Simplicity in food has come to mean something antithetical to complexity. Simplicity is bad and complexity is good. Simply prepared foods are not delicious and probably lack flavor whereas elaborate, complexly prepared foods have deep flavor. I’m not sure where this idea came from, but it couldn’t be more wrong. By my view, complexity is a hiding place for lesser cooks.
With fall around the corner, it’s time to start talking about warming sauces. And no sauce is as warming as the Italian-American classic of Sunday gravy, a sauce with deep roots in big city American culture, where Italian-American immigrants tended to settle. Although Sunday gravy didn’t originate in America, all Americans have heard of it…
Risking sounding immodest, whenever I serve meat to friends and family, the first thing anyone says immediately upon tasting it is, “Wow.” After some processing time, they’ll follow up with a question: “What did you put in this?” My response, to their general amazement is, “Salt.” Strangely, no one has ever asked exactly how I cooked the meat they think is so delicious. The point, then, is not what you add to the meat that’s important, but rather it’s the meat itself and how you choose to cook it. No marinades, no additional seasonings are required, aside from salt, if you’re using good ingredients and you know how to cook them.
One of my known mental failures is that I have a profound weakness for dualisms. I often see the world around me in the rigid terms of distinct dichotomy. There are right and wrong answers to the problems we face, good and bad decisions, wise and foolish outlooks. Over the years, I’ve found one particular dualism applies, without fail, to all of my close friends. There is one group of friends whose company I enjoy, with whom I indulge in food and drink and varied conversation. For the second group of friends, all of the above is still true, except they also require that I come over to their house and try their shitty cooking.
Having previously teased about a scientifically determined, shaken cocktail development model based on the statistical analysis of various key characteristics of shaken cocktails (namely, the relative content of ethanol, acid and sugar) it’s time to put out, so to speak. As a matter of brief background, based on my understanding of the interplay between those three characteristics of shaken cocktails, I determined that two relationships should exist. The first, obviously, was the balancing act between sugar and acid: Basically, the more acid you add, the more sugar you need. Strikingly, the classic cocktails I studied in my sample fell within a rather narrow corridor of sugar versus acid, which I dubbed the Classics Corridor.
On my first trip to Japan over a decade ago, I had just come off my final, glorious night out in Tokyo. With an early flight out the next morning, I was wandering around the Ginza neighborhood, hoping to stumble upon a taxi stand. Instead, I happened across a gorgeous, oak paneled, dimly-lit den of a bar with more bottles of alcohol against the wall than I had ever known to exist. You don’t turn down encounters like that in Japan as a rule.
Natural selection, at base, is the differential survival and reproduction of living things on the basis of observable traits. A cheetah is more likely to survive the wild, capture more prey and ultimately produce offspring if she has a new set of traits, ones which even her own parents lacked, that make her observably faster or more cunning than the average cheetah, for example. Her offspring have a greater chance of doing the same since they are more likely to have their mother’s advantageous traits. For this to occur, however, information needs to be conveyed from one generation of cheetah to the next, to preserve what came before. Through random and undirected changes in such information from one generation to the next, “innovation” (in a sense) has occurred. This basic idea serves as the bedrock for our entire understanding of biology. It’s a powerful idea to say the least, but it famously applies to a great number of things beyond living ones.
Long ago, my mom used to tell me that you could make just about anything taste good with enough garlic. As with many things, my mother was exactly right. Today, when my friends come to me for cooking advice, I often tell them not to cook with garlic entirely. After all, you can’t really be…