Eat This, Drink That: Chocolate Chess Pie and Strawberry Gin Smash

Summer is in full swing here in New York, which means one thing: We do our Eating and Drinking in the comfort of Zelda’s apartment with central A/C, because no one wants to turn on an oven in Scout’s apartment (a location which is currently a temperature roughly akin to the sixth circle of hell). But despite the high heat, Eat This, Drink That is back with another couple of tasty treats! This month, we have chocolate chess pie and strawberry gin smashes.

Chess pie is a traditionally Southern treat, somewhere between a pudding and a tart. OG Chess pie is a buttery, sugary treat the color of summer sunshine, and it can only be made better with chocolate, right? The epitome of this treat for us is from Louisville’s own Homemade Ice Cream and Pie Kitchen, which introduced us to many wonderful treats over the years: the chocolate chess pie, the Dutch apple pie, the upside-down cupcake. Far from any of their locations, we decided to try to hack it ourselves.

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Scout used this recipe from Tessa at Handle the Heat, which calls for the following ingredients: one unbaked, 9-inch pie shell (we generally buy our pie crusts here in the kitchen of Z&S, Pillsbury all the way), 1 ½  cups of granulated sugar, 3 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder, a pinch of salt, one 5-ounce can of evaporated milk (about ⅔ cup), 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter (melted), 2 large eggs, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

This recipe is super easy, which is just the way Scout likes it. The more we do these posts, the more Scout realizes that maybe she just wasn’t meant for the kitchen life; some of us just aren’t. But our chocolate chess pie only takes a few steps, and offers huge rewards for minimal effort. Step one: Combine the dry ingredients (sugar, salt, and cocoa powder) in a medium-sized bowl. Next, whisk in the wet ingredients until combined into what Scout would call a yummy chocolate soup.

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Line your pie pan with your crust and pour the mixture in. We would suggest a smallish pie pan if you have one, to create a thicker pie in the end. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes, until the outside is firm and the middle jiggles just a bit. Let set for a while so you don’t end up with chocolate soup. You can use this time to run out to buy ice cream and whipped cream, or to make yourself a cocktail! You deserve a drink, after all.

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This month’s drink is very of the season, featuring two of Zelda’s favorite summer ingredients: gin and fresh strawberries. The gin smash is an oldie, dating all the way back to the late 1800s, which is basically a julep minus the bourbon. This variation, courtesy of The Kitchn, adds strawberries and lime juice for a sweet twist and a tart kick.

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For this drink, you will need 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, 1 lime, 3 fresh strawberries, 3 ounces of gin, club soda, and a sprig of mint. Combine your sugar and the juice of half the lime (the Kitchn calls for one wedge, but we found that wasn’t quite enough) in the bottom of a tall glass (Note: The glass we used for pictures, while very pretty and new to Zelda’s kitchen arsenal, was not quite tall enough. We recommend something slightly bigger to make your muddling easier, and to allow for a proper ratio of liquids.).

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Once the sugar is completely muddled, slice two of your strawberries and muddle them, gently, in the bottom of your glass. Let sit for five minutes, so the flavors have time to meld. Then, fill your glass with ice, add the gin, and top with club soda. Garnish with your mint sprig and final strawberry, and drink up!

These drinks are, first off, very pretty. Flavor wise, we admittedly found them underwhelming at first. But given time to mellow and for the strawberry flavor to infuse the drink, they transformed into a refreshing summer treat! The Kitchn also offer a large-batch version of their recipe, and we’d be very curious to see how a pitcher of these babies fared. We posit that it could be even better than the individual version. Stay tuned for updates.

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P.S. While we initially enjoyed our pie warm and gooey, the best part about this recipe is that it tastes just as good chilled! We both ate the leftovers straight from our refrigerators for breakfast the next morning. And can vouch for their deliciousness. Let’s be real: No one wants a hot pie in this weather.

