Thursday, April 24, 2014

Bake the Book: Strawberry Balsamic Pie from 4 and 20 Blackbirds

I like hosting holiday dinners. I get to control the menu, try some new recipes, revisit old favorites, and let's be honest, enjoy the leftovers for the rest of the week. This past weekend, J and I invited two friends over for a casual Easter dinner, and while the menu wasn't anything out of the ordinary (glazed ham, glazed carrots, mashed potatoes, and a cheesy broccoli casserole), I took the opportunity to bake a pie (something I hadn't had time to do in quite a while!)

I went straight to my newest cookbook - written by Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen, the two sisters behind Brooklyn's famed pie shop Four and Twenty Blackbirds, The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book is filled with both beautiful pictures of every recipe and clear tips and instructions to help you make a successful pie. One of my favorite aspects of the book is that it's organized by seasons - right off the bat it's stated that there's no point in using ingredients that are not fresh or grown in your region. So when it came time to pick which pie I was going to bake, I turned directly to the "Spring" section and didn't even bother with the other three seasons. Since the pie shop is located about ten miles from my apartment, I can safely assume that their freshly available ingredients are also my freshly available ingredients - and as it turned out, the fresh strawberries I bought were some of the most beautiful I'd ever seen.

I followed the recipe to a near-perfect T, ultimately having to substitute regular cornstarch for ground arrowroot (both are thickening agents, and while arrowroot is more organic and better for mixing with citrus and fruit, I couldn't find it at my local grocery and didn't feel like trekking to Whole Foods). This was a blissfully uncomplicated pie to make - your basic fruit pie in a butter crust, but the addition of balsamic vinegar was a surprising twist that quite honestly made the whole thing taste like a giant strawberry Pop-Tart - which was awesome. Our two guests had second helpings, and the pie didn't last much longer in our refrigerator. The glazed carrots are still sitting in their Tupperware, but my pie dish has already been washed and waiting to house its next pie.

Strawberry Balsamic Pie - recipe taken directly from the Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book
For a Double-Crust Pie
- 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" pieces
- 1 cup cold water
- 1/4 cup cider vinegar
- 1 cup ice

Stir the flour, salt, and sugar together in a large bowl. Add the butter pieces and coat with the flour mixture using a bench scraper or spatula. With a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour mixture, working quickly until mostly pea-size pieces of butter remain (taking care not to overblend).
Combine the water, cider vinegar, and ice in a small bowl. Sprinkle two tablespoons of the ice water mixture over the flour mixture and mix and cut it in until it is fully incorporated (a spatula or bench scraper is good for this, I personally use my hands). Add more of the ice water mixture, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, mixing until the dough is fully formed. Divide and shape the dough into two flat disc, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least one hour (overnight, if possible) to give the crust time to mellow.

Strawberry Balsamic Pie
- 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 pounds fresh strawberries, rinsed and quartered (about 5 to 6 cups)
- 1 small baking apple (such as Northern Spy or Golden Delicious)
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 dashed Angostura bitters
- 3/4 cups packed light brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons ground arrowroot (*I substituted an equal amount of corn starch)
- 2 grinds fresh black pepper, fine setting
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- Egg wash (1 large egg whisked with 1 teaspoon of water and pinch of salt)
- Demerara sugar, for finishing

Have ready and refrigerated one pastry-lined 9" pine pan and pastry round or lattice to top.

Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of the granulated sugar over the strawberries. Stir gently to combine and allow the fruit to macerate at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Peel the apple and shred on the large holes of a box grater. Drain the strawberries of excess liquid and combine with the shredded apple. Sprinkle on the balsamic vinegar and Angostura bitters.

In a separate bowl, mix together the remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, arrowroot, black pepper, and salt. Gently fold the sugar mixture into the strawberry mixture. Pour the filling into the refrigerated pie shell, arrange the lattice or pastry round on top, and crimp as desired.

Chill the pie in the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes to set the pastry.

