Our lives have been increasingly busy as of late. Zelda is settling into a new home with new roommates and a new commute. Scout is settling into a new (additional) job and juggling three side projects. So we have to schedule our lives pretty far in advance, including our Eat This, Drink That cooking ventures. A few weeks ago, we made a plan to meet after work at Zelda’s fancy new digs and take on our next challenge: Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler and Old Fashioneds.
There were a couple…challenges from the outset: If this week were to have a theme, it would be “Make do with what you’ve got.” First things first, New York grocery stores were seemingly sans rhubarb. Zelda tried Key Food, she tried Trader Joe’s, she tried the corner produce stand, all to no avail. So Scout, freshly released from work, was forced to venture to the organic hellmouth of New York City: Whole Foods. If there’s one place in the city you don’t want to be at 5:00 p.m. on a Friday, it’s Whole Foods (See: Bless Your Heart, New York: A Girl’s Gotta Eat). But despite the hordes, their produce department pulled through, and after some dubious looks from the woman at the checkout (apparently buying six stalks of rhubarb, and nothing else, is weird or something), Scout arrived at Zelda’s apartment ready to go.
This was the most complicated recipes she’d attempted thus far, requiring the most preparation not to mention having the most ingredients. She followed this recipe from Two Peas and Their Pod, and with Zelda’s expert guidance and vast array of kitchen tools, she managed to slice 4 ½ cups of rhubarb, hull and slice 1 ½ cups of strawberries, zest 1 orange, and add ½ cup of sugar and 1 tablespoon of cornstarch to prepare what would become the filling of the cobbler. Part one thus completed and left to “sit for 30 minutes to bring out the juices,” she moved on to her favorite part: the lovely crumbly topping.
Crust, crumble, or pastry of any kind can be tricky. We combined 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar, 1 cup of all-purpose flour, 1 ½ teaspoons of baking powder, ½ teaspoon of cinnamon, and ¼ teaspoon of salt, and mixed in a medium bowl until we had “coarse crumbs.” We then added ¼ cup of butter, ¼ cup of milk, 1 large egg (lightly beaten), and ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract to get a sticky, biscuit-like dough. Getting it to the right consistency took the combined effort of Zelda, Scout, Zelda’s roommate, and Bette Midler (no kitchen venture is complete without some sort of sing-along, and for for pastry preparation “The Rose” saw us through).
Equipped with our perfectly mixed pastry and our well-juiced filling, we proceeded to combine the two into a casserole dish, spreading the crust out over the fruit and adding a healthy dose of sugar on top (much to the alarm of Zelda’s roommate, who as a Vietnam-born, Nebraska-raised lad is still learning the ways of Southern cuisine, where in matters of sugar or butter the answer is always more). Once adequately sugared, we stuck our cobbler into the pre-heated oven (turning to Part Two, The Cocktails, but more on that in a bit) to bake at 350 degrees. Thirty-five minutes later, we had a piping hot, bubbly cobbler ready for eating!
The final verdict? Good, but perhaps would have been better with more sugar to cut the tartness of the rhubarb (see The Tao of Southern Cooking above), more pastry to balance the filling, or more of a double-crusted pie approach (abandoning the cobbler idea altogether because, hello, pie). And we all agreed it definitely could have benefited from the addition of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, but we were also all too lazy to go out and get said toppings (because who really wants to put on pants anyway?) All in all, it turned out close to what it was supposed to, so we are calling this third chapter of Scout’s kitchen conquering adventure a win.
Zelda, meanwhile, decided to really tackle her cocktail resolution in earnest with a beloved classic: The Old Fashioned. There are some who believe this drink can be made with rye, and even Zelda will admit she has enjoyed them that way, but she’s a bourbon girl through and through, and so her home bar is only stocked with Kentucky’s finest. The old fashioned is a simple drink in theory, but the other ingredients proved a bit tricky to obtain.
- Sugar: The classier recipes call for a sugar cube, which one muddles with Angostura bitters before adding the whiskey of your choice. Zelda, not being a 60 year-old British dame or a mixologist, did not have any cubes on hand, so she had to settle for good old Domino.
- Angostura bitters: About those bitters? The first liquor store she tried had none in sight. The second was more successful, but she still ended up leaving with Regan’s Orange Bitters, which are close and pair well with whiskey, but are not precisely traditional.
- An orange: The Brooklyn Trader Joe’s, for reasons unbeknownst to us, only sells oranges by the giant sack, causing Zelda to panic momentarily and give up on the prospect of gathering ingredients altogether. Luckily, Key Food came through.
- Ice: As we mentioned, Zelda just moved, and while she had managed to locate and unpack her ice cube trays, she had not quite reached the “filling them with water and putting them in the freezer” stage until a couple hours before Scout’s arrival. Her cubes, like a watery Oreo, were crunchy on the outside but decidedly not on the inside, which made for a more diluted cocktail than she intended.
- A Rocks Glass: Zelda does not own rocks glasses. And while an old fashioned can be made in any vessel really, we quickly discovered that this drink looks downright puny in a piece of stemware not intended for this use. (Santa, if you’re listening, she has since added a pair to her wish list, for use in 2016, the Year of the Cocktail.)
As for the actual assembly of the drinks, it was fairly straightforward and produced delicious (if not quite picture perfect) drinks that we, and Zelda’s roommate, enjoyed. She went with Chowhound’s recipe, deemed the most straightforward (and cherry free, for Scout’s sake). Measure one teaspoon of sugar (superfine if you have it, regular if you don’t) into your glass. Add two dashes of bitters. (The dash may be the most vague unit of measurement Zelda has ever encountered. In this case, she interpreted it as “enough to moisten all of the sugar,” using her muddler to make sure it was evenly distributed and well combined.) Add 2 oz of whiskey (we used Bulleit bourbon) and ice. Stir until well chilled, or about 30 seconds. Use a vegetable peeler or paring knife to peel off a twist of orange peel. Rub the twist around the rim of your glass and drop it in for garnish.
The verdict? Not exactly like the picture, but pretty damn delicious considering our limited supplies. We played around a bit with each person’s drink, substituting brown sugar for white (gave it a more caramel-y taste, which we enjoyed), adjusting the amount of bitters, and muddling an orange wedge in the bottom of the glass before adding the bourbon. Overall, it was pretty easy, and delicious. And Zelda has already ordered some sugar cubes and real deal Angostura bitters from Amazon, so she can try it again.