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Ask a Foodie: Buy or Make Key Lime Pie?


Key Lime Pie

Q. My fiance wants a key lime pie. Should I buy him one or make it myself?

—HH

A. We can’t answer that for you, but we can certainly give you recommendations in both areas.

If you decide to buy, then look no further than the Sandbar at the Pearl Brewery, 200 E. Grayson St., where chef Chris Carlson serves up a key lime tart that is bright with flavor yet silky on the palate. It is second to none in the city’s restaurants. For more information, call (210) 222-2426.

If you want to make your own key lime pie, then you can follow a recipe my family has used for years. It comes from southern Florida, where people take their key lime pie seriously. To be more specific, it comes from the cookbook produced by the famous Miami restaurant, Joe’s Stone Crab. The owners of the restaurant refused to part with their recipe, but Richard Sax, who co-wrote the restaurant’s cookbook with owner Jo Ann Bass, could not envision the cookbook without it, so he came up with a version of the dessert, based on his attempts to copy the original as closely as possible.

A few suggestions when making the pie:

Whip the egg yolks on the highest speed your mixer will allow and keep whipping them for at least 5 minutes. And keep the mixer on high even while drizzling in the sweetened evaporated milk.

Take seriously the suggestion to get the pie as cold as possible by popping it into the freezer for at least 15 minutes before serving. The addition of ice crystals to the texture and the way it awakens the lime flavors make this even more irresistible.

Of course, you can used a store-bought graham cracker crust. Just don’t skimp on the fresh squeezed lime juice in favor of something from the store. There is a huge difference.

By the way, key lime pie is not green; it is yellow. It only has flecks of green from the lime zest. Some people add food color to make it green, which we don’t recommend except on St. Patrick’s Day.

Key Lime Pie

Graham cracker crust:
1 wax paper-wrapped package graham crackers (1/3 of a 1-pound box) or 1 cup plus 2 1/2 tablespoons graham cracker crumbs
5 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1/3 cup sugar

Filling:
3 egg yolks
Grated zest of 2 limes (about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk, such as Eagle Brand
2/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (use key limes if you can)

Topping:
1 cup heavy or whipping cream
3 tablespoons powdered sugar

You can use a store-bought crust or make your own.

For the crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch pie pan. Break up the graham crackers; place in a food processor and process to crumbs. (If you don’t have a food processor,, place the crackers in a large plastic bag; seal and then crush the crackers with a rolling pin.) Add the melted butter and sugar and pulse or stir until combined. Press the mixture into the bottom and sides of the pie pan forming a neat border around the edge. Bake the crust until set and golden, 8 minutes. Set aside on a wire rack; leave the oven on.

For the filling: Meanwhile, in an electric mixer with the wire whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks and lime zest at high speed until very fluffy, about 5 minutes. Gradually add the condensed milk and continue to beat until thick, 3 or 4 minutes longer. Lower the mixer speed and slowly add the lime juice, mixing just until combined, no longer. Pour the mixture into the crust. Bake for 10 minutes or until the filling has just set. Cool on a wire rack, then refrigerate. Freeze for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

For the topping: Whip the cream and the powdered sugar until nearly stiff. Cut the pie in wedges and serve very cold, topping each wedge with whipped cream.

Makes 1 pie.

From “Eat at Joe’s: The Joe’s Stone Crab Restaurant Cookbook” by Jo Ann Bass and Richard Sax

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WalkerSpeak: Menus Can Drive You Nuts


When a diner opens a menu and the first thing that greets the eyes is a typo, it’s safe to say this isn’t the beginning of a great relationship.

All writers, including menu writers, commit typos.  But these days typos are having a real heyday. Because anyone can write and publish to his or her heart’s content online, with or without benefit of copy editors, typos really flourish. Misspelled words on popular blogs are not even taken seriously anymore, and sometimes they are done that way on purpose. Consider “Jebus” used to avoid profanity or “prolly,” used by the keystroke-challenged for “probably.”

A simple menu for good, chef-prepared food is offered at Nosh.

A menu that is passed out to customers in a restaurant is a printed product, as much as is a book or the printed newspaper.

Unlike many of the entries on a website or a blog entry, it is generally not typed up and sent out to a million readers in the blink of an eye. It can be read, re-read and even printed out and proofread before going to print. Or, if it comes out of the restaurant printer fresh with changes each day, surely there is time for several pairs of eyes to give it a good going over.

