Hong Kong Cognac

hongkongcognac

Cognac has become a sought-after luxury in China, but like Scotch, it’s not to the taste of many drinkers there.  Fortunately, the mixer of choice used to make it palatable–7UP– happens to make an excellent cocktail, which pairs well with many dishes in Chinese, Japanese, and Thai cuisine.

Hong Kong Cognac

  • 1½ ounces Cognac
  • 4½ ounces 7UP
  • Maraschino cherry, for garnish

— Fill a highball or Collins glass with ice.  Pour in the Cognac. Gently pour in the 7UP, and stir slowly seven times with a chopstick.  Garnish with a cherry, and let the drink sit for 5 minutes to blend and chill.

7UP is recommended for this drink, but Sprite may be substituted.  St. Rémy VSOP Brandy is inexpensive, and mixes well with Sprite and lots of ice.

 

 

Pimm’s Cup Recipe

pimm's cup

You don’t have to be watching tennis at Wimbledon to enjoy a Pimm’s Cup, it’s enjoyable any time it’s warm.  And though the original English version is made with Schweppe’s Bitter Lemon soda, but there’s several other lemon-lime or ginger sodas that make this cocktail delicious and refreshing on a summer day..

Fever-Tree Bitter Lemon Soda is available in the United States, in higher-end stores.  Fine substitutes include 7UP and ginger ale, and in the right amount aren’t too sweet. You may also like the version made with Seagram’s Ginger Ale and the one with Barritt’s Ginger Beer. 7UP tasted a little thin and San Pellegrino Lemon Soda was a little too tart.

No matter what lemon-lime or ginger soda you use, 2½ ounces seems to be just the right amount of mixer.

Pimm’s Cup

  • 1½ ounces Pimm’s No.1
  • 2½ ounces bitter lemon soda, ginger ale, 7UP, or mild ginger beer
  • Thin cucumber slice, for garnish
  • Thin slice of orange, for garnish
  • A sprig of spearmint, for garnish, optional
  • A strawberry, cut in half, for garnish, optional

Fill half of a highball or Collins glass with ice. Pour in the Pimm’s No.1. Gently pour in the soda, ginger ale, or ginger beer.  Garnish with the cucumber slice and the orange slice.  If you wish, add the two halves of the strawberry and/or the sprig of spearmint.

Pimm’s Cups are often garnished with lemon wedges and green apples along with the cucumber, but it is not recommended here. Barritt’s and Gosling make mild ginger beers that are recommended in this drink. Strong Jamaican-style ginger beer is not recommended.

In New Orleans,  Pimm’s Cups are made with 3 ounces of lemonade and a splash of 7UP.  It’s worth trying, but not preferred here.

How Long Do I Boil Corn On the Cob?

corn

I grew up in a corn state, and travel back to Indiana for deliciously sweet corn-on-the-cob every summer.  Oddly, there is no standard way to cook it, other than to drop the ears into boiling water for an indeterminate amount of time.

Fortunately, I learned this consistent technique from a friend native to New York City, which gets some fine corn from New Jersey.

How to Boil Corn

  1. Remove the husks and silk. Trim any remaining stalk and the tips of the corn, if they are raggedy.
  2. Place corn in a pot, with enough water to cover the ears.
  3. Bring the water and corn to a boil, covered.
  4. When the pot comes to a boil, turn off the heat and leave the ears of corn in the water, covered, for 10 minutes.
  5. Remove ears of corn, serve with butter, salt, and pepper.
  6. If you want to cut the corn from the cob, hold the ears in a bowl and cut downward with a paring knife, holding the knife at an angle with the point downward.  Do not use a chef’s knife, as the wide blade will launch corn kernels all over the kitchen.

corncut

Best Tequila for Margaritas

2 tequilas

You can make expensive margaritas or cheap ones, and the taste shouldn’t be all that different, if you use the right ingredients.

1)  Premium Margaritas require Cointreau and medium-priced 100% blue agave blanco tequila. (click here for recipe)

2) Cheap “House” Margaritas are best made with strong-tasting low-priced 100% blue agave tequila, and triple sec. (click here for recipe)

Premium Margaritas

Highly recommended Margarita mixing tequilas are Siembra Azul (Blue Harvest) and Pura Vida, which by no coincidence are produced by the same company, Feliciano Vivianco Y Asociados.  You also can’t go wrong with Milagro, Avion, Dos Lunas, and Patrón. Other solid recommendations are Cazadores and Herradura.

