Thai Iced Tea Popsicles #frozenfridays

Thai Iced Tea Popsicles! Creamy black tea ice pops with a hint of vanilla and spice. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net #frozenfridays

For the month of August it’s going to be #frozenfridays around here. Every Friday, I’ll be posting a new recipe for a frozen treat. Today I’m kicking things off with Thai Iced Tea Popsicles.

If you like Thai iced tea and you like ice cream pops, you should make these right now. I don’t always get cooking experiments right on the first try, but this time, I’m proud to say I nailed it.

Thai Iced Tea Popsicles! Creamy black tea ice pops with a hint of vanilla and spice. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net #frozenfridaysThai Iced Tea Popsicles! Creamy black tea ice pops with a hint of vanilla and spice. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net #frozenfridays

I had plenty of extra Thai black tea leftover from that Thai tea parfait tart I made a while back, and I also had some extra sweetened condensed milk in the refrigerator that I didn’t have a plan for but didn’t want to go to waste.

Thai Iced Tea Popsicles! Creamy black tea ice pops with a hint of vanilla and spice. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net #frozenfridaysThai Iced Tea Popsicles! Creamy black tea ice pops with a hint of vanilla and spice. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net #frozenfridays

I also have these popsicle molds that make frozen treats incredibly easy to make.

All of which meant that Thai iced tea popsicles were an easy leap to make.

Thai Iced Tea Popsicles! Creamy black tea ice pops with a hint of vanilla and spice. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net #frozenfridays

Popsicle making isn’t rocket science. It doesn’t require precision and complicated math to work. You can freeze plain old fruit juice and get something refreshing. I had plenty of orange juice popsicles in my youth that were just that.

Thai Iced Tea Popsicles! Creamy black tea ice pops with a hint of vanilla and spice. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net #frozenfridaysThai Iced Tea Popsicles! Creamy black tea ice pops with a hint of vanilla and spice. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net #frozenfridays

But there are a few principles to keep in mind when approaching popsicle experiments. The first is that cold suppresses flavor. That’s why we don’t chill good red wine, and why some people argue that we shouldn’t be drinking our white wine straight from the fridge either. When we freeze things, we need to dial up the intensity of the flavors to combat that dullness. If something tastes perfect at room temperature, it’s probably going to be a little flat when it’s frozen. Ideally, the mixture you plan to freeze should taste a little bit sweeter and a little bit stronger than where you want it to end up.

Thai Iced Tea Popsicles! Creamy black tea ice pops with a hint of vanilla and spice. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net #frozenfridaysThai Iced Tea Popsicles! Creamy black tea ice pops with a hint of vanilla and spice. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net #frozenfridays

The second thing to keep in mind is that certain things, including sugar and alcohol, inhibit freezing. You want some of that in frozen treats, even in a solid popsicle, because otherwise you’d end up with something as hard as an ice cube, but if you go too far and add too much, you end up with a slushy. That’s not the end of the world, but it’s not a popsicle.

thaiteapopsicles12Thai Iced Tea Popsicles! Creamy black tea ice pops with a hint of vanilla and spice. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net #frozenfridays

These popsicles find good balance in both the flavor and texture fronts. They have an incredible creaminess from the sweetened condensed milk, which also, unsurprisingly, lends them their sweetness. They have a tannic edge and some vanilla notes from the Thai tea leaves, and the vanilla gets dialed up with a splash of extract and the whole thing gets rounded out with a sprinkle of spices.

Thai Iced Tea Popsicles! Creamy black tea ice pops with a hint of vanilla and spice. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net #frozenfridaysThai Iced Tea Popsicles! Creamy black tea ice pops with a hint of vanilla and spice. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net #frozenfridays

When we tried these, Dan said, so this isn’t ice cream? They’re creamier and slightly softer than many popsicles, but they’re sturdy enough to be eaten on a stick. And they don’t require any churning or special equipment beyond some kind of mold (which can be shot glasses or disposable cups or even ice cube trays) and some popsicle sticks.

These are treats I can’t wait to have again.

