Monday, April 22, 2013

Boston (creme de menthe) Cream Pie

I can't do anything, so I'm doing this.

For obvious reasons, my mind was on Boston this past week. From the initial shock and confusion, to sorrow, then fear and disbelief, and finally to relief, I joined the rest of the country in watching the almost surreal events unfold before me on television and the internet. But that's about all I could do. I could think feel pray worry wonder speculate and surmise, but I couldn't do anything. Actions didn't yield results, gestures felt empty. Yet life continued, as it is wont to do - I went to work, I went out with friends, I took silly pictures of my feet.

I can't do anything, so I'm doing this.

So I made a pie - a Boston cream pie (with non-alcoholic creme de menthe custard), to be exact. Did it change history? Did it to anything to benefit the greater good? Did it put an end to evil and hatred in the world? Of course not. But did it occupy my hands and provide me a tangible way to offer up my thoughts to the policemen, residents, and victims of Boston? Absolutely.

For the custard:
2 oz. Creme de Menthe loose leaf tea - I get mine from the wonderful DAVIDsTEA
1 quart (4 cups) whole milk
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 egg
7 egg yolks
1/2 cup corn starch

For the ganache:
1 cup dark chocolate morsels
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp light corn syrup

While Boston Cream Pie is traditionally made with custard or cream sandwiched between two or more layers of yellow cake, I chose to go a different route, turning it into more of an actual pie. Instead of cake batter, use:
1 pre-made graham cracker pie crust

How To
In a large saucepan over low heat, combine the milk and vanilla and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and steep the tea for 10-15 minutes. Use a filter or tea infuser to ensure that no leaves escape into the milk. While the tea is steeping, whisk together the sugar, salt, starch, egg, and egg yolks.

When the tea is done (the longer you steep it, the stronger the taste will be), temper the egg mixture with the milk by slowly pouring and mixing small portions of the milk into the eggs. When all the milk has been combined with the egg mixture, pour everything back into the saucepan and heat over low heat, whisking constantly. Bring to a boil, then continue at this temperature for about another 30 seconds. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. I found that continuing to whisk the custard even as it's cooling helps to create a smooth consistency as it begins to congeal.

Pour the cooled mixture into the graham cracker crust. Gently twisting the pie pan back and forth will help the custard settle nicely and evenly. Cover with saran warp and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

When ready, prepare the chocolate topping by heating the milk and corn syrup over low heat. Bring to a simmer and stir in the chocolate pieces. Working quickly, stir completely to ensure that all the chocolate has melted and then pour over the chilled custard to create a thin layer. Refrigerate again for at least an hour. Serve cold.

Thanks to Serious Eats and Chasing Delicious for the inspiration!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

365/Photo-a-day - April part 1

rooftops in astoria - homemade pizza for dinner
lazy sunday bagel - the new yorker hotel

flags at rockefeller center - a view of 5ptz from a dirty 7-train window
queensboro bridge looking up - queensboro bridge looking out

sunset over manhattan - b-day flowers
more b-day flowers - rainy thursday

There's a fine line between getting the perfect shot and being that annoying girl who interrupts the dinner party to get said perfect shot. I already straddled this line more than a few times in my pre-365 Challenge days, but now that I have made it my mission to (attempt to) take at least one photo per day I find myself faced with this conundrum all the time. I am not the press. I have not been hired by the hosts of the dinner party to shoot the meal for a magazine spread. I have not been asked to editorialize the finer points of a quiet conversation For all intents and purposes, I am just another girl in hipster glasses taking an Amaro-hued photo of my overpriced cocktail.

And so I shy away. I choose to let the moment soak in and then fly free, unrecorded and soon forgotten. And as a result, I miss a ton of great photo-ops. Sangria with friends in the West Village. Celebrating 6 months with the boyfriend. Artisanal grilled cheeses in Brooklyn. And as a subsequent result, the photos I do take are safe. Uncontroversial. Of buildings and trees. Which aren't necessarily a bad thing, they're just a bit, well...boring.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that this little photo project has proved to be more interesting and challenging than I first expected - which is exactly what a hobby should do. It's month four and I"m still going strong, and I can't wait to see what happens next.

