Saturday, August 7, 2010

Birthday Pie

One of the first things I ever learned about Jared is that he loves Key Lime Pie and that his mother made him one every year for his birthday growing up. This was a foreign concept to me, as every birthday in our house throughout my childhood meant a 2-layer homemade cake with lots of fluffy buttercream. On the other hand, birthdays should be filled with fun and favorite things so I rolled with it and I made him Ina Garten's frozen key lime pie two years in a row (which is extremely tasty, btw).

This year, when I once again asked him what he would like for his birthday dessert and replied that his heart desired key lime pie I knew I was going to make the real deal. Complete with the tiny key limes I had spied at the store the previous week.

Can I tell you how simple and delicious this pie is? The filling contains only 4 ingredients, 3 if you lump lime juice and zest together. Plus, it's all on graham cracker crust which means you don't even need to haul out any equipment unless you use the food processor to grind up the crackers. I'm a total convert: key lime pie is the quintessential summer dessert!

Key Lime Pie
Originally Published on Martha

Note: I saw somewhere on Chowhound (and I wish I had the post, I apologize) someone suggested that a (very clean) garlic press makes quick work when juicing a small mountain of key limes and it absolutely works like a dream. Also, I bought a 1lb bag of limes, which was more than enough. I believe I have around 10 limes left, which I'm still trying to find a use for but they whole bag was just a few dollars. Obviously, I highly recommend going the whole lime route rather than reaching for the bottled stuff.

Makes 1 pie

1 1/2 cups graham-cracker crumbs
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
5 tablespoons sugar
1 can (14 ounces) can sweetened condensed milk
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup freshly squeezed key-lime juice
1 tablespoon grated key-lime zest, plus more for garnish
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled


1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Combine graham-cracker crumbs, butter, and 3 tablespoons sugar in a medium bowl; mix well. Press into a 9-inch pie plate, and bake until lightly browned, about 12 minutes. Remove from oven, and transfer to a wire rack until completely cooled.
2. Lower oven to 325 degrees. In a medium bowl, gently whisk together condensed milk, egg yolks, key-lime juice, and zest. Pour into the prepared, cooled crust.
3. Return pie to oven, and bake until the center is set but still quivers when the pan is nudged, 15 to 17 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack.
4. Shortly before serving, combine cream and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Whisk on medium speed until soft peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes. Spoon over cooled pie; garnish with zest. Serve immediately.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Little Secret

Dear Reader,

Lend me your ear and I'll tell you a little secret. I bribe myself into doing things I'd rather not do. Often my fellow grad students ask how it is that I find the time to read, write, attend meetings, grade homework AND bake cupcakes, go on picnic adventures, and knit. I don't tell them how, because it sounds very silly and I may get some eye rolls, but I really do just bribe myself into it.

For example, I've been working on a couple of mega projects lately (including my thesis) which include dozens of little tasks I may not feel like doing any given morning. To make sure I cross a few off of my list each day I bribe myself by saying something like, "If I work on (insert boring task here) all morning, in the afternoon I'll make that recipe I've been dying to try and plan a wee picnic for the weekend."

So simple. And it really makes me feel much better as I trudge through the day. Because really, I'm just not always thrilled to start my day with pages and pages of data entry. I need something to look forward to in my life. When I spent a (very) brief period as a collector for a credit card company I daydreamed of the delicious pancakes I would make over the weekend or compile my Christmas cookie list between calls. Believe me, this made an unpleasant job much, much better. (Plus, I read once that Martha Stewart likes to do the same thing, breaking up the workday with a few minutes for hobbies. I did not make this up.)

And that is how I got into making this set of coasters. I had loved them the moment I saw them in Martha Stewart Living (MSL) ages ago, but when I really needed something to get me out of my funk and trudge ahead with data coding, this is what inspired me. The project is really easy once you get the hang of the quilting and I highly recommend making them like an assembly line: cut them all, stitch all of the sides, stuff the little things, and quilt away! It's almost meditative and I love projects like that. Also, a walking foot is a must-have. Trust me on this. I tried with my machine's regular foot before locating my walking foot and it wasn't pretty: lots of frustration, wasted thread, and seam ripping.