Eat This, Drink That: Hot Fudge Bourbon Milkshakes

Dear readers, we know you didn’t get an “Eat This, Drink That” last month, and we really didn’t want to disappoint again this month. But truth be told, y’all, we’re busy. We’ve been adulting hard-core lately, and bopping about from Brooklyn to Louisville and beyond, and it hasn’t left us a lot of time to sit in the same space, much less conquer to kitchen, together. But fear not! We flexed our time management muscles and got together to bring you a speedy (like, really speedy — we’re busy ladies), two-in-one installment that is perfect for summer: Hot Fudge Bourbon Milkshakes. Ice cream for eating + bourbon for drinking = enjoyment for everyone.

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Start your timers now, ready…go. We used this recipe from Jessica Merchant’s How Sweet It Is. First off, we made some bourbon whipped cream. In Zelda’s electric mixer, we whipped ½ cup of heavy cream, 1 tablespoon of bourbon, and 1 tablespoon of sugar until soft peaks formed (about two minutes). Toppings, managed.

After that, we came to the main event : the milkshake base. Combine 1 1/2 cups of vanilla ice cream, ½ cup of milk, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, 2 ounces of bourbon, and ¼ cup of hot fudge (we probably used closer to  ⅓ cup, because chocolate is important) in a blender, and mix until smooth and creamy.

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And finally, assembly! Coat the bottoms of two medium-sized glassed with EVEN MORE fudge (1-2 tablespoons worth). Pour your milkshake concoction in next, then top with your homemade whipped cream. Add a fancy straw if you’re fancy, like us, and sip to your heart’s content. Overall, the whole process took us maybe a half hour (including buying the ingredients and stopping for coffee). We could have sped up the the process even more if Zelda’s kitchen had more than one accessible outlet, allowing us to make both the whipped cream and the milkshake simultaneously, but alas.

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Guys, let us tell you, these things are ridiculous. Not as big as the recipe promised (which is probably a good thing), but so decadent, so delicious, and with a perfect balance of booze and sweet. We will definitely be whipping these up again: We can already picture these taking our slumber party game to a whole new level.

Two milkshakes later, a little boozed up, and very satisfied, we parted ways to return to our respective adult lives. Blogging, managed.

Eat This, Drink That: Bourbon Ball Cupcakes and Lillies For Fillies

As is customary come April here on Zelda & Scout (and in our lives in general), we have entered full-on Derby mode. Now we’ve already visited the two biggest culinary traditions of Derby (aka juleps and pie) on the blog, but there are still plenty of thematic treats left to share with you!

On the Eat This side, Scout was really not feeling like cooking this past weekend (Let’s be honest, is she ever? No. No she’s not). But she soldiered through (okay, after some mild whining) and searched for a recipe that would get her enthused. She toyed with the idea of making that trademark Louisville dish — the Hot Brown — but it was more of an involved process than she was looking for (this is also the reason why burgoo remains the only one of Scout’s Southern goal recipes she has yet to conquer — there’s just so many ingredients!). Next she contemplated that signature Kentucky candy, the bourbon ball, but candy making is nearly always a hit or miss process. She needed a way to combine all the flavors of Derby, but in a form that wasn’t overwhelmingly complicated, and that wasn’t pie, because we’ve done pie. Which led to an important realization: Everything is better in cupcake form.

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Ah, the cupcake, that  personal-sized and adorable wonderl. Scout recently made some snickerdoodle cupcakes that were A+, which has led her to believe that everything that can be cupcaked should be cupcaked, just as everything that can be waffled should be waffled (see: Arrogant Swine Waffle Mac & Cheese). So armed with this recipe from Bluegrass Bites (shout out to fellow Louisville gal, Lindsay!), we set out to wrap up the taste of Derby in a copper-foil casing.

While they’re slated as Bourbon Ball cupcakes, the flavors in these guys are essentially the same as Derby Pie — chocolate, bourbon, and pecans — so we could call them the cupcaked version of either. Bottom line: It’s Kentucky in a tiny cake. Due to time constraints and Scout’s baking inexperience, we chose to cut out the the chocolate ganache center, but in our opinion more chocolate is always good, so you do you.

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As per Lindsay’s directions, we started by preheating the oven to 350 degrees and our cupcake tray with Zelda’s very julep chic copper liners. Next, we combined 1 stick of butter, 2 tablespoons of cocoa, ¼ cup of water and ¼ cup of bourbon (with a little extra splash, because why not) in a medium saucepan, stirring until the butter melted and the mixture was smooth. Setting it aside to cool, in a standing mixer (a hand-me-down from Zelda’s baking whiz of a mama), we beat 2 large egg, ¼ cup of buttermilk, and half a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Once the butter mixture was cool, we added it to the mixer as well, beating to combine.

