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 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.

 

Tricks for Better Hard-Boiled Eggs

egg

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.

Dark and Stormy : The Right Mix

darknsturmy

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.

New Mexico Guacamole

guac1Guacamole is a balance of delicate flavors.. A big secret of great guacamole was revealed to us in a small café on the High Road to Taos, where the guacamole was made tableside, by a woman whose family had lived in the small village for hundreds of years.  After slicing up the avacado, she chopped a tomato, and put the pieces in a sieve to drain the juice, while she mixed the rest of the ingredients. “Tomato juice and avocado don’t go together,” she said.

  • 2 avocados, ripened
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 serrano chile pepper, finely minced
  • 2 Tablespoons onion, finely minced
  • 1 small tomato, peeled, chopped, and drained (preferably a Campari tomato)
  • 2 Tablespoons cilantro, chopped (optional, especially if you hate cilantro)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
  • ½ teaspoon salt (Morton’s Sea Salt is cheap and pure-tasting)
  • black pepper to taste

Cut avocados in half, remove the pit, then scoop the flesh into a bowl.  Add the rest of the ingredients, except tomato. Mash all the ingredients together, leaving a few small chunks of avocado. Stir in the drained tomatoes.

Serve with fresh warm tostada chips  (Tostitos Restaurant-Style Tortilla Chips are easy to find).

guac

Picking Avocados

Choose avocados that are bright green, but just beginning to turn dark.  Leave them in a plastic bag overnight, until they begin to dark with touches of light green,  or no light green at all.  If you squeeze them and they are slightly soft, refrigerate them. They will be ready to make into guacamole for at least a week, but don’t wait too long!

Gin & Tonic : The Right Mix

Tanqueray and Fever Tree

One taste of Tanqueray Gin and Fever-Tree Tonic, and you’ll know why it’s the most popular mix in Spain.  Never mind the traditional lime garnish, this cocktail tastes better with a lemon wedge.  And the Spanish don’t stop there, adding all manner of spices, herbs, and fruit to their “Gin Tonics”.

Tanqueray and Tonic Recipe

  • 2 ounces Tanqueray gin
  • 2 to 3 ounces Fever-Tree Indian Tonic Water (or Canada Dry Tonic)
  • Fat wedge of a lemon (or half of a Key lime, or a wedge of regular lime)

Fill a highball or Collins glass with ice. Pour in the gin, and listen for the crackling sound. Gently pour in the tonic.  Squeeze the fat wedge into the glass, and drop it in for garnish. Notes:  2 ounces of tonic makes a gin-strong drink, 2½ ounces has good balance, and 3 ounces brings out the tonic.

Canada Dry Tonic is made with corn syrup rather than sugar, but tastes very good with Tanqueray.  Also, Q Tonic is very popular, and goes well with Bombay Sapphire as well as several other gins.  Fever-Tree is now widely available in supermarkets, Cost-Plus World Market, and Whole Foods.

Citadelle Gin is also recommended for this drink.  To make a Spanish Gin Tonic, use a globe-style round Burgundy wine glass, and add lots of ice.  Pour in 2 ounces of gin, and 4 or more ounces of tonic. Lemon or lime juice is added, along with peppercorns, grated nutmeg, star anise, or cardamom pods.

Quick Natural Cure for Warts

 

teatree

When John was complaining about chronic foot pain, I told him to wait a few days, hoping it would go away like most maladies.  Unfortunately it got worse, so I took a look, and saw 2 plantar warts on each foot, with one of them taking over the bottom of his piggy toe.

Wart treatments in the drugstore promised results after 4 weeks, so we decided to do a natural cure that I’d heard about–tea tree oil.  There were several brands at Whole Foods, very expensive as usual, but I found this cheap one for $6.00.  It was Tea Tree Oil with bonus Vitamin E.

I took a Q-tip, dipped it into the bottle, a dabbed it on a wart. Then I dipped the other end of the Q-tip and did the same with the other wart (no double-dipping!) and repeated on the other foot.

John didn’t want Band-aids to cover it, so he put on socks and shoes.  Nothing really happened for about 4 days. The next day we noticed the warts were smaller, and the next day they all started to get little black spots. The boy was grossed out, and thought they were turning into tumors, but I could tell the spots were the death-knell for the shrinking warts.

The plantars got smaller and blacker over the next few days, and 2 weeks after treatment started, all 4 of John’s warts fell off the same day.  We’re keeping the bottle around, as Tea Tree Oil works on all kinds of skin fungus (too nasty to show).  We’re not too big on natural cures, as most of the ones we’ve tried don’t work, but it’s definite recommend for Tea Tree Oil.

