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Cucumber-Basil Mojito

A few years back, Mason and I went to a Christmas party where the host served some fantastic, slightly sweet cucumber martinis. Ever since, I’ve been a big fan of cucumber in drinks. When I came up with the idea of a cucumber-basil mojito the other day, I thought I was so frickin’ brilliant. A twist on the classic rum drink, adding cucumber and using basil instead of the traditional mint? Surely no one else had come up with the same concept.

Alas, my claim to booze brilliance was short-lived. A few Google searches revealed that I was not, sadly, the first person to come up with this idea. I didn’t like any one of them in its entirety though, and some had no mojito-like qualities at all, like the one that used gin and lemon juice. What? Anyway, I adapted several recipes to come up with my own version, which Mason and I both agree is quite tasty. For a non-alcoholic drink, try using lemon-lime soda instead of the rum.

Cucumber-Basil Mojito

6 basil leaves, roughly chopped
5 1-inch pieces of peeled cucumber, one of which is finely diced*
3 tsp simple syrup (or finely granulated sugar)
2.5 oz dark rum (anyone who tells you that a mojito must contain light rum is a liar, but feel free to use it if you prefer)
Splash of lime juice
Splash of club soda
Slice of cucumber, for garnish

Put basil and syrup or sugar in the bottom of a glass. Muddle the basil with the back of a spoon or the side of a measuring cup — you just want to bruise it to release its flavor. Fill the glass with ice and add rum, lime juice, cucumber, and soda. Stir to blend, and garnish with a cucumber slice. Makes 1 drink.

*I like how the drink looks with both chunks and small pieces of cuke floating around. Also, finely dicing one of the pieces releases a little more cucumber flavor into the drink.

Mason and I headed over to our favorite taco joint, Torchy’s, for lunch today. They recently opened a location in north Austin, off of Spicewood, and since that’s pretty close to where I work, we popped in for a quick lunch. It was there that I saw the following:

Well. I usually get a green chile pork taco and a fried avocado taco, but I couldn’t pass this up. The Damn BP replaced my usual avocado taco, and damn, it was good. As good as the avocado one? Well, maybe not. But it was still a Torchy’s taco, which makes it better than 95% of the tacos out there.

I post this to let you all know about the Damn BP and that $1 from each purchase of one goes towards the Gulf cleanup that is currently ongoing as a result of the BP oil debacle. You can do something nice about the environment and eat some great food while doing it.

NFR: Summer Fun

NFR means “not food-related.” I’ll try to tag posts as such from here on out, so that those of you who are just here for the food can tune out. I do mention a watermelon later on, but that probably doesn’t qualify this post as food-related. Anyway, here are some fun pics of our summer so far. The first few are from when Mason went out to do some watering in the front yard last weekend. Ryan just assumes that when a water source is near, he has free reign to get wet. No matter what he is wearing. Observe:

Which brings us to this weekend, where I’m hanging out back in Groves, TX, my hometown. Dad and I spotted an alligator pool (you’ll see what I mean in a minute) at Walmart yesterday and thought Ryan might enjoy it. He got it all set up and Ryan and I came out to see it. One minute, Dad and I are discussing how to anchor the slides so that they didn’t float. The next minute, Ryan is diving headfirst into the pool, fully clothed:

He enjoyed that a lot more than is evident here. The pool has pictures of alligators on it and has two slides, one for getting into the water and one for getting out. Anyway, at this point I just stripped him down, put on a swim diaper and, since I’d forgotten his bathing suit at home, put his shorts back on. He proceeded to continue to go headfirst into the pool.

The shorts didn’t last long, though. Kind of soggy, you know? Ryan doesn’t mind being pants-less anyway. Really, what boy does? He just continued to throw his balls in and out of the pool and jump around.

Watermelon break!

Swimming makes you tired.

Maddie even had her own pool.

ETA: Maddie and I are usually on good terms, but today she got on my shit list because she decided that instead of being a docile, harmless pug, she was actually a vicious guard animal and proceeded to bark loudly and rapidly when my 80-year-old grandpa rang the doorbell at 2:30 in the afternoon, waking Ryan from his nap and abruptly ending my writing of this post. Grr. She’s cute though, so I guess I’ll forgive her.

Summer means an abundance of basil. The first thing I usually do when basil shows up is make pesto, which is probably the first thing most people do with fresh basil. Now, pesto is great and all, but it does get old. After you’ve made and frozen all the pesto you can stand, check out these other tasty ways to use basil.

1. Add sliced or chopped basil to your favorite canned tomato soup to give it a touch of homemade-ness (is that a word?). My favorite is Amy’s Chunky Tomato Bisque.

2. Layer sliced heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, and basil leaves on a plate. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a classic Caprese salad.

3. Make this caper-basil vinaigrette for salads, or go ahead and serve it on the twice-grilled peppers with Buffalo mozzarella in the same link above. It’s one of our favorite appetizers.

4. Use it to make bruschetta, an Italian spread that also features fresh tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and balsamic vinegar. Spread it on small pieces of ciabatta for an easy hors d’oeuvre.

