Michigan Trip + Blueberry Muffins

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Hey, guys! How was your 4th of July?? I hope it was full of good eating and safe fireworking! We spent our 4th on the road, on our first road trip of the season! We were in Michigan for a few days, stopping in all the adorable lakeside towns we could find. We made a stop at the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City and ate plenty of cherry pie, cherry donuts, and cherry salsa (SO.GOOD.). We ended by spending some time in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, Sleeping Bear Dunes.

On our way back to the city, we stopped to grab some blueberries from a roadside fruit stand. (Did you know that the western swath of Michigan is part of America’s fruit belt? What a perfect place to be when practically every beautiful fruit is in season.) Blueberries are native to the United States, and Michigan is one of the top producers of the berry.

Native Americans have been using the wild plant for centuries, usually combining it with meat and fat to form pemmican, or adding it to cornmeal bread, or using it as a dye for clothing. But wild blueberries are not the blueberries that you find in stores. In the early 20th century, a botanist named Frederick Coville began experimenting with ways to domesticate wild blueberries. He published his findings in 1910, revealing that wild blueberries thrived in acidic soil, and his work was read by a cranberry farmer’s daughter living in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, named Elizabeth Coleman White. She had often noticed wild blueberries growing near her family’s cranberry bogs, so she reached out to Coville, inviting him to her farm to continue his study of how the wild fruit could be bred as a viable season-lengthening crop. Coville, with the funding of White’s father, was able to work with local residents who knew where the the best wild plants were located. For five years, locals would bring Coville wild berry plants. Coville, in turn, would attempt to cultivate the wild plants. Only a handful of the 100 plants that were brought to Coville proved successful. In 1916, Coville and White sent their first domesticated blueberries to market. It’s hard to believe that “tame” blueberries have only been available for a little over 100 years.

Blueberries are on the menu today because… it’s National Blueberry Muffin Day, and on top of that, July is National Blueberry Month! So let’s celebrate!

I have the best memories of my mom making blueberry muffins (from a box) on Saturday mornings, biting into the warm muffins too soon and getting burned by little molten lava blueberries. I also have great memories of just destroying the cartons of blueberries my mom would buy in the summer. I think I was trying to get all my nutrients in one sitting.

Anyway, this recipe for blueberry muffins is not from a box, but it’s still weekend-morning-easy to make, and makes tall and fluffy muffins that aren’t too sweet (very important to me, when it comes to muffins) and are just stuffed to the gills with fresh blueberries. They are what you want in the morning and also any other time of the day.

For the muffin recipe, I tweaked the no-fail pancake recipe that I’ve been using for over a decade. The pancakes are delicious, I thought, so why not try it. The results did not disappoint.

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Blueberry Muffins
Makes 12 muffins.

Ingredients:
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup whole milk, plus two tbsp lemon juice or white vinegar)
5 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups blueberries, washed and dried

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a large mixing bowl.

In a large measuring cup, or small mixing bowl, combine the buttermilk, butter, egg, and vanilla extract. Whisk to combine. (If you don’t have buttermilk, you can instead use 1 cup whole milk, combined with 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice or white vinegar. If you use this method, combine these items and allow to sit for five minutes before adding the butter, egg, and vanilla.)

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined. (If the mixture is still a little dry, you can add up to a 1/4 cup of whole milk, one tablespoon at a time. The mixture should still be quite lumpy, but should not be clumping together or have any dry streaks.) Carefully fold in blueberries, without too much additional stirring.

Allow the batter to rest for about 10 minutes at room temperature.

Fill a muffin tin with paper liners. Spoon the mixture into the top of each liner. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the pan 180 degrees and continue baking for another 10 minutes. (You can begin checking for doneness at the 18 minute mark. When done, the top of the muffin should spring back when gently pressed.)

Remove the muffins from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. Eat right away, or remove to a wire rack until completely cooled.

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I believe these muffins will be making a regular appearance in my house from here on out. The recipe only makes twelve muffins, because I find that they don’t keep for very long, and while they’re good, 12 muffins seems sufficient for most households. However, the recipe could easily be doubled if you have guests or are a blueberry muffin monster.

Also, if you have any good recipes that use blueberries, please pass them on. I still have lots and I cannot sit back and watch these precious babies go bad. Back in May, I made blueberry rhubarb pandowdy. I’m thinking of doing it again, this time swapping out the rhubarb for some delicious, sweet peaches that I’ve had my eye on.

I hope you’re taking full advantage of blueberry/fruit season. If you follow this blog, or my social media, I will apologize now for the inundation of fruit-related recipes/photos that are to come. You’ve been warned!

