Fry Hash Browns in Olive Oil and Butter

hashbrwns

Meilin is a master of Spanish cooking, and when she was frying potato slices in olive oil and butter to put in her tortilla (the egg omelet from Spain), I snatched a slice to sample.  It blew me away how delicious it was, and I knew I had to use the same technique with American hash brown potatoes. The results were just as delicious.  Better yet, frozen hash brown potatoes taste even better than fresh ones, so it only takes about 12 minutes to make this part of a very satisfying breakfast.

Directions

1.  Preheat a skillet on medium heat with a few drops of water in it.  When the water boils, turn heat to medium-high.

2.  Add 3 Tablespoons of olive oil to the pan, then add a Tablespoon of butter to the oil.  When the butter stops foaming, swirl it around, and add 1/2 of the bag of frozen hash browns to the pan.  (Watch out, the oil may pop.)

3.  Fry for 4 to 6 minutes (uncovered), lifting the edge of the potatoes to check with a spatula, to see if they are properly browned.

4.  When they are browned, flip the potatoes, and turn down the heat to medium.  (There’s less oil left in the pan, so they would burn on the higher heat).

5.  Cook about 4 minutes, turn the heat to low, the stir the potatos a little. Let them cook about 2 more minutes.  Season with salt and pepper, and serve.

potat

It’s easier to turn the potatoes if you divide them into three parts. If you don’t use butter, the potatoes will still be delicious with just olive oil, although the outside browned crust may be slightly crunchier than with an olive oil/butter mix.

A wooden mallet is good for breaking up frozen hashbrowns.
A wooden mallet is good for breaking up frozen hash browns.

Electric and glass-top stoves burn hotter than gas stoves, so you may have to use slightly lower heat on these types of stoves.  If you are frying the whole bag, increase the amount of olive oil to 4 or 5 teaspoons, and add a little more butter. Don’t overload the skillet with the shredded potatoes, or they’ll get steamed instead of fried.

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Tasters for the California Olive Board determined that all olive oil tastes the same after you heat it. We don’t find this to be completely true, as it seems that Spanish has a slightly better taste when frying potatoes than Italian olive oil does. Either way, inexpensive supermarket virgin olive oil is recommended for these hash browns.

Quesalupa Review: A Taco Bell Upgrade

qesalupa

Though I’ve dined at such great Southwestern restaurants as Hugo’s, La Mexicana, Sadie’s, and even the unlikely-named Sanitary Tortilla Factory, high standards don’t rule out an occasional trip to Taco Bell. It’s easily available Mexican-style food with a predictable satisfying taste.  Even in Albuquerque, which has plenty of legendary New Mexican green and red chile dishes, I”d occasionally visit the Taco Bell on Route 66 across from the city’s Old Town tourist destination. Unfortunately, the tourists didn’t feel the same way, and the Taco Bell was bulldozed a year after it opened.

Still, no matter the quality of Mexican restaurants in the neighborhood, the taste of Taco Bell is hard to resist. I was excited to try the new Quesalupa, which is a chalupa wrapped in a flour shell that’s been stuffed and cooked with a thin layer of melted Pepper Jack cheese.

When I unwrapped my spicy-beef Quesalupa, I was put off by the look of the chalupa shell, which seemed too brown, like it had been slightly overcooked. However, the toasted pastry-like flavor of the shell puts the Quesalupa into a higher level than the standard Taco Bell taste..  I would be very pleased to have this served as a dish in a more authentic Mexican restaurant.  The toasted flour cheesy chalupa shell is just that good.

The Quesalupa is my all-time favorite item at Taco Bell, and I am looking forward to trying all of the options, with chicken or steak, and mild, hot, or green sauce.  The Quesalupa is a fast-food classic.

Best Inexpensive Non-Stick Skillet

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The truth about non-stick skillets is that the coating won’t last more than a few years under normal use.  Although we absolutely love our stainless steel All-Clad saucepans and regular skillet, we would never part with $120 or more for a non-stick 10-inch frying pan.

Knowing that we are going to buy a new skillet every year or two, depending upon the inevitable degrading and peeling of Teflon coating, we are happy to simply go to Target and pick up the impressive Calphalon Model 1390 Skillet that measures 10 inches, or 25 cm. The price is $29.99, which isn’t cheap, but the pan is certainly worth the cost.

The skillet is a solid performer that heats up evenly, and holds the heat through the cooking process without creating hot spots or burning.  The secret to this pan is a thick disk of stainless steel fused to the bottom. Steel transmits heat more consistently than aluminum. It’s kind of heavy, but not too heavy, like a cast-iron skillet, and the steel bottom can take the heat of our annoying glass top range, which can easily scorch lesser pans.