In a separate bowl, Scout whisked together the dry ingredients: 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of sugar, ½ teaspoon of baking soda, and ¼ teaspoon of salt (singing along to What’s Inside: Songs From Waitress is optional at this point, but highly recommended). This then went into the mixer as well, gradually, so as not to cause a flour explosion in Zelda’s kitchen.

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Once all the ingredients were combined, we poured the batter (which should be fairly thin), into our cupcake pan (Note: The recipe says it makes 12 cupcakes. While we were able to stretch it that far, several of our cakes ended up on the smaller side, so we would recommend either dividing the batter among 9 cups, or upping your portions slightly.). Into the oven they went, to bake for 15 to 20 minutes.

Then it was on to step two, pecan frosting! First things first: Toast 1 heaping cup of pecans. Lindsay’s recipe calls for you to do this in the oven, but we did it in a pan on the stove and it worked out just fine. Allow your pecans to cool enough so you can handle them, then finely chop. Next, in a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine 4 tablespoons of butter, 1 cup of firmly packed light brown sugar, and 6 tablespoons of heavy whipping cream. Bring to a boil, stirring consistently, and let boil for about a minute before removing it from heat. Then whisk in 1 cup of sifted powdered sugar. Stir in 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and your chopped pecans, and set it aside to cool. We got distracted by how good this smelled and looked, basically pralines in a pan (or praw-leens, if you’re Zelda). Excitement levels were, needless to say, high.

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While our cupcakes and frosting cooled, Zelda tackled the drink portion of the evening. Now when it comes to Derby, we are 100% Team Julep. But even we can admit that sometimes, just maybe, you want to switch it up for something a little lighter, a little fruitier, a little, dare we say, pinker?

Enter the Lilly, official drink of the Kentucky Oaks — the race for the fillies held the day before Derby and celebrated with much gusto (and no school or work) by the locals. Most of the work for this drink came in the form of procuring the ingredients: We had to go to three stores (one grocery, two liquor) in order to procure the four necessary elements (Zelda was so frazzled that she forgot to buy the garnish. Le sigh.). But once we had all four bottles in hand, it was smooth sailing! The official recipe we used, courtesy of the Kentucky Derby website, is short on instructions, simply saying, “Once the ingredients are mixed, place the pinkish cocktail in [a glass.]”

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Left to wing it, Zelda decided to use her shaker, because it makes her feel like a legit bartending badass. So into the shaker went 1 1/4 oz of vodka, 1 oz of sweet and sour mix, ¼ oz of triple sec, 3 oz of cranberry juice, and a few cubes of ice. She shook to combine and then poured the indeed pinkish concoction into her stemless wine glass. Now the recipe calls for a glass of crushed ice; Zelda did her best to improvise with the help of a mallet and some well-placed towels (see above), but not being in possession of an ice maker, her results remained on the cubier side. The recipe also calls for the bartender to garnish with a blackberry and a lemon slice. Having forgotten to purchase either of these items, she threw in a colorful straw and called it a day.

While we remain julep loyalists through and through, these Lillies were mighty tasty! Sweet but not overwhelmingly so (definitely make sure you get cranberry juice and not cranberry juice cocktail, which would throw the whole thing into cavity range), we’ll definitely be keeping this in our rotation for the spring and summer months, especially for those poor souls who have not learned to appreciate the glory of Kentucky’s finest brown liquor, and yet have somehow managed to remain our friends. The mind boggles.

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Cocktails in hand, it was time to finish our dessert! We ran into some issues when we attempted to frost the cupcakes. In an unforeseen hiccup, leaving out the ganache had removed a vital glue that is meant to hold the pecan frosting to the cake. We tried a spreader, we tried icing tips, and finally thanks to an old-fashioned plastic bag we managed to dose each cupcake with some praline goodness, smoothing as necessary with our fingertips like true professionals. And while they weren’t as pretty as we had hoped, they tasted fantastic. Even without the filling, the cake was plenty moist, and the frosting gave Zelda all kinds of flashbacks to family trips to New Orleans  in days gone by. Which really, at the end of the day, has been the overwhelming lesson of this whole cooking venture: It doesn’t have to look good, as long as it tastes great.

