with a little dab of butter and drop pancake batter by small spoonfulls onto the pan, to make silver dollar sized pancakes. Keep doing this until you have used the batter up and made a decent sized pile.

Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave on low heat, stirring occasionally. Wash and dry the berries you plan to use.

To assemble, make a small pile of pancakes, drizzle with chocolate, surround with berries, and top with whipped cream. Hooray!

Tips - this would work with any flavored extract, I've tried almond and also banana. You could also top with caramel or sprinkle with coconut.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Spicy Chicken Tortilla Soup

I like to put this soup in a crockpot and cook it all day while I'm at work (I usually get it ready in the pot the night before, stick it in the fridge and then just turn it on before I leave). You can omit the chicken if you want to serve it as an appetizer and/or for vegetarians.

1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (10.5 ounce) can condensed chicken broth
1 1/2 cups corn kernels (fresh are better, but frozen or canned will work!)
1 (4 ounce) can chopped green chile peppers
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 can garbanzo beans
1/2 can pinto beans
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 boneless chicken breasts, cooked and cut into bite-sized pieces
salt & pepper to taste
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese 

Garnishes (optional) - tortilla strips, lime wedge, cilantro, avocado....

Crockpot Directions:   You can put all of the ingredients in the pot with the exception of the chicken, set it to low or medium, and let it cook for around 3-4 hours (or up to infinity).   

For the chicken, season it with a little salt and pepper, then sear it in olive oil until just browned on each side (about 5 mins).  It won't be cooked all the way through, but that doesn't matter, you are just doing this for flavor and texture.  Let it rest on paper towels to drain, then add to the pot.  You can actually skip this step if you are in a rush, but I don't recommend throwing the chicken in without browning it slightly - it will taste okay, but bland.  Ladle the hot soup into serving bowls, and top with cheese, tortilla strips, and any additional garnishes.

Tips -  You can easily make your own tortilla garnish by slicing a few tortillas into strips and quickly frying them in a pan with a bit of oil.  Drain, sprinkle with salt, and voilà - much tastier than store bought!  I serve this in mini trifle bowls... cause it looks cute.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Smoky Bacon & Egg Grilled Cheese

Another gem from the folks at Top Chef. They called this the "midnight bachelor sandwich". Not to be eaten frequently for the sake of your arteries, but delightfully salty and satisfying!


1/2 pound thick sliced hickory smoked bacon

4 slices of french bread, cut at an angle

1/2 Granny Smith apple, finely sliced

1/2 pound aged white cheddar, sliced

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

2 eggs


The recipe called for this to be cooked on a griddle, which, believe it or not, I don't have. I used a grill pan instead and it turned out just lovely.

Turn your griddle (or grill pan) to high heat. Lay slices of bacon flat in the pan. Cook until browned and crisp on each side, then remove to a paper towel lined plate to drain. I used about 3 slices of bacon per sandwich, but you could do more or less, depending on your level of hedonism.

Drain the grease from the pan and wipe down, then return to medium heat.

Place the bread on a cutting board and slice diagonally. Top with slices of cheese, the apples (if desired), and finally the bacon. Assemble the sandwiches, then smear the outside with butter on each side. Place the sandwiches on the pan that you cooked the bacon in. Gently press down on the sandwiches with the back of a spatula or top with a weight (such as another pan). Cook for 4-5 minutes per side until golden brown and the cheese is melted.

In a separate pan, add a little butter and set over medium heat. Crack eggs into the pan and fry gently for 3-4 minutes. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, then serve the egg on top of the bacon grilled cheese sandwich.

Tips - If the cheese doesn't melt all the way, you can throw the sandwich in the microwave on low power for a few seconds to finish it off. Also, the apple slices may sound strange, but the flavor works really well with the cheddar! Enjoy!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Perfect French Fry

This is a Top Chef recipe - restaurant quality french fries! It does take a bit of extra work but you won't believe how crispy they come out. You don't even need a deep fryer!

