Monday, August 30, 2010

Of Life and Custard Pies

Hey. I'm back. Just like I said I would be. See, I can keep my promises after all! (Except that time when I was 13 and I promised my Dad i'd finish all my math homework by the end of the week... Yeah, sorry about that, Dad.)

I'm not gonna lie, I've been hesitant to write anything for awhile now. Half because I have too much to say, and half because I don't know how to say it, so let's just start from the beginning and work our way to this point...I've been makin' changes lately in my life. Moving away from the place I called home, out in the middle of nowhere with no family or friends to speak of (sans one person, who has kept me sane for the past month and a half). Working a part-time job at a bookstore that makes me sign papers that I won't blog about them on the internet. Yes, I'm serious.

Lately i've been feeling like a person who is at the beach for the first time. You see the ocean and it looks so beautiful. Everyone around you is splashing about, having a great time in the water... totally disregarding the oncoming wave from behind thats going to swallow them up whole. Instead of running away and never coming back in the water, they just let the waves hit them, take them under, and then trust that the water will allow them to come back up for air. So you think... Hey, that'll happen to me! And there you go, running into the beautiful ocean, having a great time, getting hit with a few waves and surviving each one. Your confidence builds. Your heart races. You feel confident. You don't think anything will happen.

Then a big, big wave hits... And you think you're prepared. So you dive right in and let it take you away... Until you release you're caught in a tide. You can't get to the surface. It's pulling you away from the others. You need help, but all you can do is splash around, freak out, try to yell, and pray that the tide lets you go. You swim, swim, swim away, as fast as you can... and then, if you're lucky, you pull your head up over the water, gasp for air, and swim back to shore. With your eyes burning from salt water, and congestion in your lungs, you cough up nervous laughter. Half because you can't believe you're okay, and half because you don't want anyone to see how scared you were.

The new life I've started off into the world is much like that. I'm finally getting a taste of some real waves, instead of just standing at shore, watching other people take the risk of falling into the tide. Life outside of the four walls I was living is scary, and not as green as I thought. Working 10 hour shifts with little break and little time to myself is not very glamorous. Getting on your feet and finding out that you have 32 cents to feed yourself for a week is not fun. Thinking of all the things you have to pay for, all the things you want to do but can't. Realizing how limited your limitless freedom is... It's all very daunting. And when the only person you know that can hold you up is the least person you get to see every day... well, that's where things get really lonely. And then it all just seems like you're working just for the sake of surviving and not for the sake of living.

But amongst all those bad things, are the good things that make the bad things worth going through.

Case in point.

There are always upsides to badsides, and nothing in life comes free. Except love. But even that, we have to work for. To retain trust, friendships, etc. And while we almost never see the results, or the big picture right away, if we keep going... it will pay off, in the end. As long as you do what you love, keep close to those who you care about like family and friends, and keep your eyes to the sky and your hands on the plow --- you'll be okay. Maybe not now, or tomorrow, or the next day... but one day, you'll be alright. We all have to learn. Some, harder than others. As for me, this whole new experience has opened my eyes in a lot of ways. For that, I am grateful.
And I am not without blessing in it all.

I do miss my family. Especially my mom. And up till a couple of weeks ago, I had missed baking as well. Thankfully, that one special person that I got around to help me out did me a huge favor and bought me a hand mixer. Something I had been completely without. That very same day, he went out and bought me ingredients to bake... And I've been doing much better ever since.

As a thank you, I made him this. It's a custard pie. Literally. Custard pie. It's his favorite dessert ever, one that he hadn't had since he was a kid. Apparently they stopped selling it at the store and he hasn't found one ever since. Sure, there's LEMON custard pie... but this stuff? This stuff is pure eggs, sugar, vanilla and milk. Dumped in a pie crust that I didn't bake from scratch (because pie crusts scare the heebiejeebies out of me). A sprinkle of nutmeg and some cornstarch and you've got yourself a velvetty smooth, mouth pleasing, subtly decadent custard pie that is way too easy to consume five servings in one sitting. It is not overly sweet on the taste buds and gives you just the right amount of flavor so that you're not just tasting eggs and sugar (because seriously, who wants to eat eggs and sugar? Um, no sir.)

I was pretty paranoid about how this would come out since I had never made a CUSTARD pie before... and I haven't had too good of a history with making custards or anything that has to do with hot milk and eggs. But as I stood there in the kitchen, waiting for him to take his first bite after a very terrorizing warning that if it was bad, he would tell me straight up, my dreams remained in tact as after the first bite all he could say was "Oh my God" for literally 5 minutes straight. Amazing what nostalgia can do for a person. What better way to thank someone? :)

Custard Pie
3 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups milk (fat free is fine but not recommended)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
(if you're not a fan of nutmeg and can smell it a mile away like some people i know, you can just replace it with cinnamon or leave it out entirely)

1 deep dish 9in. pre-baked pie crust.