Eat This, Drink That: Benedictine and Bee’s Knees

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

Eat This, Drink That: Rosemary Shortbread and Salty Dogs

This month for Eat This, Drink That, we are switching things up! Scout was hankering to make a cocktail, and Zelda was ready to get back to her love of baking, so we decided to pull a blog Freaky Friday and go back to our comfort zones for a post. Scout picked up the shaker, Zelda put on her apron, and we settled on a rosemary-themed combo. Then, this past Saturday, on a positively Arctic Galentine’s Day evening, we turned on What’s Inside and got to cooking.

Zelda fell for rosemary shortbread cookies when her boss brought them in a few weeks ago. One bite of the flaky, melt-in-your-mouth, herbal goodness, and she was hooked. Luckily for her, her editor informed her that the recipe was not only super easy but also available on her employer’s very own web site. Weekend plans, made.

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This recipe comes to us courtesy of NYT Cooking and Melissa Clark, and really is absurdly simple, provided you own a food processor (which Zelda does! Like 99% of her kitchen equipment, it’s a hand-me-down from her mama). Preheat your oven to 325 degrees (while not a conventionally recommended method of temperature control, this does also help keep your kitchen from turning into an igloo). In your handy-dandy food processor, put two cups of all-purpose flour, ⅔ cup of sugar, one tablespoon of finely chopped fresh rosemary (stems and all), and one heaping teaspoon of salt (this is how Zelda interpreted Clark’s vague “one teaspoon and a pinch”). Pulse to combine. Add one cup (two sticks) of cold unsalted butter, chopped into 1-inch chunks (that cold part is important, and will be key to the flakiness-level of your final product), and one to two teaspoons of honey. Pulse to fine crumbs, and then continue pulsing until the mixture starts to come together. You don’t need a smooth dough, and it is important not to overmix, so don’t put off if the whole thing is still a bit sandy.

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Take your dough and press it into an ungreased 8- or 9-inch cake pan (a pie tin will also do). Prick the dough all over with a fork. Bake 35-40 minutes, or until golden brown. If you’re Zelda, this translates into happily drinking wine and watching The West Wing, suddenly crying out “Shit! Oh shit!” and rushing over to your oven to rescue your shortbread from ruin just in the nick of time. As it is, the cookies were a tad over-baked for her taste, just a hair too brown and tough around the edges. Scout and her roomie declared them perfectly done, however, and all three gals dug into the cookies with gusto, declaring them an oh-so-savory, oh-so-buttery, perfect-for-tea-time Galentine’s Day treat.

While the shortbread was a-baking, Scout got down to business with the cocktails! We’re big believers in simplicity when it comes to crafting drinks, so we went with Food & Wine’s easy twist on the Salty Dog — basically gin, grapefruit juice, and a salted rim (or, a Greyhound but with salt). This version adds a little rosemary for a fun kick (and a tie-in to the baking portion of the evening).

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To make your delicious Salty Dog, muddle a one-inch sprig of rosemary and a half teaspoon of sugar in a cocktail shaker. Add two ounces of grapefruit juice and an ounce and a half of gin, throw in some ice, and shake well. Strain over into martini glasses with salted rims (if you have martini glasses — we didn’t, and improvised with what we had, namely wine glass and rocks one for good measure).

The verdict? While not all of us are grapefruit enthusiasts, we did all agreed that the salt and the rosemary really added a good kick. An herby garnish is always a good way to make a simple drink look fancier. Plus, it was pink! So it was on theme for Galentine’s/Valentine’s weekend.

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So while Scout normally ventures into the fearsome kitchen to try and conquer another dish on her list and Zelda goes behind the bar to attempt a new fancy cocktail, this was a fun switch-up of our normal protocol.! We’re both more comfortable in our respective eating/drinking, baking/shaking zones. It was, overall, a less stressful situation than our normal ETDT ventures, in which Scout is running around the kitchen like a headless chicken and looking to Zelda for guidance (Zelda is better composed behind the bar, but she really shines when it comes to baking). So while we love (and plan to continue) learning new things, it was nice, for a spell, to go back to our roots. Plus, we accomplished a tasty treat for ourselves and friends on a cold Saturday — just the right thing to warm us up.