We wish the Calphalon 12-inch skillet had a stainless steel disk on the bottom, but it would be probably be too heavy.  Instead, we have to keep a watchful eye when cooking things in the lightweight aluminum pan as it balances between too hot and not hot enough.  This shortcoming often leads to cooking two batches of food in the 1390, instead of one in the larger skillet. The Calphalon 1390 does such an excellent job of cooking hashbrowns, eggs, Chinese dumplings, and everything else we fry, we don’t mind the extra time.

Check out that thick chunk of steel on the bottom.
Check out that thick chunk of steel on the bottom.

Best Coffee For The Price

Hard to believe this is the lowest priced coffee in many stores.

The key to delicious low-price coffee is to go with a darker roast. The flavor caused by roasting brings out a good taste from less-expensive coffee beans. For a good example, expensive espresso roasts are usually made with inexpensive beans.

The hidden treasure on the bottom shelf of many supermarkets is Seattle’s Best Number 4 Roast.  It’s roasted just enough to be delicious, but not enough to get a burnt taste. The No.4 is basically an Italian roast, which is parent company’s Starbucks best-selling roast.

I tried a Number 2 roast, but it tastes like the cheap coffee that it is.  The Number 3 was okay, but really, Number 4 is the sweet spot of this line of coffee. The Number 5 roast is for all practicle purposes a French roast, and it smells good. It tastes good too, and this roast is an excellent choice for mixing with hot milk to make a French-style cafe au lait.

Many shoppers have discovered the No.4 Roast, so there is often an empty spot between No.3 and No. 5 on the coffee shelf.

The Other Great Cheap Coffee

For a change of pace dark roast, Café Bustelo is a worthy inexpensive coffee. It’s café espresso molida, which means roasted and ground for espresso, but despite the fine grind, Café Bustelo makes an excellent and reliable cup of dark drip coffee.

 

Perfect Popcorn in a Pan

Major food group

In terms of convenience, popcorn in the microwave always wins against the old way of popping corn in a covered saucepan.  Sure it’s easier, but taste is sacrificed, and there is a high risk of burnt or dried out popcorn kernels that ruin the popcorn experience.

As John and Michael will attest, the worst part of microwaved popcorn is the fake butter taste, which is acceptable with the first few handfuls, but quickly becomes a turn-off near the end of the bag.

Surprisingly, it’s almost as easy to pop popcorn on the stove, and real butter makes all the difference in the world. It’s actually a lot of fun to pop corn, with the great sounds and smells. The only real problem with this popcorn is that it’s too good. The boys want me to make popcorn at least 3 times per week.

What you will need:

  • 2 Tablespoons oil (peanut or coconut is the best)
  • 1/2 Cup popcorn kernels (Orville Redenbacher)
  • 1 to 2 Tablespoons butter
  • Salt (Morton’s Sea Salt)
  • 3 quart saucepan
  • rubber spatula

What you will do:

  1. Have a rubber spatula ready at hand.
  2. Using a 3-quart or larger saucepan, turn heat to medium-high. Put the oil and popcorn kernels together in the pan, and put the lid on tight.
  3. When the first kernel pops, shake the pan back and forth.  It doesn’t require hard shaking.  You’d think that on high heat, the popcorn would burn, but it doesn’t.
  4. Keep shaking until it the pan begins to fill up with popped corn and the popping slows down.  With a 3 quart saucepan, the popcorn will lift the lid, and a few kernels may pop and fly around the kitchen.  This is part of the fun.
  5. Turn off the heat, then dump all of the popcorn into a large bowl.  Use a spatula to scrap remaining pieces of kernels into a sink or trash can.
  6. Turn heat back on to medium, put butter in pan, and swirl it until it foams up.  When it bubbles up, it spreads onto the popcorn better.
  7. Drizzle the butter onto the popcorn from as high as you can reach with the pan.  Mix the butter into the popcorn with the spatula, sprinkle on Morton’s Sea Salt, and stir again.
  8. Serve with a Coke, and enjoy the show.

Tricks for Better Hard-Boiled Eggs

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It’s easy to make perfectly-cooked hard-boiled eggs with yellow yolks, which look much more appetizing than badly-cooked yolks with green edges.  For failure-proof success, cover eggs with cold water in a saucepan, put a lid on the pan, and bring the water and eggs to a boil.  The second the eggs start bouncing and tapping on the bottom of the pan, take the pan off the heat and let the eggs sit in the hot water of the pan for 13 minutes.

After the eggs have cooked, drain the hot water and cover the eggs in the pan with cold water.  Once the eggs have cooled for about 3 minutes, they will be very easy to peel.  If you don’t peel them right away, the eggshell will cool and contract and stick to the egg white, and you’ll be tearing off chunks of egg white with the shell.