 

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Peanut Butter Cookies

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Hey! It’s June now! You can barely tell, but here it is! On a recent June day, walking to the store, I found myself angrily cursing at how cold and windy it was. Since then, I’ve been looking at Craigslist apartments in… Austin? Savannah? Should we just move back to New Orleans? I mean, summer used to be Chicago’s saving grace, but these last few springs and summers have just been… chilly.

June is a funny time anyway because work is quieter for us both, and our summer trips don’t usually pick up until July 4th, so we’re just here, dealing with the moody Chicago weather, mostly inside, watching scary movies. We just finished Tabula Rasa, a Belgium mystery, on Netflix and we both loved it! Now we’re on to Requiem, which is so far good, a little slow, but I would happily watch paint dry so long as it were set in the Welsh landscape, so we’re sticking with it.

Also, of course, I’ve been hunting around for new recipes to write about. I saw that today was national peanut butter cookie day. I know. I don’t get it. But it did set me on a quest to learn some peanut butter history, and it was actually pretty great! Some things I learned: Peanut butter, as we know it, is a fairly modern marvel, only first appearing in the late 1800’s. George Washington Carver did NOT invent peanut butter! (I feel like I learned this in elementary school at some point. And now I feel like I’ve been living a lie.) GWC did have an important role in its promotion, though. Finally, peanut butter is just not a big deal in other countries. It’s a very American snack. Depending on your peanut butter views, this may come as no surprise.

In 1884, Marcellus Gilmore Edson, a Canadian chemist, obtained the first patent for peanut flavoring paste to be used in sweets or candies. Ten year later, in 1894, George Bayle began producing peanut butter as a snack food, mostly selling it near St. Louis.

By 1898, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (you might know him by his cereals), began using boiled peanut paste in his sanitarium, the Western Health Reform Institute in Battle Creek, Michigan. The paste provided patients, particularly those who were unable to chew, with a protein-rich, vegetarian food option, which Dr. Kellogg promoted. At this time, peanut butter was not available to the masses, as it did not transport well, and was generally only considered a health food for the rich.

By 1903, however, Ambrose Straub, also of St. Louis, had patented a peanut butter-making machine, and a year later, peanut butter made an appearance at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Shortly after that, it gained popularity on a nation-wide scale and, less than a decade later, recipes for peanut butter cookies began appearing in newspapers.

If you’re curious about George Washington Carver’s role in the history of peanut butter in the United States, it did not begin until about 1915. During this time, the boll weevil, a type of beetle, had devastated southern cotton crops. In response, Carver began focusing his research on crops for farmers to alternate with their cotton crops, such as peanuts and sweet potatoes, which were both healthy for human consumption and would help restore nitrogen in the depleted soil. As part of his work, Carver began promoting the use of sweet potatoes and peanuts in recipes.

By the early 1920s, a chemist named Joseph Rosefield added partially hydrogenated oil to the peanut butter, which prevented it from separating. And by the 1920s, the first peanut butter company, Peter Pan, was founded using a license provided by Dr. Rosefield.

Nutritious and affordable, good for the soil and good for the body. And delicious in a cookie! For the recipe, I adapted one of my favorite cookie recipes: the America’s Test Kitchen Crinkle Cookie. I wanted a lot of peanut butter flavor, but I didn’t want them to be too thick, chewy, or crispy. The results were… very fluffy, and very dangerous.

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Peanut Butter Cookies
Makes between 24 and 36 cookies.

Ingredients:
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract 
1 cup white granulated sugar, for rolling 

Instructions:

In a small bowl, melt together the peanut butter and butter, stir to mix together, and set aside to cool slightly.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together the brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract until well-combined.

Add the peanut butter mixture to the sugar and eggs mixture and stir together until combined. Add the flour mixture all at once and stir together until there are no more white flour streaks. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and allow to sit for 10-15 minutes.

Move a rack to the middle rung in oven. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Fill a bowl with granulated sugar. Scoop 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of the peanut butter mixture into the sugar. Once all sides are coated, pick up and form into a ball in your hands. Place on cookie sheet. Continue, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between each ball, until you’ve filled the baking sheet. Using a fork, slightly flatten each ball and make a crisscross shape across the top of each ball. Bake for 6 minutes, then turn the pan 180 degrees, and continue baking for another 6 minutes. The cookies will look soft, but they will be done. Don’t over-cook! Continue on the second baking pan, until you’ve used all the dough.

Allow the cookies to cool on the pan before serving or transferring to an airtight container.

