It’s Spring! Time for Lemon Meringue Pie


I love spring for lots of reasons (more sunshine, it’s not too warm, daffodils). But one reason is all the lemons that show up on people’s backyard lemon trees. So many that I get gifted many of them and it’s a gift I’m happy to receive. Homegrown lemons (much like homemade items, in general) taste better and fresher than store bought ones. This recipe for Lemon Meringue Pie is the first I’ve made since home economics class in junior high. (Do they still offer home economics classes in school? Heck, do they still call it “junior high?”) I was pretty pleased with the results. It’s a recipe I found on and adapted to make the filling gluten free (so the hubs can still enjoy it without the crust), milk free, and I used a graham cracker crust instead.

Enjoy, and happy spring!



  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 Tbsp. corn starch (leveled)
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (meyer lemons would work well, too)
  • 2 Tbsp. freshly grated lemon zest
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter (room temp)
  • 4 egg yolks, beaten @ room temp (save the whites for the meringue!)
  • One 9 inch graham cracker crust


  • 4 egg whites @ room temp
  • 4 Tbsp. granulated sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  2. To Make Lemon Filling: In a medium saucepan, whisk together 1 cup sugar and cornstarch. Stir in water, lemon juice and lemon zest. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until mixture comes to a boil. Stir in butter. Take off the heat.
  3. Place egg yolks in a small bowl and gradually mix in, a whisk full at a time, the hot sugar mixture until you’ve incorporated half of it (tempering). Whisk egg yolk mixture back into remaining sugar mixture.
  4. Bring the mixture back to the stove and up to a boil. Continue to cook while stirring constantly until nice and thick (like the consistency of rubber cement). Remove from heat. Pour the hot filling into pre-made/baked crust.
  5. To Make Meringue: In a large glass or metal bowl, whip egg whites until foamy. Add sugar gradually, and continue to whip until stiff peaks form. Spread meringue over pie, sealing the edges at the crust.
  6. Bake in preheated oven for 13-15 minutes, or until meringue is golden brown. Let cool completely before slicing into it to let the lemon filling set properly.


Avocado Toast: It’s What’s for Breakfast

IMAG0858Most mornings, I would rather waste precious time squeezing in extra sleep than bother making myself breakfast. Cereal: too cold. Waffles, pancakes, and french toast: too sweet. Oatmeal: too starchy. Bacon: too greasy. And frankly, that early in the morning, the only thing that sounds good are eggs, which take too much time to make. Time I could be stealing to catch some extra shuteye. (I’m not a morning person, can you tell?)

There’s just one problem with this, however. My stomach starts growling in a major way by 10:30am. Totally embarrassing during meetings.

But recently, I found myself with a loaf of whole wheat toast calling my name from the office kitchen. We had cream cheese and hummus in the office fridge too, but just toast and spread didn’t give me a lot of hope that I’d stay full till lunchtime.

When I got home, I noticed a lone avocado sitting in my crisper (I know it didn’t belong there, but it was) that had been in there for way too long. Instead of dumping it in a salad or on a sandwich, I came up with the idea of slicing it and topping it on my toast the next morning.

And so my now “usual” breakfast was born. It is healthy, filling, and full of protein, which I need to get me through the day. And, it’s awesomely tasty. Score.

Avocado Toast

Half a ripe Haas avocado, sliced
Cream cheese spread or hummus (I like spicy, garlic or roasted red pepper)
2 slices of whole wheat bread

-Go ahead and toast your bread slices till they’re golden brown. You’ll appreciate the crunch, so make sure you get them nice and toasty.

-Then spread on your cream cheese or hummus, and top with avocado slices.

-You can also sprinkle them with some black pepper and sea salt, thin red onions, or even a fried egg on top. Personalize it and enjoy!

*To store the extra half of your avocado, make sure you leave the pit in it. This will prevent browning and keep it fresher, longer. Store in a zipper bag in the fridge.