Bonus: I used some old cotton batting I had on hand and leftover fabric from a screen I made for my mother so this project was not only extremely inexpensive but it also coordinates with my black and white dishes and dining room.

Project from MSL October 2007

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Amazing Finds

Being a grad student, I already don't make a lot of cash. But saving up for a wedding and having a fiancee who is enrolling in fall classes means that money right now is a bit tight.

That doesn't mean, however, that we want to spend our weekend unwind time staring at the walls and discussing the finer points of Top Ramen (which we don't eat, btw... although I did see Alton Brown use them once and I've been tempted since). We may not be the kind of couple who has ever gone out all weekend and closed the bars down, but we do like to create our own adventures be it visiting museums and exploring national parks or trying out a new crab cake recipe. Needless to say, we haven't made crab cakes lately and every time I order them at a restaurant I wish I hadn't. That's a story for another day.

Lately, we've dusted off what was more of a hobby for me in high school and has only been practiced sporadically since. I am talking about thrifting.

Way back when, I frequented thrift stores near and far to find cool silk ties for cheap (pre-Avril, thank you), vintage purses, and anything with cool fabric that I could rework into whatever my imagination came up with. Over the years, and especially after going to FIT and getting into knitting, my fiber tastes changed which led to a sharp decrease in thrifting activity. I am the first to admit I'm a bit "snobby" about some things, although I kind of hate that it's put that way. I feel that I have simply learned a great deal about my hobbies and why some things are more valuable than others and I appreciate that information. Regardless, I rediscovered thrifting recently as I moved into a bigger space and need some new furniture and have some more room for kitchen accoutrement.

I wanted to share a bit of my haul today because I was really just too excited.

I'll introduce my favorite find from this past weekend by saying that Jared is a collector of books so when we enter a store he makes a beeline for the books and I head straight to housewares. Don't get me wrong, I check out the books and occasionally pick up a few, but I rarely find much of what I'm looking for. For those of you unfamiliar, thrift store book areas tend to be full of grocery store romance novels, Danielle Steele, B-list celebrity autobiographies, passe diet books, and books people were forced to read in school. Luckily for Jared, his love of philosophy and both Russian and post-modern literature means he finds a fair number of books. As for me, I don't find much Jane Austen. Anyway, we were in the Salvation Army which keeps its book section in its own room making it feel very much like a book store. Jared was looking for extra copies of The Brothers Karamazov, I was browsing cookbooks and several other people were checking out the shelves.

Then I saw one.

"Oh wow. No way. Jared! I found a James Beard! This is mine!"

I excitedly scooped up the copy of The New James Beard. Then, right next to it on the shelf, I saw another. And another. And another!

"What? No way! There are FOUR James Beard books here! Beard on Bread is here? I was just reading about this! Jared this book is classic! I'm getting all of these. I just can't believe this!"

So there I was, giddily chattering on and on; I'm sure the other patrons thought my mother did not teach me how to behave. She did! I promise! I just got carried away. I also scooped up a Food and Wine book, which looks good so far. But the Beard cookbooks! I'm still thrilled. I bought them all plus a few pieces of glassware for $6.

Here's a closeup on the illustrated covers from Beard on Bread and Beard on Pasta. I just love them.

I admit I have only made one thing so far, which was Linguine with Tomato-Shrimp Sauce. I didn't take any pictures and to be honest, I really didn't follow the whole recipe. What I love most is he encourages the reader to go with the flow and try new things. Essentially, I reheated some of my usual tomato sauce, threw in some shrimp, extra garlic and a bunch of red pepper flakes and tossed it with pasta. And it was delicious. I would have never tried it but it was fantastic and so fast. Trust me, if you find a copy of James Beard book buy it. Do not let it go. The man is an icon for a reason.

In the coming weeks and months I look forward to pouring over these gems and making many of the recipes such as filled doughnuts, basil lasagna, German fried potatoes, etc.

In the meantime, I highly suggest you do what my clever fiance did and search for thrift stores in your area and check out one or two each week. We live in a large metropolitan area that's also very transient so our list is lengthy but it gives us something to look forward to each and every weekend for months to come.

Other fantastic finds this week:
  • $0.25 Tart pan
  • $6.00 Brand-new OXO salad spinner
  • $0.90 Pair of small round vases
Happy Thrifting!