Thai Iced Tea Popsicles! Creamy black tea ice pops with a hint of vanilla and spice. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net #frozenfridaysThai Iced Tea Popsicles! Creamy black tea ice pops with a hint of vanilla and spice. From Blossom to Stem | Because Delicious www.blossomtostem.net #frozenfridays

Thai Iced Tea Popsicles

These, like most popsicles, are quite simple to make. The most complicated part is probably tracking down the Thai tea. I found mine at Golden Pacific, a local Thai grocery store. If you have trouble finding it locally, you can, of course, order it online. You could also substitute any plain black tea and double the vanilla extract. You wouldn’t get the brilliant orange color, and the flavor would be a little different, but it would still be good. If you freeze these in non-traditional popsicle molds such as shot glasses or dixie cups, make sure to let them partially freeze, about 1-2 hours (depending on the size of the molds and your freezer) before adding the sticks. You want the mixture to be frozen enough to keep the sticks in place.

1/3 cup (25 g) Thai tea leaves
2 1/2 cups water
2 star anise pods
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
3/4 cup (250 g) sweetened condensed milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

 In a small saucepan, add the tea leaves and spices to the water and bring to a boil. Immediately remove from heat and let steep for 5 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh strainer lined with cheese cloth (you could also use a coffee filter) and discard the solids. Stir in the sweetened condensed milk and vanilla extract. Refrigerate mixture until no longer warm to the touch, about 1 hour (up to a day is fine). Pour into popsicle molds, add lids and popsicle sticks (see above if using unconventional molds on when to add sticks) and freeze until solid, 4-5 hours depending on the size of the mold.

If you have extra, freeze it in an airtight container and blitz it in the blender for a little Thai iced tea milk shake.

Yield: 6 popsicles, plus a little extra, depending on the size of your molds.

 

My Go-To Peanut Sauce

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I am an inveterate procrastinator. In school, I was one of the kids who stayed up into the wee hours of the night the day before the project or paper was due, frantically trying to get the thing done. From elementary school onward, it only got worse. In college, I felt pretty good if I had formulated a thesis by midnight. It meant I might get an hour or two of sleep in before I had to go to class. (It was, I now realize, a classic strategic deployment of what Julie Norem calls defensive pessimism, but that’s more than enough about my armchair psychological self-diagnosis.)

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In keeping with that procrastinatory mode, I have resisted making things ahead of time, meal prep included. When I hear people say they make all of their meals for the upcoming week on Sunday and put them in the freezer to reheat later, I wonder what planet they come from and why on earth they think that sounds easier than making dinner on the same day they’re going to eat it?

But I have begun to relent here and there. I now make extras of some things to stash for later. I have homemade chicken stock in the freezer and jars of jam stacked high on top of the refrigerator. I have a big container of granola in the refrigerator, and usually, somewhere close by, I have a pint-sized jar of this peanut sauce.

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This peanut sauce has saved me more times than I can count. It’s become my go-to back up dinner plan.

If I have some kind of long noodles–spaghetti, soba, rice noodles–in the pantry and some vegetables with crunch–cucumbers, snow peas, carrots, red peppers–knocking around the crisper drawer, I can have peanut noodles ready in about 15 minutes, give or take the amount of time it takes the pot of water to boil and the particular noodles to cook to al dente.

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I no longer remember exactly where the recipe came from. It was something I scratched down on a piece of paper years ago. I’ve fiddled with the proportions and probably made a few dozen different versions of it over the years. This particular version is, I think, easy to like. It’s a well balanced sauce that’s rich from the peanut butter and the sesame oil, salty from the soy sauce, sweet from the honey, sour from the rice vinegar, and hot from the sriracha, with added flavor from the garlic and ginger.

It isn’t particularly aggressive on any front, it’s smooth and thin enough to coat noodles without feeling like spackle. It keeps easily for a few weeks in the refrigerator, and it would make a nice dipping sauce for satay or spring rolls or fresh vegetables. It doesn’t take long to come together, and when I have it around, I know we have a good option for a dinner when we’re hungry and want to eat now. We have yet to get tired of this one. It’s worth making ahead of time, but if you, like me, tend toward procrastination, it’s even doable on a weeknight at the last minute.