Gluten-Free Lemon Pudding Cake

Gluten Free Lemon Pudding Cake (photo by VirgoBlue)

Gluten Free Lemon Pudding Cake (photo by VirgoBlue)

You know the story: Someone gives you a bunch of lemons from their meyer lemon tree in the backyard (since they have more than they know what to do with), and next thing you know you’re digging around for some lemony recipes that go beyond the typical lemonade or lemon bars. Or maybe I’m just lucky that I know folks who will give me their lemons :).

I’m thrilled to get people’s homegrown surplus produce. It gives me a chance to experiment with the freshest fruits and veggies that haven’t been tainted by traveling cross-country in the back of a huge truck.

Meyer lemons are a favorite. They’re less tart (but still sour, of course) and have this flowery, perfumey, quality to them. They’re also more orange than they typical yellow lemon, and have a softer, thinner skin and fragrant zest.

I found this recipe from Lynn’s Kitchen Adventures that I adapted slightly to include some of the perfumey zest from the meyer lemons. It seemed like a waste not to. I also added less sugar, and gave it a little extra time in the oven to set a bit more. Let me know how it turns out. Ours was a big hit.

  • 2 large eggs, separated, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon rice flour
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 3/4 cup milk
  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Grease an 8×8 baking pan or casserole dish.
  3. Mix the butter and sugar together until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg yolks and mix well.
  4. Add the rice flour, cornstarch, and beat until combined.
  5. Add the lemon juice and milk and beat until incorporated. Set aside.
  6. Beat the egg whites to soft peaks in a separate bowl. Fold them into the other mixture.
  7. Pour the batter into the prepared dish. Then, to create a water bath, place the dish in a larger baking pan and add enough boiling water to the outer pan so that it reaches halfway up the sides of the inner dish.
  8. Bake until the top is golden and the center springs back when gently pressed, about 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool completely.

Most Interesting Trends at the 2013 Winter Fancy Food Show

imageBy the time food trends like bacon-flavored-everything and cupcakes reach supermarket shelves, they’ve already been flaunted by multiple food companies at the Fancy Food Show. This convention of sorts is where the worlds food purveyors, big and small, come to show off their newest creations. It’s where food trends are born, both artisan and mainstream.

This year’s 38th annual show was bigger than ever with 1,300 exhibiting companies and 18,000 attendees at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Here’s the Top 5 most interesting trends I spotted at the event.

1. Strange things are going on with tea:
This year, I saw a focus on teas with added benefits like probiotics and herbs that aid in replenishing or adding to your workout routine (think Vitamin Water but with brewed tea). But the weirdest of them all was a line of savory teas with flavors like Beet Cabbage, Broccoli Cilantro and Spinach Chive. Described as “not quite a soup and more than a tea,” it seemed to have an identity crisis built right in. But once I tried it, I surprisingly, didn’t hate it.

2. Cooking with Hemp:
I recently tried a scalloped potatoes dish with hemp cream that I loved, so I was intrigued to see the emergence of shelled hemp seeds this year. It is more a textural experience (chewy and a bit like teeny tiny quinoa) than a flavorful one (doesn’t add any). You sprinkle them on your yogurt or fish like you would granola. Apparently they’re loaded with health benefits and give you sustained energy. And no, you won’t get high off this stuff so there’s no point in adding it to those brownies.

3. Cherries are the new pomegranate:
Move over pomegranates! Cherries are apparently superior to all your much-touted antioxidant goodness. Tart cherry juice reduces inflammation, has naturally occurring melatonin to help you sleep, and it fights heart disease. I personally prefer the taste of cherry juice to pomegranate, which can be way too tart for me.

4. White cheddar popcorn is so passe:
Seems cheddar is just too boring when it comes to a bag of gourmet popped corn. I saw varieties like blue cheese, butter toffee, hatch chili con queso, chipotle lime, sun-dried tomato parmesan, and smoked gouda. Popcorn has entered potato chip territory with these adventurous new flavors.

5. Squeeze pouches aren’t just for kids anymore:
If you have children, you’ve seen those squeeze pouches of wholesome applesauce that are lifesavers because of their convenient, mess-free packaging and perfect portions. So why limit them to just the kids? Active adults will love smoothies, pureed antioxidant-rich fruit, and even veggie combinations in squeezable portable pouches just as much as the little ones.

