I like everything about cocktails except the price tag. While it's true that beer has a lot more going for it — it's cold, ready to drink and possesses all of the culinary subtlety of a hammer — there's something about the process of creating a good mixed drink that reminds me a lot of cooking.
There's the idea of taking exceptional parts — by themselves digestible, but completely uninteresting — transforming them into something great. Note how the Old Fashioned takes whiskey, by itself oaky, and transforms it with sugar and bitters.
I cite the Old Fashioned, specifically, because it's one of my favorite drinks. Ironically, I have yet to have an Old Fashioned that's actually made in the, well, old-fashioned way. A recent example would be the "Spiced Old Fashioned" I had at a restaurant called Timo here in Phoenix. Served in a bath of crushed ice, with muddled orange and cherry, and almost cloyingly sweet, I felt like I was having dessert with my dinner. According to the drink menu, I was enjoying a full 2oz. pour of rye whiskey, but I'll be damned if I could taste it.
It's a game of hide-and-seek probably meant to hide the fact that the $9 cocktail I was enjoying was made with sub-par bourbon, like Jack Daniels or something. You don't want to highlight that. It's both the blessing and the curse of such a simple cocktail — ever ingredient needs to be good quality, since the spirit has nowhere to hide — except behind whatever sugar you put in.
The most immediate example that comes to mind in cooking is the caprese. Get the cheapest mozarella you can find, wilted basil leaves, and bruised tomatoes, and it's going to take a lot of balsamic vinegar to get you through it. Every component has to be the highest quality, or you shouldn't even daughter.
I guess where I'm going with this is that I'm becoming more and more reticent to spend anywhere from $12-14 (when tip is factored in), on something that's as sweet as a soda. It's the same frustration that led me to start cooking in the first place. Why pay around $20 for a pizza when I can throw one together at home that is leaps and bounds better?
I want to start a mini-bar, is what I'm saying, a haven for Friday and Saturday night entertaining — or, heck, even when there are no guests around — and a place to practice the same sort of culinary explorations I do when cooking.
Speaking of which, I'm making Fregola with Green Peas, Mint and Ricotta. The picture is mouth-watering, but there's a lot at stake here since the fregola alone cost me $7 on Amazon. There's a lot of pressure for this baby to be delicious.