For a warm egg salad, mash up the eggs just after you  peel them, add mayonaisse to taste, one green onion that’s been chopped, salt and pepper, along with any other ingredient that is traditional with you.  The simpler, the better.

Don’t forget to toast the bread if you are making a sandwich, as the crunch of the toast is a good contrast with the smooth creaminess of the egg salad. We like a thick piece of French bread that’s been Texas-toasted.

Deviled Eggs

We like very simple deviled eggs, with not much effort.  Simply slice hard boiled eggs in half, lengthwise, and remove the yolks.  Smash up the yolks with a fork, and add some mayonnaise (Japanese Kewpie if you have it), some salt and pepper, with some minced scallion and maybe some paprika or any other red chile pepper sauce.  Spoon it back into the holes of the removed yolks, and serve.  Make sure to keep them cool, because you know what’s going to happen if they get too warm.

Make Hatch Green Chile Sauce

Green chile sauce doesn't look beautiful, but it's awesome.
Green chile sauce isn’t beautiful, but it’s awesome.

You may have an abuelita in Santa Fe who makes green chile sauce better than this, but to make your own requires a delicate balance of savory onion and garlic with the sweetness and pleasant burn of roasted green chiles.  A tomato adds just the right touch of acidity.  Many recipes add tart tomatillos, but that’s not New Mexican.

As a cameraman for an Albuquerque TV station, I traveled all around New Mexico, ate at a lot of cafés, and interviewed many cooks (and a few grandmothers) to develop this recipe.

If you’re ever in Santa Fe, I recommend the huevos rancheros with red and green chile at Cafe Pasqual’s (The breakfast center of the universe). The roast beef burrito smothered with green chile at Tomasita’s looks like a hot mess, but it’s amazing.

Best Hatch Green Chile Sauce Recipe

  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced or crushed
  • 1 heaping cup of roasted and chopped green chile (9 or 10 chiles)
  • 1 tomato, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon instant tapioca (best) or regular flour
  • ½ cup Swanson chicken stock
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon oregano, dried or fresh chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Black pepper

1. Add olive oil to a sauce pan, turn heat to medium, and heat oil for 2 minutes.

2. Add onion, and saute until it turns golden (about 8 minutes). Don’t worry if it turns a little brown–it’s caramelized.

3. Stir in the garlic and turn the heat down to low.  Add the tapioca or flour, and stir frequently for 4 minutes.  Add the tomato, green chile, chicken stock and water, stir, and turn heat back to medium.

4. Finally, add salt, cumin, oregano and black pepper, then stir.  Let it cook for about 5 minutes on medium. You’re done, that’s it.  Green chile sauce stays fresh for 4 days in the fridge, or you can freeze it and reheat it with no loss of flavor.

Flour is the traditional thickener for green chile sauce, but tapioca makes it look shiny and bright, and doesn’t change the taste. The chile sauce will be gluten-free.

The Desert Hurricane

Just about every weekend we make a breakfast with bacon, fried eggs, and cheddar cheese on top of a pile of Ore-Ida hashbrowns. Then we pour hot green chile sauce over the top.  It’s called a Desert Hurricane, and it’s stunning.

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Want to know how to roast green chile? Click here.  Don’t have fresh green chiles? Forget the ones in a can–the taste is off–but check the frozen aisle for Bueno Chopped Green Chile, it works great!

If you want to make a Green Chile Cheeseburger, use chopped green chiles (not this sauce), onion, mustard, tomato, and pickles.  Ketchup is not recommended, as the tomato already provides that taste.  The preferred cheeses are Cheddar, American, or Provolone.

Eater.com has a superb guide to green chiles, and if you’re ever in Santa Fe, a great list of restaurants to visit. Green chile also won a USA Today/10Best.com poll as the best regional cuisine, and the site also included great restaurants to try in New Mexico.

Perfectly Cook Bacon in the Oven

baconbakee

It’s no fun to fry bacon in a skillet, with grease splattering in all directions.  If you are lucky, you’ll get good results, instead of burnt middles with rubbery curled-up ends.

Baking bacon in the oven results in evenly cooked strips at the perfect point between crispy and chewy.

Directions

1.  Preheat oven to 400° (toaster or convection ovens work well).  Line the oven tray or raised-edge cookie sheet with aluminum foil.  Lay the bacon down on the foil, without overlapping the strips, or they’ll stick to each other.

2.  Slide the bacon into the oven, and cook for 13 minutes.

3.  Remove the tray or sheet from the oven, turn the bacon strips over, and cook another 4 minutes.

4.  When the bacon is cooked, you’ll see bubbles and foam all around the bacon. If the bacon is thick-cut, it may take more time.  Remove the tray from the oven, flip the bacon, and cook it some more, checking it every minute to see if it’s to your liking.