6. Ice cream sandwiches are the new cake pop:
Seems like every year there’s a new hand-held dessert trend. Gone are cupcakes, cake pops, and whoopie pies. Gourmet ice cream sandwiches will be hitting your supermarket’s freezer by mid-year from some of the best gourmet ice cream makers.

*Cross-posted on 


Nora Ephron Might’ve Eaten Here

I never knew author, screenwriter, director Nora Ephron, but she was everything I wished I could be when I grew up: funny, sharp, smart, fashionable, definitive but not high-maintenance (there’s a difference). Known best for her films “When Harry Met Sally”, “You’ve Got Mail”, “Julie & Julia” and “Heartburn”, she knew the art of storytelling, how to write the wittiest of prose, had a true passion for food, and loved people. She seemed so cool and confident, yet warm and welcoming at the same time.

Nora passed away this past June. So when I visited New York City recently, I wanted to somehow pay tribute to her. Since her love of food was well documented, I went to a few places that reminded me of either her or her stories. And no, I didn’t make a trip to Katz’s Deli (, which was famously featured in my favorite film, “When Harry Met Sally”. Nora surely wouldn’t want me to be that predictable.

Photo by Monique Maestas-Gower

Potatoes Anna at Minetta Tavern

In reference to Minetta Tavern, Nora once said to New York Times journalist, Frank Bruni, “You ordered the steak, right?…Excellent! Now we can talk about the potatoes.”

If you’ve ever read her novel “Heartburn”, you’ll know her affinity for the spud, claiming that it’s the perfect comfort food for wallowing your sorrows in.

The potato sides have been known to upstage the beef dishes at this famous New York institution. This wasn’t lost on Ms. Ephron. She’s raved about the New York Strip Steak, but I’m almost sure she’s expressed her love for their famous Potatoes Anna at one point. One bite of those delicate, buttery potatoes, baked until golden brown on top and perfectly crisp, and I was blown away. It’s like having a potato casserole with crisp potato chips on top. She was totally right. They’re not to be missed.

Gray’s Papaya: Hotdog w/House Mustard

Nora once said in an interview with Charlie Rose that she would want her last meal to be a hotdog from Nate ‘n Al’s in Beverly Hills with a little Gulden’s mustard: nothing fancy. And though I’m not in Beverly Hills, we can certain give Gray’s, arguably New York’s most famous hotdog, a shot. Plus, the Upper West Side location I visited was the one supposedly featured in her film, “You’ve Got Mail”.

I ordered my dogs with nothing fancy: just the house mustard (which tastes like a good Dijon). It didn’t need anything else since the dog itself was the star, here. Though the bun tasted suspiciously like one you’d find at the supermarket, the link had great flavor. The casing, indeed, had that perfect snap that’s been much hyped. But it was the charred flavor that stood out and made it taste like no other hotdog I’d ever had before, and that’s a good thing. Though the “Recession Special” of two hotdogs and a drink for $5 is a great deal, they were smaller than I’d expected.

Jacques Torres Chocolate: Chocolate Chip Cookie

“I look out the window and I see the lights and the skyline and the people on the street rushing around looking for action, love, and the world’s greatest chocolate chip cookie, and my heart does a little dance.” – Excerpt from the novel Heartburn by Nora Ephron

Everyone will have an opinion about where you can find the best chocolate chip cookie, but I figured I couldn’t go wrong with what many consider the “expert” on chocolate, Jacques Torres. This celebrity chef’s chocolate chip cookie is world-renowned, and for good reason. It’s a huge disk of a cookie that’s bigger than an infant’s head. The chips are flat and wide and somehow melt so perfectly into the dough while baking, that they create ribbons of chocolate inside the cookie, distributing that rich chocolate flavor in every bite. The chocolate itself had a lot of depth with hints of vanilla and cherry, with a great balance of bitter and sweet. The cookie dough itself was no slouch with the rich taste of butter and vanilla coming through, as well. Nora would surely have approved.

