Recipe for 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 Way to Cook Asparagus

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Asparagus seems like a pain to cook, and there’s even a special pot available to cook it, but here is a way to cook it fast and easy, and the asparagus comes out delicious every time.

If the spears are thin as a pencil, there’s no 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.

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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.

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Put the lid on tightly, and turn the heat to highCook the asparagus for 4 minutes and 30 seconds (4:30), with the lid on tight for steaming.

Turn off the heat, and drain any remaining water.

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 is optional.  A few shaves of parmesan cheese is good, and wrapping them spears in proscuitto is a classic way to serve them..

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.  Instead, take the entire bunch 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, tall jar, or plastic container (We use large soup containers from Chinese food carry-out) and put the spears in it. Tuck the plastic bag from the store into the cup to keep the water from evaporating.  The asparagus tips will stay dry, and the veggie will easily keeps for a week.

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The Best Tasting Tomato in a Store is a Campari

Campari tomatoes
Campari tomatoes

We all know how supermarket tomatoes are picked unripe, to get them to market while they are still attractive.  But if you want a tomato that tastes like homegrown, the only choice is a Campari tomato, also known as a cocktail tomato.

The only problem with this type of tomato is the small size.  However, a small Campari tomato adds way more flavor than a large bland tomato.

If you need a lot of tomatoes for a sauce, use regular tomatoes for body, and add Camparis for flavor.

Due to their small size, don’t try using a serrated peeler on them, but rather use a thumbnail.

Another trick is to fill a Pyrex measuring cup with boiling water, put the tomatoes in it, and scoop it out with a spoon after 40 seconds, if you are using the tomato fresh.

If you are using Campari tomatoes to cook with, leave them in the boiled water for just over a minute.  They will be hot, but not cooked, and the skin will slide right off.  You can also put a coffee cup half-filled with water in the microwave, for 1 minute on high power, then put the tomato in the hot water.

Tomato and Sweet Onion Sandwich

Toast 2 slices of your favorite bread.  Spread mayonnaise and mustard on one slice of toast.  Peel and slice two Campari tomatoes, drain the liquid from them, and put them on the mayo and mustard.  Salt and black pepper the tomatoes.  Add 2 layers of thinly cut sweet onions (such as Vidalia or Texas 1015) to the other slice of toast, and put both sides together.

This sandwich also tastes great with summer tomatoes from the garden.

Best Low Price Coffee

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

The Other Great Cheap Coffee

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

 

Dark ‘n Stormy Drink. 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.

Boil a Better Hard-Boiled Egg

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For successful hard-boiled eggs with yellow yolks, rather than unsightly green-edged yolks, 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.

Quickly Peel the Eggs

After the eggs have cooked, drain the hot water and cover the eggs in the pan with cold water.  Immediately peel the eggs or the shells will stick to the egg white.  The best way is to sharply crack the egg in the middle, then start peeling around the equator (or egg-quator) of the egg.

Make sure you get under the thin skin that is underneath the shell, either by rubbing it with your thumb or pinching it.  Once you have stripped the shell from around most of the center of the egg, it will be easy to pull off the top and bottom of 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.

Scotch & Green Tea

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Scotch and Green Tea was originally a way to make the whisky taste better for new Scotch drinkers, but it turns out to be a very refreshing drink.

Scotch and Green Tea

  • 1½ ounce blended Scotch whisky (Chivas Regal or Johnnie Walker Black)
  • 4½ ounces green tea, brewed and cooled
  • ¼ ounce simple syrup or 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)

— Pour the Scotch and green tea over the rocks. Stir in sugar if you’re doing it that way.  Better than most water.

How It Came To Be

I was not shocked to hear that many Chinese were mixing Scotch whisky with green tea in bars and clubs.  Like a Louis Vuitton handbag, Scotch is an icon of affluence and a satisfying reward for hard work. But it’s not an easy taste to acquire.

Green tea is also an acquired taste.  It’s very grassy, which is why it’s less popular than black tea, but I do enjoy the aroma of hot green tea steeping in the kitchen when family comes to visit.