Meanwhile, position the oven racks at the bottom and center positions, place a rimmed baking sheet on the bottom rack, and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Brush the pastry with the egg wash; if your pie has a lattice top, be careful not to drag the filling onto the pastry (it will burn). Sprinkle with the desired amount of demerara sugar.

Place the pie on the rimmed baking sheet on the lowest rack of the oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the pastry is set and beginning to brown. Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees, move the pie to the center rack, and continue to bake until the pastry is a deep golden brown and the juices are bubbling throughout, 35 to 40 minutes longer (*due to my "apartment-sized" oven, I didn't move the pie to a different rack, and it still turned out great).

Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, 2 to 3 hours. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature; The pie will keep refrigerated for 3 days (*if it lasts that long!) or at room temperature for 2 days).

Monday, April 21, 2014

52 photos/weeks 13-16

13.) Sometimes it's two hours in to your 30th birthday and you're on your way home from technically crashing someone else's birthday party so you take a b-day selfie.
14.) Houston, we have bread! Homemade bread!!
15.) A quiet weekend morning with coffee and our new balcony furniture (and apparently dirty windows!)
16.) I've spent a lot of lovely time in the kitchen these past few weeks; this pièce de résistance was the strawberry balsamic pie I made for Easter

52 photos is my personal challenge to take one awesome picture per week in 2014. All photos were taken by me and my iPhone 5s and if edited, with Snapseed and/or Instagram. Follow me - @maspad - to see these and many more pics!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

photo walk: Brooklyn Bridge and DUMBO

It's April and the weather outside is still pretty frightful (seriously, Mother Nature? wanna give a gal a break here?!) but yesterday I looked cabin fever in the face and took a good long walk despite having to bundle up - again. I chose the Brooklyn Bridge as my destination of choice, and while it wasn't my first time crossing the fabled bridge, I have to admit that seeing the city from such a beautiful vantage point never gets old. After I crossed the bridge (I started in Manhattan and walked to Brooklyn) I wandered around the area known as DUMBO, a hipster enclave that's home to cobblestone streets, old brick buildings, and flowering trees that I sure hope are a sign of spring!

If you go
The Brooklyn Bridge is open 24 hours a day and is free of charge to walk across. You can access the bridge from either Manhattan or Brooklyn, but it's my personal preference to start in Manhattan and walk to Brooklyn. Note that this is an extremely popular tourist activity but also acts as a functional walk/bikeway for commuters, so crowds are constant and thick. When you get to Brooklyn, skip the line at Grimaldi's and grab a slice at Front Street Pizza, then treat yourself to a truffle or cookie at the sinfully delicious Jacques Torres.

All photos were taken by me with my Canon EOS Rebel SL1 and edited with Instagram (the first and last pictures) or the new Actions for Lightroom by the awesome gals at A Beautiful Mess (the pics in the middle).

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

my faves: Podcasts

Confession: I have recently stepped foot into the wide world of running. It all started a few weeks ago when I looked at my calendar and realized I didn't have too much going on during the month of April. I wasn't too worried about the lack of work, but I was fearful of my ability to (very quickly) turn into a giant couch potato. So I set a goal of running one mile each day.

I know what you're thinking - "one mile? seriously? I can do that in my sleep!" And you're right - YOU can do that in your sleep - but I can't. Which is why I made it my personal challenge. And honestly, it hasn't been easy. The first day I went for a run I thought I wasn't going to make it. Little old grannies were walking faster than I was jogging and my heart felt like it was going to explode out of my chest - but I ran the whole way, and that's what counts.

But don't worry - this isn't going to be a post about how to be a better runner or what shoes I wear to make me go faster or anything even remotely close to tips and tricks for finding your stride, because I still have no idea what I'm doing. But I have discovered one thing during these (almost/kinda/not really) daily runs - the benefit of listening to PODCASTS.