Russet Potatoes
Vegetable Oil

Begin by peeling potatoes (if you want, the skins have flavor/nutrients!) and slicing to desired thickness. Then rinse the sliced fries in water to wash off excess starch.

Heat a large pot of water and bring to a boil. Add about 3 tablespoons of salt. Blanch the potatoes in the boiling water and cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Remove from water and strain, then lay out in a flat layer and place in the freezer to cool and firm. If you have the freezer space you can do this on a cookie sheet - I don't, so I used paper plates and piled the plates on one another, which also worked just fine.

Have a Dutch oven filled 2/3rd of the way up with oil heated to 350-360 degrees. If you do not have an oil thermometer, I would just recommend heating the oil on high for about 10 minutes before using it to fry. Fry in batches so as to not overcrowd the pot and fry potatoes for just 2-3 minutes. The first time frying is to help develop a super crispy exterior. The fries will not be brown yet, but don't worry about that. Place back in the freezer to cool again. (At this point, you can stop and keep the fries in the freezer for later. If so, simply store in an airtight bag once frozen.)

Now the final step! Once the fries are firm (about 10-20 minutes) remove from the freezer and fry in the oil 4-5 minutes, until golden brown and super crispy. When done, remove with a wire strainer (or tongs) to a paper towel lined plate and season with salt immediately.

Tips: Use oil with a high smoking point, like canola oil, vegetable oil or peanut oil. Cut your potatoes to the same size, so they cook evenly, and make sure the potatoes are dry before putting them in the pan.

This is how restaurants do it. The best thing about it is that you can make these up to the last step, store them, and then enjoy the perfect french fry whenever you want!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Love of Film - Movies with Personal Reviews

For Christmas last year, Kyle and I made a creative gift for a friend of ours whose film collection, and viewing experience, was woefully limited.  We came up with a list of shared favorite films that we knew (or discovered!) that she hadn't seen, and each wrote reviews.
Then we bought the movies, attached a color review with each one, and presented this gift to to her, along with a popcorn maker (The Magic Popper, to be specific), and a selection of popcorn toppings.  It was a fun project that we put a lot of thought into, and she really enjoyed the gift!

The Darjeeling Limited
By Kyle - A road movie, of sorts, which chronicles the travels of three dysfunctional brothers.  The film captures the spirit of adventure found in the best travelogues, along with the deep emotional exploration of the best dramas.  And it's funny.         4 Stars

By Leah - If you haven't already experienced the haunting beauty of Adrien Brody's nose, this is a great place to start. This is a well written movie filled with unexpected laughter, melancholy, and fully realized characters, who remind you of the importance of friendship, family, and the fleeting joy of train travel.          4 Stars

Big Fish
By Kyle - A story of dreamers, lovers, fathers and sons, Big Fish is masterfully directed by the usually macabre Tim Burton. A story about storytelling, the film gracefully walks the line between fantasy and reality. This one is easy on the eyes and hard on the heart.  4 Stars

By Leah - At it's core, I think this movie is about love. Love of adventure, romance, family, and most importantly, life. I've never watched it without crying, and it always leaves me with a profound feeling of wonder and hope. Unique, moving, and beautiful both visually and emotionally, this movie is pure art.     5 Stars

The Departed
By Kyle - A damn good “cop movie” which transcends an often cliché genre. The story is told at a perfect pace, allowing the actors to develop realistic bonds and immersing the viewer in the world. A simple concept with great emotional complexity and depth.      5 Stars

By Leah - This film is a compelling character drama with great performances from all of the actors, even the caveman-faced Matt Damon. The movie moves along briskly, giving us nuanced characters, none of whose intentions are completely black and white. Leonardo DiCaprio gives the best performance of his career.    4 1/2 Stars

By Kyle - Whimsical and spirited, this film will appeal to the poet in you. Not your typical story, Amelie follows a girl with a very active imagination and desire to help others. This is a fun and romantic film worth reading subtitles for. And you can't discount the presence of the lovely Audrey Tautou.    4 1/2 Stars