Best Margarita Recipe with Cointreau

margg

The most important element of a premium Margarita is the lime juice. Key limes, also known as Mexican or West Indies limes, are important. They can be found in most Latin or Asian supermarkets, and in the exotic produce section of many other markets.

This shaken margarita is a mix of accclaimed tequila, Cointreau, and Key lime juice that balances the sweet, sour, and spirits with no added sugar.

  • 1½ ounces of 100% blue agave silver tequila
  • ¾ ounce of Cointreau
  • ¾ ounce fresh-squeezed Key lime juice

— Hold a tumbler glass upside down, and rub a cut lime on one half of the rim.  Dip, but don’t twist, the outside of the wet rim into a dish of Morton Sea Salt.  Pour tequila, Cointreau, and lime juice into a mixing glass with ice.  Shake 40 times and strain onto ice cubes in the salted glass.

If you can’t find Key limes, then a mix of 2 parts lemon juice with 1 part regular Persian) lime juice is better than pure Persian lime juice.

Recommended tequilas are Milagro, Herradura, Avion, Pura Vida, Siembra Azul, Dos Lunas, Tapatio, Patron, and Corazon.  A few reposado (gold) tequilas mix well in margaritas, such as Dos Lunas and Izkali. Expensive tequilas like El Tesoro or Don Julio are better left for sipping.

The Cointreau can be replaced with Marie Brizard Triple Sec or Combier, but they’re harder to find. Grand Marnier is made with cognac, so it adds that taste, as does Ferrand Dry Curacao. Patron Citronage is not recommended.

Frozen Margaritas

Premium shaken margaritas are great for tiny gatherings, but if you have lots of people, they take too much time to prepare. Replace them with these tasty Cheap Margaritas.  Guests will be pleased, and so will you.  If you want strawberry frozen margaritas, just add two fresh or frozen strawberries per drink before blending it.

 

Best Bourbon Mint Julep

The Bourbon Julep was born here at the Round Robin Bar in the Willard Hotel, Washington DC
The Bourbon Julep was born here.

A bottle of Maker’s Mark sits atop the Round Robin Bar in the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC — where Kentucky Senator Henry Clay introduced the Bourbon Julep to these United States. That’s the bourbon of choice for the drink that remains the Round Robin’s signature, and it’s a very good choice for this icy beverage.

Though Henry Clay was born in Ashland, Virginia, the town is is named after his Kentucky estate, and this Virginia-bred drink has been historically tied with Kentucky bourbon and the Kentucky Derby in Louisville.

While Maker’s Mark Bourbon, with its wheated sweet taste remains the popular choice for this drink, there’s another bourbon that we prefer when mixing this cooler for enjoyment on a hot summer afternoon.  Evan Williams 1783 adds a mild and tasty oak flavor, and a lower price.

Mint Julep

2 ½ ounces bourbon

2 teaspoons (1/3 ounce) simple syrup

8 to 10 leaves of spearmint

A neatly-groomed sprig of spearmint, for garnish

A dusting of powdered sugar, for garnish, optional

Lots of crushed, cracked, or powdered ice, or easier yet, Sonic Drive-In pebble ice.

— Add the simple syrup and mint leaves to a mixing glass.  Press lightly on the mint leaves with a muddler.  Add the bourbon, and stir well.

Fill an Old Fashioned glass or silver Julep cup with crushed, cracked, or powdered ice.  Strain the contents of the mixing glass into it.  Add more ice to the top of the julep cup or glass, and make a mound of ice on top of the drink.

Insert a sprig of spearmint into the mound of ice.  Dust the top of the ice and mint with powdered sugar, if you wish.  Cut off the bottom of a straw so that the top of the straw is 1 inch above the rim of the julep cup or glass.  Serve, and as the Southern novelist Walker Percy relates,  “Then settle back in your chair for a half an hour of cumulative bliss”.

To make simple syrup, add equal parts of white sugar and good-tasting water to a jar with a tight lid.  Shake vigorously, rest 5 minutes, shake vigorously again, and rest 5 more minutes.  No need to boil the stuff.

Other Recommended Bourbons

Maker’s Mark and Evan Williams 1793 are standard around our porch, but Old Grand-Dad 100, and Old Forester Signature are also recommended bourbons. Generally speaking, the sweetness of “wheated” bourbons taste best in a Julep.

Don't be fooled by the low price. This bourbon makes a fantastic Julep.
Don’t be fooled by the low price. This bourbon makes a fantastic Julep.

Ice

Sonic Drive-In sells bags of ice from their drive-thru windows.  The pebble ice is perfect for Juleps, Daiquiris, and Margaritas. You can also make powdered ice by using a Lewis bag, or putting ice into a clean canvas tote bag and smacking the ice-filled  bag with a wooden  mallet.