Create: Dinner and a Movie

Photography by Cindy Momchilov :: Styled by Muriel H. Wilkins


Research for this month’s recipes included re-watching a half dozen of my favorite films. The fact that googling “food films” yields a multitude of lists indicates just how intertwined food is with life. From “Ratatouille” to “Babette’s Feast,” over and again we see food as a metaphor: It is memory, friendship, community, pleasure, passion, home and sin. Food carries emotion and power. When you eat, a world of taste — and memories — emerges, whether it’s simple, such as a grilled cheese sandwich, more complex like boeuf bourguignon or sublime as in chocolate crème brulee.

Seared Scallops with Saffron Sauce from “No Reservations”

Chef Kate’s therapist tells her “the best recipes are the ones that you make yourself.” This one is a close second. Kate’s saffron sauce is delicate and rich and makes a lovely contrast to the scallops. Her “secret ingredient” is kaffir lime leaves.

Saffron Sauce


½ cup dry white wine
½ cup finely minced shallots
1 pinch saffron threads
1 kaffir lime leaf, crushed (optional)
2 tablespoons heavy cream
12 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, more to taste
one pinch salt, pepper


In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the wine and shallots over medium-high heat.  Bring to a simmer; reduce until about 2 tablespoons of liquid remain. Add the saffron, and if you choose to use it, the kaffir lime leaf. Reduce the heat to medium, and add the heavy cream, whisking briskly to combine. Do not allow the sauce to boil. Add the butter, a few pieces at a time, and whisk to melt and incorporate. When all of the butter has been added, strain the sauce through a fine mesh strainer into a clean pan over low heat. Add the lemon juice, a pinch of salt and a small pinch of pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning. If the sauce seems thick, thin it with a teaspoon of water. Remove from heat; keep warm in a 170-degree oven.

Seared Scallops and Assembly


12 sea scallops, rinsed, drained and patted dry
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
chives to garnish



Sear scallops

Sear scallops

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large, heavy skillet or stovetop grill, preferably cast iron, over high heat until shimmering. Add 6 scallops to the pan and sear on both sides, about 1½ minutes per side. Remove from pan; set aside in a warm place while you repeat with the remaining scallops. Sprinkle the scallops with lemon juice. 

Spoon 2 to 3 tablespoons of sauce onto each plate, then place 3 or 4 scallops on the sauce. Garnish with chives. Serve immediately. 

Serves 3 to 4. 

Note: Kaffir lime leaves are available online, in Little Rock, Ark., at Sam’s Oriental and in Bentonville, Ark., at Spice & Tea.

Adapted from the Los Angeles Times


Chocolate Crème Brulee with a nod to “Chocolat”

In “Chocolat,” Vianne says, “The Maya believed cacao held the power to unlock hidden yearnings and reveal destinies.” Well, sign me up. Crème brulee is not difficult – it has just six ingredients — and the key is in the technique. The hardest part for the first-time preparer is knowing when it is done. 


Chocolate Crème Brulee


5 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups heavy cream, divided
5 ounces bittersweet 60% chocolate
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
Fresh raspberries, strawberries,
mint to garnish


10 4-ounce ramekins
roasting pan large enough to hold all 10 ramekins without crowding
kitchen torch


Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Whisk egg yolks, sugar and vanilla until sugar dissolves and mixture is very smooth.  Heat ½ cup cream in a small saucepan, just until it’s steaming. Remove from heat. Add chocolate and stir until the chocolate is melted and thoroughly combined. Cool chocolate mixture slightly by slowly whisking in another ½ cup cream. Stir the remaining cream into the egg-sugar mixture. Combine the mixtures thoroughly, then divide evenly into 10 4-ounce ramekins.

Place ramekins in a large roasting pan, and pour in enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake at 275 degrees for 1 hour, 10 minutes. When the crème brulee is done, the center will still jiggle slightly — a knife inserted near the center will not come out clean. The surface will be just set to touch. Remove roasting pan from oven. Cool the crème brulee in the water. When cool, remove from water, cover and chill for 8 hours.

