Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Pie Face Launch Party

Pie blogging has it's perks.

Tonight, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the official Launch Party for the first American location of Pie Face, a new midtown Manhattan bakery-cafe that opened last week (and that I reviewed here).

Held in the penthouse suite of the top floor of the stunning Mondrian Hotel in SoHo, this was a delectable and delightful party - drinks flowed freely, the pies were warm and plentiful, and the views were incomparable.

New York City from atop the Mondrian Hotel

I was able to try a few sweet pies I had wanted to try at last week's opening but couldn't due to fullness of stomach from the savory pie I inhaled. While this is not an official review (two glasses of wine does not make for the most accurate of memories) I will say that the mini blueberry, apple, and chocolate cherry pies I was served were fantastic. And I now, more than ever, wholeheartedly approve of faces on my pies.

Pie Face Mini Blueberry Pie

Pie Face Mini Apple Pie. I took a bite before snapping the picture.

Again, I wish my warmest congratulations to the new Pie Face NYC - welcome to the neighborhood!

Thanks for a fantastic party!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Pie Crust - Up Close and Personal

This was originally going to be a very simple post - describe the steps to making a basic pie crust and accompany those directions with photographs. This is a blog about pie, I reasoned. I should tell people how to make a pie crust!

Then I realized that 11,100,000 results come up in 0.24 seconds when you Google the phrase "pie crust recipe," and that describing the few steps to making a pie crust wasn't just the most obvious topic in the history of pie blogs, it was also the most boring idea I'd ever had.

So I decided to do things a little differently.

I had been itching to try out a new iPhone camera lens that this guy had gotten me for Christmas - a macro lens that magnetically attaches to the outside of your cell phone's camera - and rationalized that this was the perfect opportunity to blend my pie crust post and my new (nerdy) gadget. I mean, who hasn't stopped cold in the middle of making a pie to wonder "gee, if only I knew exactly what this flour looked like close up!" Well, I sure have.

I'll call it "pietography."

How to Make a Pie Crust - In Six Simple Steps but Many Accompanying Pictures

1 cup flour
1/3 cup Crisco shortening
Dash salt
A glass of ice water

How to
1.) Pour the flour into a large bowl

1 cup of flour in a large mixing bowl

Flour, leveled with a knife

Flour on a knife

2.) Add a dash of salt

Grains of salt

Yes, I poured salt all over my kitchen table to get this shot

The (topless) salt shaker

So. many. grains. of. salt. And this is just a dash!

3.) Cut the shortening into smaller slabs, add into bowl

1/3 cup Crisco on a cutting board

Crisco on the edge of a knife

Flour/salt/Crisco in large mixing bowl

4.) Mix the flour/shortening/salt

A pastry cutter makes this step a lot easier

5.) Slowly add some ice water and begin to kneed the dough

A glass of ice water

Ice Cube - the frozen water, not the rapper

6.) Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes

Ball of kneaded dough

Dough isn't very photogenic up close. Sorry, dough.

Dough on the edge of the pastry cutter

The "normal" photos were all taken with my iPhone, sans special lens. The close-ups were all taken with the Photojojo Macro lens for iPhone. Let's hear it for iPhoneography!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Slice of the Week - Pie Face

There's a new pie in town, and this one has a face. Selling both Australian meat pies and traditional sweet pies is Pie Face, a new 24-hour bakery-cafe on the corner of Broadway and 53rd in midtown Manhattan. Over 50 locations already exist all over Australia, but this is the first of what they hope to be a familiar face here in America.

The first thing you'll notice about this place is that it's small, even by New York-standards. It probably holds about 15-20 people at most and does not offer seats or tables, only a small section of counter that makes it more analogous to those ubiquitous $1 Pizza Slices places than to an actual restaurant.

