Friday, October 7, 2011

Two Pies, One Pie Hole

Did that creep you out? I’m sorry. Let me start over.

Last week was my brother from another mother’s birthday. We’re not really related, but we have been friends since we were 7. Every year on my birthday, he likes to sing me a little song:

Merry Christmas, happy fourth of Ju-ly
Hope you like your happy birthday bean pie.

I don’t know where it’s from – I think it’s from some show from the CW, but since I didn’t have cable for a good half-decade, I must have missed that one. So this year, for Myrick’s birthday, I decided to bake him a bean pie.

Weird side note; did you know bean pies are Muslim? Did you know there is a faction of Muslims that walk around Baltimore’s North Avenue selling them? Because I didn’t. All I know is, when I looked up a recipe, it said, “Navy Bean Pie (Muslim).” But somehow everyone I mentioned bean pie to seemed to be in the know about where to get one – “oh yeah, go down to North Avenue.”

So I used this recipe, but after having done it, I’d make some changes. I’ll get to those in a sec. If you’ve never had bean pie before, think pumpkin pie, but heartier, less gelatinous, and more fiber.

But wouldn’t you know, my pie-makin hankerin still wasn’t satisfied, so I decided to finally try that Concord grape pie recipe everyone’s been talking about. So I rounded up my boo, poured him some beer, and coerced him into helping me peel and seed 2 lbs. of grapes. Sidenote: it took about an hour. Other sidenote: it was a juicy, sticky mess.

The pie was great, if not a few touches too sweet, but it wasn’t until the next day that I saw a blog post with a recipe for Thomchord grape pie. Well, I failed to mention that my local grocery store had Thomchord grapes, not Concord, so I substituted them, and wouldn’t you know that with Thomchord grapes, you can leave the skins and seeds intact? One hour, wasted. But maybe not entirely wasted, because I found my new favorite pie crust.

The pie crust recipe, unmodified:

2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
18 tbsp. chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (don’t freak out – it is worth it, I promise)

Whisk flour and salt together in a large bowl. Using a pastry cutter or 2 table knives, work butter into flour until mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle in up to 10 tbsp. ice water, stirring dough with a fork until it just holds together. Press dough into a rough ball, then transfer to a lightly floured surface. Give dough several quick kneads until smooth. Divide dough into 2 balls, one slightly larger than the other, wrap each in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 2 hours.#

*I halved this recipe and it was still great. It was easy enough to halve.
#I refrigerated one crust overnight, and rolled one out after about 20 minutes of refrigeration. Both were great, no problems with either. Oh, and I like to roll crust out between two sheets of waxed paper. Try it!

And my modifications to the bean pie recipe:

1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell (I suggest the above recipe, halved. I also suggest a butter-induced coma, so take my advice with a pinch of salt)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup evaporated milk
2 cups cooked and mashed navy beans (did you know baby lima beans are the same thing? You’re so smart. You only need to cook ½ lb of dry to get 2 cups of cooked, but I bet you already knew that, too. I didn’t!)
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg (holy spicy – I cut this amount in half. A teaspoon was far too much)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves (also halved – we’re not making mulled cider here, people!)

First of all, you want to soak your beans. I did mine overnight – you want to soak ½ lb of dried beans in 2-3 cups of water. Drain them the next day and then carefully boil them in 3 cups or so of water until tender. It took me about 40 minutes, but again, I did double the amount I was supposed to. Mmm, beans for breakfast.

Then you wanna mash those suckers. I used a potato masher, but next time I will put them in a food processor. The skins distracted me from the deliciousness of the pie a bit. Make sure you have 2 cups!

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Combine eggs and evaporated milk in a bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer. Add beans, sugar and all spices. Beat everything at a low speed until well blended. Pour the batter into your unbaked pie shell – you already rolled it out, right?! Don't panic. Do that now, the batter can wait.

Bake the pie at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, and then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 35 minutes, or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Enjoy! I want to make both of these pies for Thanksgiving. If you make either, let me know what you think!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ignite Baltimore: Who TED is?

