Lemonade and Lemon Ice Pops

Cold, refreshing, lemonade!

As the summer gets hotter, we’re all looking for things that are cool and refreshing. There’s something about lemon that is bright and reviving on even the hottest days. Commercial lemonade tends to be too sweet for my taste. I like to taste the flavor of the lemon, and super sugary drinks don’t feel like they really quench thirst, especially since they leave my mouth sticky. So my formula for lemonade is a bright slightly tart one. If you want it sweeter, you can add make it sweeter, of course. A good idea is to make the basic batch that I make, then let everyone sweeten their glasses to their own taste if they they prefer something sweeter. I also use this same formula to make ice pops. After mixing it up, pour a bit into your favorite popsicle mold. Unless you’ve got a lot of popsicle molds, you’ll still have plenty left to drink because it makes 9 cups total.

  • 8 cups water
  • 1 cup Real Lemon lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup sugar (or equivalent of your preferred sweetener)

I use warm water to mix this up so that the sugar dissolves quickly and easily. If using something like honey or agave nectar, the temperature of the water wouldn’t be a factor. However, if you use something other than sugar, be sure to adjust the amount according to how sweet your sweetener is. A half cup of honey, for instance, will be sweeter than a half cup of sugar. So the amount of sweetener you use is dependent on what you use to sweeten the lemonade — as well as your own personal taste for how sweet you want it to be. My formula is a good starting place. It’s delicious as is, but is easily adjusted to suit individual tastes.

Stir the sugar into the warm water until dissolved. Add the lemon juice. Stir. The mixture will be cloudy. Chill thoroughly.

If making lemon ice popsicles, fill popsicle molds not quite to the top (liquid expands as it freezes). They’re ready to eat when they’re frozen solid. Honestly, I don’t know how long it will take to freeze. It depends on the size and shape (volume) of your popsicle molds. I typically don’t reach for a popsicle until the day after I put a batch into the freezer, but they should freeze faster than that! The sweet-tart flavor is perfect for a refreshing summer ice. Check out my Rocket Pops post for a different popsicle idea!

 

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Pico de Gallo

Pico de Gallo

With a holiday in the U.S. this weekend, it’s prime time for a summertime party. We have lots of cookout ideas on the blog, some of which I covered at the beginning of summer with my Cookouts post. Here’s one more salsa recipe to add to last week’s Deadly Green Sauce. Unlike last week’s salsa recipe, this is a uncooked salsa, and it’s relatively mild. I suspect that the way I make it isn’t traditional. It is, however, flavorful, and makes a lot. The proportions of ingredients are a matter of individual taste. The amounts below are guidelines. Some people don’t like cilantro; you can substitute parsley, but keep in mind that the flavor will be radically different if you do. The amount of jalapeños depends on the size of the pepper as much as how hot you want it. Because this is a large batch of salsa, the amount of jalapeños in the recipe isn’t as excessive as it might appear. Use more if you want it to have more of a kick. Freshly chopped jalapeños can sometimes cause skin irritation so food handling gloves are recommended.

This makes about 6 cups.

2 onions
2 med or large tomatoes
3 average sized jalapeños (or 2 large)
1 clove garlic (2 if they’re small)
Bunch of cilantro
A little bit of parsley (optional)
5 Tbls vinegar
5 Tbls olive oil

The tomatoes should be diced by hand. I use regular slicing tomatoes for this. They’re very juicy and you’ll have a very wet mess of tomatoes when you’re done. Slide it, juice and all, from the cutting board into a large non-metallic bowl. Dice the onions finely either by hand or in a food processor. Dice the jalapeños very finely. The texture I go for is that the onions are cut finer than the tomatoes, and the jalapeños are diced more finely than the onions. The garlic I run through a garlic press. Chop up a supermarket sized bunch of cilantro as finely as you can, but don’t worry about it if some leaves slip through. I use the whole bunch, but use as much or as little as you want. I usually throw in a little parsley because I have Italian Flat Leafed Parsley in my garden almost year ’round. How much I add depends on whether it’s taking over the garden. 😉

The oil and vinegar give this almost the character of a chopped salad, albeit one in which cilantro and parsley stand in for the leafy greens. I learned to make it like this right after college; I had some that tasted great, so I asked what was in it. That’s how I found out about using an oil and vinegar dressing, which I think helps the flavors to meld.

Stir all the ingredients together well. Chill thoroughly before serving. This is good to make up ahead of time; the flavor will improve the longer it chills. Give it a good stirring before serving. As a dip, it’s fairly chunky. This is often used as a flavorful addition to wrapped-in-tortilla things.