Certainly, as I told someone who asked me to check over some new menu copy recently, if the menu writer must use words from another language be sure they are used and spelled correctly. The word in question was “chiffonade.” The menu writer had spelled it “cheffanaude.” Yikes.

On the other hand, when traveling in another country whose language I do not read, I am pleased that a menu has been translated to English and more than happy to overlook typos as long as I’m getting a sense of what is being served. Yes, some of the typos can be deeply amusing, but when we travel we are ambassadors from our country and we don’t laugh out loud. (We don’t … right?)

Typos are not the worst thing, though. What really dismays me is pretentious menu writing.

A pretentious menu does not make the chef look good. It is as though the customer is being begged to admire the description, then expected to extend that admiration to whatever comes out on the plate — even if the food bears little resemblance to the glowing verbiage.

I’ve noticed in some fine restaurants a trend lately toward words offering a more matter-of-fact descriptions. Such as:

“Choice beef tenderloin with natural jus on wilted spinach, served with sweet potato croquettes.”

As opposed to:

“Our very finest natural beef tenderloin, carefully aged and cut to your specifications à la minute, stacked atop the freshest garden spinach, tenderly wilted then anointed with unsalted, organic butter, and Chef’s delicately crisp sweet potato croquettes fried in pure grapeseed oil and topped with a light snowfall of sea salt.”

The latter example just makes me tired. It’s precious, pretentious, and includes one particularly annoying word, the reference to the chef as Chef. Like the way nurses use “Doctor” in the hospital, which I deeply dislike. I mean, how old were we when (if ever) we called the head of the classroom “Teacher”?

Grilled Cheese Sandwich at The Monterey.

In casual restaurants I’m seeing some promising restraint. We stopped at The Monterey on South St. Mary’s recently, and the menu set down before us was quite simply worded. In some cases, it could have explained just a little more. For example, my eyes slid right past the entry “Grilled Cheese Sandwich.” Not being familiar with the restaurant I envisioned the usual fried white bread sandwich with a thin slab of American cheese inside, accompanied by a few pickle chips and a little paper cup of ketchup on the side.

I would agree that sometimes this is exactly what one wants, especially when one yearns for childhood.

The Grilled Cheese Sandwich at The Monterey, however, was purely an adult pleasure: stacked and tall, toasty and dripping with cheese and inviting you to smash your face in. This we didn’t do, as the sandwich was served to a party at a nearby table.

At Nosh, the casual eatery on the floor below Silo on Austin Highway, the list of salads mentions only ingredients. No preening adjectives; no overwrought verbs. It slips into pretension only once, and even this is with a sort of on-purpose silliness, with “Grilled Flatbread; Chef Robert’s daily gastronomical creation.” At least “Chef” has a name attached to it.

At one of San Antonio’s havens of fine-dining, The Sandbar, the menu just puts it out there: “Salmon Sandwich.” “Fish and Chips.” “Angus Burger.” If you’re into oysters, your server will tell you where they are from and will also tell you about the specials not on the menu. This latter usually comes with a flourish, because you never know what brilliant touch chef Chris Carlson has planned for the day. It could be a deep-fried poached egg, for example, which is an item, with or without deep frying, that will divide some diners.

And wouldn’t all of us prefer a pleasant surprise rather than an embarrassing disappointment? This is why I welcome any trend that gives well-prepared food a chance to shine in its own right. Elegant in its apparent simplicity, even if the chef and staff spent hours on its creation, then announced with elegant simplicity on the menu, as well.

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Griffin to Go: Raise a Glass in Memory of a Fine Foodie and Friend


Richard Toupal in Clearwater, Fla., in January 2010, with stone crabs and a 2006 Jadot Chassagne-Montrachet.

San Antonio lost one of its finest foodies last week with the passing of Richard Louis Toupal, 54.

Richard and his wife, Gigi, could be seen frequently at the city’s finest eateries, and I don’t mean the most expensive. He loved exploring the flavors at a small place like Thai Dee on Blanco Road, which looks like nothing from the road, as much as he enjoyed dining outdoors at the elegant Fig Tree Restaurant. Finding a new restaurant, like Pike’s Place in Pipe Creek, was as exciting to him as opening a present on Christmas morning. As long as the food was good, he was happy. He was even happier, actually, if he could bring along a bottle or two of wine from his collection.