Izkali makes a reposado tequila that is award-winning in margaritas.  And Sauza Hornitos Reposada gives a flavorful burn.  Sauza Hornitos is the choice of many many bartenders in Mexico.

If you have premium El Tesoro or Don Julio, by all means, sip it, but don’t expect it to make a significantly better cocktail.  Tapatio, a lower-priced blanco by the producer of El Tesoro (in a wonderfully cheap-looking bottle) is a better value.

Better yet, go to Neal McDonald’s website Proof 66 and decide for yourself.

Cheap Margaritas

I have not found anything that comes close to Lunazul or Agavales.  A lot of Texas restaurants are now using one of these in their house margaritas, for good reason, and it’s ridiculously cheap.

El Jimador is a cheap favorite in Mexico,  and Espolon has a mild taste. Milagro on sale isn’t expensive, and gets universal raves. I did not like the Sauza Blue in the picture above, but I’ll highly recommend Sauza Hornitos Reposado. Pueblo Viejo is a superb value.

I realize there are some other excellent tequilas out there, but these choices are just the bottles that are widely available in liquor stores in the U.S.A.

Quick Breakfast Tacos with Corn Tortillas

breaktaco

Many fast-food restaurants serve breakfast burritos, with eggs and bacon wrapped up in a soft flour tortilla, with maybe some chiles or hot sauce added. They are warm, bland, and satisfying.

Breakfast tacos start the day with a fresh hot buzz, and can be made very quickly on mornings when kids are hustling to get ready for school and you feel like you are running late.  You know that feeling.

Quick Breakfast Tacos

  • 2 corn tortillas
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon of milk
  • Shredded Cheddar or other cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • Bottled hot sauce (Cholula or Tapatio is good)
  1. Preheat a skillet on medium heat with a few drops of water in it. When the water boils, it’s hot enough.
  2. If you are using a non-stick skillet, melt a pat of butter and spread it around.  If your skillet is metal, pour a teaspoon or two of corn or peanut oil, and spread it around.
  3. Put a corn tortilla in the skillet, and fry it on medium heat for a minute or two.  Flip and fry on the other side.
  4. Remove and place on a plate. (Have a paper towel on the plate if you want the tacos less greasy)
  5. Repeat steps 4 and 5 with the second tortilla.
  6. Put the second tortilla on the plate, overlapping the first tortilla, so that you can put egg on it properly.
  7. Scramble the egg, milk, salt, and pepper.
  8. Add a tiny bit more butter or oil to the pan to cook the egg.
  9. Pour in egg, and stir.  Turn off the heat and let the residual heat cook the egg while you stir it.
  10. Divide the scrambled egg evenly onto the two tortillas.
  11. Add cheese, hot sauce, and more salt and pepper if you wish.
  12. Fold them and eat them.

 

French Toast with Black Pepper

Have you ever been so sleepy in the morning that you put the wrong ingredient in breakfast?  I’ve poured cereal into a coffee cup, and cream into a sugar bowl. However, some great ideas are born from stupid actions, like the time I ground black pepper into the French Toast batter I was making for John instead of grinding it onto the eggs I’d just scrambled for Michael. A fine mistake, as it turned out to be the perfect spice to complement the sweetness of maple syrup and cinnamon.

What you will need:

  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup milk (1/3 for thick slices of bread)
  • salt and fresh-ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • a sprinkling of cinnamon
  • 1 Tablespoon flour
  • 2 slices of bread–fresh, frozen, or day-old–or 3 slices of challah bread
  • 1 Tablespoon butter

What you will do:

1.  Beat the egg, milk, and vanilla in a shallow dish or pie plate. Beat in flour, salt, pepper, and cinnamon.

2.  Heat non-stick skillet with a few drops of water on medium heat. When the water boils, the pan will be ready.

3.  Put bread slices into the egg batter and let them sit for a minute. Then flip them and let them soak in the egg on the other side.

4.  When the pan is hot, melt the butter in the pan and spread it around with a spatula.  Add the battered slices of bread, and pour any remaining batter on top of the bread.