Last week I had the chance to check out Ignite Baltimore. Because I live in a state of blissful ignorance, I took Nikc’s word that, “it’s like the Baltimore version of TED Talks.” Well, ok, I’m in. So we go, and as we’re walking in, I think to myself, “hmm… Ottobar… this is a weird spot for this.”

To backtrack, we were at Ottobar a few weeks ago to see Johnny Flynn, so I saw it as a dumpy kind of venue that was perfect for seeing crazy rock shows. I reached that conclusion at said Johnny Flynn show. THAT was an odd act to see at Ottobar – a dude, his git-fiddle, and his backing violinist, keyboardist, and percussionist. Oh, and he had an Irish accent.

So anyway, back to Ignite. We get there and decide to snag a seat on a ledge up near the stage. Nikc gets us some drinks and we get ready for some mind-blowing presentations.

Well, it got off to kind of a rough start, and then I couldn’t see the presenter, and then my neck hurt, and then I forced Nikc to relinquish our seats so I could stop complaining. Bad idea.

As we walk through the crowd – the standing, packed-in, non-moving crowd in this no-room-for-chairs venue – we secure a spot towards the back. Big mistake. We’re at the spot between the crowd that came to listen and the crowd that came to get drinks at the bar. This is a terrible spot for those among us that suffer from crowd-initiated attention problems. Like, oh, say… me? And apparently Nikc too.
Cuz after four five-minute presentations, we rolled out.

And ended up here:

That would be Fells Point scotch bar Birds of a Feather. I give them props for their choice of cat-themed statuary:

Minus 2 points for serving me Balvenie instead of the Dalwhynnie I'd ordered. Not that it could have made any difference, considering I don't know the first thing about scotch. Other than it burns. God damn does it burn.

After that, Nikc and I hit a CD shop and spent our last $4 on a Leonard Cohen CD, a Pet Shop Boys CD (Nikc), and blowpops. And then this happened:

Friday, June 17, 2011

sometimes dining: a Baltimore Food Spot

So, as I said in my last post, I went to something awesome last weekend: sometimes dining. If you're not into food, or my long-winded blog posts, well... you may want to sit this one out. Ok, you're warned... here goes!

Sometimes dining is an “alternative dining experience” held in a backyard in the Waverly area of Baltimore. A suggested donation of $25 (and an unflagging determination to follow the RSS feed and try to sign up before the spaces fill up – a matter of minutes, actually) gets you in.

After months of trying, somehow my boyfriend, Nikc, managed to get us in. They sent him a suggested wine pairings email (it’s BYOB) and so we came armed with 3 bottles of wine (um… yeah, we I like to get drizzy sometimes).

We got there and followed the direction of a sign that said to go ‘round back, up a perilous staircase and right under a tarp (the weather was crazy that night, tornado warnings and all). We got there exactly when it started, and most of the seats at a long table had been staked out already. We grabbed one (I threw my bag on a free chair) and hung around to see how it would pan out, as we sipped a free cocktail (tasted like Sambucca and was garnished with lemon). A couple that had claimed the seats next to ours introduced themselves, and asked if we had been before. Apparently this wasn’t their first experience –they seemed pretty damn thrilled with their previous sometimes dining events and were excited to share what that was like.

One of the servers/hosts of the event came out to say hi and offer her assistance, persuading everyone to slide down a seat so Nikc and I could sit together. We even got the chance to chat with one of the chefs, who came out to introduce himself and see what’s up with the new people he’d never seen before (apparently there are lots of regulars). Really nice guy, made us feel welcome, and he had an awesome hipster ‘stache and 1940s haircut to boot.

At each place setting was a menu – which until that point had been a big mystery.

(unabashedly swiped from the sometimes dining site)

At our end of the table were a group of MICA (art school) students. Towards the other end of the table (there were more than twenty people dining) were the older crowd. The people near us began pouring wine, so we did the same and decided to start with the first course: the cherry smoked cherry. It was exactly what it sounds like… a whole cherry that had been smoked with cherry wood – it was amazing. So amazing that Nikc and I tried to replicate it a few days later on his smoker… pretty successfully, too.

