Year 3 Favorites, and a Vacation Announcement!

Hello, lovelies! The time has come: Though we struggle to believe it, we are about to celebrate another full year — our third — here at Zelda and Scout. It’s been a roller coaster ride, full of political turmoil and personal growth, hot sauce and kitchen dance parties. And we couldn’t have done it without all of you!

As is our custom, we’re going to celebrate our blog birthday with a vacation. This year, we are taking the entire month of August off. Crazy — we know — but with Zelda jetting off to her beloved land of no internet and Scout settling into a new apartment and both of us with too many damn weddings to attend, we decided we needed the break. We will be back in September for new posts and new adventures. But in the meantime, we wanted to leave you with some of our favorite posts from the past 12 months. We hope you loved them as much as we did. And if you have a favorite that we seem to have missed, please let us know in the comments! We do this for y’all, after all, so we’re always happy to hear what you’re liking (or not liking), what you’d like to see more of (or less of), and which new paths you think we should explore.

Wishing you all cold drinks and lightning bugs and summer thunderstorms. See you in September!

Love,

Zelda and Scout

Required Reading: Volume Nine

Bless Your Heart, New York: Goldilocks and the Three Roommates

Just Keep Rolling Along

Thankful

Six Badass Southern Women You Should Know About

On S-Town and Stories and Why They Matter

A Brief History of the Modjeska

Adventures in Organization: School Supplies

Not Unhappy

Southern Spookery

Home Away From Home: Hinterlands

On Representation in Pop Culture

A Short History of the Mint Julep

Brooklyn, NY to Louisville, KY Summer 2017

Autumn 2016: Rain-Soaked Highway

Early Spring 2017: Rise Up

Jambalaya

Brown Sugar Cornmeal Pie

All The Fixin’s: Shrimp Creole

This week’s recipe was cooked under trying circumstances, dear readers. For starters, the day was sweltering. Zelda’s normally lovely flat was invaded by flies too big to be discussed here without shuddering. Her air conditioning struggled to battle the monstrous heat. It was, to be frank, not pretty, and we were all on edge. But we soldiered on, for we had a mission: to cook the delicious, spicy tomato and shrimp stew known as Shrimp Creole. Welcome to All the Fixin’s.

Shrimp creole is a family favorite in Zelda’s house, although the version her mama makes is an improvised simplification. This here is the real deal: slow-cooked sauce with a Holy Trinity base (for those of you not in the know, the Holy Trinity of Cajun cuisine consists of onion, celery, and green bell pepper), three kinds of pepper (plus Tabasco), fresh Creole tomatoes, and, of course, fresh shrimp. Now we, as you know, live in Brooklyn, and fresh tomatoes and shrimps were in short supply. As she often does when preparing for these posts, Zelda embarked on a tour of her local grocers, scouring the shelves and refrigerated cases for the produce of her dreams. Alas, it was not meant to be, and she had to settle for canned (tomatoes) and frozen (shrimp). Now our patron saint of Cajun cooking, M’sieur Paul Prudhomme, is vehemently opposed to frozen seafood. As he writes in the Louisiana Kitchen intro, “All recipes assume fresh, uncooked shrimp. Never use frozen shrimp if you can help it.” But we couldn’t help it, dear readers, although Zelda really did try. So we crossed our fingers and hoped Paul would forgive us (the heat and the vermin led us to believe that he had not, and that in fact he was haunting us as punishment for our icy sins).

Sweat dripping down our brows and flies buzzing about (charming, we know), and ably assisted by friend-of-the-blog Stephanie, we embarked on our culinary quest. Like most Cajun dishes, this required a lot of prep: seemingly endless chopping plus the detailing of the defrosted shrimp, a task that Scout found particularly challenging and frankly kind of icky. The cooking process is similar to our previously conquered jambalaya, with a lot of adding of ingredients, stirring for a few minutes, adding more, stirring again, add and repeat until the flavors have all joined into an exuberant bouquet. It was a long and arduous process, but we had the Dixie Chicks playing and plenty of beer, and after an hour or so we were rewarded with large bowls of spicy, savory stew.

Scout admittedly is neither a shrimp person nor does her body handle spicy cuisine very well, so this was not the ideal dinner for her. But even so, she declared the meal a success, and Zelda and Stephanie gobbled their bowls right up undeterred. As Paul had promised, the sauce had a natural sweetness and incredible flavor, and in the end we declared it a success. Now please, dear Paul’s ghost, could you leave us be now? We have more work to do.

