Too Simple

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Sometimes, simplicity can be amazing. Sometimes a chef can combine just a couple of very basic ingredients in a way that you cannot have enough of. Not all the time; sometimes a simple combination can be just that tad too simple to be considered seriously. Unless you're paying generously for it.

Mario Batali has made quite an empire out of simplcity. There are those raw fish thingies called crudo at Esca, tiny bits of raw fish in olive oil and one condiment that will set you back a dozen dollars a bite. A flight of six is a little better, at $30. Yes, the fish are good and the combinations interesting, but most reasonable sushi restaurants give you a tenth of the pretension (not to mention half the price) to outdo Esca( of course, they don't have olive oil). Caviar House at London Airport charged me the same $12 a bite for salmon dipped in nothing, but the memory of that salmon still causes drops of saliva to start heading downwards. At Esca, the only thing I remember is the price.

I made a more recent stop at the Batali empire, days before he was largely ignored by Michelin; at Otto, his pizza and casual empire. 'Simplicity' rules again, but as usual things can be taken too far. I ordered the 'signature' Otto Lardo pizza - the menu promised lard and sea salt at $13 - and was surprised to find that, well, it was just pizza crust covered with lard and sea salt. Imagine the disappointment of going to a fancy restaurant, ordering something with exotically big words and discovering plain bread and butter. Pizza dough covered with a small strips of lard has about the same taste excitement as the aforementioned pain-beurre - very comforting when you're hungry, great to eat while wating for the waiter but hardly what I would considering as a dinner. Sure you can bake wonderful bread from wheat personally polished by French royalty, get your butter from a cow that only watches Britney Spears videos, but at the end of the day its still bread and butter. Or, in this case, dough with lard.

Its going to happen soon. Some big-apple restaurant is going to get so hip that it will charge $50 for a whole, untouched, perfect apple.

More Frigid Tales

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I've just learned about more things that you can freeze. Freezing, of course extends shelf-life by weeks over normal refrigeration, which is specially useful for someone like me who's always cooking more than can be eaten. Bongs love multi-course meals, and its really tough to cook small helpings of each of the courses.

The most useful thing that you can apparently freeze (though I have yet to try it) is rice. I've just been informed on good authority that rice does not suffer from extreme cold, and will come out nice and fluffy with a little help from the microwave. Another really useful freeze is fresh onion paste. You can even fry or boil it before blending and freezing it; perfect as the base for a quick gravy. And finally, you can freeze dal! This is really useful, because its so central to an Indian meal, but so difficult to prepare in one-person quantities.

Going green

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Everyone already knows this, but India is truly the place for vegetarian food. The thing about veggie food in India is, its not the meatless version of something. This is a true, first class treatement of vegetables that one would find difficult to introduce meat into. This is specially true of veggie dishes from people who are not traditionally vegetarian, such as Bengalis. When they leave the meat out of something, there is good reason for it.

This trip to India, I ate far more Bengali vegetarian food than I normally would. Courtesy a veggie girlfriend, my family shifted the balance of meals from multiple fish types to multiple veggies, including many of my hot favorites - Kanchkolar Kofta, Potoler Dalna, Chocchori. Then there were all those Gujarati favorites that I indulged in - Muthia, Dhokla, Khandvi, Sweet dal, Kadhi - little wonder that I'm becoming fatter.


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