I've been a huge fan of podcasts for a few years now. Living in New York means I spend a ton of time walking from place to place, and nothing kills time and keeps me entertained (and often educated) like a good podcast. So when I decided to try this running thing everyone keeps talking about, I knew that I was going to need some seriously good stories to distract me from the fact that I was, you know, running. I also like the fact that most podcast episodes are longer than my runs, and therefore don't have what I find to be the jarring start-stop-start of music. Some are heavy hitters but others are relatively new or unknown, but here is a roundup of my most favorite podcasts that I highly encourage you to check out!

If you're hungry
The Splendid Table - Lynne Rossetto Kasper dishes out advice, recipes, and interviews with chefs from all over the world, and often focuses on rare or unknown cuisines. Your pantry will get much more stuffed after listening to these episodes.
The Sporkful - with a slightly irreverent edge, Dan Pashman dissects the minutiae of food. I bet you didn't think it was possible to listen to, and enjoy, and entire episode on things like pasta shapes or airplane food, but oh it is.

If you're feeling creative
Studio 360 - focusing on pop culture and what's happening in the arts, host Kurt Andersen takes an in-depth look at movies, music, literature, and all other art forms. Every few weeks he takes listeners suggestions and extrapolates on what might just be the next "American Icon" and you end up with a new appreciation for what you previously thought was just another old slice of American culture.
99% Invisible - Roman Mars and his team of luminaries find beauty in the most unusual of places, and then take you on a journey to discover the history and modern-day application of tiny architectural and/or design elements. One of my favorite episodes was titled "Accidental Music of Imperfect Escalators" - don't question it, just listen.
Elise Gets Crafty - a newcomer on the podcast circuit but veteran in the lifestyle blogging world, Elise Blaha Cripe is just a handful of episodes in to her show that includes interviews with small-business owners and inspiration and motivation to get your creative juices flowing.

If you have wanderlust
Travel With Rick Steves - with a soft-spoken voice and relaxing lilt, travel guru Rick Steves conducts weekly interviews, takes listeners' questions, and dispenses advice generated from over 40 years of wandering the globe; this hour-long show will mentally transport you to far-flung places you've only dreamed of visiting. Occasionally, he recites haikus that listeners have sent in about their recent travels - how can you not listen?
The Bowery Boys - with almost encyclopedic-like knowledge, Greg Young and Tom Meyers take a microscopic look at New York City's institutions big and small. If you've ever wanted to learn the history of the subway system, the Chelsea Hotel, St. Patrick's Cathedral, or almost anything else your citified brain can think of, this is the podcast for you.

If you love public radio
Fresh Air - Terry Gross conducts intimate and often moving interviews with just about anybody who has recently done or created something interesting. A frequent commentator to this podcast is book critic Maureen Corrigan, and I have to say that if she recommends something, I read it and love it.
This American Life - one of the most popular radio shows in the country, I probably don't need to say too much about this story-driven, narrative-heavy podcast. I will say, though, that I didn't think it was possible for one episode to cause me to both laugh and cry in public within the same hour until I heard this episode about The Seven Things You're Not Supposed to Talk About.
Ask Me Another - if you're a nerd like me and loved Brain Quest as a kid, then this weekly quiz show is right up your alley. Full disclosure: They broadcast live from a venue in Brooklyn, I was once a contestant ;)
Here's The Thing - using his history and clout in the entertainment industry, Alec Baldwin conducts conversations with today's artists and policy-makers. His bravado sometimes gets a little big, but his guests are usually so engaging that it doesn't matter.

Friday, April 11, 2014

weekend link love 03

*Ever wanted to crack an egg underwater? These guys did. And the results are pretty rad.

*Last week I made a loaf of no-knead bread and was insanely happy with the results. Now, I can't wait to try some variations - cinnamon nut! cheese and chive! pepper and garlic! chocolate! - the possibilities are endless.

*I try to keep my theater life separate from my blog life, but this hit home.

*For all the budding subway cartographers out there (don't be shy, I know you exist!) a reimagining of the New York City subway. I kinda dig it!

*It was the OED 2013 Word of the Year, so you might as well read a seriously fascinating history of the selfie.

*Spring has sprung in New York (finally), so you might as well cover yourself with a pretty yellow umbrella!

