Thursday, 6 October 2016

CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE RECIPE

 

The perfect chocolate chip cookie is extremely difficult to achieve.  There are a lot of different theories regarding the type of sugar you should use, whether or not to melt the butter, should you add baking powder?  I've made many batches of cookies and I've never been completely satisfied.  I think the best cookies in the world are the Kirkland ones you buy in big plastic trays from Costco.  And I know I'm not the only person to have this opinion.  Whenever I'm there and they bring out a fresh stack there's a scramble to get a pack of just the chocolate chip ones.  You don't want to get stuck with a pack of mixed cookies - white chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin squeezed alongside the immaculate chocolate chip ones.  There's nothing wrong with a bit of oats in your biscuit, and white chocolate can be incredible, but they're so disappointing in comparison to the genius of the plain chocolate ones.  

I've studied the ingredients list of the Kirkland cookies - nothing too special, no secret there.  And I've tried out some of the re-creation recipes people have posted online.  Meh.  Part of the problem is that classic chocolate chip cookies are an American product, so a lot of the ingredients are difficult to translate to a UK shopping list.  E.g. shortening.  And if I'm honest part of the appeal of the Kirkland cookies is that they use chocolate that's a bit plastic in texture.  There's something about its melting point means it always seems to be soft, even when you store them in the fridge.  But, long story short, after testing and tweaking some recipes I've found my perfect chocolate chip cookie.  They're big, soft, crisp and chewy.  Just how I like my men - what?  They might not be your ideal, but if that's the case I suggest you try tweaking this recipe till you get what suits you.


INGREDIENTS
  • 200g Plain flour
  • 200g Self-raising flour
  • Pinch of good quality sea salt
  • 170g Salted butter
  • 200g Light brown soft sugar
  • 100g Granulated sugar
  • 1 Teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 Egg + 1 egg yolk
  • 200g Dark chocolate (I used Lindt 70%, despite what I said above about rubbery chocolate) whack the packets on the kitchen counter to get big chunks
  • OR 100g chocolate and 100g of something else you want to flavour them with e.g. salted peanuts.
Heat the oven.  See, this is where it could all fall apart.  My oven runs hot so I heat it to about 160 (centigrade), but if your oven always correlates with recipes I suggest 180.  If you're at all nervous err on the side of having it cooler, you can always cook them for a minute or two longer.

Melt the butter in a pan or in the microwave.  Measure out the flours into one bowl (no need to sift) with the sea salt.  When the butter has melted add the sugars and the vanilla extract to it.  Leave the sugar/melted butter mix for half an hour so it cools down.

While it's cooling whack the packs of chocolate against the counter so they break up into chunks, then open the packs and snap the biggest chunks into smaller pieces.  Not too small though, bigger is better. When the half hour of cooling is up beat in the egg and egg yolk to the butter and sugar mix with an electric whisk.  Mix in the flours and chocolate chunks with a wooden spoon.

Roll the dough into balls - mine weighed about 75g.  Then flatten them so they're about 1.5cm thick.  Put them on a flat baking tray lined with greaseproof paper.  They will spread slightly.  Bake in the oven for 10 minutes.  I like mine quite underdone, I would always recommend doing a test cookie to see if you want to cook them for longer.

Leave them to cool until the chocolate has set and you can easily lift them up.  Then fill them with ice cream and live the dream.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

HIGHBROW LOWBROW EP 2: IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT + POLDARK

 

Episode two of my podcast with the excellent Caspar Salmon.  This time he introduces me to the highbrow-ish-ness of It Happened One Night and I make him sit through an episode of Poldark.  Or should that be Podlark?  One of these two things we really love, one of them we really hate, can you guess which is which?


You can listen below, or download it here, and it should also be on iTunes soon I PROMISE.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

HIGHBROW LOWBROW EP 1: WAYNES WORLD + CAMERAPERSON


My great friend (and excellent writer) Caspar Salmon and I have started a podcast where we introduce each other to some of our favourite TV, films, books and possibly even music.   Only problem is Caspar is far more intelligent and cultured than I am, so you can imagine the japes that ensue!  In this first episode I force Caspar to watch Wayne's World, and he takes me to see Cameraperson, a documentary by Kirsten Johnson.  You can listen below, or download it here, and it should also be on iTunes in the next few days once they've sorted their shit out.  

Also, for Anne T. Donahue fans (I'm one) we will do another episode of Pilots Podcast at some point, but she's really busy and successful and I am happy basking in the glow of her female power.  

Enjoy!



Thursday, 25 August 2016

HOLLYWOOD'S NEW UNHINGED WOMEN

 

Warning: contains spoilers for season two of Fargo, season one of Mr. Robot and the movie Gone Girl. 

In the history of TV and film, there is a short list of stereotypes to which female characters conform. Even in modern, critically acclaimed productions, women often end up playing supporting roles: either as a wife holding the family together while the flawed, nuanced and over-written male lead sucks up all the juicy stories, or as a love interest adding sex appeal and sensitivity as we once again witness the eternal struggle of being young, white and male in this world.

In the last few years we've seen that start to change. Shows like Orange Is the New Black and Broad City have women acting mean, failing and doing poos. Women who have issues, but issues that don't mean they show up at their ex's house in the rain, sobbing uncontrollably while holding out a photo of what their baby would look like, snottily singing Adele. These new TV women are messy and chaotic, and they only seem manic and pixie-like when they're really, really high. 