To finish, very gently press 2 teaspoons of brown sugar on the top of each ramekin so the surface is completely covered. Using a kitchen torch, heat the sugar until it melts — this takes some practice. Return ramekins to the refrigerator for a few minutes to set the crust. 

Makes 10 servings.


These will hold without the sugar topping in the refrigerator for a few days. Once you add the topping, they are best served in the next few hours, as the sugar may “weep” if you hold them too long.

Whisk the yolks and sugar thoroughly. The temperature of eggs and chocolate should be about the same when you combine them. The chocolate should not be hot for this step.

You can use a broiler to caramelize the sugar; however, the kitchen torch gives you more control and a more consistent result. The caramelization takes practice — be fearless.

Adapted from recipe submitted by Lynne Phillips, Little Rock, Arkansas

Ratatouille from “Ratatouille”

In the movie, Chef Gusteau tells Remy, “You must be imaginative, strong-hearted. You must try things that may not work, and you must not let anyone define your limits because of where you come from. Your only limit is your soul. What I say is true: Anyone can cook, but only the fearless can be great.”

This recipe imitates the presentation of the dish to the critic, Anton Ego. Slicing the vegetables, instead of the more traditional chopping and cubing, results in a more delicate experience. The freshness of your ingredients and the uniformity of the slices will make a difference, too. The zucchini and the eggplant should be about the same diameter. For a visual tutorial, watch the movie.


2 small-to-medium zucchini, thinly sliced
2 Japanese eggplants, thinly sliced
4 vine-ripened, garden-fresh small tomatoes, sliced
½ shallot, finely sliced
½ red bell pepper, finely sliced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
a few fresh basil leaves, snipped
¾ cup marinara sauce, homemade or good quality brand, divided


Slice the zucchini and eggplant using a food processor to get uniform slices. Salt the eggplant slices, and let them sit for a few minutes while you prep the other vegetables. Before assembling, rinse off the eggplant and pat dry.

Brush the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch oval baking dish with canola or olive oil. Cover the bottom of the dish with marinara sauce, using about ½ cup. Layer the zucchini and eggplant in a circular, alternating pattern, completely covering the bottom of the dish. Lay sliced tomato, overlapping, down the center of the dish. Sprinkle over finely minced garlic and thin ribbons of shallot and red bell pepper. Finish with shreds of fresh basil. Add a bit more sauce if necessary but do not cover the vegetables. Cover with a piece of parchment paper. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

To serve, take one-quarter of the vegetables and build a tower. Drizzle some of the marinara sauce on the side of the plate. Repeat with the remaining 3 servings. Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Pasta Aglio e Olio, from “Chef”

Roy Choi, the Los Angeles Kogi BBQ mastermind, created all of the recipes featured in “Chef” and calls this dish “transcendence through a handful of humble ingredients.”


1 pound dried spaghetti
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
12 large garlic cloves, cut into thin slivers
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper, plus more for serving
kosher salt to taste
black pepper to taste
⅓ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus lemon wedges for serving


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; add the spaghetti and cook until it is al dente, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and reserve a little of the pasta water.

Meanwhile, in a large pan, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic, and cook over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until golden brown. Add the crushed red pepper. Season with salt and pepper. Add the drained spaghetti to the pan and toss, adding a little of the pasta water until the spaghetti is thoroughly coated.

Remove the pan from heat; add the parsley and Parmesan. Toss well. Check flavor and adjust seasoning to taste. Add the lemon juice, garnish with more Parmesan and serve with lemon wedges and crushed red pepper.

Serves 4.

Source: Food & Wine Magazine, contributed by Roy Choi

Chicken Tikka Masala, from “The Hundred-Foot Journey”

This recipe is inspired by “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” in which an Indian chef and a French chef “cross knives” and, ultimately, find common ground.


6 cloves garlic, finely grated
4 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
4 teaspoons ground turmeric
2 teaspoons garam masala
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 ½ cups whole milk yogurt (not Greek)
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, halved lengthwise
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
¼ cup tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, more to taste
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes with juice
2 cups heavy cream
¾ cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus sprigs for garnish
Steamed basmati rice, to serve
naan, to serve


Combine garlic, ginger, turmeric, garam masala, coriander and cumin in a small bowl. Whisk yogurt, salt and half of the spice mixture in a medium bowl. Add chicken, and turn to coat. Cover and chill 4 to 6 hours. Cover and chill remaining spice mixture.