By Leah - This movie had me at hello. A suicidal goldfish, a traveling gnome, and a handsome Frenchman who rides a motorcycle; how can you go wrong? The movie is funny, sweet, incredibly romantic, and makes you want to immediately move to Paris and meet a beautiful stranger.      4 Stars

Raising Arizona
By Kyle - Off-beat, quirky, oddball, these are all words that could be used to describe this early gem from the Coen Brothers (The Big Lewbowski, Fargo, No Country for Old Men), but none of those words do it justice. Nicolas Cage plays the pitch-perfect dumbass husband, while Holly Hunter tongue lashes him in her role as his demanding wife. The writing is smart and inarguably hilarious.  As the film progresses, the laughs give way to genuine emotion, but it never loses sight of its own absurdity.    4 1/2 Stars

By Leah - You may think that Nicholas Cage is a terrible actor, and these days you would be right, but in this film he gives an amazing comedic performance. This is one of the most intelligent, ridiculous and hilarious films around. I can never see it on television and not stop to watch a few minutes. Holly Hunter is also incredible as the type A, insanely needy, predictably desperate to procreate wife, who loses all interest in both law enforcement and housekeeping.  I love it.     4 3/4 Stars

I Heart Huckabees
By Kyle - A film that asks the deepest questions about life, and also tries to show you how those questions can be so damn funny. A break out performance for Mark Wahlberg, who steals the film despite the best efforts of the other excellent actors. Funny and philosophical.    4 Stars

By Leah - The movie is fresh, funny, and creative. Seasoned actors like Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin are finally given screen time, ageism be damned, and the movie is so well written that Jude Law almost seems like a real actor. This movie is undeniably hilarious.   5 Stars

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
By Kyle - Steve Martin and John Candy at their finest. Hilarity from the first seconds, this is a classic around our household. Packed with memorable and quotable scenes. Especially good around the holidays.    4 1/2 Stars

By Leah - The first time I saw this film, it was about 10 years after it came out. I'd never heard of it, never seen anything like it, and literally fell out of bed in ecstatic belly laughter. This is one of my favorite movies, so perhaps I'm a bit biased, but I think it is one of the funniest films of all time.   John Candy is pure comedy butter, and no one has ever used the word fuck in a more entertaining way than Steve Martin.    I hope you love it as much as I do.      5 Stars

Being John Malcovich
By Kyle - A brilliant film unlike anything you have ever seen. Cool, dirty, weird, hilarious, this film certainly marches to the beat of its own drummer, in a good way. When it came out, this movie was seen as something exciting and new. To date, I can still see its influence on other films and television shows.    4 1/2 Stars

By Leah - If this movie doesn't make you laugh, someone has stolen your funny bone. Charlie Kaufman, the writer, is a genius. The story is brilliant, incredibly inventive and endlessly entertaining. It is a true original.         4 3/4 Stars

By Kyle - Dark and dank, Seven is a psychological thriller with a heavy atmosphere. The real success of the film lies in the duality of Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman as the two lead roles. Smart and engrossing, this is a film that stays with you for a while.   4 Stars

By Leah - This is one of the first films where Brad Pitt began to be respected as a real actor. The moment the movie begins, you are lost within the madness. Thought provoking, intense, and inexorably headed toward a painful conclusion, this is a movie that is hard to turn away from, and hard to forget.       4 Stars

Waking the Dead
By Leah - Some people, especially those who live in my house, might call this a maudlin film.  I believe it is heartfelt, and beautifully romantic. Regardless, any film that features the blue eyed, black haired, gorgeous duo of Billy Crudup and Jennifer Connelly has something going for it.

Billy Crudup is a brilliant actor and gives a compelling performance as a man who may or may not be losing his mind. The first time I watched this film, I cried a river of tears and then sat right back down and watched it all the way through again.  3 3/4 Stars

Note - Kyle Masterson refused to review this film, citing irreconcilable differences.  

But he wanted me to mention that he edited these photos himself to add an artistic touch to the gift.