Sunday, July 30, 2006

Key Lime Meringue Pie

I don't usually make pies - cooking for just two means that a 9-inch pie becomes a extra 9-inches on the waist after that initial slice.

Me: Just a tiny bite more
You: Would hate for it to go to waste
Me: We gotta finish it before the weekend's over
You: Well it's three-quarters gone, we might as well eat the rest

And so forth. Soon, you're eating pie for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For men, that's fine, for us girls... not so much.

So I was, of course, thrilled to have a chance to bake some pies for the L.A. Foodbloggers Potluck/BBQ (the first of many, I hope!). Since we have so many great fruits in season right now, I settled on Key lime and cherry.

My Key lime pie is a hodge-podge of a couple different pie recipes: the graham cracker crust and the key lime filling are adapted from Gourmet magazine, the meringue topping adapted from Food & Wine's grapefruit caramel meringue pie recipe (which is also an amazing pie, but takes about 2 days to prepare).

So here we go...
Key Lime Meringue Pie: A Photographic Journey

Graham Cracker Crust

  • 9 graham crackers, crushed in a food processor
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Preheat oven to 350. Stir together the graham crackers, sugar and butter, press mixture evenly onto the bottom and sides of a 9-inch glass pie plate. Bake crust in the middle of the oven 10 minutes; remove from oven and cool on a rack. Leave oven on.

Key Lime Filling
  • 1 (14-oz) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh Key lime juice (from about 20-30 Key limes)
First, squeeze the lime juice. Despite the incredible simplicity of this recipe, don't underestimate the time needed for this step. Also, don't underestimate how many limes you'll need. I bought 30 to be on the safe side - I ended up using almost all of them.

Twenty-seven limes, 21 minutes and a severe case of carpal tunnel later, I had produced...

...a whopping 1/2 cup and two tablespoons fresh-squeezed key lime juice, the exact amount I needed. My foodblogging friends gave me a great tip: roll the limes against the counter before cutting them open - it helps release the juice and make for easier squeezing.

Whisk together the condensed milk and yolks in a bowl until combined well. Now that you have the juice out of the limes, add juice and whisk until combined well (mixture will thicken slightly). Pour filling into crust and bake in the middle of the oven 15 minutes. Cool pie completely on rack, then chill, covered, at least 8 hours.

Be sure to cover the pie with foil, not plastic wrap - the plastic clings to the top and ruins the look of the pie when you try to take it off. Hence, why I added the meringue topping in the first place!!

Meringue topping
  • 6 egg whites
  • 1 cup sugar
Bring a medium saucepan filled with 2 inches of water to a simmer. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, combine the egg whites and sugar, set the bowl over the simmering water (double-boiler style), and whisk over low heat until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot to the touch. Transfer the bowl to the mixer fitted with a whisk and beat at medium-high speed until the whites are stiff and glossy, about 8-9 minutes.

In case you haven't made meringue before, it's a piece of cake with a KitchenAid mixer. The key thing is to know what it should look like when it's done. You want it to be thick and stiff, so it hold peaks easily.

Spread the meringue topping over the pie and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Once you're ready to eat it, the pyrotechnic fun begins. For anyone who knows me, I'm always looking for an excuse to set food on fire. And meringue makes a great excuse! Light up your torch and go at it. No torch? You're missing out on all the fun: just put it under the broiler for a couple minutes.

Mmmm. It turned out quite good if I do say so myself. Tarty, limey, refreshing and not too sweet. In case you're wondering, "Hey, how come it's not green?," that's because Key limes produce a yellow-ish juice, not green. Any Key lime pie you've had that's green is either not from real Key limes, or it's been colored with green food coloring. Which is fine too... but if you're gonna go green, why not go purple and really confuse people?

Next up: Cherry Pie Massacre

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Nectarine Mango

Wait, you mean they couldn't come up with a better name than Nectarine Mango?

I'm all for cross-pollinized fruit. BRING ON THE SCIENTIFICALLY ALTERED FRUIT!! But please, give me a little something on the name.

Take dogs for instance. It's not a Labrador Poodle. It's a Labradoodle. Not just a Beagle Pug... a Puggle. You can break down and decipher where some other hybrids came from: Maltipoo, Cockapoo, Bichon Poo (OK, enough with the poo).

So why couldn't we give the Nectarine Mango a better name? Nectaman. Go-Nectar. Mantarine.

Floyd Zaiger
had it right. In case you aren't familiar with his name, he's the guy who brought us such cross-pollinized classics as Aprium, Nectaplum, Nectarot, Peacotum, and Pluot. Floyd certainly would have named the Nectarine Mango something a little more snazzy, more intriguing, more... succulent.

