I recently read a great sentence that Jeffrey Steingarten wrote years ago: "Have you ever felt that coffee...nearly always smells better than it tastes?"
Answer: No, I didn't notice that, but now that you mention it that is true. This observation has indirectly reminded me the value of proper serving ware.
The other day I made some Lapsang Souchong tea. I don't like to call favorites with any food but Lapsang is definitely on my short-list for best teas. I usually brew my first cup in September and drink a few cups each week until May. I love the stuff. What changed that day was my need to leave the house. With my work about to start there was no time to enjoy the tea. Solution: Pour it into a travel mug and hit the road.
The tea was gross. It tasted like bland, dirty water. What changed? The change was the travel mug. I had never drunk Lapsang from an insulated travel mug. The mug managed to capture nearly all the aroma, giving only the liquid with each sip. It turns out that I hate the flavor of the tea; at least when it's not accompanied by the aroma.
In a standard mug, or a fancy teacup, the rim helps concentrate the aroma around your nose with each sip. Lapsang Souchong is a smoked black tea. It has a mild earthy flavor but a bold smoky aroma. Sipping it takes me back to memories of childhood camping trips, though I was 26 the first time I drank this tea. No aroma, no memories.
That's a long way of asking you to slow down next time you drink coffee or tea. You're going to spend $3-4 on that latte, spend 15 minutes in a nice chair drinking it from a mug instead of a covered paper cup at 65mph.

Farmers' Market

With great ingredients, less is more.

Nothing new about that statement but it's true, and a good farmers' market is proof.

I stopped on a whim at a tiny market on the way to my parent's house. I decided to make a little grilled brunch for myself and came up with this...
Grilled corn and onions with heirloom tomatoes, roasted poblano and tomatillo.

It was wonderful. Warm day, hot grill, cold beer. Brunch.

Swedish Proverb

Food should be prepared with butter and love.

Don't forget the salt.

The 4th

In the food world it's rare to have a holiday off. Since I didn't have to work on Saturday, I made a nice brunch for my wife. We ate on our back patio in some very pleasant weather. I prepared a smorgasbord; not to be confused with a buffet.

The differences between a smorgasbord and buffet are subtle. It's one of the arguments best left for persnickety foodies. Most people don't care, or don't think they care. The difference to me is that a buffet feels like it's designed for binging and gorging on anything and everything. The culinary equivalent of slopping the hogs. A smorgasbord conjures up images of fine foods that can be combined into custom plates by the diner.

When making a smorgasbord I design it to have a basic foundation, or feature, to be built from. That morning the foundation was toast and scrambled eggs. All the other items made some kind of sense with the toast and eggs but not necessarily with each other: anchovies, Teleme, Roaring 40s Blue, olives, chorizo, toasted almonds, and cured walnuts. I served a bottle of Vinho Verde, but the versatility of dry rose would have been a better choice. The Vinho Verde is a good brunch wine but definitely got lost with a few of the items.

Try making a smorgasbord when you have guests and you'll be sure to please them all.

Bourbon Maple Syrup

Blis maple syrup may very well be the most amazing incarnation of this breakfast staple. Unless I'm mistaken it is simply premium maple syrup that has been aged in bourbon barrels. I first found this while working at Norman's about five years ago. At the time you more or less had to be connected with a high-end restaurant to get your hands on a bottle, and it was very expensive.

It's still expensive but can be purchased online. I wondered how close I could come to creating a good bourbon syrup and came up with this recipe. This recipe does taste good but can't stand up to Blis; it is just not nearly as smooth or balanced. It is cheaper and easier to aquire on short notice, and it requires you to keep a bottle of Maker's Mark on hand. That's always a good thing.

Buying Blis is like buying a $60 bottle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Yes, it is amazing but how often does your dining occasion merit such extravagance?

Bourbon Maple Syrup
.25 cup good boubon, I use Maker's Mark
1 cup real maple syrup
  1. Boil bourbon and burn off alcohol.
  2. Add maple syrup, simmer gently for a few minutes.
  3. Remove from heat, serve warm.

Red Beer

My constant curiosity about a.m. libations has led me to explore the infamous Red Beer. I've been avoiding this drink for years. It just doesn't sound good at all.
The basic recipe is just beer and tomato juice.

Yesterday I made a connection...Maybe this recipe isn't bad, just incomplete. I was making a sangrita when the idea struck me. Sangrita is tomato juice with citrus juices and hot sauce; citrus is a great garnish on lighter beers. Why haven't I noticed that before?

So here are some experiments:
Red Beer+How to Fix It(rear/left in picture)
12 oz lager
3 oz tomato juice
This is very boring and bland. Do not use a special beer for this; the beer is lost and the tomato flavor is blah. To fix this reach for the chipotle-based hot sauce. I threw a few dashes in and found drastic flavor change. The smokiness from the sauce complimented both the beer and tomato. The sodium seemed to increase both flavors as well. I would compare the difference to listening to a CD on the freeway and listening to the same CD with headphones in a quiet room. This would be great for a brunch. It will pair nicely with eggs and various cheeses.

