Marketing speak makes me crazy. I'm a cynic (sorry) and never feel more manipulated than when words promise something they then fail to deliver. I wrote an article a while back for a trade publication about menu consultants whose jobs consist of analyzing, well, menus. They fix not only the layout, so your eyes go to dishes with the highest profit margin, but the language, so patrons feel inspired to spend more money on the same exact food. Ka-ching!
And as a wordsmith, I understand this, and it doesn't bother me per se. In fact, I'd love to be a menu re-designer. I'd be pretty good at it, too. But the food I'd describe would have to merit the descriptors I'd attach to it. I wouldn't, for example, use the phrase "heirloom tomato salad" if the tomatoes came from 7-Eleven. Sadly, this kind of overly liberal menu writing abounds.
I fell prey to it recently when out to lunch with two colleagues. We had a nice meal at a relatively upscale local restaurant. The food was good, the prices were within reason, and at the end of the meal, we decided -- against our collective better judgment -- to share a dessert. (Why do only women share desserts? Another topic for another time.)
Our eyes all fixed on the same dessert listed on the menu. It was a Meyer Lemon Tart with a Marzipan Crust. The lemon tart part did nothing for me, but the word "marzipan" grabbed me by the throat and throttled my taste buds. Marzipan is a buzzword for me. There, I said it. Here's all my money. You want my kids, too? Fine, just give me something marzipany.
So we ordered the tart, and what arrived was laughable. The crust was a standard short dough, and I don't even think it was cooked. It tasted like raw, refrigerated supermarket pie crust that someone had simply forgotten to bake. And guess what else? It had about as much marzipan as my big toe; not a single almond had crossed its path.
I was pissed, but as this was a professional function and I was on my Best Behavior (and wasn't paying the tab), I didn't make a federal case. My colleagues were disappointed, too. We'd all been had.
And the annoying part was, some menu designers were probably out on a Caribbean beach sipping fruity cocktails. They got $9 out of us that day for a pathetic, mediocre dessert. All because of one, lying, evocative word. Damn you, marzipan.
I'm going to start selling words. Then I'll be rich, I tell you.
Recipe for Meyer Lemon Pistachio Cookies with fleur de sel hand-harvested from Île de Ré
You think I'm kidding, but I'm not. Everything in that recipe title is 100 percent true, and I will therefore charge you $25 for 3 of these cookies. Got to pay the bills, Man. Of course, for you? The recipe is free.
Makes 30 to 35 cookies
4 ounces pistachios
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon cardamom
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup minus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 cup lemon zest (preferably from Meyer lemons -- about 3)
2 egg yolks
Fleur de sel, or coarse sea salt of choice, for finishing
Toast the pistachios in a preheated 350 degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes until crisp and browned. Cool completely. Grind until not-quite-powdery in a food processor. You should have about a cup. In a medium bowl, whisk with the flour, cardamom and salt.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar, and lemon zest until light and fluffy, about three minutes on high speed. Beat in yolks. Turn off mixer, dump in flour mixture, then beat on low speed for just a few seconds, or until the dry ingredients are absorbed. Refrigerate dough for one hour.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment or Silpats.
Use a 1-1/2-inch scoop to portion out the dough, placing 12 to a sheet. Sprinkle each dough mound very lightly with coarse salt. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, reversing the position of the baking pans halfway through bake time. Cookies are done when the centers are set and the edges are nicely browned.
Cool on a rack, and store airtight.