To be honest, a lot of people don’t love Margaritas, because they add the harshness of lime juice to the mild harshness of tequila. If you serve them at a party, most guests will drink just one.
The most popular Tex-Mex restaurants for Margaritas in Houston, Texas know this secret, and have added lemon juice to the mix.
There is no need to use expensive tequila. Cointreau is also expensive, and not sweet enough. You can make these drinks a little better with premium tequila, but that’s up to you.
1½ ounces Lunazul 100% Agave Blanco Tequila or other 100% agave blanco tequila
1 ounce DeKuyper O3 Orange Liqueur or other triple sec
¾ ounce lemon/lime juice mix
1 cup of ice
— Mix together equal parts of fresh lemon juice and fresh lime juice. Add the tequila, orange liqueur, and lemon/lime juice mix to a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, and serve in a glass with ½ of the rim salted Garnish with a lime wheel on the rim of the glass.
For pitchers of frozen margaritas, pour 12 ounces of tequila, 8 ounces of triple sec, 3 ounces of lemon juice, and 3 ounces of fresh lime juice into a blender with 3 or 4 handfuls of ice, and blend on high speed.
Lunazul costs about $20 and deserves all of its prestigious awards. Olmeca Altos is also a good bargain. Agavales mixes very well and costs under $15. DeKuyper O3 Orange is half the price of Cointreau and works better than Cointreau with these Margaritas.
Other tequilas in the $20 range we’ve tested are Campo Azul Reposado (the gold one). Espolon makes a smooth, sweeter margarita with a milder taste. Other highly-rated tequilas in this price range include El Padrino and Pueblo Viejo. Sauza Hornitos Reposado (gold) is popular in Mexico, and will give you an enjoyable burn.
If you want a Premium Margarita, use a more expensive blanco Tequila like Milagro.
For Strawberry Margaritas, add 2 fresh or frozen strawberries per drink, before mixing.
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.
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 3 to 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.
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.
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.
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.
UPDATE: a considerably better American Spearmint recipe, after the Cuban Hierbabuena recipe.
My first Mojito was made with spearmint. The drink was pretty good, but the taste seemed a little bit off. Maybe it was the wrong rum, I thought, doesn’t mix well with mint.
Weeks later I received a surprise visitor from Cuba, who brought me a souvenir paper napkin with a Cuban bartender’s handwritten recipe from the most popular Mojito spot in Havana.
“What’s hierbabuena?” I asked, “Is that spearmint?
“No. The Cuban mint isn’t very minty,” he replied.
I made him a spearmint Mojito, and he said it was not the Cuban taste. I Googled hierbabuena, and ordered some from a Canadian nursery. The mint has a citrus-like flavor that comes from the stem, whereas spearmint has a minty flavor from oils in the leaves.
Spearmint smells like chewing gum, but hierbabuena has an herbal fragrance with just a hint of mint. The Mojitos they make are completely different, so here are recipes for the Cuban Mojito (hierbabuena) and the American Mojito (spearmint).
1½ ounces Bacardi Superior or Havana Club 3 Anos white rum
1½ teaspoons white sugar (or 1 heaping teaspoon or barspoon)
1/3 ounce (2 teaspoons) fresh Key (or Mexican) lime juice
2 sprigs hierbabuena (preferably with dark stems)
2 ounces and a splash of sparkling mineral water (Topo Chico is recommended)
2 or 3 large cubes of ice
Add the sugar, lime juice, and hierbabuena with a splash of mineral water to a tall glass. With a muddler or a wooden spoon, press lightly on the stems, rather than the leaves. Add the 2 ounces of mineral water, then the ice cubes, then the rum. Serve with a straw, cut off to about 2 inches above the rim of the glass.
If you put 2 teaspoons of sugar in this drink, it’s noticeably sweet. Cubans often add a dash or two of Angostura bitters to this drink, and it’s good!
What Kind of Lime?
Many Cuban and Caribbean cocktails taste better if they are made with Key lime juice. Key limes can be found in Latino markets and most Walmart stores in the United States.
Regular limes aren’t as good in this drink, but they’re good enough. A better taste, if you don’t have Key limes, comes from mixing 2 parts of lemon juice with 3 parts regular lime juice. Use ¾ ounce of this mix, with 2 teaspoons of sugar and 3 ounces of mineral water.
Bacardi Superior is the original rum for this drink, and it’s recommended. Havana Club 3 has a stronger sugarcane taste, and is the preferred rum in Cuba. Gold rum will make a slightly sweeter “dirty mojito”.
This hierbabuena recipe is adapted from La Bodeguita del Medio, the famous bar in Old Havana, Cuba. Click on link below to order hierbabuena from Richters herb farm in Canada.