So what of the Nectarine Mango? Well, it looks like a greenish-yellow nectarine, and it tastes like a mango. That is, if you find a tremendous difference between the taste of a yellow nectarine and the taste of a mango... it's subtle, but a slightly sweeter and firmer flesh, not as juicy as a nectarine, but just as delicious. You can also eat the skin, unlike a mango, and it's a whole lot easier to cut up and prepare (my usual mango adventures end up looking like something out of a cartoon horror film).

The season ends soon - they'll be in stores for another week or so.
Nectarine Mangos available at Whole Foods.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Hugo's Restaurant

Whenever I go to Hugo's, I undoubtedly see someone famous. Once it was Jake Gyllenhaal. Another time it was Fabio. This time it was Alicia Keys, plus entourage. Hugo's celebrity magnetism may have a lot to do with its location (right smack in the middle of WeHo), or it might be because you can get high quality, tasty food that keeps you thin. Stick thin.

As I mentioned a couple posts ago, I spent the past 3 weeks on a vegan diet, mostly as a means to detox all the fried, red-meaty, sugary food I had been binging on of late. Let's not lie, though... stick thin was sounding pretty good to me too.

Los Angeles is one of the few cities where you can actually get healthy by eating out. In fact, many restaurants make food about 25 times healthier than I would ever create at home, and somehow, they make it taste good. Well, as good as that kind of food could taste anyways.

Hugo's is one such place - not only do they offer healthy food, but they pride themselves on having organic, high quality ingredients from sustainable sources. Ever since I saw An Inconvenient Truth, I admit, I've gotta respect that.

Hugo's menu features a wide range of dishes that will please vegans, vegetarians, and meat eaters alike. In addition to their main menu, they also have weekly specials that range from good to really delicious... the specials are almost always the best thing to try.

For an appetizer, we tried one of the specials - Hugo's Vietnamese spring rolls:

With romaine lettuce, carrots, mint, avocado, soba noodles, and a light peanut dressing, these were fair. Not as good as traditional spring rolls... I thought the soba noodles tasted kinda weird and I missed the charbroiled steak and shrimp (OK, so I was kind of missing the point here - they're supposed to be meat-free).

For a main course, I had the Hugo's Stir Fry with tofu:

This just might be the healthiest thing I have eaten in a restaurant, like, EVER. Tofu, snow peas, tomatoes, broccoli, mushrooms, and green onions, served on a bed of quinoa.

What's quinoa? It's this:

Considered the "mother of all grains" by the Incas, it tastes like brown rice meets oatmeal and it's really really good for you (supposedly).

Brian had Pasta Victor, which features chicken, sundried tomatoes, sweet corn, chiles, and cilantro in a light chipotle-cream sauce.

Yummy. Too bad I couldn't try this - it looked delicious.

Hugo's has a pretty interesting history... several decades ago it was called Hugo's Fine Meats and was the only veal specialty shop in the country. From there, it evolved into takeout and catering, and finally into a restaurant and tea house. And although the weekend brunch gets ridiculously crowded, it's great for people watching, and of course, celeb spotting.

Hugo's Restaurant
8401 Santa Monica Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA
Hours: Mon-Fri 7:30AM-10:00PM, Sat-Sun 8:00AM-10:00PM

Wien Bakery & Cake House

Melting pot. Salad bowl. There are a variety of culinary terms used to describe the cultural make-up of Los Angeles. I'd like to add another theory to the mix: smorgasboard. This is what happens when two cultures form an unlikely marriage on the dinner table.

I've had and greatly enjoyed French-Japanese, French-Vietnamese, Indo-French, and others (those French get around, eh?). But Austrian-Korean is a new one for me.

Wien Bakery & Cake House (aka Wien Konditorei Und Cafe) looks like a charming and authentic Austrian lodge from the outside; inside, the food is traditional European bakery fare with a Korean twist.

Wien is the German word for Vienna... as in, Vienna, Austria. Although I only spent two days in Vienna on my vacation last year, I did have a chance to sample some of the delicious bakery treats there. When I passed Wien on Olympic, I was excited for the chance to relive those treats - streudel, sachertorte, palatschinken, etc. Although it should be noted that Wien has less of the truly Austrian desserts and more of the type you'd find in an upscale grocer's bakery: eclairs, cakes, tortes, and the like. The display case is beautiful with some truly mouthwatering creations in all sizes and flavours.

Most of the cakes are available in full cake form and by the slice, which gives a great opportunity to try before you commit to the full monty. The cakes are so beautiful though, I'd be proud to bring one to a dinner party without even tasting it first.

Wien also has a large selection of freshly baked breads, which were soft and fluffy. Like a misbehaved child, I squeezed and hugged and fondled a large majority of the breads, working my way down the line from fresh cream bread to baguettes to croissants and danishes.