Shrimp Creole (adapted from “Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen”)

Ingredients

3 ½ pounds large shrimp (Paul calls for fresh shrimp, complete with heads and shells and as fatty as possible, so as to maximise flavor and make one’s own shrimp stock. We settled for pre-peeled and deveined frozen, as is the American way. And since Trader Joe’s sells frozen shrimp by the pound, we bumped it up to an even 4.)

2 ½ cups seafood stock (If you are feeling particularly ambitious/unhurried/fearful of spicy Cajun ghosts, you can make your own stock with the heads and shells of your fresh shrimp. Or you can do as we did and just buy the damn thing in a box.)

¼ cup vegetable oil (Paul calls for chicken fat, pork lard, or beef fat here, so if you have access to these, feel free to substitute for a presumably richer flavor)

2 ½ cups finely chopped onions

1 ¾ cups finely chopped celery

1 ½ cups finely chopped green bell pepper (about one pepper)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 2 cloves)

1 bay leaf

2 teaspoons salt

1 ½ teaspoons white pepper

1 teaspoon ground red pepper (a.k.a. cayenne)

¾ teaspoon black pepper

1 ½ teaspoons Tabasco sauce (Original Red, not any of those newfangled varieties)

1 tablespoon dried thyme

1 ½ teaspoons dried sweet basil

3 cups finely chopped peeled tomatoes (If you can, you should use Creole tomatoes, as decreed by Paul. Barring that, he suggests using the best vine-ripened tomatoes available in your area. You can also just use canned, which is the route we went: one can diced, and one can petite diced.)

1 ½ cups canned tomato sauce (one instance where Paul does actually recommend the canned route)

2 teaspoons sugar

White rice

Directions

If you are using fresh shrimp, rinse and peel them, and use the heads and shells to make stock. If you are using frozen, defrost and remove tails/shells if necessary.

In a large saucepan or dutch oven, heat the oil (or fat/lard) over high heat until hot.

Add one cup of the onions and cook over high heat for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Lower the heat to medium-low and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the onions are a rich brown color (but not burned), approximately 5 minutes.

Add the remaining onions, celery, bell pepper, and butter. Cook over high heat until the pepper and celery is tender (about 5 minutes), stirring occasionally.

Add the garlic, bay leaf, salt, and all three peppers. Stir until well-combined.

Add the Tabasco, thyme, basil, and ½ cup of the stock. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. In Paul’s words, this is to “allow the seasonings to marry,” and the vegetables to brown further. Stir frequently, and make sure to scrape the pan bottom well.

Once you have reached the state of spicy matrimony, your kitchen should be smelling pretty fantastic. But wait, there’s more! Add the tomatoes. Turn the heat down to low and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and scraping the pan bottom.

Add the tomato sauce, stir to combine, and then simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the remaining 2 cups of stock and the sugar. Continue simmering the sauce for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

At this point, the saucy portion of your labor is done. If you wish, you may now set the sauce aside to cool and refrigerate overnight (Paul recommends this delay for the flavors to really set). When you’re ready to add the shrimp to the mix, simply skim the oil off the surface and reheat the sauce to a boil. Then turn the heat down to very low, add the shrimp, cover the pot, and cook until the shrimp turn pink (about 5 minutes).

If however you wish to enjoy your Creole feast right away (Zelda and Scout, party of two!), you may now turn the heat off. Add the shrimp, cover the pot, and let it sit until the shrimp are plump and pink. This should take about 5 to 10 minutes. It is also a great time to cook your white rice, enough to serve all your dinner guests.

If you are fancy, like Paul, you will preheat your plates in the oven at 250 degrees. Then serve ½ cup mounded white rice with 1 cup of sauce spooned around it and 8 or 9 shrimp arranged on top. If you are a heathen, simply slop a pile of rice in a bowl and ladle as much spicy, tomato-y, shrimpy goodness on there as you like. It tastes delicious either way.

Midsummer 2017 Playlist: Patriotism or Something Like It

It’s the Fourth of July! And in celebration of the birthday of our (sometimes) great nation, we’ve got a playlist full of patriotic show tunes for you to enjoy. While the majority of these songs celebrate the red, white, and blue, we tried not to limit ourselves to songs celebrating (or not) the United States. After all, other countries have reasons to be proud too!

