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Watermelon-mint cooler

7 Jul

This just in: here in the upper Midwest, summer has finally decided to come, and summer equals sticky. This I tell you, brother: you can’t have one without the other. Something else you can’t not have in the summer, no matter where your summer is? Watermelon. Seedless watermelon has dropped in price recently, and with a little watermelon eater around here, I snapped those babies up…and then paid the consequences, when we went on a trip to Wisconsin over the Fourth of July (happy birthday, America!) and the watermelon wedges got a little soggy-sogged. Not the crisp texture I’m looking for, but when a girl has soggy, sweet watermelon, she makes watermelon-ade. Or something like that, but that doesn’t sound as good.

I’m discovering more ways to use watermelon lately–a watermelon-mint-feta salad has been on my list since we had it on a cruise two years ago, and it finds itself in smoothies and all sorts of drinks. This is a delicious way to cool down when you decided not to turn on your air conditioning, since it was a cool evening and morning, and then the day turned nice and roasty later on. I don’t know who would do such a thing, but if you meet that kind of person, recommend this to them. It’s like swimming in a cool pool of icy-sweet deliciousness, but you don’t have to put on sunscreen or towel off to do it. Bonus.

If you have little ones outside in the heat all day long and you’re trying to keep them hydrated, this is a good way to do it; watermelon is what, about 99.99% water, and yes, that counts toward your daily intake.

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Watermelon-Mint Cooler

Note: Agave nectar is a syrup made from the blue agave plant, found in Mexico and other dry, desert areas. It is sweeter than either honey or sugar. It’s become more popular and widely used in recent years because of its low glycemic load, which means that it won’t raise your blood sugar as quickly as other sweeteners do. For that reason, it’s a good choice for diabetics and others who need to watch spikes in blood glucose. Teaspoon for teaspoon, however, it has the same amount of calories as other sweeteners. In my area, I’ve seen it at Trader Joe’s and Costco (in a two-pack for the latter). I used the TJ’s variety in this recipe.

 Makes 2 large glasses full. 

Ingredients:

4-5 cups watermelon, in hunks
Juice of 1/2 a lime
6 ice cubes
6 large, fresh mint leaves, torn in half
1 squeeze of agave nectar*
pinch of salt

Put everything but the agave and mint in a blender. Blend on high (I use a K-Tec blender, of the “Will it blend?” YouTube fame, and I blended at 3 for 15 seconds, then 5 for 10). Taste. Add agave to taste (I used a small squeeze–agave is sweeter than sugar). Add salt to taste.

Pour into two cheap-o plastic cups, because you’re frugal like that and weren’t planning on taking any pictures of this, don’t garnish with mint (for the same reason), sit on your classy, classy deck, and drink. Aaaahhhh. You’re ten to fifteen degrees cooler suddenly.

*Of course you can substitute sugar, honey, or another sweetener (or none, even better!) of your choice.

In other, unrelated news, it is lily time around here! This makes me very happy. Aren’t they beautiful?

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Mango-mint lassi

17 Jul
Mango-mint lassi

Oh, so good, mango-mint lassi. If you're feeling hot and sticky, this is where it is.

First, let me start with an apology. I’m a little sorry not to have posted in quite a long time, but I promise I have been doing good things in the meantime, such as camping, searching for ticks, and getting ready with Midwestern Meateater to be first-time homeowners. That’s a project. While I was out, you missed something I’m actually known for bringing to share in the out-of-doors—cranberry & carrot couscous with salmon and herbs. Five minutes, and it was great. Take that on your next adventure and your friends will think you’re amazing. Maybe it’ll appear here someday.

I don’t promise to never slack again, just in case. (Someone once told me not to use the words “never” or “always,” since they have exceptions.) But I will come back, each time. Lassie and me, faithful as ever. Except that I bring food and Lassie brings a message about someone in trouble.

Hot times = cold drinks

These days around Minnesota, are hot. These are sticky, steamy, zapping, three-popsicles-a-day times. In other words, summer has finally arrived, and while I love how everything grows so well and turns an emerald shade, it becomes necessary to do a little cooling off. As someone at a fabric store recently told me, “if you have to sit in your car at a stop light for more than a few seconds, you have to turn the air conditioning on.”

On these sweaty, sweaty days, I don’t have the appetite or desire to stand over a stove or even come near an oven. When I come in from outside, I immediately want something cool, and it is nice not to eat another popsicle, especially when beautiful colors and flavors for a nice, cool drink are so easy to get.

Meet the lassi

The lassi is a traditional Indian drink, served up daily over ice at your local Indian restaurant. It can be flavored with cardamom, pistachios, rose water, or even cumin. Without googling, I cannot even begin to tell you where to find rose water. It’s frothy, smoothie-like, and best of all, chilled.