Soon after we finished our cherry (one. One cherry. Artfully placed in the center of each plate, mind you), the first course was brought out: several platters that contained mussels, fennel, and home-made croutons. Mussels kind of make me squeamish, but by that time the glass of wine I’d already downed made me pretty enthusiastic about them. I dove right in and nothing crazy happened. The mussels tasted… I dunno, like shellfish I guess. Nothing too strong or off-putting about them, other than their general appearance. The fennel and croutons were tasty, if you’re into that sort of thing, which I whole-heartedly am. Also! There was some kind of green mixed in with the dish that I am nearly 99% sure was a common yard weed! That don't befront me though -- I've been known to take random vegetation from the out of doors and taste it without qualms -- but I did yell it kind of loudly, so I hope I didn't gross anyone out. Redneck. (amirite?)

The next course, a chilled strawberry tomato soup with basil and chili oil was brought out soon after. The soup was great, but there was no way I felt like eating the big ass cereal bowl-sized portion they served, and it didn’t appear that I was alone in this, so it definitely wasn’t the wine speaking here. It ended up being a crazy combo that just worked somehow.

The next few courses, like the mussels, were served family style, which meant that there were probably five or six of us doling out portions from a single plate. Fortunately, everyone was considerate and careful about rationing the food (sounds like we were in some cold war or something, but you know how it is with family-style meals…). A fresh radish, cucumber and mint salad was served next, along with a whole grilled white fish (bronzini?) served atop some kind of cornmeal/sunflower seed infused flatbread (the kind like you get with Ethiopian food… spongy and soft). There was red sauce (not tomato-y at all, possibly red peppers though) on all of it.

Then, after we demolished the fish (it was pretty much just bones at this point – someone ate the eye!), the plates were cleared and we were brought a cocktail of aperol, watermelon juice, and something fizzy. It was bitter, but I think that’s the point of the aperol… which, someone at the table noted, was an Italian aperitif. I wasn’t expecting all of these cocktails, so you can imagine I was feeling pretty damn jolly at this point. I think everyone else was too, because everyone started getting really conversational and friendly.

Next up – three platters of braised pork shoulder with rosemary and grapefruit were brought out, which I have to say has got to be the best pork shoulder I’ve ever had anywhere. It was fall-apart tender, and not a smidge overdone/stringy (that’s what freaks me out most about huge cuts of pork… it gets real stringy, you know?). The rosemary taste was there and delicious, but the grapefruit flavor was lost on me until I nabbed an end-piece. Served alongside the pork was a fresh green pea (you could really taste the green part here, and it was great) pasta (home-made noodles, something wide like tagliatelle) with egg yolks floating on top. Somebody at the table tossed the pasta and the egg yolks ran through in an amazing better-than-sauce kinda way.

After everyone finished eating, the plates were cleared and a lady came around taking coffee orders. And not just “do you want coffee?” but “tea? Coffee? Espresso? Latte? Americano?”… I was pretty stuffed at this point, so I went with espresso. I’m glad I did (thanks, Nikc, for ordering it first and allowing me to cop your style), because the dessert was sa-weeeeeet. It was a tres leches cake with pistachios and sea salt, and it tasted ah-maze-ing with the dark, smoky espresso.

We left soon after that, because it was Sunday, and because we had to work Monday morn, and because I was drizzy and there was a scary staircase down to the street to contend with.

The only detriment, if you can call it that, to the whole night was the not knowing – menus are not posted prior to the event, and you have no idea what the crowd is going to be like. Fortunately, both were excellent. I want to go back, and like Nikc said, it would be super fun to somehow get a group in.

I wish I had taken more pics, but for now I’ll leave you with the only other pic I took – this is what happens when you make goofy faces in pictures – you get exploited:

Even more pics of the food served that night here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

On Stand-Ins...

Taking a break from my blogging hiatus (ha! See what I just did there?) to bring you this:

Making some changes to my diet lately, the focus being on the quality of the calories I'm consuming. While gummy-anythings are my go-to, I've found that dried figs are just as satisfying. While the calorie count is about the same, at least with the figs I'm getting fiber, calcium, iron, etc.

I hope it sticks.

I've been working on a blog post about last weekend's sometimes dining experience. To sum up, it was amazing, and I hope to post about it soon.