365/Photo-a-day is a personal undertaking to take one photograph per day in 2013. All photos were taken by me and processed with Instagram, Snapseed and/or PhotoToaster. This time around, I formatted the pictures using the Diptic app. Wanna see my pics as they happen? Follow me, @maspad on Instagram!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Mini spinach pie

I decided today that it was high time to finish up the leftover Easter ham. That, and my post-gym legs were craving some serious protein. These mini spinach pies are more like quiche than the Greek phyllo-dough treats of the same name (spanakopita translates to "spinach pie") and are a quick and easy way to spice up a solo breakfast or serve up a weekend brunch for friends.

*White cheddar pie crust
1 1/4 cups flour, plus more for dusting
7 tablespoons shortening (I'm partial to Crisco Baking Sticks)
3/4 cup shredded white cheddar cheese
Dash salt
Dash sugar
1/2 cup ice water

How to
With a pastry blender, mix dry ingredients until coarse and crumbly. Slowly add water, kneading the dough by hand until it is soft and gummy. Form into a disc, wrap with parchment paper and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

*Mini spinach pie
1 tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup onions, finely chopped
3/4 cup spinach - if frozen, then defrosted and fully drained
3/4 cup diced ham
3 tbsp heavy cream
Dash salt
Dash pepper
3 eggs
5-6 cherry tomatos, one for each pie
About 5-6 mini pie tins, muffin cups, tart cups, etc.
   Non-stick cooking spray (if, like me, you bought your tins from a sketchy kitchen supply company in the Bowery and they are not, in fact, non-stick.)

How to
In a large pan, saute the onions, spinach and ham in the olive oil until nicely browned, adding salt and pepper to taste. Add the cream and stir until creamy, but take care to not burn the cream. Remove from heat.

While the vegetables are cooling, roll out the cheddar dough on a floured surface. Using a stencil (I use a small glass prep bowl) cut out enough rounds to fill each pie tin. Spritz the non-stick cooking spray onto the bottoms and sides of each tin if necessary, then gently press each dough round into the tins.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs. Fold the vegetable mixture into the eggs, then spoon the batter into each tin, leaving about 1/4" of space at the top, as the egg mixture will slightly rise. Brush edges of crust with egg wash, or with remaining batter if possible. Slice cherry tomatos and place two halves in the center of each pie.

Bake at 350 degrees for 18-20 minutes, or until edges are browned and egg is fully cooked through; insert and remove a skewer to check for doneness - if it comes out clean, the eggs are done. Let cool on a wire rack, then gently remove the pies from their tins.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

365/photo-a-day - March wrap-up

best friends and b'maids at a wedding - saturday afternoon cocktails - tuesday yoga
flatiron building - b'day cab ride over the bridge - on the way to the ceremony
old friends, good times - mom's so cute dog - o'hare airport
looking out in the LIC - thursday yoga - shamrock shake!!! - museum of nat'l history
going red for equality - bride-to-be and her mom - easter sunday cocktails

*disclaimer - the photo OF me drinking the shake was not taken BY me - but I allowed this one to count towards the month's photos because it's pretty darn cute ;)

March came in with a snowstorm and out with a cocktail - as it should be. It was a month full of travel, old friends, new smoothies and lots of yoga - and at least one picture per day. Three months in and I'm still going strong.

I also had a bit of an epiphany about my use of Instagram to post my daily pictures - previous to this 365 project, I'd heard of the photo-sharing social network, of course, but I'd never had a very good reason to be a prolific Instagrammer. Until I discovered that besides getting my pictures "liked" by other users (which is always a nice ego boost), I was also able to find inspiration from others users who were also doing a similar photo-a-day project by simply searching #365, #365photo, #photoaday, etc. and then following those users whose photos I liked. On days when I feel creatively stunted or stuck and can't bear to take one more picture of the buildings at Astor Place, I can simply turn to my IG photofeed and see what others have chosen to photograph on their own cold and rainy commutes to work.

Instagram is also holding me to a higher standard of professionalism. I know that whatever photo I post has the possibility to be viewed by thousands of people - and I would never want half that many people to see some quickly composed, non-intentionally blurry, badly lit picture. Just the mere presence of "peer review" causes me to really check to make sure that I'm truly happy with all the elements of my photo, which in turn makes me a better photographer.

March by the Numbers
Photos of my feet:  3 (but it could have been so much more - I hit up the yoga studio about 10 times this month!)
Photos of trees:  7 (8 if you include the pic of my urban herb garden)
Food and drink photos: 7
Photos with people/animals: 8
Action shots: not nearly enough - I need to get better at these

**Want to see my daily photofeed? Follow me - @maspad on Instagram!