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Cool Summer Drinks, Sans Bottles

On a hot day, a refreshing cold drink can work wonders. But you don't need lemonade or iced tea from a bottle.

Tuesday on The Early Show's weeklong series "Culinary Inspirations," Chris Kimball offered culinary inspirations you can pour.

Kimball, who's editor in chief of Cook's Country magazine and Cook's Illustrated, and hosts America's Test Kitchen, showed that it's really easy to make delicious, cool drinks from scratch. Nothing fancy, mind you — just good, basic drinks from homemade lemonade to iced teas.

And all the products, recipes and tips were tried out in America's Test Kitchen.

BASICS

How to juice a lemon: The basic wooden reamer works well, and the best juicer was from Oxo. Here's the review: The two winners of our tests were the plastic Oxo Good Grips Citrus Juicer ($11.99) and the Fox Run Wood Lemon Reamer ($2.99). They both juiced lemons quickly and efficiently. The Oxo Citrus Juicer features a unique design with two open, ridged heads (for large and small citrus fruit) and a non-skid bowl for juice collection. The Fox Run reamer has a classic design and an especially comfortable handle.

The best blender: The Braun PowerMax was the Best Buy in our ratings ($49.99) and the L'Equip R.P.M. was the winner at $134 (although the VitaMix at around $400 is a terrific machine but hugely expensive). Blender bottoms ought to be tapered, in order to funnel food down into the blades, but the wattage (simply an indication of how much power the motor consumes) or the horsepower of the motor is not a good indication at all, since it is not necessarily related to either output wattage or speed to the blades. We measured blade speed using a tachometer and found that this did not matter, either. The key was jar design (as in tapered).

How to make simple syrup: Use a saucepan with one cup sugar, one cup water, and one tablespoon of zest. This can be used as a flavoring for many summer drinks.

RECIPES BASICS

Lemonade: Sugar and a sliced lemon are mashed with a potato masher, then water and lemon juiced are added. Three flavoring variations include strawberry, mint and ginger.

Flavored ice teas: Ten tea bags are immersed in 4 cups of room temperature water for 45 minutes. About half a cup of flavored sugar syrup (equal parts sugar and water with some flavoring, such as zest) is added, along with 2 cups of flavoring juice. Choice of juices includes cherry juice (with lime syrup), Nantucket tea (cranberry juice with lime syrup), orangeade iced tea (lemonade with orange syrup), raz-ma-tazz iced tea (cranberry-raspberry juice with lemon syrup), etc.

Sangria: Sliced oranges and one lemon are mashed with sugar. The juice from the two oranges is added, and a bit of Triple Sec plus a bottle of inexpensive fruity wine are added. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Key is using inexpensive wine such as Merlot — tasters preferred this to more expensive wines.

FOR MORE RECIPES, GO TO WWW.COOKSCOUNTRY.COM.

Sweetened Iced Tea

Summer wouldn't be quite right without sweetened iced tea, but making iced tea can be easier said than done. It's all too easy to turn the tea unpalatably bitter through over-steeping. How do you make perfectly smooth sweet iced tea? Here's what we discovered:

  • Skip the heat. Steep a large quantity of tea bags in room temperature water for a strong-flavored brew without the bitterness.
  • Sweeten the tea with simple syrup instead of granulated sugar to ensure that the sugar fully dissolves into the tea. Simple syrup is just equal parts water and sugar heated long enough to dissolve the sugar. Flavor the syrup with lime zest and add cherry juice for a unique iced tea.

    Cherry Lime Rickey Iced Tea 6/2005
    Makes 2 quarts

    10 tea bags
    4 cups water, at room temperature
    2 cups cherry juice
    6 - 9 tablespoons recipe for Lime Syrup (see related recipe)

    1. Submerge tea bags in water in serving pitcher. Steep for 45 minutes. Remove and discard tea bags.

    2. Stir juice and Lime Syrup (adjust amount depending on desired sweetness) into tea. Serve over ice.

  • Orangeade Iced Tea 6/2005
    Makes 2 quarts

    10 tea bags
    4 cups water, at room temperature
    2 cups lemonade
    6 - 9 tablespoons recipe for Orange Syrup (see related recipe)

    1. Submerge tea bags in water in serving pitcher. Steep for 45 minutes. Remove and discard tea bags.

    2. Stir lemonade and Orange Syrup (adjust amount depending on desired sweetness) into tea. Serve over ice.

    Nantucket Iced Tea 6/2005
    Makes 2 quarts

    10 tea bags
    4 cups water, at room temperature
    2 cups cranberry juice
    6 - 9 tablespoons recipe for Lime Syrup (see related recipe)

    1. Submerge tea bags in water in serving pitcher. Steep for 45 minutes. Remove and discard tea bags.

    2. Stir juice and Lime Syrup (adjust amount depending on desired sweetness) into tea. Serve over ice.

    Simple Syrup for Iced Tea 6/2005

    In the test kitchen, we keep sugar syrup in the refrigerator at all times during the summer. This recipe makes enough syrup for two pitchers of iced tea and can be doubled if you go through a lot of iced tea in your household. Makes about 1 cup

    1 cup sugar
    1 cup water
    1 recipe flavoring (see related recipes)

    Heat sugar, water and flavorings in small saucepan over medium-high heat until sugar completely dissolves, about 5 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Strain and discard zest or remove and discard cinnamon stick, if using. Syrup can be refrigerated for 1 week.

    Strawberry Cream Pie Smoothie 8/2005

    Fruit smoothies can provide a nutritious and refreshing start to the morning, especially in the sultry summer months. But a great-tasting smoothie is not as simple as throwing yogurt, fruit and ice into a blender — that produces a bland, watery drink. We wanted healthy — and flavorful — smoothies. Here's what we discovered:

    Test Kitchen Discoveries

    Skip the ice and add flavorful frozen fruit. Ice does nothing but dilute the smoothie's flavor.

    Bananas are a must for a creamy, thick texture.

    Whole-milk yogurt and low-fat yogurt work well, but nonfat yogurt is not recommended because it produces a "gritty" texture.

    Sweeten the smoothie with a little honey; it complements the fruit and adds extra body to the smoothie.

    Use any kind of frozen fruit from the supermarket. And feel free to freeze fresh fruit for a few hours if you happen to have it.

    Makes 5 1/2 cups

    2 cups frozen strawberries
    2 small bananas, roughly chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
    1 1/2 cups vanilla yogurt
    1/2 cup apple juice
    2 tablespoons honey
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract

    Mix all ingredients in blender until smooth.