5.  Cook each side for about 2 minutes, or until golden brown.

6.  Remove slices, turn off heat, then pour maple syrup into the skillet.  As it bubbles, add a pat of butter and let it melt into the syrup, making a warm, delicious topping for your French toast.

Notes: Challah or brioche bread, cut thick, are ideal for French Toast.  Use the 1/3 Cup amount of milk.

We generally don’t buy expensive ingredients for most cooking, but maple syrup is an exception.  Even a store-brand 100% pure maple syrup is considerably better than the maple/corn brand-name syrup that is most common on store shelves. Vermont Maple Syrup seems to be the best, but maple syrup from other places are plenty good.

Best Rum for a Daiquiri

The Daiquiri is a simple but perfect cocktail, a sublime mix of rum, sweet, and sour. It’s easy to make, and puts your guests in an instant tropical mood.  Best of all, it’s delicious with any rum you like.

Daiquiri (Frozen or Shaken)

  • 2 ounces rum
  • ¾ ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • ½ ounce simple syrup

— Add the rum, lime juice, and simple syrup to a mixing glass with ice. Shake well and strain into any glass that’s filled with crushed ice, cracked ice, or ice cubes. Or, add the rum, lime juice, and simple syrup to a blender with 2 cups of ice. Blend until frothy.

Key limes or Mexican limes are often used for Daiquiris and other tropical drinks. If the Daiquiri is too tart for some guests, increase the amount of simple syrup to ¾ ounce. Simple syrup is made by adding equal amounts of sugar and purified water in a jar, shake vigorously, wait five minutes, and shake again.

Recommendations for white rum: Banks 5 Island, Bacardi Superior, Flor de Caña Extra Dry, Diplomatico, Plantation 3 Star, Miami Club, 10 Cane, Old New Orleans Crystal, and Cruzan.

Recommendations for gold or aged rum: Bacardi 8, Cruzan Single Barrel, Diplomatico Anejo, Pampero Aniversario, Mount Gay, Screech, Plantation Grande Reserve, and Don Q Anejo.

Best Way to Fry Eggs

It’s easy to fry an egg, but getting it just is a minor skill.  If the heat’s too high the egg will get rubbery, and the yolk grows hard and unpleasant.  A properly runny yolk can be delicious, but not if it is undercooked, and spots of raw egg is nauseating.

The biggest reason fried eggs get messed up in our house is because it’s morning, we’re anxiously struggling to get everybody out the door for school and work. We sit our boys down and make them take their time while enjoying breakfast, and we can focus on the perfection of a yellow circle on a white background.

Use the Right Heat

1.  Add a few drops of water to a non-stick skillet, and pre-heat on medium heat.  When the water begins to boil, it is the proper temperature.

2.  Add a tiny amount of butter, and wait until it foams.  Crack eggs and drop into butter, and immediately turn heat down to medium-low. 

3.  Fry eggs for about 1½ minutes, until there is a yellowish oval and bright yolk on top of a cooked white egg.

4.  Flip the eggs, and cook for about a minute for runny yolks, or about 1½ minutes for a slighty more firm egg yolk.

5.  For “sunny-side up” eggs that are actually cooked, pour a Tablespoon of water into the pan immediately after dropping the eggs in, and put a cover on the skillet.  The steam will cook the top.

These eggs will be softer than eggs cooked at a higher temperature, so they will more difficult to flip.  It requires a forceful shove of the spatula underneath the eggs before flipping.

Cracking the Eggs

Why do yolks break when eggs are cracked for frying, but rarely when you crack them for scrambling.  It’s not common sense, but the harder you smack the eggs, the more likely the yolk will stay intact when you pour it into the pan.  If a piece of shell goes into the pan, use the large half of the shell to scoop it up, or wet a spoon before using it to scoop it up.

Best results come by cracking eggs on a flat surface, rather than the edge of a dish or pan.  I keep a plate next to the stove to crack eggs on, put the shells on, and make it easier to clean up.

For a change, lay a strip of sliced Swiss cheese across the top of the egg, immediately after removing it from the pan.  The residual heat will melt the cheese.

