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: 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 eggs, 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: Cobbler and Old Fashioneds

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.