I first had a lassi at a restaurant here in the Twin Cities called Passage to India. On the menu was a “lassi,” and although I didn’t try it there, I have wanted to since. Names of dishes at ethnic restaurants like this one tend to be about as descriptive as hardware items, but I could imagine the lassi anyway. Yogurt, fruit, blended up? What’s not to like?

Nutritional low-down

The lassi is all good things: dairy, dairy, whole fruit, and sugar (well…I might have fibbed a little).

While I’m at it, a shameless plug for us all to be drinking our milk: Americans have gotten better in this area, but we’re quite bad overall. The worst group is kids and teens; this is where Pepsi and the likes are student body president and you’re not cool if you don’t like it. Or at least, it’s all too accessible, and when it’s not, a host of syrup-laden drinks flavored like “kiwi-strawberry” made by someone who’s never tasted either of those things takes the place of better beverages.

There’s an idea especially among teen girls through even through college-aged ladies that dairy will pool around your middle or other ungainly places bad things will happen; i.e. boys will not ask you out. In a nutshell, this is completely not true and can be quite devastating, in fact. There is a plethora of information out there available about osteoporosis, but let me give you this bit of information: your bones need vitamin D, calcium, and a few other things to be able to grow. And if you don’t give your bones those things early, you may have done the damage by the time you wise up. For females, the last stop on the bone train is age 30. Bones start to lose density after that. The denser the bone, the less likely to break and cause major havoc down the road; even an early death.

I talked with a professor once who was studying bone mass density among women, and used the students on campus as subjects. The results were scary—women whose long-term health was at jeopardy because of neglect.

Essentially, drink your milk! It’s so good for you.

Mango-mint lassi

From “raw” to eating: 5 minutes

Makes: 4-6 servings

I started with the classic mango lassi in mind, but when I remembered mint in the fridge just waiting to go bad, it had to join in.

Inside:
Flesh of one mango, cut into chunks
1 C milk
1 C water
½ C sugar (or less)
handful fresh mint leaves

Whizz this all in a blender on high for about 30 seconds (it’s okay if you see some green flecks from the mint). Serve over crushed ice.

Ah. So good, and good for you. Another day well-done.

-E

Serve over ice...which conveniently floats like a buoy on the surface.

Serve over ice...which will pop up, float like a buoy, and make you want to boat.

Refreshing grapefruit-orange sparkler

23 Jun

Grapefruit-orange sparkler

Last weekend, my parents had a little gathering with friends and a riotously great card game we call “Pounce,” and everyone brought something to eat or drink. I had mostly settled on bringing lime, onion, and caramelized corn quesadillas, but flipping through a cookbook aimed at kids (and found at Ikea!), I found this little number. I altered it a little bit, but the results are close to the original. But first, let me tell you about the cookbook—because it makes me smile.

It’s true that Ikea has a whole lotta good that I love, that I covet their design, eco-sensibility, and these curtains. But cookbooks? Who knew! I picked up the Kids cookbook (published in Düsseldorf by NGV publishers…sorry, I couldn’t find an image online for it) on a whim, but it actually has plenty of good in it. It’s written tailored to the Western European sensibility, including a few ingredients I’d never heard of nor would have any idea where to get (quark, anyone?). But the recipes are fresh and although they’re geared toward kids, this kid-at-heart can see many things that the adults would like, too. The recipes are very simple, too–“Fine Cream of Carrot Soup” has seven ingredients, counting salt and pepper as one ingredient each. I also love cookbooks from or geared to other countries besides the U.S., because I guess I hope I learn a little bit about how people live in those places. Or at least what they eat. I’m interested in the new recipes like “Vegetable Rosti with Herb Yogurt” (Western Europeans do love their yogurt…but what is a rosti?), “German Steamed Pudding,” and even a recipe for gnocchi—a first for me.

This was perfect at the end of a mostly hot, humid week (a precursor, it seems, to this week) and also great for me. I’m a. standard no-thank-you-I’ll-just-have-water kind of girl, but it’s nice for a party to have a little something else for comp’ny. I don’t know if I’ve ever bought a carbonated beverage for myself more than five or so times (someone, I’m sure, will have evidence to the contrary on this, but I’ll tell them their memory is failing them) this is also perfect.

Nutritional low-down: why I’m anti-soda

I’m quite happy that although we may not see eye-to-eye on the quantity of meat needed per meal, the Midwestern Meateater and I actually agree about not buying soda/pop. It’s not so great for us or anyone else.

What’s your take on pop? Do you substitute other beverages?

Did you know that there is a negative correlation between bone mass density (the hardness of your bones; the harder, the better) and the consumption of pop, especially in the adolescent years? Yep. But listen up–it’s hard on all of us, at any age. Part of the consequence is that choosing to drink pop is choosing not to drink something with actual benefits (like milk or water), but the amount of phosphorus in pop also affects the ability of your bones to become hard. So, that means the chances of developing osteoporosis (women and men) and of having brittle, easier-to-break bones goes up. So, off the pop! Onto sparkly beverages! Oh, my weakness for beverages made with club soda…one day I’ll tell you about my career making Italian sodas and my whole berry sparkler.