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My husband described these as cookies for people who love cake. They are incredibly soft, with the slightest crisp edge. You will have a terrible time not eating the whole batch because they’re so light and pillowy. Because of this, they do not hold their traditional crisscross imprint very well, but you won’t hardly have time to notice.

 

Grasshopper Pie for Pi Day

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Oh my, I feel like it’s been so long since I’ve written! I jumped off for a while, and time just got away from me. Since I last wrote, I turned 33! I know it’s been almost a month, but I am a nut for my birthday and still very excited about it. As part of my birthday celebration, we met up with friends at the California Clipper, one of our favorite bars. (Completely unrelated: before grabbing drinks, we had dinner at Cellar Door Provisions, and it was just such a delicious meal and wonderful experience that I feel it’s worth mentioning. If you’re in the city, go there!).

The California Clipper has lots of great cocktails, but they also have dessert cocktails, including one of my favorites: the Grasshopper! If you don’t know what a Grasshopper is, basically it’s a combination of creme de menthe (a mint-flavored liqueur), and creme de cacao (a chocolate-flavored liqueur), shaken with cream. It is a delightful guilty pleasure and, though one is my limit, I take any opportunity I can to order one, if they’re available. So, influenced by my boozy birthday dessert cocktail and fueled by the madness that is Pi Day, I present you with a pie that’s been on my list for a while: Grasshopper Pie!

There is no clear evidence where and when Grasshopper Pie was created. What is known is that the Grasshopper cocktail came first, decades before recipes for the pie began circulating in newspapers. It’s commonly accepted that the Grasshopper Cocktail was invented by Philibert Guichet, the second owner of Tujague’s restaurant in New Orleans, while he was at a cocktail competition in New York in 1928 (however some accounts date the cocktail to at least 10 years earlier). The cocktail won second place and Guichet brought the recipe home to New Orleans. In the 1950’s, as alcohol became more readily available in grocery stores, cocktail parties began to increase in popularity and shortly after that, recipes for Grasshopper Pie begin popping up. (In the early 1900’s, there are many newspaper mentions of an actual dish from the Phillipines, which uses real grasshoppers, called Grasshopper Pie.)

The earliest mention in newspapers that I could find related to the grasshopper pie that we know today, was in 1962, describing a filling of marshmallow, creme de menthe, creme de cacao, and cream. The recipe is mentioned repeatedly in newspapers all over the country, but predominately in the Midwest, beginning in the 1960’s, being made with large marshmallows. By the mid-1970’s, I started finding recipes that called for the use of gelatin and egg whites, in place of marshmallows. In The American Century Cookbook: The Most Popular Recipes For The 20th Century, author Jean Anderson suggests that this recipe variation may have come from Knox Unflavored Gelatin and Heublein Cordials, as an attempt to jointly promote their products.

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Grasshopper Pie
From the May 22, 1961 issue of the Chicago Tribune. Makes one 9-inch pie.

Ingredients:
For crust:
15 cream-filled chocolate cookies, crushed
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
For filling:
24 large marshmallows
2/3 cup whole milk
2 oz creme de menthe
1 oz white creme de cacao
1 cup heavy cream, whipped (plus another 1/2 cup cream, whipped for topping, optional)

Instructions:

For crust:
Add the melted butter to the bowl of crushed cookies. Mix to fully combine and press into the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan. Refrigerate while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

For filling:
Put the marshmallows and milk in a double-boiler and melt together. Set aside to cool.

Once cool, stir in the creme de menthe and the creme de cacao, and then the whipped cream.

Pour the mixture into the prepared cookie pie shell. Allow to cool for at least two hours.

Top with more whipped cream and additional crushed cookies, optional.

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For my first try, I made the 1960’s recipe that I found in several newspapers, which used marshmallows. I’m interested in someday making this pie without marshmallows, using the recipe that calls for eggs and gelatin. If I ever follow up on that, I’ll let you know. Side note: This recipe makes a pretty pastel green pie, thanks to the creme de menthe, but you can add some green food coloring, if you really want it to pop and also look as unnatural as possible. I mean, if you’re going to go retro, you might as well really go retro.

It’s also not lost on me that St. Patrick’s Day is in three days. I suppose there won’t be a lot of people celebrating the holiday with pie, but if you do, this should be your go-to. It’s green, it contains (minimal amounts of) booze, and it’s delicious.

And if you really want to go wild on Pi Day, here are a few of my other past favorites from the blog:
Mock Cherry Pie
Penny Nejad’s Banana Meringue Pie
Lemon Atlantic Beach Pie
Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie
Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie

Happy Pi Day, everyone!