Ready to flip
Ready to flip

Best Way to Cook Asparagus

aspcookd

Asparagus seems like a pain to cook, and there’s even a special pot available to cook it, but I found a way to prepare and cook it fast, and the asparagus comes out just right every time.  Every time.

If the asparagus spears are as thin or thinner than a pencil, there’s little reason to peel them.  Any spears thicker than that, an OXO, or better yet a Kuhn Rikon peeler will do a great job.  Just lay each spear down, take a strip of peel from below the tip of the spear to the bottom of the stalk.  Rotate the spear ¼ turn, peel it again, and repeat 2 more times.  You don’t have to get all of the peel off, just 4 sides.

Next, cut off the bottoms of the stalks, so that the spears fit in your sauté pan.

peelasp

Next, boil ½ cup of water, lay the asparagus spears in a saute pan, 1 or 2 layers deep, and pour in the boiling water.

aspwater

Put the lid on tightly, and turn the heat to high.  The water should boil in about 1 minute.  When it boils, cook the asparagus for 4 minutes, with the lid on tight for steaming.

Turn off the heat, remove the lid, and let the rest of the water steam away.  If there is too much water, drain it.

Return the heat to medium, and add 1 Tablespoon of butter.  As it melts, roll the asparagus spears back and forth until the butter coats them.  If the asparagus begins to brown, that’s okay, it tastes great.

Remove the asparagus spears and put them on a serving plate.  Salt and black pepper them.  A little chopped parsley on top of the asparagus is optional.  A few shaves of parmesan cheese is good, and wrapping them in proscuitto is a classic.

Sauteing them in toasted sesame oil sounds good, but it is not.

How to Store Asparagus

If you store asparagus in a plastic bag, the tips will soon begin to rot.  I take the entire bunch, still in a rubber band, and slice off an inch from the bottom of the stalks with one cut of a chef’s knife.

Then I pour an inch of water into a large coffee cup, put the asparagus in it, and tuck the plastic bag into the cup to keep the water from evaporating.  The asparagus tips will stay dry, and the asparagus will store for a week.  Change the water every few days, and maybe slice a little more off the bottom of the stalks to keep the cuts fresh.

aspa

Easy Recipe for Turkey or Chicken Stuffing

It’s hard to duck up a turkey, which is why the bird rarely appears beyond Thanksgiving, sandwiches, and pot pies.  But a Thankgiving dinner doesn’t need to be a showcase for culinary skills, but rather a bland tradition, unchallenging, a time to rejoice with friends and beloved family members, and to collect stories of the annoying ones.

Same goes for stuffing.  There’s myriad ways to make it unique, but it’s hard to beat a straightforward mix that absorbs all the flavors of the turkey or chicken.

  • 6 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup finely chopped celery (about 3 stalks)
  • ½ cup finely chopped onion (1 medium)
  • 8 cups dry shredded bread (1 large loaf)
  • 1 cup Swanson’s chicken broth
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper
  • turkey giblets (optional)
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons poultry spice

1.  Lay the bread slices out on a table to get partly stale for about 2 hours per side, or put slices in a large pan or bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel overnight.  If using a loaf of Italian or French bread, slice it first.

2.  Slice off the crusts of the bread, then use a fork to tear the white part into shreds, one slice at a time.

3.  Melt butter over medium heat, add celery and onion, and saute 8 to 10 minutes, until tender, but not brown.  Stir in parsley, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and poultry spice.  Remove from heat.

4.  Place shredded bread in a large bowl, stir in onion/celery mixture, then drizzle with chicken stock.  The mix should be damp, but not wet.

5.  Add optional giblets (cooking instructions below), or a cup of oysters, or cranberries, or whatever, at this time.

6.  Stuff the turkey.

7.  If you want to cook it separate from the turkey, pour the stuffing into a 2-quart casserole dish, or a baking dish.  Cover it with a lid or foil, and bake in a 325° oven for 35 to 40 minutes.

Notes:  Chop the celery and onion as fine as possible, as many people dislike them.

Cooking giblets:  Bring giblets, except for liver, to boil in a saucepan (with enough water to cover them).  Cover and reduce heat to low, cook 1 hour.  Add the liver and simmer, covered, for 25 more minutes.  Drain and chop, before adding to stuffing.