The thirst for these kinds of character is growing with each TV season, and comedy actresses, in particular, have broken down the door to allow darker and more morally ambiguous characters in drama. In particular, a new type of female character has emerged, made up of glamour, instability and eyeshadow. These are women who are unmerciful in their actions and unbalanced in their temperament, but always look like they just stepped out of the salon.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

STYLE DISSECTION - THE SHINING


There isn't much I can say about The Shining which hasn't already been said.  It has been dissected so many times, and from so many different angles, that it's almost surprising the film hasn't been reduced to chunks of orange carpet and splinters of wood from hacked up doors.  And what's most intriguing, and equally frustrating, is that most of these discussions about Kubrick's masterpiece are open-ended and unverified.  How long did shooting take?  How many times did Shelley Duvall do the scene on the stairs with the baseball bat?  Did the author of the book it's based on, Stephen King, hate it and then change his mind?  Or did he just have to say he changed his mind because of a legal clause and then when Kubrick died he ignored that and went back to bad-mouthing it?  Why is Danny in two different positions in the same scene on *that* carpet?  Surely someone as notoriously meticulous as Kubrick wouldn't do that as a mistake?  So what does it mean?  Why does Jack's typewriter change from white to blue?  Or is it blue to white?

And that's not even scratching the surface.

There are a few things we do know for certain.  Shooting was arduous, with endless script changes.  Shelley Duvall was pushed to her emotional limits by Kubrick.  Jack Nicholson shouted and jumped around with his axe to get into character before filming the "here's Johnny!" scene.  And the set of the hotel is purposefully designed to not make any sense - ballrooms too big for that building, corridors that lead nowhere, fridge doors that open both ways.

If you feel like there's more you want to explore about Kubrick's masterpiece then I recommend the documentary Room 237.  Well, I say recommend - personally I found it completely bonkers and disagreed with most of the content.  But I think I'm in the minority.  However there is one theory presented in that film which I kept thinking about when I saw The Shining again recently - the Native American connection.  There are references in the film that the hotel is built on an Indian burial ground, and the hotel itself is decorated with lots of Native American motifs.  For example in this room.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

'GILMORE GIRLS' IS MORE THAN FEELGOOD FLUFF


This year Netflix confirmed that is bringing back Gilmore Girls for a seventh season. And lo, the internet, which is always calling for things to come back or be reunited because it has a real issue with time's linear progression, was finally satiated. Once-respectable news outlets were ablaze with excitement and the weekly Gilmore Girls podcast the Gilmore Guys went beserk. In the last week alone, there have been 10 Buzzfeed articles about Gilmore Girls, including "This 4 Question Gilmore Girls Quiz Will Determine What Kind Of Coffee Drinker You Are" and "18 Times Paris Geller Proved She's The Funniest".

For whatever reason, Gilmore Girls has become the ultimate fodder for listicles and reaction GIFs. But like Friends, Frasier, The OC, Mean Girls, any Pixar film and the literal ground that Beyoncé walks on, it has light and shade, progressive moments and some very problematic parts. Sadly this has all been subsumed into a Yassss Queen recall-a-thon where everything becomes one-liners and eye-rolls.

But unlike the other shows that have been collapsed under the internet's thirst for nostalgia, Gilmore Girls remains worth rewatching. It shows women in a way that they've never really been seen before on TV, with a quickfire pop culture conversation style that is normally the reserve of the nerdy characters in a teen movie. Lorelai and her daughter Rory, the two Gilmores, reference David Bowie, Sonic Youth and joke about the Menendez brothers. They talk faster than Six in Blossom (the scripts were so dialogue-heavy they were about 15 pages longer than the average network TV script) and confront class, politics and feminism in a way that still feels fresh by the standards of modern network TV.

Friday, 20 May 2016

THE SCORE: 'MARIE ANTOINETTE'


This year marks the tenth anniversary of Marie Antoinette (how will you be celebrating?), Sofia Coppola's second film to star the teenage girl we all wanted to be, Kirsten Dunst. On its release the movie received mixed reviews, a lot of critics were, er, critical, of Coppola's lack of interest in historical fact. But as Coppola said at the time, “It’s not a lesson of history; it’s an interpretation documented, but carried by my desire for covering the subject differently.” None of that matters much now—we're used to seeing depictions of the past be historically inaccurate *cough* Downtown Abbey *cough*—and actually the film has dated well. This is largely because of its Instagram and high fashion inspiring, Oscar winning costume design (shout out to Milena Canonero), and the successful marriage of a period film with a mostly contemporary soundtrack.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

STYLE DISSECTION: JESSA JOHANSSON AND MICKEY DOBBS


I'm cheating a bit today and covering the style of two women at once.  Two girls one post (sorry).  But there's a reason for it!  I am a fan of women being portrayed as messy, flawed and complicated.  We don't see enough of that, it's still the case that a lot of female characters in film and TV shows are foils for the male lead's dysfunction.  He has to change so he can win the girl, because she's a prize.  Or the kooky, yet completely morally and emotionally sound, lady is there to coax him out of his more troubled ways by playing a weird flute she got in Guatemala, or by dancing in the rain to his favourite song.  If the woman is the lead (and I'm mainly talking about in romance or comedy films here) she's got problems, sure, but they're more of the "Why can't I keep a man?" "When will I have a baby?" "Why can't I stop falling over and bumping into things?" "Look how much ice cream I eat when I'm sad - I'm the worst!" type.

Jessa Johansson and Mickey Dobbs are not those women.  They're both addicts in varying stages of recovery.  Now there is a point to be made that possibly the only progress we've achieved is the introduction of a new flaw a woman on TV/film can have - addiction.  So we're still seeing women who aren't outright dysfunctional all on their own, there's a clear cause for it which leads to the idea that all they need is someone to "fix" them and then they'll be manic pixie dreamgirls, but still, it's a bit of progress.  And if you do want to see women who are immoral and do messed up things while not under the influence of a substance then I can sneakily point you to this piece I wrote about unhinged fictional women for Vice.