The last question, before testing this combination, is what kind of Scotch?  I’d heard it was Chivas Regal, which due to strong marketing is the leading brand of aged, blended Scotch in Asia.  So I asked Mark Gillespie, the founder of whiskycast.com,  who verified that it is indeed Chivas Regal in China, but Johnnie Walker in Taiwan, with Ballantine’s (from Chivas Brothers) being a value-priced alternative.

I decided to take it a step further, and try 4 different Scotches:  Chivas Regal, Johnnie Walker Black, Highland Park 12-Year-Old, and just for fun, my resident Scotch, Laphroaig Cask Strength.

Chivas Regal is fruit and nuts, smooth with very light smoke or peat.  It’s sweet and slightly malty with a smooth, warm finish. Excellent blended whisky for first-time Scotch drinkers.

Johnnie Walker Black is sweet, malty, creamy, vanilla, spicy, with hints of peat and cooked fruit.  It has a mellow, silky, sweet, and slightly spicy finish.  It’s so well blended you can find new flavors each time you try it.

Highland Park 12 is smooth, malty, and caramel-flavor, with sea salt, medium smoke and peat.  The finish is long and smooth.  This is a beautiful introduction to single malt Scotch.

Laphroaig Cask-Strength is smoke and peat and sweetness and fruit and medicine.  It finishes with a dry lingering spice.  It’s single-malt Scotch at full thrust.

First, I mixed 1 part Chivas with 1 part Ito En Japanese Green Tea from the bottle, on the rocks.  The drink had little Scotch taste, with a slight burn, but it was immediately clear that Scotch and Green Tea does indeed mix well.

Next, I tried the same mix with Highland Park.  The flavors of this Scotch and the tea were cancelled out by each other.

With the Johnnie Walker, I tried several different mixes.  1 part Johnnie with 1 part green tea was good, you could taste both Scotch and tea, but neither strongly.   With 2 parts green tea, the taste was washed out, and with 3 parts of tea the taste of Scotch was just about gone.  However, the drink was exceptionally refreshing, something to enjoy for hours of sipping.

Further, at 1 part Johnnie to 4 parts green tea, the drink became like water.  The tastes had completely nullified each other, and it was a cocktail that even a Scotch-hater might enjoy.

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It’s clear that Scotch & Green Tea was originally a way to enjoy Scotch, without actually having to taste it too much.  However, it turns out to be a very good cocktail, and a superb way to ease into Scotch-drinking.

Scotch

 

 

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.

Pop Popcorn in a Pan for More Flavor

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.

Manhattan Cocktail Recipe Deluxe

The Manhattan Cocktail was originally made with rye whiskey, but rye disappeared for many years after Prohibition. While it was gone, most Manhattans were made with Kentucky bourbon. While bourbon makes for a sweet good Manhattan, rye whiskey adds a solid spicy kick. The stronger the rye, the better.

Manhattan Cocktail Recipe

  • 2 ounces rye whiskey
  • ¾ to 1 ounce Italian sweet vermouth
  • 2 to 3 dashes Angostura bitters
  • Maraschino cherry, for garnish
  • Tiny piece of lemon peel, for garnish, optional

— Combine whiskey, vermouth and bitters in a mixing glass with ice. Stir 40 times, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass with the cherry placed in the bottom.  A wisp of a lemon peel adds a subtle tang.

With 3/4 ounce of vermouth you’ll taste whiskey more, but increasing it to 1 ounce tips the taste toward vermouth.  Try it both ways.

A simpler option for preparation is to pour whiskey, vermouth and bitters over ice in an Old-Fashioned glass, and stir.

Rittenhouse 100 Rye is the preferred rye for a Manhattan, when mixed with Martini & Rossi or other Italian vermouth. High West Rye is also recommended. For an impressive Manhattan, Carpano Antica, one of the most complex Italian vermouths, is highly recommended. I’ll guarantee it’s worth the added expense.

Since bourbon is a little sweeter than rye, Dolin Rouge French Vermouth is preferred over Italian vermouth for a bourbon “Southern Manhattan”. After a vermouth bottle is opened, it should be consumed quickly, or stored in the refrigerator, where it will last a month or more. Write the date that you opened it on the label. Better yet, to keep your vermouth from slowly turning into herbed vinegar, pump out the air with a low-cost Vacu Vin, and the vermouth will stay fresh even longer.