He had a great and varied collection, made up of fantastic sparklers, whites and reds from all over the world and also at all prices. Finding a bargain was something he loved. Plus, it pleased him to share his cellar with anyone who also appreciated the beauty of a well-made wine. He kept a wine cooler in his dental office, just in case he was headed out to dinner and didn’t have time to get home to grab a bottle.

I met Richard and Gigi (born Griffin and surely some relation in our knotted family tree) at Le Rêve. Friends and I would go there every Thanksgiving Eve, as would they. It just seemed natural for them to join in the fun. They also came by my house back in the day when I threw an annual radish party, my variation of the Oaxacan gathering, Noche de los Rabanos (Night of the Radishes). Guests didn’t have to bring a radish dish, but I remember one year Richard brought a curried lamb dish with radishes cooked in.

Richard was an excellent cook, whether it was grilling a perfect steak or shaving fresh truffles onto a pasta dish that was based on something Gigi and he discovered on one of their trips.  At his parties, you’d find a little bit of everybody, from his favorite restaurateurs and their staffs to fellow wine lovers and even a few political figures, all friends who had come together over food and wine.

Those weren’t his only interests, by any means, and he was a reliable friend when things were less than bright. He was a strong supporter of this website, and he understood that things were not always easy for me after I lost my day job. He was like this with so many others that it’s no wonder many of the same people from his parties were at the hospital last week after he had suffered the stroke that would take his life.

My favorite memories of sharing a meal with Richard happened regularly around Christmas Eve. He would call and I’d find a way to head off to to some place like Van’s Chinese on Broadway to discover how Champagne is a perfect foil for spring rolls. This past December, we met at the Sandbar, because chef Chris Carlson had gotten in some oysters from the Belon area of France for lunch. Perfect with a crisp, icy Sancerre. We marveled over the bold succulence of each one, before making our way through several more dishes, eventually deciding that the bagels, laden with house-cured lox and a schmear, were among the best we’d ever had.

One of Richard’s more extravagant gestures, as least as far I know, was when he rented out Dough on Blanco Road for Gigi’s birthday. The counters were laden with food, the wines were flowing and spirits were high as he honored his wife. It seems fitting that you can see the two of them on the recent episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” that was filmed at the pizzeria. They can be seen having a great time, which is how Richard tried to live his life. And that’s how I’ll remember him.

For information on the funeral services, click here.

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Groomer Seafood: Shrimp Prices Could Double


Rick Groomer says the oil spill in the Gulf has begun to affect local sales.

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has wrecked havoc with fishing off the shores of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.

What does that spell for one local seafood business? The price of shrimp could double and hoarding seems to have begun, according to Rick Groomer of Groomer Seafood.

The business has sold fish, shrimp and other seafood for going on four generations in San Antonio. Last Friday, says Groomer, customers were crowding the walk-in seafood store, at 9801 W. McCullough Ave., to buy shrimp. Prices went up 20 percent last week alone, he said.

That’s not stopping shrimp aficionados as well as restaurants. “I’d say the last week, week-and-a-half, our sales have quadrupled. On the restaurant end, they’re really starting to hoard shrimp,” he said.  Texas shrimping season is closed until July 15.

In Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama coastal waters the shrimping and fishing have come to a stop after a drilling rig explosion on April 20. Eleven people were killed and since then about 4 million gallons of oil have leaked into the Gulf.

Shrimp at Groomer Seafood won't go away, but the price is going up.

“I speak daily with (fishermen) all over the place. Today a guy in Louisiana told me his entire future right now is in the hands of the state health department, which is conducting water quality tests. Louisiana has a $2.5 billion a year fishing business and now it’s shut down,” Groomer said.

At restaurants and one local grocery store we called, shrimp prices were holding steady — so far.

“Shrimp prices haven’t gone up, it’s selling the same as we’ve sold it for the past few years,” said a Central Market fishmonger. At Sandbar, a restaurant at the Pearl specializing in fresh seafood, chef Chris Carlson had a similar response. “Things are holding steady right now,” he said.

Oysters are also of concern, since they can’t get up and move from a contaminated bed. There has been some discussion about relocating the beds, though.

Effects of the spill can mean higher prices, but, as Groomer noted, shrimp and oysters are “a worldwide product.”  So the supply can come from other sources, such as Asia and South America.

As for affecting the Texas fishing and shrimp industry?

“We’ve been lucky in Texas — so far,” said Groomer.

Photos by Bonnie Walker

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