Dark Cherry Agua Fresca

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One summer, after college, I worked at Whole Foods. It was a very short stint as part of the opening crew of a new store and one that I just, ultimately, wasn’t cut out for. I worked in the kitchen where it was hot from the cooking, humid from the dishwasher, and socially awkward from the insular group of cooks that had moved over from another store together. My report with the chef was good since it turned out I could crimp a billion pot pies neatly and quickly. It was the rest of the staff I couldn’t get in with.  It could have been my awkwardness and insecurity or their cliquey dude group, but it was probably both. Sometimes when I’d go into the walk-in to retrieve ingredients, I’d just bask in the refrigerated air for a minute while giving myself a pep-talk to get through the day. Then I’d wait till the last few hours to take my break so the light at the end of the tunnel didn’t seem so far off. I’d usually sit in my car with the AC blasting, chugging a watermelon agua fresca, while counting down the minutes until I could go home. So, basically I crimped pot pies, made salads, blended up agua fresca, and tried not to cry for a month before I peaced the f out and never looked back. The lesson? Life is too short for awkward work environments and the restorative power of agua fresca should not be underestimated.

Fast forward, like 8ish years, and I bought one of those agua frescas of my memories, reminiscing its thirst quenching abilities while I poured it over ice, only to be so disappointed by how cloyingly sweet it was. Sad trombone. But, there’s an upside to what has turned out to be an oddly depressing recounting of jobs-past. Agua fresca is damn easy to make. Like, why haven’t I been doing it for the better part of the last decade? It’s just fruit, water, and sugar. That’s it. Billy just posted this cute throwback number and he describes it like healthier kool-aid and I totally second that description. I opted to go for dark cherries here because I am obsessed with them every summer and always buy a ton and get super mad if I let them get wrinkly and sad before I use them.  Also, I have heart-eyeballs for that color. You should probably make this for the 4th of July festivities this weekend, or whatever other weekend happenings you may be enjoying–Netflix binging in your underpants, or whatever. I’m not here to judge. You could probably add some tequila/vodka/gin to this and make it a real party…you know, choose your own adventure.

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Dark Cherry Agua Fresca

Makes about 1 liter.

There are a ton of agua fresca variations, but they all pretty much have about 4 cups of fruit (berries, stone fruits, melon) with about an equal amount of water and some sugar. You can pretty much make this with any fruit, just adjust the sugar to taste.

4 cups dark, sweet cherries, pitted

juice of 1 lime

1/3 cup sugar

3-4 cups cool water

Blend the cherries, lime juice, sugar, and 1 cup of water in a blender until the cherries are completely pureed. Stir in the remaining water (2-3 cups depending on how you would like the consistency, I like mine to be fairly thin and watery but still very cherry flavored). Serve in tall glasses over ice. Cheers! [/recipe]

 

Easy, Vietnamese-Style Pickles

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This past week was a total whirlwind. There was a lot of meeting and eating and Megan came to visit! Last week I mentioned we’d be attending a conference for food bloggers here in Portland. It was a really great time. Some really informative presentations were given, there was lots of great food, and a lot of connections were made. I can’t think of a better town that is more fit for a food blogger conference than Portland and it didn’t hurt that it was the one I live in! I got to meet so many bloggers that I have admired for a long time–and didn’t even get to meet everyone that I would have liked to. I always leave these sorts of events feeling inspired–as cheesy as that sounds–and the Indulge Conference was no different. I plan to recap all the food and stuff we did–in case you’re ever in Portland and want some recommendations on what to eat and do.

Anyway, as part of my prep for getting things ready for my blog-pal-house-guest, I made a big batch of these easy, Vietnamese-Style pickles. They’re a super simple ratio of 1:1 rice vinegar and water with a little salt and sugar. You could pretty much pickle any vegetable, but I’ve even been thinking some summer stone fruits would be interesting as well. I opted for red onion–which turns pink!–in addition to jalapeños & shallots, and classic carrots.  I figured between all the donuts that we’d be consuming…and pie, pizza, and ice cream…we might want to have a fresh, homemade dinner in there somewhere. We used these pickles in grilled pork summer rolls packed with green leaf lettuce, fresh herbs, chopped peanuts, and ripe avocado. I also threw together my favorite peanut sauce–which I will try to remember to share, soon! These pickles are so easy and good–it’s my goal to have them on hand all summer long for summer rolling and bahn mi making. #priorities.