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My Go-To Peanut Sauce

This is a simple sauce with a big payoff. I’ve made many different variations on it over the years. Sometimes I use sugar instead of honey (which would make it vegan) or limes instead of rice vinegar or sambal oelek instead of sriracha. Sometimes I up the hot sauce for extra heat. I’ve skipped the ginger if I don’t have any around. It’s a flexible sauce that you can adapt to your tastes. I used to make it with natural peanut butter, and philosophically I still think I should use the natural stuff, but I just think it tastes better with Skippy, and for now I’m okay with that. I like to make it in a wide-mouth pint jar and blend it in the jar with a stick blender, which means I don’t need to transfer it to another container for storage and makes for easy clean up, but you could also use a blender, food processor, or even just stir until it comes together. This is great on any long skinny noodles you like. I often use it on soba noodles, good old fashioned thick spaghetti, or rice noodles (lately I’ve been loving this on Tinkyada brown rice spaghetti, which happen to be gluten free). I’ve used it as a dressing on a cabbage and carrot slaw and drizzled it over a bowl of blanched sugar snap peas. It would also make a good dipping sauce for satay, tofu, fresh vegetables, or spring rolls. It’s also pretty good right from the spoon.

1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (natural works, but I usually opt for Skippy for this)
1/4 cup soy sauce or tamari
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 inch piece of ginger, grated on a microplane
or finely minced
1 medium garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon sriracha
1/4-1/3 cup water (start with the smaller amount and add more to thin the sauce to your liking)

Combine all of the ingredients in a wide-mouth pint jar and zizz with a stick blender until smooth (alternately, blend in a blender or food processor or stir in a bowl until thoroughly combined). Add a little more water if you’d like your sauce thinner. I usually go with about 1/3 cup total, but depending on the thickness of your peanut butter, you might want an extra tablespoon or two to thin it to your preferred consistency.

Store in an airtight container (if you blended it a jar, just screw on the lid) in the refrigerator. Keeps for at least two weeks (probably safe for longer).

Yield: About 1 1/2 cups

 

Spicy Summer Bean and Chickpea Salad

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Summer calls out for salads like this one. It’s bold and colorful and crunchy and spicy and refreshing.

I’ll admit I don’t think about green beans all that often. It’s not that I don’t like them. It’s just that I forget about them amid the bounty of summer vegetables that are crowding the farmers markets by the time they come into season. I’m distracted by the bins of tasseled sweet corn and the spiraling fractals on the romanesco cauliflower and the rainbow colored bunches of carrots and the fragrant mounds of fresh herbs.

And that’s before I get to the fruit.

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But when I saw these green and yellow and purple beans at the market last week, they caught my eye. I sampled one and they were crisp and juicy and sweet enough to eat raw. I couldn’t leave without bringing some home.

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I thought of this salad. It comes from a book, Peter Berley’s Fresh Food Fast, which was one of my favorites for a stretch during my mid-twenties. I still love the book, and if you’re looking for a way to up your vegetable game, it’s a good one to add to your collection. I don’t turn to it nearly as much as I used to because of all the new books on my shelves competing for attention, but it has some great gems in its pages, including this one.

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The beans get blanched in boiling water for a few minutes, just until they get tender while retaining their crisp snap and then run under cold water to stop the cooking. A bit of onion gets sliced paper thin and sits in lemon juice to get ever so slightly pickled. A bold blend of spices gets toasted and crushed, a clove of garlic gets grated, olive oil gets drizzled in, and then the beans and chickpeas get tossed in with the whole delightful mess.

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It’s a brash, big flavored salad with a generous dose of heat from the cayenne. It’s a substantial salad that makes for a great summer meal, and it makes a good case for me to think about green beans the next time I’m at the market.