Pie Face in New York City

Despite the rain and general dreariness outside there was still a healthy line of people waiting to order a pie, and there remained a steady stream of people throughout the duration of my visit. While I had intentionally sought out this new place on their opening day, I got the feeling that a large amount of their customers were there by happenstance as it is located in the middle of the tourist-Broadway-center-of-the-world-district, which bodes extremely well for the future of this new addition.

We were greeted by a cheerful and chipper server who gave us the run-down of the menu while we were still waiting in line (I brought an eating partner for this excursion, no one should have to try a new pie alone) and who tried to upsell us a large pie (as opposed to a mini) and "stack," a tactic that ended up working very well in the restaurant's favor.

It wasn't long before we arrived at the end of the line where we were greeted by a second cheerful and chipper server (did I mention that they all had Australian accents? Maybe it's just me, but an Aussie can say just about anything and it'll sound wonderful and delightful and I'll probably buy whatever it is they're trying to sell me) and a display case full of mouthwatering pies.

Pie Face meat pie display case

There are plenty of sweet pies to choose from as well

Having decided our order while still in line, we were able to place our orders, pay, and receive the food in a relatively short amount of time (it took my friend a few minutes longer to receive his food, but hey, it was their first day - I've been waitressing for almost 10 years and I still can't get a drink out in under two minutes. Disclaimer: I never said I was a good waitress). Things got a bit complicated because we wanted to eat our pies right then and there, and there was only that aforementioned counter, but we made do.


My friend ordered the Chunky Steak Stack Pie - a steak pot pie covered in mashed potatoes and peas (the "stack" referred to the potatoes and peas, you're able to add that combo to any large meat pie).

I waited a bit until he had worked his way through a good portion of the pie (I have a slight aversion to peas and most other green legumes) to try a bite, but I was pleased with what I ate. The beef was chunky and sweetly seasoned, and there was a really great beef-to-veggies-to-broth ratio.

Now, on to my pie. I was interested in trying something a bit different, so I ordered a Thai Chicken Curry Pie. Right off the bat, I knew I was going to like it.

I mean really - who can say no to this face?

I hereby declare that all pies from now on come with facial expressions. It just might be the key to happiness.

Anyway, the pie itself was fantastic - the chicken was moist, the curry flavoring was in that not-too-spicy-but-just-right level, and the crust was near-perfect - it tasted wonderful AND held together quite well under the stress of all the heavy ingredients. And at $5.95 for a regular-sized meat pie, it's probably the cheapest and most fulfilling meal you'll find in the entire area.

You almost feel bad eating it. Almost.

As we happily ate our pies, my friend commented on the strength of his coffee - I later learned that Pie Face uses espresso beans imported from Australia to make their drip coffees, and as a result pack quite the punch. For those of you who like your afternoon jolt a little less hair-raising, however, I should note that they do offer four different strengths of coffee ranging from "Still Asleep" to 'Kick My Arse!"

Upon leaving Pie Face, we were stopped by one of the staff members who inquired how we liked our pies (she didn't know I was planning to write about my experience). I complimented the new restaurant, saying that we had a great time and really enjoyed our pies and then learned they are planing to soon open more stores in Manhattan. They knew they were taking a bit of a chance by staging their first location in midtown, as one can never be too sure how tourists will react to facially expressive meat pies, but I have a feeling that this will soon be an explosively popular stop for both the after-theater and after-bar crowds. I know I'll be stopping in the next time I find myself stumbling home from the bars on 9th going home after my 35th viewing of Mama Mia hungry and in midtown.

Many thanks to my pie-loving friend for joining me on this excursion!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Quick Bites - Blueberry-Mascarpone Turnovers

Happy National Pie Day! It's only fitting that the American Pie Council should choose such a blustery and dreary winter day to celebrate the most heartwarming (and delicious!) treats.

In honor of this most tastiest of holidays, I'm proud to introduce a new feature on Pies Etc.  - a section called Quick Bites, where I'll showcase recipes that can be made in under half an hour and with ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen.