“When you are actually going to have your last meal, you’ll either be too sick to have it or you aren’t gonna know it’s your last meal and you could squander it on something like a tuna melt and that would be ironic. So it’s important … I feel it’s important to have that last meal today, tomorrow, soon.” – Nora Ephron

So though I never knew you Nora, and have no way of knowing for sure if this list would’ve met your approval, I’d like to think that the mere search for some of the best eats in the city you loved so much would’ve made you smile. It certainly did me.

Minetta Tavern on Urbanspoon

Gray's Papaya  on Urbanspoon

Jacques Torres Chocolate on Urbanspoon

Aida Mollenkamp’s “Keys to the Kitchen”

Keys to the Kitchen by Aida Mollenkamp

Photo by VirgoBlue

Aida Mollenkamp, former editor of CHOW and star of both the Food Network and the Cooking Channel, wants to provide the home cook with a go-to kitchen resource. That is why she wrote her new book “Keys to the Kitchen.” Marketed as a cookbook, it’s much more than that. In the book, she breaks cooking down to one simple equation:

Quality Ingredients (The Set-Up) + Kitchen Skills (The How-To) + Technique (The Recipes) + Cooking Method (The Riff) = GOOD FOOD

With hundreds of recipes and more cooking techniques than you ever knew you needed, “Keys to the Kitchen” could almost serve as a cooking class textbook. But of course, Aida makes it much more exciting than that. She’s encouraging home cooks to be more adventurous in the kitchen and not to be afraid to try new techniques and tastes. By providing some basic principles to purchasing, preparing and cooking food creatively she promotes the development of an adventurous approach to eating.

With the book coming out this month and a possible new show on the horizon, she’s hard to catch up with, but fortunately she carved out some time to talk about her new book and share some key tips with Bay Area Bites.

What is it about food that still excites you?
AM: I stay excited because everyday presents an opportunity for a new food adventure. Whether it’s something as simple as buying an ingredient you’ve never used before, cooking a dish for the first time, or traveling somewhere and eating a new flavor, there’s always something out there.

What are your 5 best tips for being more adventurous in the kitchen?


  1. Follow flavors you like
    Don’t think of your favorite recipe merely as one dish but rather as layers and layers of flavors. With that mentality, taste and dissect the details at your next dinner. Who knows? You may think you dislike a spice or ingredient only to realize it’s in a lot of the foods you love.
  2. Travel through your taste buds
    Many a food lover pines for the chance to eat fresh fried samosas in the streets of India or shop firsthand at renowned food markets, like Mexico City’s La Merced, but few of us can afford that reality. Instead, live vicariously through their food — though you won’t have souvenirs, you’ll rack up plenty of food memories.
  3. Buy something new every time you shop
    Consider each trip to the market as a chance to explore and aim to buy a new (if only to you) ingredient each time you shop. Sure, you may encounter a few duds, but more often than not, you’ll be pleasantly surprised and realize you actually love sauerkraut.
  4. Think of your kitchen as a lab
    Change your perspective and think of cooking not as drudgery but as your daily chance for culinary creativity. And really, it’s a lab with pretty low risk — the worst-case scenario is that the dog ends up being fed really well.Start simple by swapping the herbs and spices in your favorite recipes, then graduate to using ingredients you’ve never tried.
  5. Make mealtime mash-ups
    With cooking experimentation comes rule breaking, so don’t be scared — just go with it. In the last few years, all sorts of ethnic flavors have (like music) been mashed up into cross-cultural dishes — like the now ubiquitous Korean tacos.Take a page from that trend and try a spin on your favorite foods, like chorizo on a gyro, kimchi in a Bloody Mary, Madras curry spices whirred into your vanilla ice cream, or any other twist that will help you forge your own food adventure.