8 to 10 thumb-sized spearmint leaves (removed from stems)
2/3 ounce regular lime juice (or 4 teaspoons or barspoons)
¾ ounce simple syrup
1 lime wedge
2 ounces mineral water and a splash of mineral water
cubes of ice
A neatly-groomed sprig of spearmint, for garnish
A dash of Angostura bitters, optional
— Muddle the spearmint, lime juice, and lime wedge in a mixing glass. Add the simple syrup, rum, and 3 large ice cubes, and shake until chilled. Pour all of the contents of the mixing glass into a tall glass or Collins glass, and add 2 ounces of Topo Chico or other sparkling mineral water. Garnish with an optional mint sprig, and serve with a straw.
Do not muddle spearmint stems in this drink, because, unlike hierbabuena, the stems have a bitter taste.
Check your local nursery, as some of them are now providing mojito mint. Note: The Bonnie brand mint being sold as Yerba Buena at Lowe’s and Walmart is spearmint (mentha spicata). Cuban Mojito Mint is mentha villosa.
Growing Mojito Mint
Like spearmint, hierbabuena (also called hierba buena, yerba buena, or yerbabuena) grows like a weed, and is harder to kill than to grow. However, there’s a way to get better sprigs.
Plant in rich soil that drains well, but retains moisture
Use a 10-inch or larger pot. If planted in a garden, confine the roots, or they will take over the garden.
The plants like lots of water, but don’t waterlog them. Let plants dry out a little before watering again, to develop more flavor.
Fertilize every few months.
Keep plants cut back to 10 or 12 inches tall, or it will get spindly and ungle. I keep most of it cut back, except the sprigs I plan on using.
Hierbabuena grows best in the sun or partial shade. In hot summers, it likes morning sun or partial shade. Planting in pots allows you to move them around.
After cutting sprigs, be sure to rinse them before using, or you may get a cute tiny spider in your drink.
If the leaves are chewed up, or have holes, look for little green worms on the undersides of leaves. They’re hard to find, as they match the color of leaves and stems.
If the leaves on top are curled up, check for tiny aphids, which are tiny and black-colored. They cluster together at the tip of a few sprigs, so pinch off the affected sprigs and stomp on them. If aphids get overwhelming, soak the entire plant with Neem Oil Spray, and then wait for new mint sprigs to pop up before cutting off the sprigs that had been soaked in Neem Oil.
When white spots or streaks appear on leaves, it’s usually tiny spider mites. Spray plants with vodka, or 1 part alcohol to 4 parts water, during a time when the plants are in the shade. The spray will also reveal the mite’s tiny webs. Use Neem oil to stop them from breeding.
To get rid of whiteflies without pesticides, place a bright yellow piece of cardstock or plastic coated with motor or mineral oil, and the flies will be attracted to it and get stuck on it. Use Neem Oil to stop them from breeding.
When the roots fill the container, slice down the middle of the dirt with a sharp knife. Remove 1/2 of the root ball and replant it in a separate pot (give it to a friend) or toss it out. Fill the empty half of the pot with new soil, then water.
If the whole plant looks raggedy, cut it all back to soil level. It will grow back. In hotter climates, the temperature will get hotter than Havana in July and August. Keep the plant in a shady area, and cut back sprigs that look too spindly.
In freezing climates, say Chicago, the mint will grow back in the spring, if it’s planted in the ground and not in a pot. You can also keep a plant indoors, in a south-facing window. The plant will not thrive, but it will live until you put it outside in the spring.
Guacamole 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 avocado, 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 or good storebought chips (Tostitos Restaurant-Style Tortilla Chips are easy to find).
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!
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
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.
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.
“My favorite meat is hot dog, by the way,” Mitt Romney told his supporters, “That is my favorite meat”.
Sure, it’s easy to boil a hot dog and get decent results. After 4 to 5 minutes (package directions), the dogs will be soft and not too hot.
For the added flavor of lightly browned skins, grill them in a pan.
1. Put a few drops of water in the skillet, turn heat to medium, and wait until the water boils away. The pan is now hot enough.
2. Put hot dogs in pan, cook for a minute on medium heat, turn the hot dogs 1/4 turn, and cook for a minute more. Turn 1/4 turn again, cook 1 more minute. You get the idea. Turn and cook, turn and cook, 8 times, until all 4 sides of the hot dog have been cooked twice for 1 minute each.
3. Keep the hot dogs next to each other in the pan, to keep them from rolling around. Don’t worry if a side or two doesn’t get properly browned.
4. If you want, lightly butter the inside of the bun, turn heat down to medium-low, and put buttered down side for 2 minutes. The buns will be Texas-toasted.