See the Cookout for Vegetarian, Vegans and Friends who aren’t too sure about this post for cookout suggests for this Independence day. Also check out the snacks, yummy dips, and salsa tags for more recipes.

Fancy Dip bowl for fancy dip!

The Labor Day weekend represents the last hurrah of summer in the U.S. Though weather in the sunbelt states allows cookouts and outdoor parties most of the year, this is the last long weekend until Thanksgiving. So, if you’re planning a party, cookout, or picnic, this is a little something “extra” to dress up the chips-n-dip (or veggies and dip). I don’t recall where I first picked up this trick, but it has come in handy in recent years since I’ve perfected my Frankenslaw recipe, which uses some red cabbage. Here’s a cool way to use the rest of it!

Homemade artichoke dip, in red cabbage bowl.

Homemade artichoke dip, in red cabbage bowl.

I’m not going to lie to you: carving out the center of raw red cabbage takes more time and effort than you would think. But it looks so pretty! I’ve noticed that red cabbage is usually slightly smaller then green cabbage. If you want to use the red cabbage as one of the ingredients in my Frankenslaw and use it as a bowl for dip, pick one of the bigger of the reds. Slice off the top and chisel out the center: it doesn’t matter if it’s messy since it will be used in the slaw (which is really colorful and tasty). Any dip will do. If you want to make what’s in the picture, here’s my artichoke dip recipe. In this case I used smaller artichoke pieces and stirred them in for a chunkier dip than if I had used the blender.

Occasionally I get a cabbage with a very lopsided base and have to neaten up the bottom to make it sit more or less flat and not be tippy. Sit the cabbage on your serving dish and see how it settles and if anything needs to be done to the bottom before you fill it with dip! 🙂

Check out these tags for recipes: Cookouts, Picnics, Parties and Snacks!

Bonus Post: Chocolate Peeps (and everything else…)

The Toasted Cake podcast has done it again! Great flash fiction is a given, but Tina Connolly has once again included a fast easy recipe at the end of the podcast…in which she makes messy chocolate peep blobs and ends up coating half the the stuff in her pantry with chocolate. LOL Fun for Easter or anytime. 😉

Check it out: Glass Future (flash fiction) and chocolate peeps.

Snacks for Super Sunday

With the Super Bowl coming up this weekend, it’s time to break out the snacks! We’ve now had just over a year of good food on the Usual Suspects blog and while most of our recipes aren’t finger food, we’ve got lots of interesting recipes to browse as you prepare to host a Super Bowl, or prepare to take food to a Super Bowl party.

First start with our snacks and appetizers tags. (There is some overlap with tags.) If you’re doing a tailgating or cookout thing, check out our cookout tag and also our picnic tag. If you want to make up a big slow cooker of chili and have DIY chili pie for everyone, check out the chili tag. Got a sweet tooth? There’s the dessert tag, which doesn’t include muffins or scones (not traditional Super Bowl fare, I know, but they’re finger food and yummy).

Did I forget anything? Yes, I probably did. So, you’ll just have to indulge yourself by giving the blog a thorough browse. 😉 Check out the sidebar: you can browse by author (click the author name), or by month, or select a category from a drop-down menu, or peruse the vast tag cloud for something that strikes your fancy.

I’ve really enjoyed writing for this blog the past year. I’ll be back next Friday with a new recipe! Follow us as we cook and write our way through another year of good food! 😀

Games Night

Recently, we hosted a games night.  Or, should I say, a game night because Diplomacy is the only game you can play in the span of an evening.  As the rules suggest, set aside four hours for a game.  We, however, were playing for the first time and had to read the rules and play the sample game.  Fun evening, but glad we had sustenance along the way.

As you plan, plot, negotiate, and strategise (click for more Diplomacy information) the best food to have on hand is dips, breads, and spreads.  Hot meals would be far too dangerous!

A portion of our spread looked like this:

games night

We served a variety of multigrain, naan, pita, and sourdough breads; an assortment of crackers; cold vegetables for dipping, as well as broiled eggplant; and various dips and spreads.

Below are recipes for some of the food served that evening.  As usual, I am unable to give exact measurements as Boyfriend glances at a recipe and then changes everything as he goes along.  Sigh.  I will do my best.

Tabooli:

We used quinoa instead of the traditional bulgur.  Cook a cup of quinoa for ten minutes, drain, and let cool. Add:

  • Salt
  • Lemon juice
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Fresh parsley
  • Diced tomato (a real tomato, not a can of)
  • Green onion
  • Mint
  • Garlic

Toss it all together and let it sit in the fridge for at least 3-4 hours before serving.

Hummus:

You will need a food processor for this one.  Blend together a can of chick peas, tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, fresh parsley, garlic, cumin, coriander, salt (we used our usual Herbamare), and anything else you can think of that will add to the flavour.  Add sparingly until the hummus tastes the way you like.

Curry Cashew Bean Cheese Spread:

This was a new one for me and it was delicious.  Once again, you will need a food processor.  Blend the cashews until they are a fine powder.  Add cooked white beans (a can will do), lemon juice, tahini, curry powder, and Herbamare until the mixture is spongy/creamy/pasty like cream cheese.

The best thing about dips, spreads, and breads is that you can still eat them the next day.  We made a lovely little indoor lunch picnic out of our leftovers.  🙂

Enhanced Hummus

My enhanced hummus with a pita chip. :-) Yum!

My enhanced hummus with a pita chip. 🙂 Yum!

Most recipes for hummus call for using canned garbanzo beans. I prefer to cook things myself instead of using canned, if it’s practical, but cooking dried garbanzo beans is honestly not practical when I usually decide to whip up hummus on the spur of the moment. Garbanzo bean flour is a good compromise between using canned beans and cooking beans, at least for me. I use Bob’s Red Mill Garbanzo Bean Flour.

3/4 cups Bob’s Red Mill Garbanzo Bean Flour
2 tsp garlic powder
3 Tbls lemon juice
1 tsp cumin
1 Tbls sesame oil
3 Tbls olive oil
1/4 cup nutritional yeast (I use the kind with B vitamins added for a bit more nutrition)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese (omit to make it vegan)

I follow the measurements on the package for mixing the flour and water and the cooking time for the mixture, but I depart from their hummus recipe after that. Their hummus recipe is yummy and it’s a good place to start if you’ve never made hummus. Everyone I know has a slightly different take on hummus. Some like lots of lemon, some not a lot of tahini, some like it hot, some want it mild, some want enough garlic to send a vampire into shock. 😉 To develop your own hummus you have to start somewhere. I started with the recipe on the package then gradually morphed it into something else. You can start with the recipe on the package, or with my enhanced version below. 😀

First you need to reconstitute — and cook — the flour by adding 3/4 cups of the garbanzo bean flour to 2.5 cups of water in a medium saucepan. (I use a non-stick saucepan because this is a sticky mixture and I suspect it might be inclined to stick.) The instructions say to whisk in the flour into the boiling water. The idea of vigorously whisking a boiling liquid does not appeal to me, so I have gently whisked it so as not to splatter myself with boiling hot liquid. However, I’ve discovered that whisking boiling liquid isn’t necessary! I get better results if I add the flour to the water and whisk it in while waiting for the water to heat up. When it starts to bubble I set the timer for 1 minute, whisk for a minute as the instructions say, the turn the heat down to low and stir it occasionally as it cooks for another 5 minutes.

If you whisk the garbanzo flour into the boiling water don’t expect it to make a smooth mixture. (It will look a bit like lumpy oatmeal.) But no matter when you add the flour, don’t worry about any lumps; the blender will take care of that!

After cooking, while the flour and water mixture is cooling, stir in 1/2 cup water, then the garlic powder, cumin, and lemon juice.

I don’t have an immersion blender (yet) but you may be able to mix all the ingredients in the pot using an immersion blender. It’s a thick sticky mixture so if your stick blender doesn’t like that type of thing, dump the whole mess in a regular blender, add the rest of the ingredients 1 at a time (I do the oils, then add the nutritional yeast and Parmesan), and blend thoroughly.

Most hummus recipes use tahini, which is a sesame paste. Since I’m more likely to have sesame oil on hand for Chinese recipes, I substitute sesame oil for part of the olive oil. You can tweak the flavor by varying these amounts, but the total amount of oil probably shouldn’t be over 1/4 cup — which is 4 Tbls. (Varying the amount of lemon juice can also tweak the flavor. If the flavor doesn’t seem quite right to you experiment with varying the amounts of sesame, olive and lemon juice.)

I think the mild, slightly nutty flavor of the nutritional yeast complements the flavors of the garbanzo and sesame. The Parmesan cheese, on the other hand, combines nicely with the olive oil. (As anyone who loves Italian food knows!) I developed this recipe with the yeast and cheese; omitting one or both will substantially alter the flavor, but give you a more traditional flavor. You may need to tweak the seasonings a bit if you leave out these “enhancements” of mine, but I expect everyone to tweak the seasonings to suit their taste anyway. 😉

Chill thoroughly. Stir vigorously before serving. Don’t be alarmed by the gelatinous texture when it first comes out of the fridge. That’s what oil does when it gets really cold. It’s fine. Give it a taste, making any slight adjustments in seasonings that you might want. The Parmesan cheese adds salt, so if you add the cheese, don’t add any salt without tasting it first! Serve with pita bread or pita chips.

Veggie Dip #2: Artichoke Dip

IMG-20130815-03018

If you want a creamy artichoke dip, you don’t have to buy it. I get the chunkier canned artichoke and mix it in the blender, but if you want a chunkier dip you may want to get can of artichoke that’s already in bits and stir it in or process it less.

1 14oz can quartered artichoke hearts, drained
16 oz sour cream
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 Tbls dried onion flakes
1/2 tsp marjoram
1 Tbls Parmesan cheese
salt (optional)

Mix all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Refrigerate for several hours. Taste and tweak seasonings before serving. Garlic lovers may want more garlic powder, others may want to ramp up the Parmesan. This recipe is pretty basic; there’s room to experiment as you customize it to suit your own taste. (I put some green olives in it once, but wasn’t crazy about how it turned out…too olive-y.) It’s a good idea to taste it with whatever you’ll have to dip it before adding any salt. It might not need salt if you’re serving it with salty chips or if you’ve added more Parmesan cheese. On the other hand, if it’s a meant for carrots and celery sticks, then a tiny bit of salt might be good. Serve with veggies such as celery sticks, broccoli florets, or baby carrots, or chips.

Vegetarian Cheese: Purple Haze

Purple Haze chevre! The package looks a bit crumpled and deflated because, yes, I opened it and snacked already!

August is national goat cheese month, and as it happens one of my favorite chevre cheeses is a vegetarian cheese. Cypress Grove’s Purple Haze is an unusual cheese, and I daresay it’s not to everyone’s taste, but it is worth tasting. (Despite the name, it is not purple. It is, in my opinion, a trippy flavor combination, however.) I picked up a small package on a whim a couple of years back, with no great expectations. The package said that it was made with lavender and fennel pollen. I literally could not imagine what that would taste like. So of course I had to taste it. 😉 To my utter surprise I loved it! I’m still at a bit of a loss to tell you what it tastes like, but the flavor is unique and oddly compelling. It doesn’t taste herbal, and it doesn’t taste quite like what I’d first think of as “floral”, but floral is the closest word I can think of to describe it. It tastes like a sunny summer garden, or perhaps a picture of a garden, as there are no earth notes to the flavor. It’s as light as sunshine on the tongue. I have to dole out small dabs on crackers and count out the crackers before I sit down or I fear I will eat the entire package! Really, I very nearly did the first time I tried it. I ate in a delicious dream of creamy cheese with a delicate unusual flavor, and when I came to I was blissed out and had consumed almost all of it.

This isn’t Cypress Grove’s only vegetarian cheese: all the cheeses they currently make use non-animal rennet. They make a number of different types of cheeses (all with enticing names). A friend of mine likes their Humboldt Fog. I liked it too, but not nearly as much as the Purple Haze. There are even more cheeses on their website which I’m keeping an eye out for in local stores. Their cheeses are somewhat hard to find (at least in my area). It’s hit and miss locally and months may pass before I can snag more. They are apparently a small artisanal cheesemaker and probably don’t have a wide distribution, but if you love cheese and are an adventurous eater, keep an eye out for their cheeses. If, or when, you try them please drop a comment on this post and let me know what you got and what you think! 🙂

Veggie Dip #1

With football season around the corner — not to mention baseball playoffs and the World Series — we’re entering Snacking Season. 😀 I’m going to add some simple easy dips and snacks on the blog off and on as we head into fall. This recipe is, in many ways, an old-fashioned dip because it uses sour cream as a base. It’s delicious this way, probably because of all that fat. 😉 If you want a lower-fat option, substitute 8 oz silken tofu for half the sour cream. This will substantially alter the flavor of the dip compared to using just sour cream as the base (but it’s still good). After it’s been refrigerated for a few hours you might want to taste and tweak the seasonings.

If you’ve never made a dip from scratch, this is a good starting point; from this you may decide to add more of this, less of that, or a bit of something else. Seasonings that you typically use together when cooking will probably go together okay in a dip. I would add one caution to your experiments: pre-mixed seasonings usually have salt added, so check the label before you add salt!

16 oz sour cream
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp dried dill
1/2 tsp parsley
1/2 tsp marjoram
2 tsp dried chives
1/4 tsp sea salt

Mix all ingredients well. Refrigerate for several hours.

Looking for more dips, spreads, and snacks? Try the “snack” tag in the sidebar. Last week: Homemade Pimiento Cheese! Good for sandwiches, or on crackers or stuffed celery sticks.