Ingredients - (yield - about 8 turnovers)
- 4 oz. soft sweet cheese (I suggest and used Mascarpone, cream cheese works as a great substitute as does any kind of Brie-type cheese you might have left over from your last Girl's Night Wine and Cheese Party)
- 1/2 cup fruit, chopped into very small pieces (I used blueberries, any soft sweet fruit will work)
- 1 tbsp honey 
- 1/4 tsp corn starch
- 1 tbsp sugar
- Lemon juice and zest from 1/4 lemon
- Pie crust
  *I had a small ball of pie crust left over from my last baking experiment, it was about 5 inches in diameter and enough to make eight 3"x 3". squares of dough; the above measurements reflect the amount of dough I had

I'd like to say I hand picked these from my garden. I didn't. I live in New York City and bought these frozen from the C-Town down the street.

How to
In a small saucepan, melt the cheese, cornstarch, sugar, lemon juice and zest until creamy. Let cool.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Roll out your dough and cut as many 3"x 3" squares as you can.

Squeeze a dollop of honey onto each square.

Add a small dollop of the cheese mixture over the honey. Not too much though! In this case, a little goes a long way.

Add a few berries in the center of the dough square.

Finally, fold the dough in half (to make a triangle) and seal the edges. It helps if you dip a finger in water and run it along the edges of the dough, this will seal the edges so the turnovers don't pop open in the oven.

Don't seal your edges this way:
Photo courtesy of ALAMY

Or this way:
Photo courtesy of this odd website

Seal your edges this way:
Use a fork to pinch the edges

Finally, sprinkle the turnovers with a little sugar and bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until they are golden brown (or until you realize that you didn't seal the edges well enough and now there's blueberry juice all over your oven).

Blueberry and Mascarpone Turnover

Friday, January 20, 2012

Slice of the Week

Top 10 Reasons to go to Little Pie Company:

10.) You're trying to get some shopping done in and around Times Square but keep getting accosted by those "hey - hey - do you like comedy???" harpies.
9.) It's 12 degrees out and your fingers might be developing frostbite because you dropped your glove in a pile of unidentified liquid in the subway station and all the clothing stores are only selling their peachiest Spring-wear and bathing suits.
8.) You long for the days of yore when soda counter stools were red and chrome and the coffee came in something other than to-go cups.
     8a.) You're nowhere near old enough to remember when soda counter stools were red, but you've seen that scene in Back to the Future enough times to wish you had experienced a 50's diner.
7.) You've put your name in for the Book of Mormon lottery and have an hour to kill before getting your Trey Parker and Matt Stone dreams dashed. Again.
6.) You bombed an audition. And now you need pie.
5.) You're on your very first trip to New York City and you've been told that the "real" New York lies just a little west of Times Square - and you're even going to venture across 8th ave to find it.
4.) You've wasted donated plundered spent all your money on Mama Mia tickets and want a snack before the 230pm Wednesday matinee, but you just discovered that the $6.95! Unlimited Soup, Salad and Breadsticks lunch at the Olive Garden actually costs $19.95 because it's in Times Square
3.) You saw that creepy Elmo guy with his character head off and now you're kid is crying and you're actually kind of weirded out too and want some comfort food
     3a.) On your run away from Creepy Elmo Guy, you ran into the Naked Cowgirl and you were really hoping to run into the Naked Cowboy, and now you're doubly freaked out and gosh New York is a tough city!
2.) You just got your $800 hotel bill and are crying some very unhappy tears.
1.) You really need some good pie. Now.

Little Pie Company, located at 424 West 43rd Street (between 9th and 10th aves), is a delightful stop on anyone's journey through midtown Manhattan. They are solely devoted to pie, cakes, and a small number of other brownie/muffin/cookie desserts, and this narrow focus works well. It's a very small place, just a few little booths and a handful of counter seats, and decorated in such a way that evokes a retro 50's diner but does not descend into kitsch. Giant pies line the window displays and the day's slices and offers are arranged on cake plates and in the glass counter, each treat looking more delicious than it's neighbor.

