Dear Food Writers, Bloggers, Etcetera. The following words are now banned. Please be on note.
These words have been banned because they are pedantic, unimaginative, and dull. Reckless use of these words will result in a public flogging, followed by nude walk down the nearest major street where the locals will be instructed to point and laugh at your genitals.
Food writing should be clever, thoughtful, witty, informative, timely, or something straddling combinations of all that. It should not be "good."
You have been warned.
Good: Why? Why is it "good?" Was it not fantastic? Was it not horrible? "Good" doesn't say anything except that it was something pleasing. You have to tell me why it was good. Rough cuts of potatoes? The delightful bits of charring? The subtle use of lavender in the pastry cream that brought out the floral qualities of the strawberries? Give me more than "good."
Bad: See above.
Nice: See above. Also, I will fucking slap you.
Great: See above. Seriously, just no more blah and boring words. Remember what your English teacher in high school said, "Show, not tell." Don't tell me it was great, show me why it was great.
Unctuous: I would argue that most people have no idea what the definition of this word is. It's like how everyone assumes "nonplussed" means that a person had no reaction to something or a person is unfazed, when actually it means you are aghast, confused or bewildered to a point of total shock and inability to react.
"Unctuous" is used often to mean rich, smooth, or svelte. It actually means greasy, slick, or having a soapy feel. In reference to a person in means being exceedingly ingratiating (aka: being a slime ball). If your pizza is unctuous, then you have a very greasy-ass pizza that's likely to cause your face to break out the next morning from simply having been in its presence.
That, my friends, is not appetizing.
Better than sex: First off, no, it wasn't. Or you're having very boring sex. Pick one. I've eaten a lot of phenomenal food in my life and some were very intense experiences. Unless you literally orgasmed across the table (ew), then no.
The thing about this phrase is that it has become cliched. Open up the Yelp page for any restaurant in the world that has a four star rating or higher and "better than sex" is sure to show up. You know what's better than sex? Mindblowing sex. You know how excellent a steak with a gritty chipotle rub and glazed with kumquat marmalade is? That's better than terrible or forgetful sex. The kind where your hookup thinks he's a master kisser when he's actually trying to swallow your entire face like a wild python eating a labrador.
I've eaten at the French Laundry at that lamb course was so good my eyes rolled into the back of my head so hard I saw the inside of my skull. However, it was not better than my husband putting the spurs to me. They are both intense on very different planes of human existence. However, I'll take a good finish to a steak with a finishing sauce any day.
Maybe run with the sex idea in a new direction? There's a nugget of gold here if you're willing to polish it. Perhaps you had a date and the ragu you ordered at dinner was better than sex because he was a gentleman and wanted to respect your boundaries. Thus, that ragu was better than the sex you didn't have. Or go the Confessions of a Restaurant Whore route (one of the best retired food blogs ever) and say the the tomatillo sopa seca de fideo* you were served was so delectable you actually wanted to rip of your clothes and copulate your love for it right there on the table. Points if you can incorporate cream sauce in the sentence.
I just pulling ideas out of a hat here. My point is: go for broke or leave it alone.
Yummy: What are we? Six? It's a weak word, it's a vague word, and it's a childish word. I would call a Good Humor strawberry shortcake bar yummy because fuck if it isn't just that. If I were a chef who crafted a caprese benedict with basil hollandaise and someone reduced my palate, work, and creativity to just a "yummy" then I would be pissed. That shit is a verdant interpretation of two classic dishes, reinvented into something both modern and approachable for the home cook.
Sinful: Every time I hear this it makes me sigh. "Sinful" has become a synonym for too many other words like "rich," "sweet," or "flavorful." Why is it sinful? Is something that tastes this delightful a sin? Perhaps the food in question shoplifts sweeties from the corner store? Is the food having a sexual tryst with its father-in-law's sexy Cuban hospice nurse? Those are all rather sinful.
Considering how often I see this word used I can only assume that Hell is filled with soporific gastronomes being force-fed chicken nuggets slathered in McDonald's strange iteration of what they call "Ranch Dressing" due to lives filled with too many sinful chocolate lava cakes. If you plan to use sinful then use it with context. It's sinful because it forces you to break this year's renewed diet resolution (and it's only January 5th!). It's sinful because the taste of the beef was so carnal and intoxicating you were driven by primitive impulse to club to death the customer eating a salad one table over and claim his land as your own. It is not sinful solely because of the presence of chocolate or how much butter was used in the dish.
Exclamation Points: Not technically a word. This piece of punctuation should be used liberally. I once had a teacher who said that in writing you are allotted ten exclamation marks in your lifetime, so they should be used judiciously. If you use an exclamation point you are essentially screaming at your reader. No one likes to be screamed at.
For example, find the nearest person and say the following sentence to them: I like pizza.
Easy, yes? Now go find the next nearest person and shriek at them this: I like pizza!
The first one will get you an odd look, the second one might have gotten you a footnote in your next performance review if the person was your direct supervisor and you're reading this at work. Big difference.
Anyways, there are others, but that's a rant for another day.
On that note. There's a recipe and a giveaway today. Neither one is really related to this post except in the most tangential way.
My buddy, Heather Christo, has a new book out. It's a fabulous cookbook that offers up a variety of menus and meals that are seasonally and situationally approriate for various celebrations. In Heather Christo's Generous Table: Easy & Elegant Recipes through the Seasons, this darling doyenne offers advice on how to host elegant parties and cook for them within a busy schedule. I can attribute to this testament as I cooked from her book many times during the move and was able to do so with a hot plate, toaster oven, and an ice chest.
Another plus? Heather's recipe intros are always engaging and she never says "yummy."
The following recipe is an adaptation of a cookie bar recipe from the book. I say adaptation because I used a totally wrong sized pan, had no cornstarch, and used different fruit and twice as much of it. So it's more a cobbler of sorts with a crust on the bottom.
It is amazing to say the least. I also may or may not have punched my husband in the arm after he tried to steal a bite from my plate. I also may or may not have been chewed out for leaving a bruise the size of a grapefruit and it looking like he dyed his bicep indigo.
(Ahh, the love we share.)
Blackberry Pluot Cobbler-Thing That Should Be a Cookie, But It's Not. It's a Cobbler-Thing.
Makes enough to make you and your family happy
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups AP flour
2/3 cup of whatever jam you have on hand (I used plum)
3 cups blackberries
4 cups sliced pluots
1/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons cold butter, chopped
1/2 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup AP flour
pinch of cinnamon
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and line with parchment a rather medium-large-ish piece of bakeware. You'll know it when you see it.
2. In a stand mixer crem the butter and brown sugar. Cream in the egg yolk, salt, vanilla, and 2 cups of the flour. Turn the dough into the prepared pan and press it in. It'll be thinnish in some places. Or not. No worries. Smear the jam over the top.
3. Toss the fruit, sugar, and remaining flour together. Place over the jammy dough.
4. Make the crumble topping. To do this you put all the ingredients into a bowl and crumble them up with your fingers until it's all sandy and no piece of butter is bigger than a pea. Then, use it to cover the whole fruit mess. Bake for 45-50 minutes.
*Note: This recipe is also in my upcoming cookbook, Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese. Shameless plug, go!