Mini S’mores Pavlovas

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This post could have been about ice cream cones. I’ve really been down deep in state history the last few weeks. The ice cream cone has a fun little history, it’s the state dessert of Missouri, and August 10th is Missouri’s anniversary as a state. But today is, wait for it, National S’mores Day. S’mores! So how could I resist making a S’mores recipe? Especially when they’re as cute as these little Mini S’mores Pavlovas?

Leave it to me to take a beautiful, elegant dessert, like the pavlova, and turn it into the equivalent of a smash cake. The idea of making a S’mores pavlova came to me when I made a regular pavlova last winter and Alex kept saying how much it tasted like a toasted marshmallow. That got me thinking how the base of a pavlova is really just 1/3 of a s’more.

The first “recipe” for S’mores was published in 1927 in the book Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts. The recipe published in this book called them Some Mores, which of course was later abbreviated–thank goodness. As everyone 90 years later knows, they are composed of a rectangle of chocolate and a toasted marshmallow sandwiched between two graham cracker squares.

The snack, in the 20s, would have been both portable, and may even have been considered healthy. Why? The root pulp of the marshmallow plant has been used for thousands of years for medicinal and confectionery purposes, from ancient Rome, Egypt, and parts of Western Asia. However, the process for creating medicine or candy from marshmallows was lengthy and costly, so it was a delicacy reserved only for the higher classes.

By the Middle Ages, marshmallow root was being used in Europe to relieve minor irritations, such as sore throats. Eventually, French confectioners began whipping the sap into a spongy substance together with egg and sugar, which would be more recognizable as today’s marshmallows. When the marshmallow made it to the United States, in the early 1900s, mallow had been replaced by gelatin (basically stripping it of any health benefits). There it was sold in tins for mass consumption.

The graham cracker was inspired, in part by a 19th-century minister, Sylvester Graham. Graham believed that practicing temperance, abstinence, and vegetarianism was the only healthy and pure way to live. While he did not invent graham crackers, his propagation of eating only whole grains led to the creation of the graham bread, and graham crackers.

In the 1890’s, Milton S. Hershey owned a successful caramel company, but after witnessing the chocolate-making process at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, he sold his caramel company and, by 1900, he was creating his Hershey Chocolate Bar.

Around the early 1900’s, someone had already figured out that these three were a match made in heaven. By 1927, when the S’mores recipe was published, there were other chocolate-marshmallow snacks already on the market, including Moon Pies and Mallomars. Perhaps the girl scouts were trying to recreate a treat they had already had before.

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Mini S’mores Pavlovas
Makes one 9-inch pavlova or eight 1-layer or four 2-layer pavlovas.

Ingredients:
Pavlova:
4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon juice

Topping:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

3-5 graham crackers, crushed

4 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Line a large cookie sheet (12″ x 18″) with parchment paper. Outline eight circles using the the mouth of a drinking glass, about 2 1/2 inches in diameter, onto the parchment paper with a pencil. Flip the parchment over on the baking sheet, so the pencil markings are face down.

In a very clean, very dry mixing bowl (or stand mixer bowl), add 4 egg whites. Be sure there are no yolk remnants.

Mix together the sugar and cornstarch in a separate small bowl and combine.

Begin beating the egg whites on medium speed, until you notice that the mixture becomes frothy, and then smooth. You will begin to notice soft peaks.

Add the cornstarch-sugar mixture to the egg whites two tbsp at a time, beating for about 30 seconds in between each addition, gradually increasing the speed of your mixer during each addition.

Add the vanilla and lemon juice and mix for 30 more seconds to make sure everything is combined.

Immediately after mixing, spoon or pipe the mixture into each of the eight circles on the parchment paper.

Bake for 50 minutes at 250 degrees, then turn off oven and allow the pavlovas to cool in the oven for 10 minutes, without opening the door.

As you wait for the pavlovas, begin making the remaining ingredients. For the whipped cream, whip together 1 cup of heavy cream, 1 tbsp sugar, and 1 tsp vanilla. Keep in refrigerator until you’re ready to use. For the ganache, add the chocolate to a heat-safe bowl. Heat the 1/2 cup of heavy cream until it’s just beginning to simmer. Pour the simmering cream over the chocolate and allow to sit for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, begin stirring the mixture and it will begin to form a smooth, dark ganache. Allow to cool completely before using. Crush the graham crackers with your hands or in a food processor. Set aside.

