Original Cuban Mojito: Hierbabuena or Spearmint?

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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).

Cuban Mojito

  • 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.

The Rum

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.

http://www.richters.com/Web_store/web_store.cgi?product=X4025

Gently muddle the stems, not the leaves.

Spearmint Mojito Recipe

  • 1½ ounces white rum (Flor de Caña Extra Dry)
  • 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.

Flor de Cana for American Mojito

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.

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Santa Fe Guacamole Recipe

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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).

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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!

Cook Bacon in the Oven

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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.

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 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.

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.

How Long to Cook Broccoli? Perfect Every Time.

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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 3 minutes and 30 seconds (3:30), but don’t start it. Have a big spoon ready. (If cooking more than 2 heads of broccoli,  increase time to 4:00).

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 3;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.

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.