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Spicy Summer Bean and Chickpea Salad

Adapted from Peter Berley’s Fresh Food Fast

This salad gets visual interest from the different colored beans, but it can be made with all green or all yellow beans if that’s what you have. I should note that purple beans (like purple asparagus) turn a dark green when they’re cooked, so they don’t add any purple to the finished dish. This packs some real heat. The spice averse may want to dial back the cayenne to a 1/2 teaspoon. I used a small red spring onion here, but I’ve made it before with a regular old red onion, which is just fine. I like to turn the garlic to a pulp by grating it on a microplane but you could use a garlic press or mince it finely with a chefs knife if you prefer. I find it easiest to get the onion sliced paper thin on a mandoline, but I’ve also done it many times with a chefs knife. I like this salad at room temperature or cold from the refrigerator. It holds up well for several hours, so you can make it ahead of time and keep it chilled and covered until you’re ready to serve it.

1 pound assorted green, yellow, or purple beans, ends trimmed
1/4 red onion, very thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (or one 15-ounce can, rinsed and drained)
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seed
1 teaspoon caraway or fennel seeds (I used caraway)
1/2 teaspoon coriander seed
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
juice of one lemon
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

 Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a generous sprinkle of salt. Add the beans and cook for about 2 minutes, or until crisp tender. Drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking.

Add the sliced onion to a large mixing bowl and add the lemon juice. Toast the cumin, caraway (or fennel), and coriander seed in a small skillet over medium heat for about 1 minute, or until fragrant. Transfer to a mortar and crush with a pestle.

Grate the garlic with a microplane zester (or press with a garlic press) to form a paste. Add the garlic, toasted spices, cayenne and salt to the bowl with the onion and lemon juice and stir to combine. Whisk in the olive oil.

Add the beans and chickpeas to the bowl and toss to combine. Serve immediately or cover and chill for a few hours.

Yield: 4 servings as a main or more as a side

Lazy Summer

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It’s been one of those weeks where I haven’t wanted to cook.

It happens. Even to me.

Instead, I’ve wanted to luxuriate in summer, put my feet up, watch the Tour de France, eat ice cream treats and raspberries and cherries and peaches and plumcots from the market.

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I spent last week on vacation in Michigan at my aunt and uncle’s cottage on Turk Lake with Dan and my sisters and my brother and his wife.

We ate well, but it was throw-something-on-the-grill sort of cooking along with Emily’s blondies, Erin’s blueberry bars, Ann’s rhubarb sorbet and cherry molasses ice cream, and my chocolate chip cookies. It was a week for beers and dark and stormies and gin and tonics.

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We spent most of our days outside. I barely put on my shoes. I did a little paddle boating, a little kayaking, a little swimming.

I laid in the hammock and read Wolf Hall, which was one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

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And in the evenings, I looked out over the serene, glassy lake and felt lucky to have a place like this in my life.

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No recipe today.

Mango Lime Popsicles

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These popsicles taste like summer. They are icy and refreshing with a turn toward the tropical. They taste intensely of mango, with just enough lime to enliven the whole thing.

They remind me of one of my favorite agua frescas, the one I inevitably, invariably order when I find myself sitting at O’Hare for any length of time within a reasonable distance of Tortas Frontera, the airport outpost of the Rick Bayless empire. The mango lime flavor combination just hits the spot for me. It makes everything, even waiting at the airport for a delayed flight, better.

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Here, I’ve taken that flavor combination and frozen it into popsicles. I can think of nothing I’d rather let drip down my arm while sitting outside on a hot summer day.

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I start with frozen mango pulp. It’s easier than peeling and pureeing fresh mangoes, but you could certainly do that if you like. I break up the frozen block and gently thaw it in a saucepan over low heat until it turns to liquid.

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Then I put some water and sugar in a saucepan and add some lime peels and heat until the sugar dissolves to create a thin lime-infused syrup.

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I let the lime syrup steep while I squeeze lime juice into the thawed mango pulp. Then I strain the syrup to remove the pieces of peel.

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Then it’s a simple matter of stirring the mango-lime juice mixture into the syrup and then pouring the resulting mixture into popsicle molds, popping them in the freezer, and waiting for them to freeze.

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There are about a million different popsicle molds out there, but most of them are plastic. I’ve been trying to cut down on the plastic in my life over the last few years. These stainless steel molds are the best plastic-free popsicle molds I’ve found. They’re sturdy, easy to clean, and my popsicles never taste plasticky, which is a win for me.