For easier hot dogs, boil a few inches of water in a saucepan, drop in the frankfurters, cover, turn off heat, and let them cook in the hot water for 10 minutes. They will be firm, and 180° F inside.
Mustard, pickle relish, onions (pictured) – a favorite
Onions, cheese, mustard – superb
Sauerkraut and mustard (New York Style) – classic
Sauerkraut, pickles, mustard (German Style)
Chili, mustard, coleslaw (Carolina Dog)
Mustard, chopped onion, relish, cheese, and Cholula – great!
Mustard, chopped onion, relish, chili, cheese, and Cholula – even better!
Mustard, slaw, and relish (South Carolina Style) – tasty
Mustard and slaw – good
Grilled onions, kraut, and mustard (Deli Style) – excellent
Soft cream cheese and chopped onion (Seattle-Style) – good, unbelievably, though not unbelievably good. Thanks, Hanna Raskin.
Notes: I used KFC slaw, Wolf Brand Texas Chili (no beans!), Wickles relish, and Boar’s Head or Sabretta refrigerated sauerkraut. Use whatever mustard you like, and if you like ketchup, do it, no matter what anyone says.
Jack and Coke 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.
Popular 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 Jack. Gently pour in the Coke. Garnish with nothing. This is a balanced mix of Jack taste & Coke taste.
Ask your bartender for a 4-to-1 ratio or mix. Other mixes with 7 ounces and 9 ounces of Coke aren’t so good, for some reason, 8 ounces is perfect.
If the bar pours only 1½ ounces of Jack for a drink, then ask for 6 ounces of Coke.
Pro Jack & Coke
2 ounces Jack Daniel’s
6 ounces Coca-Cola
Recommended by the Jack Daniel Distillery, and brings the taste of Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 to the forefront. Strong, but not too strong. It’s a 3-to-1 mix. If using 1½ ounces Jack, add 4½ ounces Coke.
Smooth Jack & Coke
2 ounces Jack Daniel’s
10 ounces Coca-Cola
There’s just a hint of the taste of whiskey. A 5-to-1 mix. If using 1½ ounces of Jack, add 7½ ounces Coke.
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.
Jack Daniel’s just has the right stuff, and it’s better than expensive bourbons when mixed with Coke. The only whiskies that come close are Wild Turkey 101 and Crown Royal.
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.
Baking bacon in the oven results in evenly cooked strips at the perfect point between crispy and chewy.
It’s so much better than frying bacon in a skillet, which usually gets bacon with crispy middles and rubbery ends as the bacon starts to curl up.
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 11 to 13 minutes.
3. Remove the tray or sheet from the oven, turn the bacon strips over, and cook another 2 to 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.
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.
Little wonder why so many people hate broccoli. John and Michael used to loathe it. When we cooked it 30 seconds too little, the broccoli was still raw and crunchy. When we cooked the veggie 30 seconds too long, it got mushy and olive-colored, which is not a good look for broccoli.
This technique nails it–just right–and simply requires a timer. John and Michael eat this broccoli 3 times a week.
1. Bring 3 inches of water to boil on high temperature in a covered saucepan or pot.
2. Cut the florets off the broccoli head, and if the florets are too big, cut them in half. Put the florets in a bowl so that you can dump them all into the boiling water at the same time. Set your timer for 2 minutes and 30 seconds (2:30), but don’t start it. Have a big spoon ready. (If cooking more than 2 heads of broccoli, increase time to 2:50).
3. When the water boils, remove the cover, dump the broccoli into the water, and give it a quick stir so that all the broccoli gets dunked.
4. Clamp the lid on tightly, and start the timer. When 2:30 is up, turn off the heat and immediately drain the broccoli, or remove it with a slotted spoon. If you use the lid to strain the water out of the pan, wait about 15 seconds and strain it again to get all of the water out.
5. Put a few pats of butter on the broccoli, and leave it uncovered until the butter melts. Stir the broccoli with a large spoon or chopstick–very lightly so you don’t break off pieces of the florets. Salt and pepper the broccoli, and serve.
If desired, sprinkle the broccoli with cheese, preferably a cheddar or other yellow cheese. White cheeses aren’t the best for this vegetable. Tostito’s Medium Salsa con Queso is cheesy- delicious poured over the top.
While Maker’s Mark Bourbon, with its wheated sweet taste, remains the popular choice for this Kentucky Derby Day classic, there’s another bourbon that we prefer when mixing this cooler for Derby parties, or just any hot summer afternoon. Evan Williams 1783 adds a mild and tasty oak flavor, and a much better price.
2½ 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 better 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, powdered, or pebble 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. Or you can bring the sugar and water to just below a boil in a pan, and let it cool.
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.
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.