Eat This, Drink That: Angel Food Cake and French 75

Most of Scout’s food-based memories come from one of her grandmothers. So when choosing something to make for this month’s Eat This, Drink That, she looked back on all those memories, running from the car as they pulled up to the old A-frame cabin on the lake and sprinting into the long narrow kitchen to find Gaga cooking something, usually dessert. Often, said dessert, was that light fluffy treat called angel food cake, so that’s what she decided to attempt this month.

Now, the recipe is deceptively simple, only six ingredients in this Martha Stewart version: 1 cup cake flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 12 large egg whites, 1 tsp cream of tartar, 1 1/4 cups sugar, and 2 tsp vanilla extract. Simple. But to achieve prime angel food texture one must follow directions exactly.

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Our adventure had already started rather inauspiciously. We were so gung-ho about angel food that we failed to realize that we didn’t have the correct pan for the cake…and because of the texture the pan is very important. So we did what most twenty somethings do in situations like this: we improvised.

After realizing we weren’t going to be able to MacGyver a pan, we opted to make cupcakes, which would be small enough to hold themselves up without the central support…in searching for cupcake pans Scout found that Zelda owned donut pans, and we intended to make some tiny correctly shaped angel food cakes as well as cupcakes.

So to start, we preheated the 350 degrees, sieved the flour and salt into a bowl and set it aside: then the fun began. Using a KitchenAid mixer we beat the egg whites until foamy. This was Scout’s first adventure with both egg whites and a kitchen aid mixer. The verdict: both are fun and fairly simple to use. After the egg whites have reached prime foaminess, add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form, then, continuing to beat, gradually add sugar. Continue to whip into a frenzy until stiff peaks form and beat in vanilla. Assuming we did all this correctly, our cake should have that fluffy light texture.

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Using the sieve again, gradually fold in the salt/flour mixture with a rubber spatula (cutting down the middle and up the sides, while turning the bowl—if your talented, this was slightly difficult for Scout to do all at the same time). Spoon mixture into an ungreased pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, but only if you’re making a whole cake. If you’re making cupcakes like we did, I highly suggest you maybe lightly grease your pan or something and only bake for about 25 minutes, because we spent the final part of the evening scraping each little cake out of the pans (Zelda was understandable worried about her pans. Hopefully they have since recovered).

All in all despite their toughness in coming out of the pans, they tasted pretty good. They followed the Z&S rule of “doesn’t look that pretty, but tastes okay.” We added some strawberries (sliced and sprinkled with some sugar to bring out the juices), and whipped topping of our choice (Cool Whip for Scout, because tradition, and the canned stuff for Zelda), and they looked pretty too. There’s nothing a little (or a lot) or whipped cream can’t fix!

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For the cocktails, Zelda wanted to whip up something light and a bit summery, to compliment the fluffy cake and juicy strawberries. In her book, summer means gin and something sparkling, so she decided to tackle the classic French 75.

For this drink, we used Robert Simonson’s recipe, courtesy of the New York Times’s wonderful Cooking repertoire — but with an important twist. Simonson’s recipe calls for a simple syrup, prepared at least an hour before the actual cocktail assemblage so it has time to cool. Given the time constraints of our evening (and Zelda’s procrastination in settling on a drink), we decided a short cut was in order. Bon Appetit, for their large batch French 75, includes instructions for a No-Cook Simple Syrup. Zelda deposited 2 cups of powdered sugar into a jar, added an equal amount of water, and shook until dissolved. Presto syrup!

As for the drink itself, it’s as simple as the syrup. To a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add 1 oz of gin, 1/2 oz of fresh-squeezed lemon juice, and 1/2 oz of your syrup. Shake to chill and combine, strain into a champagne flute, and top with the bubbly of your choice (preferably on the drier side). Garnish with a lemon twist, and voilà, you’re good to go.

At least that’s what we thought. But one sip of our (very pretty) drinks revealed that what they had in panache they lacked in actual flavor. Something was missing, and the answer revealed itself in the form of our favorite French cure-all, which makes any drink infinitely more exciting and delicious. Enter St. Germain.