5. Muddle it (mash it up to release its flavor) and add to lemonade for a refreshing twist on a summer favorite. If you are so inclined, add vodka to make it a hard lemonade.

6. Use it to make a delightfully herbal bread.

7. Tired of only using basil in Italian food? Try it in this Thai chicken stir-fry.

8. Add a handful of roughly chopped basil to a cup of extra-virgin olive oil and let it sit in the fridge for several days. Strain out the basil, and you have basil-infused oil to use in salad dressings, drizzled over your Caprese salad, or tossed with grilled vegetables. Store in the refrigerator.

9. How about basil in dessert? This basil-blackberry crumble looks tasty For that matter, try mixing sliced basil with your favorite fruit for an easy summer snack. Peaches and strawberries come to mind first…mmm.

10. Use it in a sandwich with grilled summer vegetables, drizzled with olive oil.

How else do you like to use basil?

Grain-based salads are filling, versatile, and wonderful picnic foods. For this one, I mixed barley with some maple-roasted carrots and tomatoes and pan-glazed tempeh, and then sprinkled with a bit of sliced basil to brighten up the flavors a bit. It’s just slightly sweet. Wheat berries would also work instead of the barley, or even brown rice. If you’re not a fan of tempeh, just use chicken instead.

Barley Salad with Sweet Roasted Vegetables

1 cup barley
3 cups water

8 oz carrots, cut into small pieces
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

8 oz tempeh, cut into thin slices
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 cup vegetable broth
Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup sliced basil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine water and barley in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook 40 minutes. If there’s any water left in the pan, drain it off. Set the barley aside in a large bowl.

Combine vegetables, 1 tbsp maple syrup, 2 tbsp olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast for 20 minutes, or until veggies are browned and tender. Add to the barley.

In a small bowl, combine balsamic vinegar, 2 tbsp maple syrup, broth, salt, and pepper. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add tempeh and fry about 5 minutes per side, until golden brown. Add vinegar mixture and cook, stirring as necessary to keep tempeh from sticking, until liquid thickens into a glaze. It’ll take about 10 minutes.

Add tempeh to barley mixture and stir to combine. Sprinkle with basil and serve.

I have to admit that I’m not the biggest fan of cooked salmon. Smoked salmon or sushi? I’m completely on board with that. But I don’t looooove the flavor of cooked salmon. That said, I appreciate its subtle sweetness and the health benefits it provides, so I work with it.

This recipe gives it a ton of flavor. The simple spice rub gives it a nice crust, and the sauce adds a bright, summery flavor (and uses a lot of basil, which we seem to be overflowing with lately). Greek yogurt is yogurt that has been drained for a bit and is extra creamy. If you can’t find it at the store, line a colander with several layers of cheesecloth or heavy-duty paper towels, dump in the yogurt, and let it sit over the sink for about 30 minutes.

Salmon with Cucumber-Basil Sauce

Sauce:

2 cups Greek yogurt
2 cups packed basil
1 tsp cumin seeds (or 1/2 tsp ground cumin)
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
4 pickling cucumbers, peeled and seeded* (or 2 regular cucumbers)

Salmon:

1/4 cup olive oil
1 lb salmon fillet, cut into 3 or 4 pieces
2 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp red pepper

Roughly chop basil. Combine all ingredients except for cucumbers in a food processor and process about 30 seconds, until it’s pretty smooth. Roughly chop cucumbers, add to food processor, and pulse a few times until combined. Refrigerate until you’re ready to use it.

Heat oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, combine cumin, salt and pepper, and coat salmon with cooking spray. Coat salmon with spice rub. You may not need all of it, but you at least need most of it — it’ll be pretty thick. That’s what helps get you that nice crust.

Place salmon skin-side up onto hot oil. Cook 6-7 minutes, resisting the urge to poke or move the salmon. You can tell it’s done with its bright pink color fades a bit. Serve with sauce.

You’ll probably have extra sauce. It would be great on grilled chicken or grilled veggies, as a dip, or just drank from a cup with a straw. Just kidding on that last one…kind of. It’s really good sauce.

*To seed a cucumber, first peel it. Then scoop out the seeds with a spoon, like so:

You’ll end up with nicely hollowed cukes, like this:

I love orzo salads for many reasons. For one, they are easy to make — just cook the pasta, chop the ingredients, mix, and you are done. They taste good warm, cold, or at room temperature. Also the leftovers keep well for a day or two. This one combines a mix of veggies with whole-wheat orzo and a white wine vinaigrette, and it’s highly customizable so you can cater to the likes/dislikes of your family.

Orzo Salad with Chicken and Veggies

1 cup uncooked orzo pasta
5 oz cooked chopped chicken (rotisserie is good, or some of those frozen, pre-cooked chicken breast strips)
1 chopped green bell pepper
1/4 cup chopped spring onion (or red onion)
1/2 cup chopped chard
1/2 cup chopped cucumber
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1.5 tbsp white wine or champagne vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil

Cook orzo in boiling, salted water until tender, 8-10 minutes.  Combine all ingredients through basil and stir well. Add salt, pepper, vinegar, and olive oil, and toss until well combined.