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Easy Vietnamese-Style Pickles

Makes 4 cups pickling liquid.  About enough for 3, 24 ounce, jars of pickles.

You can pretty much pickle any vegetable in this brine–the classic carrots and daikon are obviously great, but cucumber, any sort of onion, and peppers are also excellent.

2 cups natural (unseasoned) rice wine vinegar

2 cups water

2 tablespoons kosher salt

6-8 tablespoons granulated sugar

approximately 6 cups finely sliced or julienned vegetables–I used jalapeños & shallots, red onion, and carrots

Heat the rice wine vinegar, water, salt, and sugar (adjust to your taste) in a saucepan over high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil and stir to dissolve the salt and sugar. Turn off the heat. Pack the jars with the respective vegetables and pour the hot liquid over the top to cover–leaving about 1/2 inch head-room at the top of each jar. Fit with a lid and allow to cool before storing in the refrigerator. You can eat these pickles after a few hours, but I think they are best after at least 2 days.

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Lemon Bar Ice Cream

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Are you guys watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix? I’ve been trying not to burn through the episodes, but I mean…I love a good binge watching session and for the last 2 nights Sean and I have been watching after we put Casper down for the night. (Side-note: he’s sleeping through the night most nights now…HALLELUJAH! Queue the choir of angels)! Anyway, I kind of love it. It’s a little cheesy in my favorite way, the theme song includes the line “Females are strong as hell!” (TRUE), and I always loved Ellie Kemper as Erin in The Office, plus Tina Fey is amazing, so needless to say I’ve become a quick fan of the show. Anyway, I feel like this ice cream might be something that would blow Kimmy’s mind and definitely elicit one of her 90’s throwback exclamations (possibly my favorite thing about her character).

I mean, this ice cream has a lot of good, exciting things happening: Lemon-scented vanilla bean ice cream base, tart meyer lemon curd ripples, and crunchy, buttery shortbread cookie crumbles! I definitely used the homemade Meyer Lemon Curd I shared last week, but there’s no reason you couldn’t use store-bought. It’s creamy, rich, sweet, tangy, and has a ton of texture and totally tastes like the ice cream version of a classic lemon bar without making a batch of lemon bars and churning them into a batch of ice cream. So, “By the power vested in me as an adult who is a grown-up”, maybe have ice cream for dinner (PS, don’t ever tell my son I okay’ed that). #hasbrown-nofilter

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Lemon Bar Ice Cream

This ice cream is a riff on my favorite, easy ice cream base from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home.

If you don’t have a vanilla bean, go ahead and use 2 teaspoons of extract and skip the steeping portion of the recipe.

2 cups whole milk

4 teaspoons cornstarch

3 tablespoons cream cheese

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups heavy cream

2/3 cup sugar

2 tablespoons corn syrup

1 vanilla bean, split

zest of 1 lemon

1 cup Meyer Lemon Curd

1 1/2 cups crumbled, store-bought shortbread cookies

Prepare an ice bath in a clean sink basin or a large bowl.

In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup of milk with the cornstarch, set slurry aside. Set the cream cheese in a large bowl and stir in the salt, place a mesh strainer over the top. Set aside.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan heat remaining milk with the cream. Scrape the vanilla beans from the pod and add both the scraped beans and pod to the milk and cream, as well as the lemon zest. Heat to a simmer, cover, and remove from heat. Let steep for 30 minutes. Remove the vanilla pod from the milk mixture and add sugar and corn syrup, reheat to a low boil. Quickly whisk in the cornstarch slurry and continue to boil, whisking, until thickened. Whisk a ladleful of the hot mixture into the cream cheese, before straining the remaining hot mixture into the cream cheese mixture and whisk to combine. Prepare an ice bath and pour the hot ice cream base into a large plastic bag. Chill bag in ice bath until cooled and process the mixture in an ice cream maker according to manufacturers instructions.

Once the ice cream is processed, layer 1/3 of the ice cream in the bottom of a lidded container, spoon 1/3 of the lemon curd over the top and sprinkle with 1/3 of the crumbled shortbread cookies. Repeat these steps with the remaining ice cream, curd, and cookies. Fit the lid over the container and freeze for several hours, until set. Serve with additional cookies and lemon curd, if you want. [/recipe]