*This takes playing with your food to a whole new (and visually stunning) level

*While here you can take a trip around the world through all your favorite foods.

*And for your daily dose of pie, this is so simple yet so effective.

Monday, April 7, 2014

week of awesomeness - days 05-07

Sometimes, your week becomes so lovely and pleasant and so sincerely rad that you just don't have time to blog about it. Which is probably ok, because it's not like too many people even read this thing (thanks, dad!) But then Sunday night turns into Monday morning, and you wake up and it's chilly and rainy and grey for billionth time this year, and you look back on your week and smile.

because you took a rainy walk to an art museum

and had a lovely little solo lunch at a new bao shop

and added another mile to the running log

and went to a Mets game

and froze your butt off, but it was ok because you had beer and Shake Shack

and watched your boyfriend remember to water the plants

and took a leisurely walk to a flea market underneath the Pepsi sign

and finally tackled that tower of old magazines on the coffee table

and then curled up on the couch with Indian takeout and episodes of The Americans.

So here's to you, Week of Awesomeness. Thanks for letting me play ;)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

week of awesomeness - day 04

If the past three days were about getting out and doing something, then today was about slowing down and enjoying the stillness. A quiet cup of coffee in the morning. A slow jog down a sunny street. A tough but meditative afternoon yoga class. A cooling lunchtime salad, giving myself the time and permission to simply enjoy the tactile sensation of chopping vegetables. A small glass of wine, because, hey, it's five o'clock somewhere. Ironically, the weather was absolutely stunning today (or at the very least, not cold/rainy/snowy/vortexy), and yet I spent the least amount of time outdoors. Instead of searching in vain for the signs of spring, I needed to open the windows, flush out the last of the winter doldrums, and let the cool spring air find me.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

week of awesomeness - day 03

I decided to spend today making up for yesterday's lack of color. I started by going to the Macy's flower show, but quickly realized that everyone else in New York had the same idea, and then left the Macy's flower show. So where else in New York has an abundance of living things? Oo! I know! The Highline!

Unfortunately, 24 hours does not make for a significant change in the life cycle of a flower (or does it? Again, not a botanist), and I was met with a whole lot of the same brownness I saw yesterday. So, ok, fine. Lemons, lemonade. There were still a ton of interesting things to photograph on the Highline, and I was able to focus on using a small aperture on my camera (no pun intended), one of the features I'm most excited to use now that I own a DSLR. Even though I was bummed about today's weather, I have to say that I'm pretty pleased with the pictures I got - taking the extra minute to find the hidden beauty in an otherwise cold and cloudy day definitely paid off!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

week of awesomeness - day 02

I don't want to jinx it, but spring may actually actually finally be here. It was in the 50's today in New York, and the knit hat that I've been rocking for the past six months was pleasantly too warm. I decided to seek out spring in the most likely of places today - a botanical garden. Since I'd already trekked to the one in Brooklyn last fall (and couldn't emotionally handle a trip up to the Bronx), I chose to keep it local and head out to the Queens Botanical Garden. Unfortunately for my Week of Awesomeness, however, the plants had not gotten the memo that it's alright for them to come out. I was met with a lot of dirt and wood chips, but not one single piece of color. I did manage to find an interesting branch thing (disclaimer: I know nothing about plants) that was oddly placed in front of a free-standing window in the middle of an otherwise empty garden.

I snapped a photo and headed back home, slightly dejected at the prospect of having my personal nature photography class cut so short.

But wait! I live in New York City! If you don't like one park, just go to another! And so I did, heading to Central Park and finding a sole sign of floral civilization amongst a whole lot of humans and their canines (see: the above yellow flower).

Oh well, you win some, you lose some. The day wasn't a total bust though, because once I gave up on my search for plant life, I focused my attention on playing around with my new DSLR (best birthday ever/best boyfriend ever), attempting to teach myself how to shoot in manual. I've been intentionally misusing the settings (I learn things by literally breaking them down and then putting them back together), and while most pictures are destined for the trash, this one turned out to be pretty cool: