Watermelon Lime Cooler

WIN_20150529_105252What’s with the food industry’s obsession with fake watermelon? You know what I’m talking about… lipstick-colored watermelon sherbets and sorbets, cloyingly sweet and perfumed watermelon bubblegum, and powdered drink mixes containing a dozen different ingredients not found in nature. These products seem to grow in popularity during the summer months, when REAL watermelon is available! It just doesn’t make any sense.

Try this instead: buy an actual, real watermelon. Cut it in half, scoop out the delicious fruit, and puree it in a blender (this should be done in small batches). Then, freeze the puree in ice cube trays. Once frozen, you can pop out the cubes, freeze them in a bag, and use them all summer in delicious beverages! I’ll even confess to freezing extra watermelon for “emergency” summer drinks in the dead of winter. True story.

To make today’s Watermelon Lime Cooler, simply puree 1/2 of a lime (with or without the peel, it’s up to you), 6 cubes of frozen watermelon puree, and 1/4 cup of cold water. That’s IT – for about 10 seconds of effort, you get a refreshing glass of real summer flavor, complete with fiber, vitamin C, and beneficial lycopene. Need something a little sweeter? Add a teaspoon of marmalade before you blend the ingredients together. Enjoy!

Margaritas on a Budget (Cinco de Mayo, Part IV)

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Happy Cinco de Mayo! We’re capping off our four part series with margaritas, the ubiquitous Mexican dinner party beverage! It’s not difficult to find recipes for delicious margaritas – just do a quick web search. Every celebrity chef seems to have their own concoction, featuring one (or more) top shelf tequilas blended with other top shelf indulgences such as Cointreau, Grand Marnier, and Combier. I’m sure they’re delicious. The problem is, the ingredients for these celebrity-endorsed blends can easily set you back $100 or more… I am not joking. To Crowded Earth Kitchen sensibilities, shelling out that kind of cash for mixed drinks is simply insane.

Let’s plant our feet back on the ground and blend up a batch of Margaritas on a Budget. While you won’t find a recipe quite like this one endorsed by a celebrity chef, I’m confident that one taste will convince you… these are pretty darn good. Better still, you won’t have to choose between making a margarita or buying groceries for the rest of the week!

WIN_20150424_213323Ingredients (Makes 2 Margaritas)

1/2 of a lime, peel and all, cut in small pieces

1 teaspoon frozen orange juice concentrate

1 heaping tablespoon frozen limeade juice concentrate

10 ice cubes

1/4 cup white tequila (any brand)

2 tablespoons water (or use an extra 2 tablespoons of tequila)

For garnish: 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon lime zest, plus 2 slices of lime

WIN_20150424_211814Directions

Step 1) Sprinkle sugar, salt, and grated lime zest on a small salad plate. Pour a few tablespoons of water onto another, separate salad plate.

Step 2) Dip the rims of two glasses into the plate of water, then dip into the plate of salt/sugar/lime zest. Stand glasses upright and place a slice of lime on each rim to complete the garnish.

Step 3) Combine chopped limes, juice concentrates, ice cubes, tequila, and water in a blender. Puree until smooth. If mixture is too thick to pour, add another 2-3 tablespoons of water.

Step 4) Pour into prepared glasses and serve immediately.

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Bubble Tea

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If you’ve ever dined in a sushi or hibachi restaurant, you’ve probably seen bubble tea on the menu. It’s a fun, nonalcoholic novelty beverage, often available in many flavors (most of them quite sweet) and a wide variety of colors. The main attraction, however, are the big tapioca “bubbles” floating in the tea, which can be captured and enjoyed through a wide straw.

As much as I enjoy all of the quirkiness of bubble tea, I can’t help but notice that most flavors contain an alarming amount of sugar. I also doubt that the brightly colored bubble tea available in restaurants is even the slightest bit natural. Finally, bubble tea in restaurants can be really expensive – more than twice the cost of a soft drink, and often comparable to an alcohol-based beverage. We can do better.

WIN_20150417_153619The Crowded Earth Kitchen version of bubble tea combines large tapioca beads and sweetened but naturally colored tea. The result is a lighter bubble tea with fewer artificial ingredients and a much more economical cost. Feel free to use any hot tea that you enjoy. I’m using a Chinese instant tea called Gan Mao Cha, purchased at my local Asian market. Gan Mao Cha contains WIN_20150417_155632sugar, honeysuckle, mulberry leaf, peppermint, and licorice root – it’s delicious! Sweetened green tea would be lovely, as well.

Ingredients (per serving)

1 cup of brewed tea, any variety you prefer, chilled

WIN_20150417_1600202 tablespoons large tapioca beads (about pea size when dry)

Directions

Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add large tapioca beads, reduce heat to simmer, and cover the pot. After 5 minutes, tapioca beads should be even larger (like small marbles) and soft. Strain tapioca beads from water and place tapioca beads in a festive glass. Fill glass with chilled, sweetened tea and enjoy!

“I Survived My Workout” Tropical Smoothie

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Recently, I decided to add running to my regular but casual workout rotation. I hit the gym a few times each week, but I’m not trying out for the Olympics here, folks. You’ll find me among the masses of regular people just trying to stay reasonably healthy by hoisting myself onto an elliptical machine or a stationary bike and dutifully but ungracefully elevating my heart rate.

But running?

I hate running.

I’m giving it a try because I’m at a fitness plateau and running seems like an obvious way to move forward. If there’s any truth to the “no pain, no gain” sentiment, well, running will DEFINITELY work!

While I’m running, reminding myself that I’m not actually going to die (it just feels that way), it helps to think of a healthy snack I can prepare when I’m finished. I made this Tropical Smoothie today, and it was delicious! You’ll notice that the recipe calls for just a bit of coconut milk (yum). Here’s a tip: if you open a can of coconut milk for this recipe, freeze what’s left in the can by pouring it into an ice cube tray. The next time you make this recipe, just add one ice cube of coconut milk. So easy!

WIN_20150415_110528Ingredients (Makes 1 refreshing smoothie)

1/2 banana, sliced

3 tablespoons coconut milk

1 teaspoon chia seeds

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1 generous tablespoon frozen orange juice concentrate

3 ice cubes

3/4 cup cold water

Directions: Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. Serve immediately.

Tamarind Orange Cooler

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Indigenous to Sudan and grown in many tropical regions, tamarind is a curiously sour-and-sweet ingredient. I’m not quite sure what to call it, since it’s used (often, anyway) as a fruit, but is genetically a legume. Like other legumes, it is dense in calories but high in fiber, iron, and a variety of minerals.

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Whole Tamarind Pods

Tamarind can be an acquired taste, but I find it delicious. I’ve heard it described as “sweet-sour,” but really, it’s more sour than sweet. It is an incredibly versatile ingredient found in everything from complex and savory main dishes to addictively sticky-sweet candies. The Tamarind Orange Cooler we’re making today is a nice introduction to this ingredient. It makes a cheerful breakfast drink or (my preference) an awesome way to rehydrate after a workout.

If you’d like to try tamarind without fussing with fresh tamarind pods, pick up a jar of tamarind paste: Tamicon Tamarind Paste 8oz In the recipe below, simply substitute 2 tablespoons tamarind paste and 8 ice cubes for the frozen tamarind cubes. If you’re using jarred tamarind paste, you can skip all the way to the last step (Step #5) below. So easy!

Ingredients (Makes 2 coolers)

1/2 pound of whole tamarind pods

3 cups orange juice

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Peeled tamarind flesh is shown in the dish on the right.

Directions

Step 1) Use your fingers to remove the shells from the tamarind pods (similar to shelling peanuts, very easy). Also remove any big fibrous strands you see underneath the shell.

Step 2) You will be left with long, sticky pods of tamarind flesh. It’s not very attractive, but it’s delicious! Feel free to sample the tamarind, just be careful not to bite into the seeds (think of peas in a pod) that are hidden inside the flesh! Place the pods of tamarind flesh in a saucepan and cover with water. The water level should be above, but not more than 1 inch above, the tamarind pods.

Step 3) Simmer the tamarind flesh in water for about 20 minutes. The flesh should look like it is beginning to dissolve in the water. Remove from heat and strain the contents of the saucepan through a fine sieve – SAVE THE LIQUID. Using a spatula or the back of a wooden spoon, push as much of the softened tamarind pulp through the sieve as possible. You will be left with seeds and fibers, which can be added to your compost bin at this point.

WIN_20150405_203417Step 4) Transfer the liquid and pulp (all of which has gone through the sieve) to an ice cube tray and freeze for several hours or overnight.

Step 5) After freezing, combine 8 tamarind ice cubes and 3 cups of orange juice in a blender. Blend until smooth and creamy. Enjoy!

Pink Champagne Party Punch

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You don’t need a great big special occasion for this – why not invite a few girlfriends over on a sunny day and chat all afternoon over a bowl of Pink Champagne Party Punch? If you don’t have a punch bowl, get creative – use a big glass mixing bowl, a big glass vase, or anything else that catches your eye. Likewise, you can make decorative ice using an ice mold, a bundt cake pan, or just use a regular ice cube tray with pieces of fruit added to the individual ice cube compartments. There’s no need to be precious about it… this is supposed to be FUN, not complicated.

Ingredients (Makes about 3 liters)

1 cup of assorted fruit (small berries and thin slices of citrus fruit work well)

1 liter of cranberry-raspberry juice

1 liter of ginger ale

1 bottle (750 mL) of champagne or sparkling wine

small container of raspberry sherbet

WIN_20150327_082303Directions

Step 1) One day before serving, make your decorative ice. Place one layer of fruit in the bottom of your bundt pan, ice mold, or ice cube tray. Add 1/2 inch of water (that’s all!) and freeze. A few hours later, add another layer of fruit and another 1/2 inch of water. Once THAT freezes, you can add as much WIN_20150327_100221water (or juice) as you’d like. Keep frozen until serving time.

Step 2) Just before serving, remove ice from the freezer and set bottom in warm water for about 10 seconds… not too long! Just add an inch or so of warm water to the bottom of your kitchen sink. Then, carefully life out the ice and place it in your punch bowl.

Step 3) Add juice and soda to punch bowl. Top with a few tablespoons of raspberry sherbet. Finally, pour champagne over the top of everything and watch it FIZZ! Serve immediately.

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