This might just be my summer of popsicles. I’ll get to making more, just after I have another one of these.

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Mango Lime Popsicles

I can’t get enough of these popsicles. They’re sweet and refreshing. They taste like mango with just a hint of lime. I start with frozen mango pulp (which is 100% mango, no sugar, stabilizers, or preservatives added) which I find available at Latin grocery stores. You could start with fresh mangoes and puree the flesh in a blender or food processor or use the frozen chunks of peeled mango in the frozen fruit aisle of your grocery store if you have trouble finding the pulp. If you don’t have popsicle molds, you could freeze this mixture into a shallow pan and scrape it with a fork every 30 minutes to make a granita. You can use any popsicle molds you like, or even tall shot glasses or small disposable cups to make these. If you are using molds that don’t have lids to hold the sticks in place, let the popsicles freeze for about 2 hours or until they start to set up and then add the popsicle sticks.

14 ounces (397 grams, about 1 3/4 cups) mango pulp
2 limes
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar

If using frozen mango pulp, break it up into chunks and place in a medium saucepan. Heat over low heat, just to thaw. You don’t want to cook it, you just want to melt it. Set aside.

Add water and sugar in a small saucepan. Using a vegetable peeler, peel off large pieces of lime rind and place in the saucepan. Heat over medium high heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and let the lime steep for about 10 minutes.

Juice the limes and add the juice to the thawed mango pulp. Strain the lime syrup into a large mixing bowl or pitcher (something with a pouring spout would be idea) and discard the lime peels. Add the mango pulp and lime juice to the syrup and mix until combined. Pour into popsicle molds, leaving a few millimeters at the top to allow for expansion. Place in the freezer. When the popsicles have begun to set, after about 2 hours, place the popsicle sticks in the center of the popsicles (if your molds have lids to hold the popsicle sticks in place you can do add the sticks before putting them in the freezer). Freeze until solid, at least 5 hours or overnight.

Run molds under cool water for a few seconds to unmold.

Yield: varies depending on molds, this made a little more than fit in my molds, I froze the extra in a jar and scraped it to make granita

Indian-spiced Yogurt Chickpeas

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In the summer, I love to make the sort of meals that can be tossed together in a big bowl and served at room temperature.  I get cranky in the heat, and it’s better for everyone if I don’t spend much time standing over a hot stove. It’s better still if, after everything is done, I can step away from the kitchen with a cool drink in my hand and relax for a while before eating.

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This chickpea dish is perfect for days like that. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s something special. It’s fragrant with Indian spices and creamy from the yogurt sauce. The chickpeas make it feel substantial but the lemon and fresh herbs keep it light. It’s been a staple in my summer kitchen ever since I first learned about it on Dana’s site back in 2009.

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It’s incredibly simple to throw together. A kicky blend of brown mustard seeds and cumin and fennel seeds get heated with some coconut oil to make a spice infused oil. Then the oil and spices get poured over a waiting bowl of chickpeas. Some cooling yogurt and a squeeze of lemon juice go in next, and then the whole thing gets topped with a flurry of sliced green onions and mint.

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I usually serve this with some fragrant basmati rice, but it’s also great on it’s own or with some naan or as a side in an Indian meal. I’ve done some variations on this, sometimes adding cucumber slices or tender leafy greens like spinach. I sometimes add cilantro along with or instead of the mint. I usually use scallions, but because I had some milder green spring onions on hand I used those this time. I like it best with coconut oil, but I’ve also enjoyed it with peanut oil and canola oil, and although I’ve never used it in this, I’m sure ghee would also be delicious here.

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All of which is to say that this dish is very flexible. And it can wait patiently on the kitchen counter while you pour yourself a cold drink.

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Indian-spiced Yogurt Chickpeas

Adapted from Food and Wine via Dana Treat

These chickpeas are a regular in my summer kitchen. The brown mustard seeds give it a subtly spicy kick, the yogurt gives it a creamy richness, the lemon and mint brighten the flavors. I like this with coconut oil, but any neutral oil will work. It will taste best with full fat yogurt (of course) but it’s also still really good with low or no fat yogurt. I usually make it with Greek yogurt, but it’s also good with thinner yogurt varieties, which simply make it saucier. I usually serve this with basmati rice, but it’s also great with naan or as part of a larger spread of dishes. 