While some of these songs celebrate various nations and their fruits outright, now also seemed like a good time to remind ourselves that dissent is patriotic, that change happens, that the state of our nation is just for now. These songs remind us that overwhelming zeal for your country doesn’t always lead to good things, and that patriotism shouldn’t be limited to one race, religion, or sexual orientation.

We hope you enjoy — ideally on a beach or by a pool and while sipping an ice-cold beverage and eating some sort of grilled meat. You can listen below, or on Spotify and YouTube

Early Summer 2017 Playlist: Hey, Ho, the Wind and the Rain

If we were back in Kentucky, summer would be upon us already.  School would be out, the weather would be warmer, and the pools would be opening. But alas, we are not in our beloved home state, and while we’re happy to escape the influx of pollen and dander that the season brings, there are hallmarks of a bluegrass summer that we miss. The end of school may still be a month away for New Yorkers (and we may be past the days of seasonal breaks anyway), but we are hankering for a thunderstorm. And not those namby-pampy sprinklings that the Northeast calls storms, but the bona fide, crickets humming, wrath of god thundering, earth shaking, scream-your-love-and-frustration-at-Ryan-Gosling, real Dixie deal.

This playlist is an ode to hard rain on hot days, to the crack of the skies opening up and the downpour washing the day clean. It’s a paean to petrichor, a waltz set to your beating footsteps as you dash across the wet pavement to find shelter on a porch. So savor these cool reprieves from an other wise sweltering season — even if they are only musical.

As always, you can listen here or on YouTube.

Blueberry-Lavender Champagne Punch

Hey y’all. So this week was supposed to bring you another installment of All the Fixin’s, the series where we cook our way through our respective Southern heritages. But as you’ll know if you follow this blog, or our social media, or the world in general, this past weekend included that most hallowed of horsey days — the Derby — and we celebrated in a matter befitting the occasion. We did indeed cook things (many of them, in fact), but they were Bluegrass classics that make up the staples of each of our Derby parties: pie (in miniature, bite-sized form), bourbon ball cupcakes, benedictine, artichoke dip. And in the tornado of activity that was preparing for, throwing, and cleaning up after our annual Brooklyn celebration, we did not, alas, have time to venture into something new from one of our respective cookbooks.

Not to fret, All the Fixin’s will be back next month. But today, in its stead, we’re bringing you the one new thing we did try for this year’s party: a cocktail. Now we all know the correct drink to imbibe on the first Saturday in May is, of course, a mint julep. But despite our better judgement, we are friends with some people who do not partake of the browner liquors. So we decided to indulge them with an alternative option. Call us soft if you will: We prefer to celebrate our tolerance and generosity. Also Zelda will seize any opportunity to try out a new big-batch cocktail (punch bowls for one on a Wednesday afternoon seeming more sad than celebratory, she has to wait for parties to pull out all the stops).

We wanted something light and festive, full of bubbles and springtime flavors. And after some thorough Googling, Zelda settled on this Southern Living classic-with-a-twist: blueberry-lavender champagne punch. Champagne punches are a party staple: easy to throw together, pleasing to a crowd, with all the pop and fizz you want in a celebratory glass. This one punches up the traditional simple syrup with fresh blueberries and dried lavender, infusing the drink with sweet floral notes and a lovely purple tint to boot. We can’t honestly say we partook much ourselves, aside from taste testing to make sure the proportions are right — we are julep gals, through and through — but our guests swore it was positively divine, and the empty bowl at evening’s end backed their claims up. Mint and lavender alike, we all raised a glass (or several) and sang one song for our old Kentucky home — far, far away.

Ingredients

1 cup mashed fresh blueberries

2/3 cup sugar

1 cup water

1/2 teaspoon dried culinary lavender

3 bottles (750 mL) champagne (prosecco will also do the trick)

3 cups gin

1 cup fresh lemon juice (about 4 lemons’ worth)

Directions

To make the simple syrup, stir together the mashed blueberries, sugar, water, and lavender in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and let simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour through a mesh sieve and strain out the solid bits, then set aside to cool completely (at least 45 minutes, but we recommend making it the evening before your gathering and letting it sit in the fridge overnight).

In a punch bowl or pitcher, combine the champagne, gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup. The proportions listed here are for a big batch, using all of the simple, but if you’re entertaining a smaller number of guests, use 1 cup gin, 1/3 cup simple syrup, and 1/4 cup lemon juice for every bottle of champagne.