Little Pie Company

My most recent trip to Little Pie Company wasn't my first, nor was it a rarity. Due to it's location (and fantastic pie, which I will get to in a second), my friends and I frequent the restaurant on a semi-regular basis. The other day my roommate and I both had some errands to run in Manhattan, so we decided to leave a little early and grab a slice of pie before attending to the more boring aspects of life (no one really wants to spend her day off buying face wash).

We found the restaurant empty, as always. It's a little alarming that there never seems to be anybody patronizing this pie shop, but I like to think that I go on completely off-hours (my friends and I all have very odd schedules, we tend to do our pie-eating around 2pm on Mondays) and therefore avoid the hoards of people I assume descend upon the store on evenings and weekends.

We were pleasantly greeted by the only person working behind the counter, inquired of the day's slices (not a large selection, but they tend to focus on in-season ingredients and January is not a great season for much of anything), and ordered to slices to stay. We were told to have a seat, he'd bring the pies out to us in a minute.

And here's where I get really excited - that lovely man behind the counter heated up the pies. He  knew, intrinsically and instinctively, from some deep down pie-loving place, that people don't want a cold pie. I could have kissed him.

Luckily, I avoided all assault charges and simply had a seat.

Our pies arrived, warm and delicious and wonderful.

Amanda ordered the Mississippi Mud Pie, which actually didn't look too great at first glace. It appears as more of a lump of chocolate that can't seem to hold a pie shape. That ceases to matter, however, when you bite into it. Consumers beware! This is not a pie for the faint-of-heart. Or for someone who doesn't really like chocolate. It's pretty much a gooey chocolate brownie baked onto a slightly harder chocolate brownie and topped with a sweeter chocolate brownie, giving you "the comfort of licking the spoon at mom's house." It's absolutely delicious, but it packs a punch and can fill you up quickly (although you will find room to lick the plate clean. It's that good).

Mississippi Mud Pie

I wasn't feeling too adventurous that day and had decided to stick with my tried-and-true - Sour Cream Apple Walnut Pie. Now, I'm not one to just throw out superlatives all willy-nilly, but this is hand's down the best apple pie I've ever had. It's cinnamon crunch topping is perfect. Then there's a layer of caramel thinly veiling the apples below, like a mother hen covering her chicks with love. The apples, dotted with walnut slivers and spices, are a paradox amongst themselves - soft but crunchy, sweet but tart, light but creamy. Finally the crust, in all it's flaky goodness, seamlessly morphs into the rest of the pie, and playing it's role of Assistant to the Apple, simply accentuates and supports.

One thing is clear: I have found love, and it is wedge-shaped.

Sour Cream Apple Walnut Pie

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Fightin' for my right to pie

I'm still a newbie in the blogging world,  but I do know that if bills like SOPA and Protect-IP get passed then even tiny little sites like mine could be in big trouble.

We're hungry - for information, for news, for social media, and yes, for pie. So do your homework, research what's happening, and take a stand to end piracy - not liberty.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

When the going gets tough...the tough use apple substitutes

Times are tough, kid. Unemployment rates are soaring. Poverty rates are consistently increasing, reaching the highest they've been in half a century. 17.2 million households are now food insecure.

So why all the hum-drum glum talk? No, I haven't turned into some crazed socio-politico, ranting about this policy or that election result (I'll wait until I get a larger and more dedicated reader base to switch to those topics). I recently reviewed my own personal budget, which got me to thinking about what, if anything I should be cutting out or reducing in my life to help save a few pennies during this dastardly recession.