3 cups cooked chickpeas (from about 1 cup dried or 2 15-ounce cans), rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons coconut oil (or peanut oil or other neutral oil)
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
3/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 cup plain yogurt
juice of half a lemon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1-2 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
handful of mint, thinly sliced

Place the chickpeas in a large heat safe mixing bowl. Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the mustard seeds and cook for about one minute or until they begin to pop. Add the fennel and cumin seeds and cook for about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and immediately pour over the chickpeas. Stir to coat. Add the yogurt, lemon juice, and salt, and stir until the chickpeas are coated. Add the green onions and mint and fold in gently.

Serve at room temperature. (This can be stored overnight in the refrigerator, but bring to room temperature before serving.)

Yield: About 4 servings as a main, more as a side.

Lime Meltaways

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Here. Have a cookie.

These cookies are delicate, buttery and limey. True to their name, they are meltingly tender from a generous amount of confectioners’ sugar and a little bit of cornstarch.

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The great lime shortage of 2014 means I’ve been using limes a little more sparingly than usual. But prices are coming back down and these cookies are a great way to celebrate. (I sent this batch to my father for Father’s Day because he’s a big fan of lime desserts.)

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Apart from the addition of lime juice and zest in the dough, these are much like many slice-and-bake butter cookies. But the hit of lime makes these a particularly summery kind of cookie.

These cookies come from Martha Stewart, and like with most classic recipes, she nails it. They’re just what you’d expect from a cookie called a lime meltaway. And they’re really, really good.

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After these cookies have baked and almost cooled, they take a tumble in confectioners’ sugar. Far be it from me to contradict Martha’s instructions, but I found that sifting the confectioners’ sugar over the cookies and flipping them over to get the other side worked better for me than shaking the cookies in a bag with the confectioners’ sugar, where the sugar tended to clump.

If you’re looking for a new cookie to bring along to summer barbecues and picnics, this is a great one.

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Lime Meltaways

Adapted from Martha Stewart 

These are pretty simple slice-and-bake butter cookies. The dough benefits from resting overnight in the refrigerator, which allows the flavors to develop, but they’re still delicious if you bake them the same day you make the dough. Martha recommends shaking these in a bag with powdered sugar, which you can do if you like, but I found that the sugar clumped on a few cookies and didn’t coat them as evenly as I would have liked, so I’ve changed the instructions to recommend sifting the powdered sugar over the cookies with a fine mesh strainer. These will keep for about a week in an airtight container, so they are also a fine make ahead dessert.

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks, 170 grams, 6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (120 grams, 4 ounces) confectioners’ sugar, divided
zest of 2 limes
juice of 2 limes
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups (190 grams, 8 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons (20 grams) cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and 1/3 cup of confectioners’ sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Add the lime zest and juice and the vanilla extract and mix on medium-high speed until the liquid is incorporated and the mixture is again pale and fluffy, another 3-4 minutes.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, and salt. Add to the butter and sugar mixture, and beat on low speed until the dry ingredients are just incorporated.

Divide the dough in half, and place each half on a piece of wax paper (or parchment paper) about 14 inches long. Roll the dough in the wax paper into a log, about 1 1/4 inches in diameter. Chill in the refrigerator until firm, preferably overnight, but for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove the dough from the refrigerator, and using a sharp knife, slice the logs into rounds 1/4-inch thick. Place the rounds on the baking sheet, leaving at least an inch of space between each one.

Bake for about 12 minutes, or until cookies are just beginning to turn slightly golden at the edges, rotating the pan halfway through baking. Let the cookies cool in the pan on a wire cooling rack. After they have cooled for about 10-15 minutes, sift the remaining (2/3 cup) confectioners’ sugar in an even layer over the cookies, then flip the cookies over and sift sugar over the other side until the cookies are covered in a light coating of confectioners’ sugar.

Let the cookies cool fully, for at least an hour, before storing in an airtight container.