Garnish with lemon slices, frozen blueberries, and/or lavender sprigs. Enjoy!

Late Spring 2017 Playlist: Call to the Post

It’s our favorite time of year y’all. Winter has finally ceded the reins to Spring, flowers are blooming, and it’s time for the most decadent and depraved event in all of the South. Dust off your seersucker and unpack your fancy hat, it’s Derby Time! Now, as we reiterate each year around this time, while many hail Derby as “the fastest two minutes in sports,” we Louisvillians know better. Derby is actually a two-and-a-half-week long festival that contains multitudes of fun, food, fashion…and a healthy amount of depravity.

As we prepare to throw the fourth annual Zelda & Scout Derby Bash, we’re looking to our musical roots to build a playlist that really reflects the feeling of Derby time. We pulled classic country favorites like Patsy Cline, Kentucky favorites like Ben Sollee, the always applicable Dixie Chicks. And this year, we even brought in Zelda’s sister to consult on the current country music landscape to really get us in the mood.

So make a mint julep, place your bets, heed this non-traditional call to the post, and get yourself ready for Derby time. Listen here, on Spotify, or on YouTube.


All the Fixin’s: Brown Sugar Cornmeal Pie

Welcome back to All the Fixin’s! We are still waiting for spring to arrive here in New York: There was a brief respite from cold…followed quickly by a nor’easter. Suffice it to say, it’s still quite brisk. No matter! We are of the firm belief that every season is pie season! And there were many pies to choose from in Ronni Lundy’s Appalachian cookbook, Victuals, but eventually we settled on a savory pie with sausage and root vegetables, perfect for the unseasonable chill. Alas, the grocers of New York City had other plans. Zelda went on a three-store search for turnips and parsnips and other ingredients, but came up short (the hold-outs were those damn parsnips — apparently there’s some unspoken law banning their sale within the five boroughs outside of October and November, or at least that’s the way it seemed).

We complained. We strategized. We made plans to open an Appalachian/Cajun grocery and lunch counter somewhere in Brooklyn, where folks like us could buy game, root veggies, and tasso ham to their hearts’ content. And then we shifted our cooking plans to a more traditional pie format. Lundy’s Buttermilk Brown Sugar Pie is a twist on Z&S favorite chess pie (we’re all about the chocolate version from Louisville’s Homemade Ice Cream and Pie Kitchen), but this recipe uses brown sugar instead of regular old white granulated. Brown sugar is, as we’re sure you know, superior in all ways to white sugar, so we were sure this would improve immensely on the classic. Bellies full of tacos and glasses full of beer, we dove in.

Ingredients

1 unbaked pie crust (making your own is actually pretty easy, but if you, like us, are pressed for time, you can always go the Pillsbury route)

1 ½ cups packed light brown sugar

¼ cup very finely ground cornmeal (We had already purchased stone ground cornmeal, in hopes of making a different recipe, so we just sieved out the bigger pieces. You can also throw your cornmeal in the blender or food processor for a minute if it’s on the coarser side, and blend until it’s a little denser than flour.)

½ teaspoon salt

3 large eggs, room temperature

4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled to room temperature (It is here that we must remind you of rule number one of baking: Read the entire recipe before you start! Otherwise you may be forced to sit on your hands while your just-melted butter chills in the freezer. Manageable, but less than ideal.)

¾ cup whole buttermilk, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350.

Line a 9-inch pie pan with your crust and put in the fridge to chill while you make the filling.

In a medium bowl, combine the brown sugar, cornmeal, and salt.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs until frothy. Beat in the melted butter.

Add the dry ingredients and stir vigorously until the brown sugar has fully dissolved.

Add the buttermilk and vanilla. Stir to combine.

Pour the mixture into your chilled pie crust. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the center is set. It should be liquid but may still be tender to the touch.

Allow the pie to cool until just barely warm before slicing (otherwise, you may end up with unset pie soup). Enjoy!

Y’all. This pie is damn good: just the right level of sweetness, grounded by the earthiness of the cornmeal, with a nutty complexity from the brown sugar and a delicious caramelized finish on top. We inhaled our initial pieces in seconds and spent the weekend snacking on the rest. It may not have been the pie we planned, but it is definitely one we’ll be making again.