What drinks remind you of warm weather? I’d love to hear what summery concoctions are waiting to be tasted out there.

Grapefruit-orange sparkler

From “raw” to eating: less than five minutes (plus time to chill)

Makes: a big pitcher full (see picture)

Inside:
75-80 oz. club soda
Juice of one large grapefruit (watch the seeds!)
Juice of one large orange
½ to ¾ C sugar
¼ C concentrated orange juice

Combine, stir, and taste. Add more OJ concentrate, etc., as needed. Let chill in a pretty pitcher. Serve to guests, who will drink it quickly.

Welcome, summer!

-E

Impeach the punches and juices. Tisane (tea) for ’08!

18 Apr

Iced Ruby Sipper tisane, lovely.

The first time I tried herbal tea, I was not a believer. In fact, it took me quite a while to become one, and I have only recently become a recommender. For a while, I thought I could do better fetching old lawn clippings and heating those up with water. Which, well, maybe it would taste good. Who knows. But I continued my campaign for herbal tea even while I didn’t believe in it, because I believed in the idea of it; fruity, caffeine-less, a possible alternative to the hot chocolate addictions that run in my family.

By the way, since herbal teas are not derived from the plants that make up non-herbal tea, it is not really a tea at all but an infusion of herbs, fruits, and flowers. It’s proper name is a tisane. But I might use both words, just because.

Keys to a good iced tisane

Or maybe just my own keys:

  • Strength of the “brew”–or it will taste like grass clippings. Start with a 2-to-1 ratio (two tea bags, or the equivalent in loose tisane to-water ratio). You can always add more ice or water, but you cannot take away.
  • Sweeten! I have usually used honey for its taste and dissolvibility, but I have found that ordinary granulated sugar also does the job. You will probably need more than you think (again, test first), but it will be a whole lot less than any artificially-flavored punch junk you’d find on any shelf
  • Plenty of ice! Hot tisane is good. Cold, refreshing tisane is fantastic. Medium, warm-day-in-a-car hot is gross.
  • Don’t forget to steep! I let mine steep much longer than needed.

Also, not a key as in you’ll die without it, but I like a teaspoon of lemon juice or so per cup. Warm, spice-laden tisanes are best for hot tisane; I just can’t drink much Ginger Snappish or Sugarplum Spice iced; think of gingerbread in cold water. It really helps, no matter the flavor.

My current favorite teas

Most tisanes you’d like hot will make a good iced tisane, but I especially like anything citrusy or with heavy berry notes, or anything made from a fruit that would be dark-colored. A few of my current favorites:

  • SerendipTea’s Ruby Sipper. Tart with blood oranges, but also sweet. A very deep, pretty, well, ruby color.
  • Rishi’s Honey Plum Iced Tea–organic and fair trade.
  • Stash’s Wild Raspberry Tea–classicly berry. I like to mix this with a lemon or lemon-ginger.

Hey, moms!

If you have kids at home who regularly drink juice–and they all do–try a little iced tisane tea instead. Think of it as punch with less sugar. They may not like it much at first, but it’ll probably save you money on dental visits for filling cavities, and you’ll get a grown-up drink, too, instead of red punch with high-fructose corn syrup and preservatives you can’t even pronounce and don’t need. (Vitamin C -fortified? What the! Do you know how easy it is to get vitamin C in your diet? All you practically have to do is breathe! You can get vitamin toxicity, you know.)

I know kids will drink you out of juice if given it, but it’s not necessarily so great for them, especially if given at a young age and especially if in a bottle. The sugary drink drips into their mouths, and the sugar pools there, sticking to their teeth and forming plaque. What’s more, here’s the truth you may not want to know–fruit drinks have as much sugar and as many calories as does soda pop. So cut it out! Give them a piece of fruit with all the benefits intact and no additives, and try a little of this as a substitute.

Need more reasons?

  • Lots of sugar = chronic diseaseAmericans have a love affair with sugar. I know. We all do. But it is a large contributor to the growing health concerns we face as a nation, and the ages for these effects are getting younger and younger. Diabetes, heart disease, obesity with its multitude of pitfalls (did you know many cancers are associated with being overweight?), and so many others…your risk can be reduced as you reduce sugar intake.
  • As you’ve no doubt heard, many teas come with fantastic benefits. Although the caffeinated teas are the real superstars here (green tea has been touted in everything from ice cream to eye shadow), fruit- or herb-based teas are helpers, too. The antioxidants available in the whole fruit/herb/flower are also in the dried version.

It is so good. I have gone through several pitchers’ worth in the last few days, and when you’re thirsty and it’s hot (or even warm) outside, it is very, very good. And for you.