Yield: About 40 cookies

Rhubarb Syrup

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It’s getting to the time of summer when it seems that what I want more than anything is a cool drink in my hand.

It can be anything from water to lemonade to cold brewed iced tea, but something I’ve done more and more in the last few years is make homemade syrups to add sweetness and flavor to sparkling water for my own not-too-sweet homemade sodas. (A home carbonating system, like this soda stream with glass bottles makes that incredibly convenient, but I’ve done this with store bought sparkling water as well.)

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I prefer sodas with a flavor that can balance the sweetness of the sugar. Citrus syrups are winners for this, as are things with spices like ginger or cardamom, hints of floral flavors like orange flower water, and aromatics like lemongrass. One of my favorite syrups at this time of year is made with rhubarb.

It was something I remembered a little more than a week ago when my friend Charlotte was in town and we got to talking, in a circuitous way, about things to do with rhubarb. This is a great thing to do with rhubarb.

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I love rhubarb’s puckery sour flavor. It works well for a soda that isn’t a candy-level of sweet. I also love the way it turns the syrup a brilliant deeply saturated shade of pink.

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It’s a color we don’t get naturally in food very often, and it’s lovely to look at.

Syrups like this are a snap to make. It’s a simple matter of simmering some kind of flavoring with equal parts sugar and water until the sugar dissolves and then allowing it to cool to room temperature before straining it at storing it in an airtight container.

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For this syrup, I just chopped up a few cups of rhubarb and tossed it in a saucepan, zested a lemon for some extra brightness, and poured some sugar and water over the whole thing.

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I let it simmer for about 15 minutes, long enough for the rhubarb to turn soft and release its juices into the syrup.

Then I strain it through a chinois, which is a fancy extra-fine mesh strainer, but any fine mesh strainer will work just fine. If you want to be extra careful about straining out the tiny thready rhubarb bits, you could line a strainer with cheesecloth. Then I let it cool and funnel it into a bottle and have it ready in the refrigerator for whenever I want one of those cool summer drinks.

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Rhubarb Syrup

If you’re looking for something other than pie or crisp or compote to do with rhubarb, this is a great option. I love this rhubarb syrup in soda water, but it would also be great in cocktails (especially with gin) or poured over vanilla ice cream or added to black iced tea for a little extra sweetness.

2 cups rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
zest of one lemon
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water

Add the rhubarb, lemon zest, sugar, and water to a medium saucepan. Bring a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the rhubarb is slumped and soft. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Strain through a fine mesh strainer and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Yield: about 3 cups

 

 

Lentil Arugula Salad with Feta and Red Wine Shallot Vinaigrette

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This salad is creamy and tangy and salty and earthy. The lentils give it a heartiness while the arugula lightens the dish and adds some much needed greenery. But what makes it work is the pungent bite from the shallots and the acidity from the red wine vinegar in the dressing combined with the creamy tangy richness from the feta cheese.

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Lentils look so boring, and to be honest, when they aren’t prepared well, they can be, but I’ve eaten this salad three days in a row without growing tired of it. It’s easy to throw together a big batch, and it keeps well. It’s good cold or at room temperature.

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There’s nothing fragile or delicate about this dish. It’s kicky and sharp and sturdy. It would definitely travel well. I could see bringing it along on a picnic or to a summer cookout.

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It’s simple, which means every component is important. The vinaigrette will be better if you start with a good quality dijon mustard and red wine vinegar and olive oil. The lentils should be cooked to the point where they are tender but not yet mushy. The arugula should be spry and lively. And if there is a feta that you love, especially if it is on the creamier and not so aggressively salty side of the spectrum, that’s one you should use.

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And don’t tell Dan, but this is also excellent, and more classically French, with a soft goat cheese in place of the feta.

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This has become a regular lunch for me. It’s something I can make ahead and have available in the fridge for the next several days. I made it for dinner last week, and the next day, when Dan saw that I was making peanut noodles–something else he likes–he said “I was almost hoping we were just going to have leftovers for dinner because that lentil salad was so good.”

I can’t remember the last time he asked for leftovers for dinner.

