"The refusal to rest content, the willingness to risk excess on behalf of one's obsessions, is what distinguishes artists from entertainers, and what makes some artists adventurers on behalf of us all." -- John Updike
In my last post, I discussed the types of corners that I cut when cooking -- out of necessity -- to salvage some sliver of leisure time. If you didn't read it, the long and short of it is this: I know you can make your own mayonnaise. Ruhlman tells me I should make my own mayonnaise. But I'm not about to chop shallots, emulsify the ingredients with a hand-mixer, fish lemon seeds out of the mixture, clean my hand-mixer, clean the cutting board, clean the knife, clean the bowl, and chill my mayonnaise for an hour before serving. I'm going to buy a freaking jar of Hellman's and play with my daughter.
But, I'm not a completely disgraceful, lazy prole either. There are some "sacred cows" that I have when I eat (see especially #4, below) and drink as well. I've found these things really are worth the extra time and expense.
1. Bean Juice.
"This is some serious gourmet $&%*! Usually, me and Vince would be happy with some freeze-dried Taster's Choice, right, but he springs this serious gourmet $&%* on us! What flavor is this?" -- Jules Winnfield
I drink coffee every day, including weekends. I am not addicted (I can quit any time); I just love it (just one more drink drink drink...). But one thing is non-negotiable: I buy good whole beans, store them in a vacuum-sealed container, and take the time to grind them fresh. My preferred brand right now is Starbucks Pike Place Roast, but there are a ton of options out there.
2. Hop Juice. The greatest food discovery of my adult life is that beer can actually taste good. It can be exciting, interesting, refreshing, glorious. It can be paired with different foods. It can be an aperitif that starts off a meal. It can be a springboard for discussion about various other types of brews. It can finish a meal and taste like the essence of Christmas. It can be stored, and it changes with time. And it's something that America has become very good at, even in my own backyard (at Two Brothers, Goose Island to some extent, and Three Floyds, for example). And, even good craft brews are still insanely cheap. You can get some great 650 ml bottles for $9-12, and 4 or 6-packs for $9-14. Wine at that price is almost always unquaffable, but conversely, you'll never find a craft brewer with the arrogance to put a price tag on a 650 ml bottle of more than about $15. I buy great beer because financially I can, and emotionally I must. The supermarket carries almost zero craft brews, but the extra trip to Malloy's Liquors is objectively worth it. Stay thirsty, my friends.
3. Risotto. Risotto is an easy, predictable dish -- but there is no doubt it takes time and nurturing. I love it so much, and have determined there are few shortcuts, so I'm willing to make the sacrifice. You have no choice but to use arborio rice, which usually means a trip to Whole Foods (otherwise, you're just making sticky cheesy rice, a college favorite of mine, but no longer a suitable meal for adult Me). You have no choice but to cook it slowly. You have no choice but to saute the rice first. Only fresh herbs make sense because the dish is already simple enough and many risotto recipes highlight the herbs anyways. All that being said, the May 2010 Cooks Illustrated offers about the most efficient way of doing it in their "almost-hands-free risotto" recipe. It is hands free enough that I was able to make some huge tuna steaks and salad during waiting periods.
4. Too Much At Steak. Making a steak does not actually involve any cooking. Not really. It involves buying. And if you buy the wrong steak, then you're making a horrible mistake. The stakes are far too high to screw this up. No amount of mastery at the grill can save a thin, muscle-y supermarket steak. No about of incompetence can screw up a prime cut. The quality of your steak, like your wine, is almost always directly proportional to the amount you pay for it. I'll stake my credibility on this unassailable fact. And America rocks at raising cows. We are better at it than anyone except Argentina. So why do you buy tough, stringy manflesh? Are you an orc? Why do you hate 'merika?
5. What Would Santa Do? I have one total exception to my Economy concept: for the holidays, all bets are off. At Thanksgiving, you make turkey and stuffing and homemade pumpkin pie and everything else, and you dirty a ton of dishes and pots and pans. At Christmas, you make your family traditional dinners and mincemeat pie and homemade cookies, and the whole kitchen is a mess. But all of this is okay. In fact, all of this is a critical part of any major holiday. Of course -- yes -- these holidays are about giving thanks, and good wholesome Christian ritual, and dressing up, and family. But the glue that binds all of these together is good 'ol fashioned gluttony, excess, and having to wear your Thanksgivin' Pants so you can fit that final turkey leg in your belly. And God bless us, everyone.