Cucumber Ginger Ale

IMG_1700Just three ingredients needed to make this super refreshing summer drink, and no chopping or cooking involved! A trip to Trader Joe’s will get you the non-alcoholic ginger beer and the cucumber seltzer, and maybe even the fresh mint. I grow fresh mint in buckets on my deck, so I’m always looking for ways to use it up. And how did I discover this fabulous combo? My son Justin poured me a tall, cool glass of this mix one hot, summer day, when we were setting up his non-air conditioned apartment. He even topped it with fresh mint sprigs! (How many 20-something dudes offer their mothers a drink with muddled mint?) I was like, what is this? This is fabulous! He said, “It’s just ginger beer and cucumber seltzer. Super easy!” Thanks for sharing, Justin. You’re da bomb.

Makes 1-2 drinks

Reed’s Extra Ginger Brew All Natural Jamaican Style Ginger Beer
Spindrift Seltzer made with fresh pressed cucumbers
Mint sprigs

Put ice in glass. Pour non-alcoholic ginger beer in first third or half of glass. Fill the rest of the glass with the cucumber seltzer. Rub the mint sprig between fingers to release the oils, then add to glass and stir. Enjoy your refreshing drink!

Mint Lemon Sweet Tea

IMG_0850Nothing is quite as refreshing in a summertime drink as mint. If your mint is growing like a weed (in your mini herb garden pots), here’s one way to tame it. I found the original recipe in a food magazine put out by Marshall Field’s (before it became Macy’s), and credit is given to “Sunkist Growers, Inc.” in a tagline. I’ve added more mint, less sugar, and never bothered with the suggested grapefruit, so I think this is kinda my recipe now. I’m giving you an amount of mint (because that’s what you do in a recipe), but I nip off fistfuls of the herb from my pot without measuring, rinse and chop leaves only (no stems), and we’ve never thought, “Oh that’s too much mint.” (Pinch mint stem off right where new leaves are growing, as pictured here. That way your plant will branch out as it grows.)

FullSizeRenderNormally I’m a tea snob, but this is one case where I say, go for the Lipton’s. I used to find gallon-sized Lipton’s tea bags at Sam’s Club, but they no longer stock them. (Costco doesn’t carry any Lipton’s products.) I’ve found the large tea bags through Walmart online—they are cheaper and so much easier than unwrapping 12 single-serving tea bags.

One of the secrets of this drink, is pouring the boiled and steeped tea into the sugar, and stirring to dissolve it before adding the cold water. That’s how the southerners make their sweet tea, and it really is so much better than adding sugar to cold tea, where it just sinks to the bottom in an undissolved, sweet sludge. This tea has become our summertime drink of choice, and my son’s call it “liquid gold” or “the nectar of the gods”—when they are waxing poetic, that is. Suffice it to say, they really, really like it. I think you’ll like it too!

Makes 1 gallon

12 Lipton’s tea bags, or 1 gallon-sized tea bag
1 cup fresh spearmint leaves, rinsed and chopped*
4 cups boiling water
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
8 cups cold water
1 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice

If using individual Lipton’s tea bags, unwrap and gather all the strings together. Flip them over the side of medium mixing bowl. (Gallon-size tea bag just goes in the bowl—it has no wrapping or string.) Add chopped mint. Pour 4 cups boiling water over mint and tea; cover and let steep for 5 minutes. Put sugar into gallon-sized pitcher. Place a sieve over opening of container. Pour hot steeped tea through sieve into gallon container, pressing on tea and mint to get all liquid out of bags. Stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Add 8 cups cold water and lemon juice. Stir again. Refrigerate for 3 hours or more before serving. Keeps in frig for a couple weeks—if it lasts that long.

*NOTE: Just a reminder that you should use spearmint, not peppermint. Hope you planted the right herb!

Fresh Lemonade

Lemonade IMG_0715Ahhhh, lemonade. I love making it from fresh-squeezed lemons, but I’ve tried so many recipes with the wrong ratio of lemon to water to sugar, and it’s such a waste of time, energy, and…lemons! A couple years ago, I finally stumbled upon the right amounts of each ingredient, and here it is. One of the keys to making perfect lemonade is to boil the sugar and water together first, so the sugar dissolves and doesn’t sit in granules at the bottom of the container. The other trick is to measure an amount of lemon juice vs. numbers of lemons. Lemons vary so much is size and amount of juice in each one, so a recipe that calls for “2-3 lemons” can yield vastly different amounts of juice from time to time.

