Best Inexpensive Non-Stick Skillet


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.

How to Make Pancakes from Scratch Without Buttermilk

Having buttermilk in the fridge requires planning, but pancakes are often spur-of-the-moment, so here’s an easy substitute: milk and lemon juice. I always have lemons, and they last a month in the fruit crisper.  In fact, I think milk curdled with lemon juice tastes better than buttermilk in pancakes.

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice (1/2 lemon)
  • 2 Tablespoons butter, melted
  1. Melt the butter.  20 seconds at low power in the microwave works.
  2. Blend or sift the flour, baking soda, and salt together in small mixing bowl.
  3. Put lemon juice into a measuring cup, and add milk until it makes 1 full cup.  Stir it very lightly so that it all curdles.
  4. Pour milk into the flour mix, then crack the egg on top of it all.  Mix everything, but don’t overmix.  Do not mix egg in first, or you’ll get tiny chunks of pasta.
  5. Lightly mix in the melted butter.

Put a few drops of water into a non-stick skillet, and heat on medium heat. When the water droplets begin to boil, turn heat to medium-high.

  1. Add a pat of butter to hot pan, and swirl it around with a spatula.  Pour in batter with a 1/3 cup measuring cup, or eyeball it.  A big pan can hold 3 pancakes.
  2. Cook for about 2 minutes, until bubbles appear on the top.  Lift up a cake to see if it’s properly cooked, and flip them when they are.  Flip them so the outside edge now cooks on the center of the pan.
  3. Cook for 1 ½  minutes more on the other side.
  4. Remove pancakes from pan, turn off heat.
  5. Pour maple syrup in pan, with a pat of butter, and let residual heat from pan warm up the syrup.

Notes: You can use buttermilk (1 cup) if you wish.  Buttermilk used to be thicker than milk, but modern buttermilk is just regular milk with lactic acid cultures added to it, so it’s the same consistency as lemon/milk.

Recommended:  pure maple syrup, even if you buy the store brand.  The national brands of pancake syrup made with corn syrup taste like candy.



Hong Kong Cognac


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?


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.


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


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.


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.