Fresh and frozen seasonal favorites by D.C.’s food and drink community offer a chance to cool off while tapping into your inner chef.
If the National Weather Service’s long-range predictions are to be believed, this summer is on track to be hotter than average — so when you’re stuck at home desperate for some relief from the heat (and even moreso, the humidity) without a swimming pool in sight, why not cool off with a crisp summer cocktail or a fruity dessert? These tried-and-true favorites and beloved recipes from D.C.’s talented restaurateurs and drinkmasters will, at best, make their way into your set of seasonal staples, and at worst, give you the chance to get creative with a little bit of ice.
Watermelon is an essential element of any good backyard barbecue, which explains why JRINK Juicery’s new, summer seasonal juice releases include “Watermelon Cooler” in addition to “Summer Crush.” Jordan von Lange, general manager of the DMV-area juice bar and delivery service, proposed a simple homemade substitute for their Watermelon Cooler by throwing together three items: “Simply blend watermelon and mint in a blender, pour in a glass (no need to strain), squeeze in half a lemon and that’s it!”
Without unnecessary sugars or artificial additions, JRINK’s at-home adaptation stays true to its raw fruit and vegetable focus in its cold-press practices. More than a sweet treat, von Lange assures, watermelon “helps you hydrate, contains tons of nutrients, and can help lower inflammation and stress, while mint aids in digestion and also contains anti-inflammatory properties.” For those looking to gain a little more than health benefits from their straightforward watermelon beverage, “hint – add a shot of vodka for a delicious summer cocktail,” von Lange adds.
To go all-out with your summer cocktail though (perhaps for your next Zoom happy hour) something crisp and bubbly will do the trick, according to Paul Taylor, Head of Bar Concepts at Drink Company. Drink Company owns and operates the District bars Columbia Room, PUB and Reverie.
“When I think of cooling down with a beverage, I crave something chilled with bubbles. A great place to start is a grapefruit soda, which I would recommend using to make a Paloma or Wray & Ting,” Taylor advises.
Ingredients for Taylor’s simple Paloma — “the quintessential tequila cocktail” as per Esquire — include two ounces of blanco tequila, half an ounce of lime and grapefruit soda to fill the rest of the glass. For a Wray & Ting, substitute the blanco tequila with Wray & Nephew Jamaican Rum, add half ounce of lime and fill with grapefruit soda, preferably Ting. For that extra aesthetic authenticity, “build in a highball glass, fill with ice, and garnish with a grapefruit peel,” Taylor instructs. And with that, your cool cocktail is ready to make its Instagram debut.
While a Paloma or Wray & Ting may liven your evening, a drink more suitable for daytime or as an accompaniment to brunch is the Americano: “perfect for experimentation based on what you like or what you have lying around the house,” according to Taylor. It is made with one-and-a-half ounces of bitter aperitivo (Campari or Aperol will do), one-and-a-half ounces of sweet vermouth and the rest of the glass filled with sparkling water. Build the same as the other two cocktails, but this time garnish with an orange wheel, instead.
If you’re looking to quench hunger more than thirst (and are contemplating alternatives to the abundant variants of Jell-O and popsicles), Patrice Cleary, chef and owner of Purple Patch, offers a special treat reminiscent of her home in the Philippines: frozen mango float.
Composed of frozen layers of mango, sweetened condensed milk and nilla wafers — what Cleary calls “everything that a kid would love” — Cleary’s childhood dessert prepared by her mother is now served in her restaurant, which offers Filipino cuisine alongside American comfort food. What’s special about the mango dessert in the summer, however, is the ease with which you can obtain champagne mangos in particular; “those are the small yellowish ones that are much sweeter and softer,” according to Cleary.
A more adventurous foray into frozen dessert creation is award-winning dessert chef Pichet Ong’s berry semifreddo (Italian for “half-cold”) with chocolate. The Brothers and Sisters pastry chef is a self-proclaimed “ice cream addict,” whose semifreddo appeases a sweet tooth “morning, day, and night” without the need for an ice cream machine at home. To achieve a strong, concentrated fruit flavor and a pleasant aroma, Ong likes to cook the berries before adding them to the cream mixture. Other fruits will do, as will any substitutes for the standard recipe’s chopped chocolate.
Ong’s fairly large recipe yield (which could easily last two weeks for a family of three) calls for one pint of berries, one cup of sugar, four egg whites, one-and-a-half cups of soft-whipped cream kept cold, two-thirds of a cup of fine-chopped bittersweet chocolate and a frozen container to house your creation.
To achieve the perfectly thick berry concentrate, cook until boiling then reduce heat to a simmer and cook for ten to fifteen minutes, being sure to scrape along the bottom to loosen the sweet caramelization. As the berry mixture cools, whip the egg whites until very foamy while gradually adding in the sugar (“about a tablespoon every two minutes”) and continue to whip until medium peaks form — about a twelve minute process.
Combine half of the whipped cream with the berry mixture to lighten it, and then half of the egg white meringue to lighten it even more. Fold in the rest of the meringue, finish off with what is left of the whipped cream and, to your liking, fold in the chocolate bits. Freeze for at least eight hours and your expert semifreddo should be ready to go for the next two weeks, saving you another trip to the grocery store when an ice cream craving strikes.
With many fruit varieties in season, now is as good a time as any to add a little extra sweetness to your food and drink routine, whether that be an ambitious Italian confection or a fizzy cocktail fit for a garden party. With inspiration from these D.C. experts in mind, consider beating the summer heat with a dash of culinary creativity.