Room-temperature lemons will give you the most juice, and if you roll them on the countertop with the palm of your hand before halving them, it helps to bring out all the juice. This is a great recipe to make with kids—it’s simple, and squeezing lemons is just plain fun. (OK, I may have a warped sense of what’s “fun.” A trip to Europe would be really fun. Squeezing lemons? Maybe just mildly entertaining.) What makes this recipe kid-friendly, is you really can’t mess it up. Plus your kitchen will smell awesome while you make it. If your kids or grandkids want to do a lemonade stand this summer, help them make their own lemonade from scratch. If Laura Ingalls Wilder could do it (did she?), they can too! Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

After you’ve squeezed your lemons, cut the rinds into quarters and run them through the garbage disposal to clean it out. And if this whole process sounds like too much work? Then go buy a quart of Simply Lemonade. It still beats lemonade made from concentrate. A 2-pack at the big box store is probably less expensive than making it yourself, but not near as much fun.

Makes 6 cups

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
4 cups cold water
Lemon slices or wedges for garnish

In medium sauce pan, combine sugar and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer. Stir on low until all sugar is dissolved. Let cook slightly. (This is called a simple syrup.)

Combine the simple syrup, lemon juice, and remaining 4 cups cold water in a 2-quart beverage container. Stir to combine. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving. Stir or shake container before pouring; garnish glasses with lemon slices or wedges.

Rhubarb Mint Coolers

Rhubarb Coolers IMG_0150Rhubarb is one of those early starters, and we usually have something on the table made with the tart ruby red stalks by end of May. Over the next couple weeks, there’s gonna be a rhubarb-o-rama as I post some favorite rhubarb recipes. Those of you in warmer climes probably can’t grow it since it’s a chill baby—it loves colder climates like Canada and the northern half of U.S. You Floridians will have to purchase frozen rhubarb in order to make the recipe below.

This recipe comes from the Epicurious website, and my friend Karin made the cooler and brought it to our house last July 4th. The pinkish-red color made it a natural for celebrating Independence Day, but she said she’s also served it on Valentine’s Day as well. (To serve mid-winter, make in the summer when rhubarb and mint are in abundance, and then freeze the mixture. Or make it in winter with frozen rhubarb, which is available all year.) She doubled the rhubarb amount from the Epicurious recipe, and then diluted the beverage with club soda* for fizz—half rhubarb drink and half club soda in each glass. Topped with a sprig of fresh mint, it was gorgeous as well as refreshing.

IMG_0636Even though the foliage is so pretty and impressive, remember that rhubarb leaves are toxic. Apparently this came to light in WWI when rhubarb leaves were used as a food source in Britain. (Thank you, Wikipedia.) Another fun fact about rhubarb, is that it’s useful for helping with constipation. (Thanks again, Wikipedia!) Not quite sure how much of it you need to ingest in order to reap those benefits… But I digress! Take a break from soft drinks and lemonade, and try this cooler as for a fresh, tart beverage to go with any meal.

Makes approximately 4 cups

4-5 cups chopped fresh or frozen rhubarb
5 cups water
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup packed fresh mint leaves, chopped
Garnish: fresh mint sprigs

Cut rhubarb into 1/4-inch pieces and, in a saucepan, combine with water, sugar, and mint leaves. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce to simmer, and stir occasionally for 15 minutes (rhubarb will disintegrate). Cool for 15 minutes. Pour mixture through a fine sieve into a pitcher, pressing hard on solids to release extra flavor from the fruit. (Or is it vegetable? A New York court decided in 1947 that it would be classified as a fruit not a vegetable, which reduced the tariffs for importing and exporting. But again, I digress.) Chill mixture, covered, until cold, about 3 hours, and up to 2 days.

*NOTE: You can use club soda or seltzer. Both are inexpensive options compared to mineral water, which is naturally carbonated, and therefore more pricey. Club soda has some minerals added to it for flavor in addition to the bubbles, but seltzer is just carbonated water, and nothing else.