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This elderflower liqueur is the wunderkind of the cocktail world, adding just the right note of floral sweetness to any drink, and it pairs particularly well with gin, the flowery notes complimenting the piney-ness (that’s a word, yes?) of the juniper. One dash of this stuff, a quick stir, and we were in business, transported to a summery garden party by the Mississippi, despite the Brooklyn chill outside.

The other lesson learned this week? Both of us suck at cutting lemon twists. Seriously. Must practice so as to impress party guests with our sophistication and flair.

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Eat This Drink That: Fried Chicken, Rosemary Gimlets, and a Special Guest!

This month, we bring you a very special “Eat This, Drink That.” Normally, we pick a theme for the month’s post, find an appropriate recipe, and then muddle through as best we can, with Google as our sous chef. But this month, we brought in the professionals for a real schooling in one of the tenets of Southern cuisine. The dish? Fried chicken. And the pro? That would be Southern Cook Extraordinaire Gaga, aka Scout’s grandmother. She’s famous in Eastern Kentucky and, as a friend of ours puts it “universally loved,” not to mention an expert in all things chicken-fried, bourbon-soaked, and gravy-topped. This started as a lesson, turned into an observation of her exemplary skills, and ended with a feast for all. Here’s how it went down.

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(pardon the blurry photo — this was, to be perfectly honest, taken post-chicken, and post-several gimlets, when we realized we had forgotten to take the customary ingredients pic)

For this recipe, you will need: chicken (Gaga’s recipe calls for a four-pound bird, cut into pieces, but a pack of drumsticks or equivalent would do just as well), flour, buttermilk, paprika, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and a butt load of vegetable oil (at least a quart). We used this recipe as a guideline, but cooking with Gaga has no exact measurements. First things first, examine your chicken. Remove the breasts from the bone, and use some heavy implement (meat tenderizer, rolling pin, etc.) to pound them down to an even thickness. This ensures that they will cook evenly. Drumsticks require no pounding and can be cooked as is. Step two, combine two cups of flour, one teaspoon of paprika, 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, and plenty of salt and pepper in a Ziploc bag and shake to combine (Like we said, these are more like guidelines than actual rules. You just want to make sure you have enough flour to evenly coat all of your chicken. And don’t be shy with the spices; we found the teaspoons the recipe called for didn’t provide quite enough flavor for our palettes). Next, to prepare for the flour-coating portion of the evening, you’ll need to pour your buttermilk into a casserole dish or large bowl, and place a wire cooling rack on top of a cookie sheet in preparation for your chicken. For easier clean up, line the cookie sheet with aluminum foil.

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Now comes the shake and bake portion of the evening. Scout’s great grandmother, Granny McCoy, used to say, “I like to dredge my breasts in buttermilk and then fry them in hot oil,” to which Gaga and the Momma would reply, “That sounds painful!” But dredge and fry we did. Dredging involves coating your chicken thoroughly in buttermilk.  Once it’s completely covered, allow the excess liquid to drip off, put the chicken in the bag with your dry ingredients, and shake until completely coated. Make sure you get all chicken nooks and chicken crannies, and then place each piece on your rack. (Note: At this point, Gaga kind of took over, as she’s been known to do. But we continued to learn!) Once all your chicken has been thoroughly dredged and floured, leave it to  set for a while. This step is of utmost importance: You need to wait until the flour has taken on a paste-like consistency. As Gaga put it when she placed the final drumstick to set, “There we go. And now, a very important part of the process: We have a cocktail.

Learning is fun!

Learning is fun!

The Gaga had spoken, and so we turned to Zelda’s portion of the evening: the cocktail. She had a few goals this month: to make something Christmas-themed, to conquer a classic cocktail, and to bust out her shaker in earnest. Inspiration came in the form of a post by her favorite ex-pat food blogger, David Lebovitz, and his Rosemary Gimlet. He had her at rosemary and sealed the deal with gin, the classiest (and tastiest) of the clear alcohols in her book.

