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The American table: Recipe for margarita frozen pops

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To me, summer is margarita season.

My favourite classic margarita is the "Topolo," which is served at Rick Bayless' Topolobampo restaurant in Chicago. It is properly shaken and served in an appropriately small martini glass. I can't stand trying to drink out of stemmed glasses that are too big for my mouth. I end up drenched in my drink instead of quenching my thirst!

When the bartender is perfectly on point, I can see tiny ice crystals in the shimmering liquid. Catching a few icy sips before the crystals melt is my perfect prescription to unwind. That first sip is always the best as the balance of ice cold and tart freshly squeezed lime juice, sweet orange liqueur and robust tequila join to make a refreshing and relaxing libation.

I know people drink them all year long but to me, a well-made margarita is a hot weather cocktail. Summer also is the only time of year (I think) a frozen margarita takes the lead in the great shaken vs. frozen debate.

The frozen margarita has taken repeated hits from professional bartenders and cocktail connoisseurs. But I don't understand why. I consider the frozen versions to live in their own separate (and fun!) category. We have all kinds of grades of beer, wine, steaks, etc. Why not different margaritas for different occasions?

This summer, I decided to make my own version of the Topolo margarita and — since I love the icy coolness — freeze it in fun frozen pop moulds to make a decidedly adult cocktail treat. I called it a "poptail."

I love making these because they can be prepared up to a week in advance and are ready as soon as your guests arrive. Or as soon as you get home from work! I sometimes top the pops off with a slice of lime that freezes at the base, just for the look of it. You can embellish or not, depending on your level of craftiness!

My recipe is simple. I use freshly squeezed juice — a blend of tart lime and sweet orange — and sweeten it with powdered sugar. The powdery texture ensures the sugar dissolves, thereby eliminating the need to make simple syrup (the more common sweetener for cocktails). Start with 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar and add more depending on how sweet or tart you like your drink.

I also add a bit of salt to echo the salted rim of the cocktail glass (and to balance the sweetness). I like to use orange triple sec and a top-shelf aged (anejo) tequila to round out the flavour.

These days there are plenty of great frozen pop moulds on the market. Pick your favourite and even flavour your pops to match the mould. The orange and vanilla creamsicle just might be the next "poptail" I tackle since I saw that classic pop mould in a catalogue the other day.

The recipe is easily customized to suit your taste. You even can leave out the booze for the kids. Just be sure to use two different shaped moulds so the pops don't get mixed up!

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MARGARITA FROZEN POPS

This recipe makes a classic strong margarita. If you want the "poptails" to be low-test instead of high-test, reduce the alcohol by half or double the other ingredients. If you want to make these pops without the alcohol at all, add the juice of 1 extra orange and an extra 1/4 cup of filtered water. Pour into moulds and freeze per the manufacturer's instructions.

Because of the alcohol in these pops, they are a bit slower to freezer than traditional recipes. It's best to make them the day before.

Start to finish: 5 minutes, plus overnight freezing

Servings: About 8 (depending on the size of your moulds)

1/2 cup fresh lime juice, about 5 to 6 large limes

Juice of 1 large orange (about 1/2 cup)

1/4 cup filtered water

Pinch of fine-grain sea salt

3/4 cup tequila

1/4 cup triple sec

2 to 4 tablespoons powdered sugar (to taste)

In a pitcher, combine the lime juice, orange juice, water, salt, tequila and triple sec. Stir well. Add the powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time and stirring well between additions. Taste to determine your desired sweetness, then continue stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Fill the pop moulds, stopping about 1/2 inch from the top. The liquid will expand to fill the sleeve as it freezes. Put the Popsicle handles in place and freeze overnight.

Nutrition information per serving (assuming 8 pops) (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 90 calories; 0 calories from fat (0 per cent of total calories); 0 g fat (0 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 8 g carbohydrate; 0 g protein; 0 g fiber; 20 mg sodium.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in New York and Washington, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York. She is the author of three cookbooks, including "Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned."

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