Sangrita/Red Beer(front/right in picture)
12 oz lager
3 oz sangrita
This works but only in a utilitarian sense. It's tasty, with more body and much higher acid than the plain lager. On a very hot day this would be nice with a sandwich at lunch but I don't think it has much more purpose than that. It may also be good for people who want a lighter Bloody Maryish drink without the hard alcohol. I do like this drink but I'll probably only use it when I'm bored and need some variety in my glass.

Banana Caramel

Very easy!
This weekend I made a banana caramel french toast casserole. The casserole served about eight people and was very easy. The banana flavor was so intense that it almost tasted fake. I didn't measure but these amounts should be very close...

French Toast Casserole
1 loaf bread, large dice
2 bananas, small dice
1.5 cups milk
.5 cup sugar
3 eggs
.5 teaspoon vanilla
  1. In a large bowl, mix the milk, sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Add bread and bananas then toss well. Once the bread is saturated, press into an oven safe dish and bake at 350F until the eggs are set.
Banana Caramel
.75 cup sugar
water as needed
2 tablespoons butter
4 bananas, small dice
  1. Add sugar to a stainless steel pan and enough water that is becomes damp, about a few tablespoons.
  2. Lightly caramelize the sugar then add the butter and bananas. Gently toss until the butter is melted and the caramel is smooth.
That's it. I put the banana caramel over the casserole and there you go.


Hominy is long overdue for glory. A longtime staple of Latin America, hominy is more than just another corn product.

This morning I made hominy with cheddar and topped it with a poached egg and tomatillo salsa. Simple, easy, and awesome little breaky.

Father's Day

I was working in New York during my first Father's Day. While it was frustrating to be away from my family, the day started perfectly:
I went fishing on the private lake at my work and caught plenty of blue gill;
Cleaned the fish behind the kitchen while my coffee was brewing;
Pan-fried the fish then ate them with eggs and bacon next to the lake.

What a way to start a special day.

What Time is Brunch?

I'm having beer with quiche right now and it's wonderful. So the question...Is it okay to drink beer with brunch?
I think it depends on the company you keep.

Steel Cut Oats

It doesn't get much more comforting than a hot bowl of oatmeal. Unfortunately, instant oatmeal has shaped the view of this food for the past few decades.
Find some steel cut oats, and about an hour to cook and eat them. Though the oats take a long time to cook, this is not an active dish.

Here's what I do:
3 cups Water
1.5 cups Steel cut oats
Healthy pinch of Salt
Milk or Water as needed

Boil the water, stir in the oats, turn down to a simmer, and go about your business for the next 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. About this time the oats may need more liquid and I like to add whole milk as needed to achieve a creamier result but water will work fine. It should take at least 40 minutes to get some nice oatmeal action. When cooking for a family or group of friends it's easy to set out an assortment of toppings so everyone can customize their own bowls.

Note: The actual ratio should be nearly 4 to 1, liquid to oats. I like the added control of adding the last bit of liquid towards the end but it is not necessary.

Now for the toppings...
I usually stir in the toppings right at the end but sometimes you may add them earlier if they would benefit from the cooking. The beauty of oats is that anything goes:
Nuts, Maple syrup/sugar, Brown sugar, Dried fruit, Fresh fruit, Seeds, Cooked pumpkin, Sweet spices, yogurt, brown butter, various cheeses (for the adventurous) etc. Food snobs be sure to always monte au buerre!

This morning I enjoyed Mexican brown sugar and coconut. It paired perfectly with my coffee.

Thinking About French Toast

French Toast, or more romantically Lost Bread, is a breakfast that I should cook more often. It is one of the few foods that I have loved all my life. As a kid there were two types I liked: Texas Toast that my dad made and I would smother in generic maple flavored syrup; and sourdough from the Italian Cottage, a Chico institution of red-checked table cloths and #10 can Italian food.
These days I believe in four breads for superb French Toast: Sourdough (I'm from California), Pugliese, Brioche, and Challah.
There are certainly dishes that would do well with other breads. Breads featuring nuts or dried fruits could be excellent. However, my top four always perform well and are quite versatile.

Getting Started

Two years ago I was bouncing this blog idea off a great friend; he said not to do it. He also creates things for a living but his industry is TV, not food. That conversation happened during a rough time when he had a great pilot in the works only to hit a major roadblock while another production company snatched the concept and beat him to market. He lost a lot of money and time in that botched deal.
We were talking about that and a cookbook that I had been working on. As I wondered aloud about offering all my recipes for free in blog format he stopped me. Pointing out that I would be giving away my property, nobody would ever have to buy the book to get my recipes. As true as that is, I've since learned that most books never make a profit anyway.
The real epiphany came when I was making fun of a cook who refused to share her secret mustard recipe. Her mustard is very good, but you can never have the recipe. Someday she will die and her legacy will be a mustard that nobody can make. What's the point of that?
Her active secrecy is no different than my passive secrecy for the past few years. I would always share my recipes if asked, but no one asked because they didn't know they should or could. So here you go; you can have them all.