When it bubbles, it’s almost ready.

Near the end of the baking, the side of the bacon that is touching the pan will be more cooked than the side facing up. If you cook five or less pieces of bacon, it may take 1 minute less per side.

Tommy Style:  We used to tease our brother-in-law Tommy, because he like his bacon so very well done.  Then one day we forgot to take the bacon out of the oven after turning the oven off, and Tommy was delighted with the results. Meilin and I tried it, and liked it.

Instructions:  Cook bacon as instructed, turn off the oven, and leave the bacon in the oven.  After 15 or 20 minutes the bacon will be extremely well cooked, but not burnt, and will crumble easily for bacon bits.

Dark and Stormy : The Right Mix

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While a Dark ‘n Stormy conjures visions of soft sand and turquoise seas of the sunny Caribbean, it also has subtle flavors of northern winter spices, so it’s enjoyable all year round.

The Dark n’ Stormy name comes from the way the drink is made, with the ginger beer poured first, followed by Black Seal Rum floated on top. The dark rum drifts slowly down into the bright ginger, suggesting the look of an approaching thunderstorm.

Dark ‘n Stormy

  • 3½ ounces mild ginger beer (Barritt’s or Gosling’s)
  • 2 ounces Gosling Black Seal Rum
  • Thin slice of lime, for garnish, optional

— Slowly pour the ginger beer into a highball glass. Add ice, but leave room for the rum.  Gently pour the rum down the inside of the glass.  Serve with a straw.

For a holiday taste, try sipping the flavors of the dark rum float, before it mixes into the drink.  Just a blush of ginger livens up the first tastes of Black Seal.

In Bermuda, lime is not included. A wedge or slice of lime is an attractive garnish, but lime juice can interfere with the subtle taste of ginger and rum. Nevertheless, many people enjoy it, so have lime wedges available.

Barritt’s is the best ginger beer for this drink.  Gosling’s Ginger Beer in a bottle is made with sugar, but avoid the stuff in cans, which is made with corn syrup, which dulls the flavor of rum,. Many ginger beers, other than Barritt’s or Gosling’s, contain capsaicin from chile peppers, which gives the beers a nice burn, but it can detract from a Dark ‘n Stormy.

Barritt’s Bermuda Stone Ginger is available at Total Wine and many Kroger supermarkets.

Serve a glass of cold water with every drink, to reduce consequences.

Jack & Coke: The Right Mix

jack&cokeJack Daniel’s and Coca-Cola may seem simple and unsophisticated to some people, but it’s damn good, and there’s five ways to mix it for five different tastes. It’s convenient, too, as Jack and Coke is one of the few great drinks that doesn’t require fresh ingredients, and is ready to pour at a moment’s notice.

Jack and Coke

  • 2 ounces Jack Daniel’s No. 7
  • 8 ounces Coca-Cola

— Fill a tall or Old Fashioned glass with ice. Pour in the whiskey. Gently pour in the Coke.  Garnish with nothing. This is a very balanced mix of Jack & Coke.  Ask your bartender for a 4 : 1 ratio or mix. The mixes with 7 ounces and 9 ounces of Coke weren’t good, for some reason, but the Golden Mean of 8 ounces was predictably, perfectly balanced.

Pro Jack & Coke

  • 2 ounces Jack Daniel’s
  • 6 ounces Coca-Cola

This mix is recommended by the Jack Daniel Distillery, and brings the fine taste of Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 to the forefront.  Strong, but not too strong.  It’s a 3 : 1 mix.

Smooth Jack & Coke

  • 2 ounces Jack Daniel’s
  • 10 ounces Coca-Cola

There’s just a hint of the taste of whiskey.  A 5 : 1 mix.

Strong Jack & Coke

  • 2 ounces Jack Daniel’s
  • 2 ounces Coca-Cola

I like this one a lot, it has a slight caramel taste.

Coca-Cola from Mexico is bottled with sugar, and tastes better with alcohol than corn-syrup Coke. Many drinkers will enjoy Jack with a splash of Coke.  What’s a splash? It’s a bartender’s one-count, and since a 4-count is an ounce, that’s about ¼ ounce.

Other Whiskey?

Jack Daniel’s just has the right stuff, and it’s better than other whiskey, even expensive Bourbons, when mixed with Coke.   The only whiskies that come close are Wild Turkey 101 and Crown Royal.

Found this American Icon at Schneider's of Capitol Hill.
Found this American Icon at Schneider’s of Capitol Hill, my favorite liquor store ever.

In England, this drink is called JD & Coke, and in the rest of Europe it’s a Whisky Cola.  Serve a glass of cold water with every drink, to reduce consequences.