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I've made the same pasta salad for I don't know how many years. I'm talking decades, actually. My recipe is a simple mix of spiral pasta with red onions, green pepper, capers and zesty Italian dressing from a bottle. Although it's nothing fancy, I've always gotten rave reviews, especially from those who have tired of pasta salad made with macaroni, mayonnaise and cheese.

So after all these years of making the same pasta salad, I needed to change it up.

Pasta salads are a go-to side dish for summer, and another one of my favorite side dishes is Asian coleslaw. So I decided to use the dressing from the coleslaw and switch out the spiral pasta for bow-tie pasta, which has a nice al dente texture if not overcooked. I also switched out the red onion for green onion and left out the crunchy ramen noodles because there's already enough pasta in this dish, and the toasted almonds add enough crunch anyway. Voila! Asian coleslaw became Asian pasta salad.

This is delicious as a pairing to your favorite grilled meats if you leave out the protein, but it will also work as an entrée if you add chicken or shrimp.

It's really quite a versatile dish.

Asian Pasta Salad

1/2 cup sesame seeds

1 (16-ounce) box bow-tie pasta

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/3 cup good-quality soy sauce (light OK)

1/3 cup rice vinegar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

3 tablespoons white sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

1/2 cup toasted almonds

1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1/3 cup chopped green onion

Optional: 2 to 3 cups shredded cooked chicken or 1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp, cooked

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add sesame seeds, and cook, stirring frequently until lightly toasted. Remove from heat, and set aside.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta, and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, just until al dente. Drain pasta, and rinse under cold water until cool. Transfer to a large bowl.

In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine vegetable oil, soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, sugar, ginger, pepper and the toasted sesame seeds. Shake well. Pour sesame dressing over pasta, and toss to coat evenly. Gently mix in toasted almonds, cilantro and green onions, adding chicken or shrimp, as desired.

TAKE A LONG SIP

An ice cold gin and tonic is one of my favorite summertime cocktails on a hot afternoon. There's just something so refreshing about them. They're not too sweet, not too tart — just perfect for quenching one's thirst. And now, there's a new way to enjoy them without having to go to the trouble of buying tonic and limes from one store and gin from another.

Local liquor stores are now stocking Finnish Long Drinks, a cocktail in a can. Most Americans have probably never heard of Finnish Long Drinks, but they're rooted in Finnish history, going back to the 1952 Summer Olympics when people came in droves to watch the games and were looking for a drink. The tiny country couldn't make drinks fast enough, so the government commissioned a new drink. People loved the new creation, and the combination of gin with sparkling flavors became a national cocktail.

The Finnish Long Drink — good name, right? — has four Long Drinks: Traditional is the one that tastes most like and gin and tonic. It also comes in a sugar-free variety called Zero. There's also a Strong that's 8.5% alcohol — please drink responsibly — and a lovely Cranberry with gin and just enough cranberry to give it a sweet-tart taste with every sip. There's a map of area sellers on thelongdrink.com, but if your local liquor store isn't carrying Finnish Long Drinks, ask them to. It's such a nice change of pace from other canned cocktails.

SWEET TEA ICE CREAM

If ice cream is your preferred summer cooler, check out the new Sweet Tea Ice Cream at McAlister's Deli.

McAlister's has teamed up with Creamalicious, an artisan ice cream brand, to create this refreshing treat, which is churned with natural black tea to mimic the taste of the restaurants' iconic sweet tea. The ice cream also has notes of sugar cookie and lemon swirl. It contains no artificial flavors or coloring, according to the company.

Pints will be available for a limited time in the five stores around the Chattanooga area: 2288 Gunbarrel Road, 541 Signal Mountain Road, 620 Northgate Mall Drive, 708 Paul Huff Parkway NW in Cleveland and 2675 Battlefield Parkway in Fort Oglethorpe. It's also available on the Creamalicious website, socreamalicious.com, for $7.99.

PUCKETT'S SEASONINGS

Starting Sunday, Puckett's will offer all of its spices, sauces and marinades as buy one, get one free. The deal will be available through July 4, giving you about two weeks to collect and try these pantry items for grilling season. The selection includes spicy and original barbecue sauces, all-purpose seasoning, rib and barbecue rub, burger shake and the house marinade. Products are available in all Puckett's locations or online at puckettsgro.com (the discount will be applied automatically at checkout).

Contact Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com or annebraly.com.

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