This doesn’t seem like your typical cut and dry recipe cookbook. What was your inspiration?
AM: That’s right. While a lot of cookbooks are a catalogue of recipes, “Keys to the Kitchen” is more of a kitchen reference combined with a cookbook. It’s a modern manual to the kitchen that teaches you how to shop, covers basic kitchen techniques, and then culminates with over 300 original recipes that cover everything from an elegant holiday-worthy roast to ideas for reinventing last night’s leftovers.

I wrote the book for my friends who like food but are intimidated by the kitchen because they were never taught to cook. Over and over again, I’d have people ask me the same general questions — things like how to read labels, which cuts of meat are best for which preparations, and recipes for interesting but accessible recipes. I wrote “Keys to the Kitchen” to provide those answers and to help people become better cooks, whether it’s their first time turning on the stove or the one-thousandth.

What’s coming up for you after the launch of the cookbook? More television? More writing?
AM: Well, the rest of the year will be devoted to my multi-city book tour. From mid-September through the holidays, I’ll be traveling to 14 different cities for book signings, demos, and other in-person cooking events.

After that, I’m going to start developing a new show that I, unfortunately, can’t talk about too much right now. But, I promise to keep you posted as it develops.

*This article is also posted on KQED’s Bay Area Bites.

Beefy Tomato Pasta

Beefy Tomato Pasta (VirgoBlue)

Two things:

1) Fall’s here and I like making comfy one-pot meals that are hearty.

2) I love Hamburger (and Tuna) Helper.

I admit it, I love that boxed stuff and can easily sit by the television with a big bowl of it. That and Velveeta and Shells. I know there’s nothing “real” or good for you about Velveeta, but sometimes, you just don’t care.

Anyways, if I can make a version of Beefy Tomato Macaroni from scratch so the guilt of making a boxed meal doesn’t have to enter my head, and the recipe is simple enough, I’ll do it.

Enter this recipe.

It’s not hard to make at all and if you use the right ingredients, it’s wonderful. I pulled the original recipe off the back of a can of diced tomatoes (which you’ll need for this) and then decided to tinker with the flavors.

It’s so yummy, your kids will ask for seconds. My husband asked for thirds.


1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes (I use Trader Joe’s Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes w/Green Chilies for a little mild spicy kick)
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 15 oz. can corn
1 lb. ground beef, defrosted thoroughly (I like to use organic)
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. celery salt
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. salt
2 cups of of low-sodium chicken broth or water
1 12 oz. package of macaroni or spiral pasta (I used brown rice pasta since my husband is gluten-free)
2 Tbsp. olive oil

Heat the oil in a saute pan or dutch oven over medium heat until the oil shimmers. Add in the onions, garlic and 1/2 tsp. of the salt. Saute until onions are translucent (about 4 min).

Add in your ground beef and make sure to break it up well. Saute until browned, about 5 min.

Add in all the other ingredients. Let it come to a boil, cover, then simmer for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.

Test the pasta for doneness after the 10 minutes and add on additional cooking time if necessary. Stir, turn off the heat and let sit for about 5 minutes, uncovered, so the liquid will further absorb and the mixture will thicken.

Serves 6.

The Best San Francisco Restaurants and More: The Podcast

Wayfare Tavern’s Fried Chicken (photo property of VirgoBlue)

I recently had a great discussion with Seth Resler of Mystery Meet, where food lovers in the Bay Area can get together at a restaurant in San Francisco (that isn’t revealed until 24 hours before) and discuss their love of all things culinary.

Here’s my podcast interview with Seth of Mystery Meet discussing all my favorite eats in San Francisco. I basically leave no stone unturned, talking about my favorite purveyors like Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen, Wayfare Tavern, Frog Hollow Farm, Curry Up Now, 4505 Meats, my thoughts on the SF vs. NY food debate, my pick for the best date/anniversary restaurant in town (it’s not what you think), my love of Thomas Keller, why the food truck trend has exploded, and even manage a BlogHer Annual Conference plug. Obviously, I’m in marketing. ;)

It’s all here:


Wayfare Tavern on Urbanspoon
Sociale on Urbanspoon
Wise Sons Deli on Urbanspoon

Media Training for Bloggers @ BlogHer ’12

BlogHer '12

Just a few weeks ago, Julie Crabill of InnerCircle Labs (a fabulous PR agency in San Francisco) and I presented the Media Training for Bloggers panel at the 2012 BlogHer Annual Conference in New York City.