Heat vegetable oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Add onion, tomato paste, cardamom and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring often until tomato paste has darkened and onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add remaining half of spice mixture and cook, stirring often until bottom of pot begins to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and juice. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring often and scraping up browned bits from the bottom of the pot, until sauce thickens, about 8 minutes. Add cream and chopped cilantro and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, about 30 minutes.

While sauce is cooking, preheat the broiler. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and set a wire rack inside. Arrange chicken on rack in a single layer. Broil until chicken starts to blacken in spots — it will not be cooked through — about 10 minutes. Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces; add to sauce and simmer, stirring occasionally, until chicken is cooked through, about 8 to 10 minutes. Garnish with cilantro sprigs. Serve with rice and naan, which has been heated through.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Note: In testing we used a cast iron grill pan on the stove top and got similar results.

Cook’s Note: While tikka masala sauce is available ready-made in the grocery store, the beauty of doing this yourself is that you can adjust the seasonings to your taste. And, I promise once you have tasted it made from scratch, you won’t want to buy it pre-made again.

Adapted from

Mojo Pork Cubano Sandwich, from “Chef”

I loved watching the chef teach his son how to make this sandwich. The ingredients matter, especially the marinade, but so does the technique. See the movie for a visual on how to make them. This outstanding sandwich features slices of garlicky roast pork layered with grilled boiled ham, as well as Swiss cheese and tangy pickles. You can substitute leftover roast pork for the Mojo pork shoulder Choi uses.


6 ounces boiled ham, thinly sliced
softened butter, for brushing
6 6-inch soft baguettes or heroes, split lengthwise
yellow mustard, for brushing
¾ pound mojo-marinated pork shoulder or store-bought roast pork, thinly sliced
½ pound Swiss cheese, thinly sliced
3 half-sour dill pickles, thinly sliced lengthwise


Heat a large cast-iron griddle or panini press. Add the ham slices to the griddle. Cook over medium heat, turning once, until browned in spots, about 1 minute. Transfer the ham to a plate.

Generously butter the cut sides of each baguette and toast on the griddle over medium heat until lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the baguettes to a work surface, and generously brush the cut sides with mustard. Layer the ham, pork, Swiss cheese and pickles on the baguette and close the sandwiches.

Generously brush the outside of the sandwiches with butter and set them on the griddle or press; if using a griddle, top the sandwiches with a large baking sheet and weigh it down with heavy cans or a cast-iron skillet. Cook the sandwiches over medium heat until they’re browned and crisp on the outside and the cheese is melted, 3 minutes per side on a griddle or 3 minutes total in a press. Cut the cubanos in half and serve hot.

Serves 6.

Source: Food & Wine Magazine, contributed by Roy Choi

Mojo-Marinated Pork Shoulder

Roy Choi slathers his pork shoulder with a powerful marinade of garlic, citrus and herbs and lets it sit overnight before roasting the meat until crispy. If you’re using the roasted meat for sandwiches, Choi recommends refrigerating it first, which makes it easier to slice.


¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup lightly packed cilantro, finely chopped
1 tablespoon orange zest, finely grated
¾ cup fresh orange juice
½ cup fresh lime juice
¼ cup lightly packed mint leaves, finely chopped
8 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon oregano, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
kosher salt
3½ pounds boneless pork shoulder, in one piece


In a bowl, whisk all ingredients except salt, pepper and the pork. Whisk in 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Transfer the marinade to a large, re-sealable plastic bag, and add the pork. Seal the bag and turn to coat; set in a baking dish and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and set a rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Transfer the pork to a work surface; discard the marinade. Fold the pork under itself, into thirds if necessary, and tie with string to form a neat roll. Season all over with salt and pepper. Set it on the rack.

Roast the pork for 30 minutes, until lightly browned. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and roast for 1 hour and 30 minutes longer, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 160 degrees; transfer to a carving board. Let the shoulder rest for 30 minutes. Discard the string before slicing across the grain.

Source: Food & Wine Magazine, contributed by Roy Choi

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