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Lentil Arugula Salad with Feta and Red Wine Shallot Vinaigrette

This lentil salad is creamy, tangy, salty, and earthy, with bright acidity. I used a Bulgarian sheep’s milk feta, which was less salty and creamier than the most common grocery store varieties like Athenos, but use any feta you like. You can also substitute a soft goat cheese for the feta. If you want a shortcut, I’ve made versions of this starting with the precooked lentils at Trader Joe’s, which means this can come together in minutes instead of about a half an hour. You could also cook the lentils a day or two ahead of time and then throw the rest of it together later. I use salt packed capers, which need to be soaked and rinsed of excess salt before adding them, but brined capers are fine here too. This salad is a great make ahead dish. It keeps well in the refrigerator for several days.

1 cup green or brown lentils
1 bay leaf (optional)
3 ounces (2-3 cups loosely packed) arugula
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
3 ounces feta, crumbled
1 tablespoon minced shallot (about 1/2 medium shallot)
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and fresh cracked black pepper for seasoning

Fill a medium saucepan about half-full with water, cover and bring to a boil. Add the lentils and the bay leaf (if using) and reduce heat to low. Cook the lentils, uncovered, in barely simmering water for 20-25 minutes, until just tender. Drain the lentils and discard the bay leaf.

In a large mixing bowl, add the minced shallot, the red wine vinegar, and the dijon, and stir until combined. Add the olive oil and a pinch of salt and whisk until emulsified.

Add the lentils and stir until coated. Then add the arugula and capers and toss until coated and well combined. Add the crumbled feta and toss until distributed throughout. Taste to see if it needs more salt (this will depend on your feta). Add a few good cracks of black pepper. Serve, warm, cold or at room temperature.

Will keep, refrigerated, for about 3 days.

Yield: About 4 servings as a main, about 8 as a side

Cold Brewed Iced Tea

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It was a weekend of heat and sweat. Dan and I walked nearly ten miles as we criss-crossed Andersonville and Ravenswood and over to Lincoln Square and into Uptown as we went to open houses for seven condos and one house. We opened closets, chatted with real estate agents, and fell in love with one place that was over our price range.

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We tried to imagine our lives in those spaces. Mostly we just felt like we were in other people’s homes.

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On Saturday, in between open houses, we stopped for gelato at Paciugo in Lincoln Square. We sat in the square and rested our feet while we geared up to look at more places that wouldn’t turn out to be right for us.

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That night, we went to a concert at the Metro. Kishi Bashi was playing. It was an all-ages show, and if the Metro has air conditioning, there wasn’t any evidence of it. We found ourselves packed in with a bunch of teenagers. It was a high energy, dance-y kind of show, which meant pretty much all of us were sweating profusely.

As I stood in the midst of those young folks and attempted to squeeze my way to the front of the balcony where my 5-foot-2-self might stand a chance of seeing anything, I found myself thinking about the first rock concert I ever went to. It was in 1995 and R.E.M. was touring for Monster. Radiohead was the opening act. We were in the nosebleed seats at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Michigan. I was fifteen and I remember a man behind us telling my friends and I to sit down. I remember feeling like it was one of the first real things I had ever done. I remember fearing, still, that nothing would ever happen to me, as though such stasis were possible.

At the Kishi Bashi show last weekend, I felt like I was the cranky old person, glad that the show started on time and that the music wasn’t too loud. Because the bus was delayed, we walked home, adding more miles to our feet.

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On Sunday, all the walking caught up with me and I ended up with a Texas-sized blister on the sole of my right foot.

I wore myself out.

I could have used some iced tea.

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Cold Brewed Iced Tea

This is my favorite method for making iced tea. Without the heat, the tea’s bitter flavors are muted and the tea’s naturally sweeter flavors come to the fore. I like fruity teas for this. I used Republic of Tea’s Ginger Peach this time. I also really like their Blackberry Sage flavor as an iced tea. You can use whatever tea you like. This method takes about two seconds of active time, but you do need to let it steep overnight or for at least 8 hours.

1 quart cold water
2 tea bags

Place tea bags in the water. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight. Remove tea bags. Serve over ice.

Yield: about 4 servings