But it's clearly more fun to daydream about times past than it is to think critically about one's own situation, so I quickly let my mind drift to wondering what life was like during the last time this country saw such economic strife. We've all heard stories about bread lines, seen the Dorothea Lange photographs, read The Grapes of Wrath, but I was curious to find out what kind of money-saving techniques housewives used when preparing daily meals for their families. Obviously, any frugal family would immediately cut out any and all necessary sweets and desserts, leaving room and money for the more important and energizing meats and carbs, right?

After perusing the incredibly fascinating and addictive Food Timeline, I learned that not every household during the 1930's was at bread line level (those images we all saw in our grade school text books illustrated the worst-case scenarios). Middle class families, though conscious of their spending, did not completely cut out fun treats, but instead found ways to make their favorite foods on the cheap by substituting lesser priced ingredients for their more expensive counterparts.

The most interesting example I was able to find (and this is where I tie in the above history lesson with an actual pie recipe...don't worry, pictures are coming real soon) is the bizarre Ritz Mock Apple Pie. Ritz Crackers were introduced to America in 1934, and some culinary genius somewhere discovered that with a little lemon and cinnamon these crackers tasted exactly like spiced apples - an incredibly helpful trick to mothers everywhere, because apples at the time were $0.03/lb, and it takes almost a pound of apples to make a whole pie, and, well, you can do the math (because I certainly can't).

- 2 cups sugar
- 2 tsp. cream of tartar
- 1 3/4 cups water
- 1 lemon - zest and 2 tbsp. juice
- 36 Ritz crackers
- 2 tbsp. butter, cut into small bits
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 2 pie crusts (top and bottom) - either pre-made refrigerated or homemade; I used the recipe for homemade pie crust detailed in this post

How To
Make the pie crust according to directions (if you're using a pre-made crust, skip this step). Refrigerate the dough until you are ready to assemble the pie

Over high heat, mix the sugar and cream of tartar in a medium saucepan, gradually adding the water. Bring to a boil, then let simmer for about 5 minutes on low heat. Stir in lemon zest and juice, then remove from heat and let cool completely (about 30 minutes).

While the mixture is cooling, crumble the Ritz crackers. The easiest and cleanest way to do this is to put them all in a Ziplock baggie and crush them with your hands.

It is at this point I realize the majority of my recipes include a step that requires one to put something in a Ziplock baggie and crush it with her hands. I'll let the Freudian wannabe's out there have at that one.

Once the mixture is cooled, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Roll out the dough and place the bottom crust in the pie plate. Fill the bottom of the crust with the Ritz cracker crumbles.

Pour the syrup mixture into the pie, then sprinkle everything with cinnamon and dot with butter.

Cover with the top crust, seal and flute the edges, and cut slits in the top crust to allow steam to escape.

Bake 30-35 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Let cool before serving.

Look Ma! No apples!

And here's the surprising part - it actually tastes like an apple pie! I admit I had my doubts. I mean, Ritz crackers? With a cheesy dip, sure, but in a pie?

Ritz Mock Apple Pie

Yep, Ritz crackers in a pie. The whole thing kind of even looks like apple pie. It was a bit on the sweet side, however, and very rich (Ritz are already butter-crackers, so I wonder if the added dots of butter were necessary).

I'm not sure if this pie has a place in the kitchen outside of novelty, however. Price-wise, it wasn't actually cheaper than making an apple pie (I paid over $4 for the box of crackers, while Granny Smith apples at my grocery were selling at $1.79/lb. I also didn't already own cream of tartar, so that added another $3.50 to the total bill).

My roommate couldn't identify the mystery ingredient though, so if for some reason you find yourself needing to make a hard-to-figure-out pie, this is the recipe for you (and if you do find yourself in that situation, please do tell me about it. And then invite me along). This could also be a great recipe for a kid to bring to school for one of those "make a recipe from a certain decade" assignments because it results in something you'd actually want to eat. I still feel bad for those kids who were stuck with The 1950's - A Decade of Promise, Innovation, and Spam.

I used a Rockwell photo filter to make it look historical ;)

A special shout out goes to this other fascinating website on the history of food and dining.