Remove the pavlovas from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack for about 10 minutes, until completely cool.

Arrange pavlovas on individual plates. Top with whipped cream, chocolate, and graham crackers.

Serve immediately.

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There is no marshmallow sap in this pavlova, just a simple combination of five ingredients, baked in the oven instead of toasted over an open fire, drizzled with chocolate and sprinkled with graham cracker dust. Perfect for when you’re around a dinner table, instead of a campfire. (And, if you’re worried about the fact that you’ll have 4 leftover egg yolks, I know a great banana pudding recipe that uses that many exactly!)

Peace out, Girl Scout!
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Watermelon Lime Granita

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August 3rd is National Watermelon Day. At least this one make sense, you know? Sometimes the national food days are completely off.

When it comes to melon, I’m partial to cantaloupe, but it’s hard to deny the appeal of the sweet and juicy watermelon in the summer. “When one has tasted watermelon, he knows what the angels eat,” as Mark Twain put it.

I looked into the history of the watermelon, which I knew nothing about. Watermelon, it turns out, has a long story.

Watermelon originated in Africa more than 5,000 years ago, possibly in the Kalahari Dessert. During these times, before the fruit was cultivated into the sweet treat we think of today, the watermelon was used predominately as a water source when traveling long distances, as the pulp is about 90% water. Researchers have found hieroglyphs on the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs, and even remnants of watermelons buried alongside the mummies to keep them hydrated on their journey to the Underworld.

The use of the watermelon as a canteen of sorts may also have been responsible for its spread across the world. Watermelon was introduced to the New World in some measure by European colonists, but predominately by African slaves, as early as the 1600’s. The history of its cultivation in the States is intertwined with the ugly history of race, and it has served as a reminder of the injustice of slavery and as a sign of the independent success of former slaves after Emancipation. Unfortunately, as former slaves used the watermelon to assert their freedom, by growing and selling the fruit, the watermelon also became a racist symbol with a nasty connotation.

New immigrants to the States claimed it for their story too, growing watermelon as a treat unto itself on their small farms. Farmers in the Plains states, particularly Nebraska and Oklahoma–where it is the state vegetable (that’s a whole separate controversy)–a good watermelon crop became the symbol of prosperity.

Like so many foods that we eat in the United States today, if it had not been for the intercontinental voyages of the human race, just and unjust, willing and unwilling, out of curiosity, or need, or coercion, our diet in North America would be very different than it is today.

The watermelon recipe I made is much simpler than the millennia-old history of the watermelon: Granita! Granita was created in Sicily (where watermelon was brought during the Middle Ages by the Arabs.)

If you had asked me a few days ago if I had any interest at all in granita, not to mention if I even technically considered it a dessert, my answer would have been a resounding, “No.” To be honest, when starting this recipe, my main goal was to find a way to use up some of the 9,000 lb watermelon that we bought. My focus was on procuring the rind to make some watermelon rind preserves and pickles after being inspired by the watermelon episode of my favorite show A Chef’s Life. (Fun fact: The first cookbook published in the U.S. in 1776 contained a recipe for watermelon rind pickles.) But I wanted to make something easy and refreshing, and a big jug of watermelon rind pickles just wasn’t piquing my interest.

My second inspiration came in the form of a cocktail. One of my favorite bars/restaurants in the city, Little Bad Wolf, makes a delicious drink featuring a scoop of basil and Peychaud’s granita slowly melting in a tequila cocktail bath. So, to celebrate the humble watermelon, I thought I would make a watermelon granita and, instead of splashing it in a cocktail, just eat it all at once.

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Watermelon Lime Granita
Makes about 6 servings.

Ingredients:
4 rounded cups (seedless, or seeded) watermelon, cubed
Juice of one small lime (About 1 tbsp)
1/3-1/2 cup sugar (depending on how sweet your watermelon is)
1/2 cup heavy cream, optional

Instructions:

Combine watermelon, lime juice, and sugar in a food processor or blender. Blend until mostly liquefied. If there are still bits of pulp, that’s fine.

Pour into an 8 x 8 x 2-in pan. Refrigerate for about 2 hours, scraping the sides of the pan into the center of the mixture every half hour.

Serve with a dollop of whipped cream and enjoy!

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A simple, no-cook recipe for the dog days of summer. Pro tip: I list the whipped cream as “optional” in the recipe, but it shouldn’t be. Don’t question it. I’ll admit I was skeptical, but something about the combination of crunchy ice and silky cream together is magical. Also, maybe you could scoop this granita into a tequila cocktail. It won’t be the worst decision you make this summer.