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This drink is super easy to make while also being thoroughly impressive, every hostess’s favorite combo, but it does require some prep. A traditional gimlet contains only two elements — gin and lime juice — but for this holiday version, you need to make a rosemary-infused simple syrup for an herbal twist. But fear not, while this does require a bit of forethought, it is not difficult. Simply put ½ cup of sugar, ½ cup of water, and 2 tablespoons of coarsely chopped fresh rosemary in a small saucepan (if you want to make many drinks, or have some yummy herbal syrup left over for future use, you can up the quantities, sticking to a one-to-one sugar-to-water ratio). Heat until the mixture is hot and the sugar has fully dissolved (it does not need to come to a boil), then remove from the heat and allow to cool completely. Once it’s cool, strain out the rosemary and put the syrup in the fridge to chill further (ideally in a container that is easy to pour from — Zelda used a Pyrex measuring pitcher).

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Her syrup thus made an hour or so before her guests arrived, Zelda was prepared, when her moment came, to assemble some delicious cocktails for her audience. This recipe comes to you in three parts. Step one, measure 2 ounces of gin, ¾ ounce of the rosemary syrup, and ¾ ounce of fresh lime juice into a cocktail shaker (Zelda recently purchased the Oggi Marilyn model and is in love, two thumbs up!). Step two, fill your shaker halfway with ice, preferably crushed (but cubed will do just fine should you find yourself sans ice crusher). Step three, shake for approximately 30 seconds, while doing your best Mamrie Hart impression. Pour into your glass (David calls for the glass to be both stemmed and frozen, of which we managed to accomplish half), garnish with a sprig of rosemary, and enjoy!

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Garnish makes anything classier

Oh man, guys. This might be our most successful cocktail to date. The gimlets were delicious, potent, and pretty, checking all of our beverage boxes. Zelda whipped up some vodka alternatives for the non-gin drinkers (aka the Momma and Gaga), and sampled some herself when the gin ran out, and they worked just as well. Even Zelda, who is not a big vodka gal, approved, declaring that she couldn’t taste the Russian spirit at all (like we said, these things are dangerously yummy). All in all, we give it our highest recommendation: easy, impressive, delicious, deadly, and 100% Z&S approved. Now back to the chicken!

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Now that all of us were sufficiently buzzed on gimlets, it was time to play with hot oil (Do not drink and fry, kids. Professionals were on hand)! Once the chicken was pasty enough for Gaga’s liking, we poured about two inches of vegetable oil (about a quart) into a large skillet (if you have a cast iron skillet, that’s ideal, otherwise a general non-stick will do) and turned up the heat. You need to wait until the oil is good and VERY hot (375 degrees is ideal) before you start adding the meat. Pro tip: If you, like Zelda, don’t have a thermometer to test your oil, you can use a piece of bread. If you throw it in and it sizzles up immediately, you’re good to go. At this point, we were throwing back gimlets with abandon, but Gaga continued her efforts to educate us in the art of fried chicken, and to provide three hungry Brooklyn girls (Scout’s roommate joined the party) and a Southern Momma with a bona fide Southern meal.

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Once your oil is ready, place as many pieces of chicken as will comfortably fit into the pan (do not crowd the chicken). Like any good lover, you want to start with the breasts, since the white meat takes longer to cook. Let the chicken brown thoroughly on both sides (you’ll need tongs to turn the pieces over), turn down the heat, cover the pan, and let the chicken continue to cook for about half an hour, or until it’s cooked through (Have another drink in the interim. It’s the Gaga way.). You’ll know it’s done when you can stick a knife in and the meat is good and tender and the juices run clear (if you have a meat thermometer, your chicken should be 165 degrees inside). Once your chicken is cooked through, remove the lid and turn the heat back up to achieve maximum crispiness. Once well-crisped, remove from the skillet and place on a paper towel-lined plate to cool. Add your favorite Southern side dish (we opted for mac and cheese), and enjoy!

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And enjoy we did. The chicken could have used a little more kick (see note above about not being stingy with those spices), but it was crispy on the outside and tender and moist on the inside, just like the Good Lord intended. With some Stouffer’s Mac & Cheese on the side, gimlets in our bellies, and Gaga to see us through, it was an evening of all-around, home-cooked Kentucky goodness. Happy frying to y’all, and to y’all a good night.