1. Preheat your oven to 345F. Pour milk and heavy cream into a medium sauce pan over medium heat on your stove stop. Let the milk scald until it is barely steaming, about 6 minutes.
2. While that's going, in a mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, cornstarch, sugar, vanilla and nutmeg.
3. When milk is steaming (DO NOT BOIL), add it in a slow, steady stream to your egg mixture, whisking constantly (if you have a handmixer with a whisk attachment, take it out!). Once you have poured all the milk into the egg mixture, pour the ENTIRE mixture BACK into the sauce pan. DO NOT STOP WHISKING UNLESS YOU WANT SCRAMBLED EGGS.
4. Continue to whisk until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
5. Take the sauce pan off the heat and pour it into a prepared pie crust, then stick it in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until the edges are set but the middle is still a bit jiggly and the top of the pie looks toasted (don't worry if it rises while baking, it will flatten out in the fridge).
6. Transfer pie to the refrigerator for it to set or eat warm with a big spoon and never share t with anyone ever again. For the pie to be the right temperature, it's best to leave it in there for 5 hours or overnight.

Serves anywhere between 8 and 16 people.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

"Ooey Gooey Cake" aka Millionaire Bars

Hey Blog,

How are you? I know, I know... I haven't touched you in, what.... over a month? 4 months, maybe? Give or take? Either way, I know you can't be too thrilled with me. Packing my bags in the middle of the night and leaving you all alone, patiently waiting... and I didn't even leave cake in the fridge. What the heck. I'm awful. I'm not getting any presents for Christmas this year.

It wasn't my fault though! You gotta believe me! Between the whole... you know... broken camera thing... Yeah, I have bad luck with cameras, I know. And I should probably admit that I've kindasortahavehadacameraforafewmonthsnow... I know. I really don't have any excuses other than sheer laziness and... well... I'm pretty picky about my picture quality, here. A 3 megapixel camera won't get you very far these days, you know. I mean, I think the iphone might take better pictures than this one.

That really doesn't make you feel any better though does it? Sorry.

But I came back for you, just like I said I would! I missed you! I missed us! I missed what we had! I baked, took pictures, and you displayed them! And I wrote about life and grandpas and cakes with identity crisis'! It was fantastic. It was awesome.

Could we work it out, you think? Get it back together? I think we can, blog. You and me.... we aren't finished yet. We can do this. I know it in my heart to be true (Sorry to anyone who gets this reference).

Here's my peace offering: Millionaire Bars. A simple dessert with a shortbread crust, caramel on top and some sweet chocolate ganache to tickle your fancy. How can you say no to that, blog? How can you say no?

I say we try again... and this time, I promise I won't leave you home alone without cake for 4+ months. Ever ever. Promise.

Forever yours,

Millionaire Bars
(adapted from joy of baking)
Shortbread Base
1 1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup white sugar
1 1/2 stick butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt

Caramel Layer
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk or 1 14-oz can of dulce de leche

Chocolate Topping
6 oz coarsely chopped semi-sweet chocolate
1 teaspoon butter


Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place rack in center of oven. Grease a 9x9in. pan with butter or non-stick spray.

For shortbread, in the bowl of your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla extract. Add the flour and salt and beat until the dough just comes together. Press onto the bottom of your greased pan and bake for about 20 minutes, or until pale golden in color. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool while you make the filling.

For caramel filling, if using Dulce de Leche then simply warm the caramel in the microwave or in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. If using sweetened condensed milk, pour the milk into a heatproof bowl and place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Cover and cook, over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 60 to 90 minutes or until the milk has thickened and has turned a caramel color. Remove from heat and beat until smooth. Pour the caramel over the baked shortbread and leave to set.

Note: You can also do this step in a microwave oven. Place the sweetened condensed milk in a large microwaveable bowl and cook on medium power for about 4 minutes, stirring halfway through baking time. Reduce the powder to medium-low and continue to cook for another 8 to 12 minutes, or until the milk has thicken and has turned a light caramel color. Remove from microwave and beat until smooth.

For the topping, melt the chocolate and butter either in the microwave oven or in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Pour the melted chocolate evenly over the caramel and leave to set. Cut the shortbread into pieces using a sharp knife.

Store the shortbread in the refrigerator to keep the chocolate nice and firm.

Yield: 16 2in. squares.


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