The weather has finally warmed up here in the city, and we are SO EXCITED. Accordingly, for this month’s Eat This, Drink That, we decided to fully embrace the impending blooming season and cook up some food and drink to refresh and renew us with the flavors of spring.
On the food side, we’re running headlong into peak Kentucky season. March Madness approaches, and Derby is just around the corner, so for our leisurely afternoon Scout decided to cook up a traditional Kentucky party spread: benedictine. Invented around the turn of the century, benedictine is a cucumber and cream cheese spread that was originally intended for tea sandwiches, and these days is more often served with crackers or as a dip.
Benedictine, like beer cheese, is a staple at any Louisville grocery (we like to dip things in cheese, so sue us). The local grocer across from our high school, the late Burgers Market, carried a pre-packaged version in its deli. Their version was a beautiful minty green and tasted like heaven on a cracker.
So Scout had to try her own hand at this much-loved snack; she took this recipe courtesy of “A Taste of Kentucky” and modified it slightly. For her take on the classic, you will need: one 8-ounce block of cream cheese, softened; two finely chopped green onions (also known as scallions); a dollop of sour cream; one cucumber, grated and drained; and green food coloring. Story time: Zelda made some benedictine for our Derby party last year, and it was a big hit. But she forgot to drain the cucumber, so it turned out a bit soupy, and more like a dip than a spread. You live, you learn, and our non-Louisvillian friends didn’t know any better. But Scout was determined to avoid repeating past mistakes, so first things first, she grated and drained the cucumber.
Once your cucumber resembles a ball of splotchy vegetable Play-Doh, combine it with the cream cheese and green onions, and add a dollop of sour cream (the recipe originally called for mayonnaise, but mayonnaise in any quantity larger than one of those little fast food pouches freaks Scout out, and Zelda hates condiments, so we decided to do a switch). Mix well, until the mixture is a thick, even paste. Add as much green food coloring as desired to reach the grade of verdigris you require. Spread on a cracker and dig in!
The verdict? Professional-level benedictine unlocked! Perfect consistency, our spread tasted good on fancy water crackers and Ritz alike. With just enough of that cucumber freshness and cream cheesy goodness, it paired well with Zelda’s boozy (and also spring-themed) contribution.
On the cocktail side, Zelda decided to dredge up an old favorite. When she was a young teacher in Paris, she and a friend took a brief jaunt to Vienna (as one does). Her friend had a college buddy who was living there at the time, and he squired them around town, showing them his favorite haunts and hidden corners. One night, after a delicious Spanish feast (and many, many glasses of wine), they ended up back at his apartment, a relic out of the 60s that he had procured through a friend of the family deal. Surrounded by shag carpet and mirrored walls, he proceeded to whip up three Bee’s Knees for the gang. One sip of the gin, honey, and lemon goodness, and Zelda was hooked.
This variation, courtesy of Epicurious, adds a lavender twist to the classic drink (because in Zelda’s drink, adding herbal flavors to a cocktail is pretty much always a good idea). Mix ¼ cup of hot water and 1 teaspoon of dried lavender blossoms (which you can procure at any fancy health food store or, if you’re Zelda, from Amazon) and let steep for 5 minutes, whilst you dream of road trips with the windows down through the fields of Provence. After a good steep, whisk in ¼ cup of honey and strain your simple syrup into a separate bowl or pitcher. Then, in a shaker full of ice, combine 3 tablespoons of your honey syrup, 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, and 6 tablespoons of gin (Note: The first round of these left Zelda disappointed, and dismayed at how little cocktail it produced. Then she realized she had been using the teaspoon measures on her jigger instead of the tablespoons. Do not make this mistake). Shake until combined, strain into a chilled martini glass (ideally — we opted for room temperature champagne flutes, because that’s what we had). Garnish with a few lavender blossoms and enjoy!
Erroneous measurements aside, we were very pleased with these cocktails. They are potent, to be sure, but the flavors are subtle and blend together well, with the lavender in particular coming out on the second or third sip. Best of all, they taste like spring — sunshine lounging in Prospect or Prater Park and the romance of a gentle breeze in your hair, bringing you the smells of grass and earth that you hadn’t realized you were missing during those long winter months.