Here’s the podcast of the session “Media Training for Bloggers“. Enjoy!

Ramen Roundup Part 2

I realized with my last roundup of ramen joints in the Bay Area that I was only scratching the surface. It seems like ramen is the new obsession around these parts, and noodle lovers have their staunch favorites.

Ramen in the Bay Area may not be the “fast food” item it is in Japan, but it’s certainly not a fussy meal, though extremely customizable. With that rich meaty broth and chewy noodles, and fixings like hardboiled eggs, corn, and dried seaweed (nori), it’s a complete comfort food meal in a bowl. In Japan, ramen noodle houses are as common as pizza joints are in the States. It’s a cheap, filling, and delicious way for them to satisfy their hunger.

So here are four more places on the Peninsula and in the South Bay I visited recently.

Ramen Club Garlic Kimchi Ramen
Ramen Club Garlic Kimchi Ramen with Pork

Ramen Club — Burlingame
This restaurant’s ramen is by no means the best, but it’s a good, fun bowl of noodles. I say fun because the Garlic Kimchi Ramen with Pork is not exactly authentic, but good and tasty. I loved the zesty crunch from the spicy kimchi cabbage and the added kick of the hot sauce on top. The texture of the noodles is good and chewy but not soggy. However, the broth and the pork are lackluster. Still, it’s a good version of ramen.

Ramen Club
Ramen Club & Catering on Urbanspoon

Ramen Parlor Spicy Pork with Soft Shell Crab and Black Garlic
Ramen Parlor Spicy Pork with Soft Shell Crab and Black Garlic

Ramen Parlor — San Mateo
If you’ve been to Santa Ramen or Dojo Ramen in San Mateo, you’ll love this place. Ramen Parlor is owned by the same folks as Santa and Dojo, and is the newest of the three. Though it’s not as popular or as good as Dojo, it is definitely a strong second, and certainly my favorite on this list. Their specialty is infusing spicy seafood elements into their broth like lobster oil, or fried soft shell crab. I ordered the Ramen with Tonkatsu (pork) Broth and Soft Shell Crab, spicy of course. Along with all those fun flavors, it comes with a glistening, buttery, full-fat slice of pork belly, pungent black garlic oil, and a creamy, perfectly cooked hard boiled egg. It is delicious, bold, innovative and every element was cooked to perfection. Heaven.

Ramen Parlor
Ramen Parlor on Urbanspoon

Santouka Spicy Miso Pork Ramen
Santouka Spicy Miso Pork Ramen

Santouka Ramen — San Jose
Santouka is a popular Japanese ramen chain restaurant, and this is their only franchised Bay Area outpost. Located inside the Japanese Mitsuwa Marketplace strip mall as part of a mini-food court, it’s as close to a fast food ramen place as you can get around here. The ramen noodles have that ideal chewy-but-not-soggy texture and the broth has good depth. However, I suspect it was full of MSG since I came away later that day with some serious thirst and a slight headache. And the portion itself was very small. My American palate, unfortunately, is used to a serving double the size of what they gave me.

Located in the Mitsuwa Marketplace
Santouka Ramen on Urbanspoon

Ramen House Ryowa Roasted Sesame Ramen with Pork
Ramen House Ryowa Roasted Sesame Ramen with Pork

Ramen House Ryowa — Mountain View
“Ryowa” apparently means sesame, so I’d be remiss not to order the specialty of the house. Out of the four places I went to, this was both the most authentically Japanese in setting (bar seating, very fast food-like atmosphere) and straightforward in terms of the food. The broth and noodles were both reliably good, but nothing to write home about. Although I loved that the ramen is served with a side of gyoza dumplings, which apparently is what they do in Japan. It makes for a nicely rounded meal.

Ramen House Ryowa
Ramen House Ryowa on Urbanspoon