And though I did buy a loaf of the cream bread, I unfortunately put it up in a cabinet and forgot about it until it had molded.

One thing I did try was the "green tea creamcake."

In all fairness, I probably chose something that wasn't in my normal range of favourite foods. I'm not a big cake person, and though this was creamy and fluffy, the flavour was very light, so it just tasted like whipped cream to me. Good graham cracker crust though.

Wien is definitely a place I need to explore further. They had some interesting bakery twists like red bean doughnuts, sweet potato danishes, and black sesame cookies.

As I learned online, the Euro-Korean bakery theme isn't unique to Wien... it's actually a trend that has been popping up all over L.A. recently. For more, check out this LA Times article from a few weeks ago. It always makes me mad when I try a place thinking it's fairly undiscovered (I went to Wien back in May), and then a major publication writes about it before I get a chance to. Arrrgh!

Wien Bakery & Cake House
3035 W. Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA
Hours: Daily 7:00AM-10:00PM

Monday, July 03, 2006

Kiwiberri Coming Soon

Hmm. Does this place remind you of something?

Back when I first posted about Pinkberry, a reader commented on a new yogurt shop opening soon - Kiwiberri. Then that commenter left another comment, and another. And another. It got a little weird. One day, all the comments disappeared, removed by the author and by the blog administrator. And I was left wondering, is Kiwiberri some type of mafia storefront? A side shop set up by a disgruntled Pinkberry defector?

No matter how you slice it, the similarities are striking, the timing, interesting. The signs don't say when Kiwiberri is opening, but they do offer a few pictures. Here's a look at the yogurt (compare to Pinkberry):

As well as the menu:

And their future store plans:

I don't know when exactly they're opening, but you can be assured that I'll do a side-by-side taste test when they do: Pinkberry vs. Kiwiberri, a fight to the death!

Kiwiberri (opening soon)
3rd St at La Cienega, next door to Sushi Mon
Los Angeles, CA

Famima!! in West Hollywood

If you could design the perfect mini mart, what would it have in it? Mine would have great sushi and salads, drinks from all parts of the world, and shelves stuffed full of exotic snacks. Not just any snacks, but the kind you usually have to search all over Japan/Korea/China-towns for: Hi-Chew, Pocky, Pretz, Shrimp Chips, etc.

Until now, I had enjoyed combing Los Angeles for fun and unusual treats. Now, I'm pretty happy to know that I can find them all in one place: Famima!!

Really, I'm not that excited, the exclamation points are part of the name. My discovery of Famima!! warrants maybe one exclamation point. "!". There you go.

Famima!! is the American version of Family Mart, a popular chain in Asia. And just in case you were curious about whether or not this is the place for you, their Web site offers a rather frank description of their target market and their full-scale rollout plan:

(psst, Famima!!, these are the types of things you usually don't broadcast on your Web site... !!!!)

The West Hollywood Famima!! (OK, the exclamation points are getting annoying) has a ton of great options for lunch. Everything from sushi to panini to spaghetti to dim sum, all cutely wrapped and packaged with nutritional content information. The food looked pretty fresh - everything is date and time stamped too.

I went in to Famima thinking it was just a lunch-on-the-go place and discovered it's more like a really killer 7-11. Minus the mystery hot dogs and Slurpees.

For one thing, Famima has Pocky, and lots of it!

They even have a couple flavours I hadn't seen before, like Pine Pocky (most likely pineapple, not pine tree flavoured), and Coconut Pocky. I didn't buy any, but YUM, I'll have to go back and try them soon.

The drink section is stocked full of fun things to drink, such as Calpico, which I first fell in love with when I had it as Calpis Water in Tokyo.

Then there's the famous Famima!! Signature Dessert!! A whole banana coated in chocolate, covered with whipped cream and wrapped in a delicious pancake. Wow, that's something. You will go bananas if you don't try it. Guess what: I didn't try it and I did indeed go bananas! Truly!! Bananas!!!

Given all the great things in the store, my lunch will seem little boring: Vanilla/Coconut White Iced Tea, a Tuna Hand Roll, and Edamame. Snooze. But sometimes it takes a look at the basics to tell you whether or not a place is good.

First, the Tuna Hand Roll had an innovative package that kept the seaweed paper crisp - the paper was wrapped inside a plastic sheet, separate from the rice. Peel back the plastic, re-roll your roll, and voila!! It tastes almost freshly made. Very nice touch. The edamame was very fresh too - much better than I've had at Whole Foods or any other grocery store.

So there you have it - the basics are indeed quite good. And with all the interesting treats in the store, there's surely something for everyone.

But the best part about Famima!!(?)
They've got great hours...

8525 Santa Monica Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA