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Thanksgiving in Miami

Today I’m completing the triple – the last part of the grand tour of the East Coast of the US!

As much fun as it was to spend a decent amount of time in New York and Washington DC, these are not places noted for their warm weather in November, so it was off to Miami’s South Beach for a week, staying at the super-fancy SLS South Beach hotel. This is a recent addition to the city, but based in an old art deco building which once housed the Ritz Plaza. It’s quite something to wake up in the morning to be greeted by the inviting blue waters with the sun shining brightly. I defy you to look at the picture below and not be jealous!

I’d love to say that I could write lots about daily cultural events and sightseeing, but the reality is that most of the time was spent lying on the beach, swimming in the sea, walking around South Beach’s art deco historic district, eating, drinking and buying souvenirs. In my defence, there was a lot of cultural activities up north, so beach life was perfectly acceptable by this stage. The food was also pretty darned good – in particular, I loved the SLS hotel restaurant Bazaar by José Andrés, where the patatas bravas were superb, and the great Escopazzo restaurant, which offered a superb vegetarian tasting menu with wine pairing. Extravagant, yes, but wonderful food.

One of the reasons that we ended up mostly staying in South Beach and doing nothing more challenging than choosing between beer or a margarita is that you need a car. It’s not just that Miami is a fairly car-friendly city, it’s that all of Southern Florida makes having a car pretty much essential. South Beach is on an island, and you can walk everywhere, but if you want to go a bit further afield, you’ve either got to rent a vehicle, take taxis, or brave Miami’s public transport system, and as we had no ride, that made exploration a little challenging.

However, we were keen to check out Calle Ocho (8th Street) in Little Havana and the Miami Design District. So we decided to do it by public transport. Yes, public transport. From our perspective, the buses looked quite cool, with their 80s neon Miami Vice style livery and on-board airco. However, many Americans (i.e. those with cars) looked at us like we were utterly mad. Maybe we were naive, but the main problem with trying to get anywhere using a bus was simply that it takes a long, long, long time for something to turn up, then another long, long, long time for you to get anywhere.

Anyway, after a long, long, long trip, we got to Calle Ocho, but Little Havana turned out to be a little less exciting than I had hoped, but I put this down to the fact that it was a cool, cloudy Tuesday morning, so hardly the riot of Latin culture that you might expect. Perhaps Saturday evening after the sun has been beating down all day means the place is alive? Nevertheless, I managed to score a jar of Cuban dulce de leche and find the Gloria Estefan star on the Calle Ocho Walk of Fame. Then another bus back to Downtown Miami. This was also slow, but those Cuban grannies all look pretty awesome in their designer sunglasses.

Afterwards, I did something I’d been tipped off about years ago – downtown Miami has a driverless elevated train that whizzes around the towers, and it’s free to boot. It was quite fun after the sloooooowness of the bus from Little Havana to practically fly around the city and it offers some great views. After checking out superyachts at the seafront, it was a short taxi ride up to the Miami Design District. Sadly, they were gearing up for a major event, so a lot of places were closed for remodelling. However, I managed to pick up some quite fun Christmas decorations and an earthenware fox from the Jonathan Adler store, all of which seemed suitably OTT to represent Miami in my Christmas box.

The other “big trip” of the week was with a friend who lives just north of Miami to Delray Beach on Thanksgiving, and then on to a dinner with Cuban friends in the evening. I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve seen so much food! There was a huge turkey covered in bacon, massive trays of mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes with nutmeg/brown sugar/marshmallows, greens, cornbread…. I managed a small portion of the veggie goodies, and have to admit the sweet potatoes were pretty amazing, although I could not quite bring myself to eat them with the marshmallows. It was a great night, and we were honoured to be invited to join in with a special celebration.

Other than that, it was a week of palm trees, sun, sand, key lime pie, swimming, flip flops, ice cream and cold beer. I could really get used to these extended holidays! Hope you’ve enjoyed the pics, and normal (foodie) service should resume shortly.

And with that, back to real life in London!

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Key Lime Pie

Last November, I had a great holiday in Florida. Most of the time was spent in and around Miami Beach, taking in the sun and the art deco, but there was a trip down US1 to Key West. This truly is one of the great drives of the world – leave the skyscrapers of downtown Miami, through grassland, then you hit a road which traverses the Keys and seems at several stages just to float on the water. A really amazing trip. Key West was also fun for the night – completely different to Miami, more like a Caribbean town. I also had some of the best puttanesca sauce and lemon sorbet I have ever had.

The sea from the islands looked like this:

In the Keys, there is also a lot of Key Lime Pie, which was consumed with great enthusiasm in great quantities. This is made using the Key Lime, a smaller yellow version of the lime which has a sharper taste, which grows in the area. With the warm weather, I thought it would be good to make a Key Lime Pie. Now, I obviously don’t have easy access to Key Limes, but from my reading it seems that the result using the more familiar Persian Limes was equally good. So, it was off to the shops I went.

When I saw them in Florida, I also notice that there quite a bit of variation in the colour of the pies. Some were pale or creamy yellow, while others ranged from light to lurid green. Knowing that lime juice is pale green, I guessed that Key Lime Pie should be lighter in colour, and avoided the bright green versions. As it turns out, my hunch was right – the colour in the pie filling comes from the use of egg yolks, and to the extent there is any green, this comes from the use of lime zest. I had originally thought of adding a little natural green food dye, but I thought better of it. I also made another tweak – rather than using digestives, I used ginger nut biscuits – a little more crunch, nicer flavour, more texture, and a beautiful brown colour. This change is also nice if you make a lemon cheesecake.

I also found that there were different versions of the pie – some bake it (causing the egg yolks to cook and set the pie), while others do not need to be cooked, relying on a reaction between the acidic lime juice and the egg yolks to set the pie. If you are confident about the provenance of your eggs, by all means use this second version, but I played it safe with a recipe that required the pie to go into the oven. Just my preference!

The result was superb – this pie sets perfectly, while still being rich and creamy, and is really bright and fresh. It was a pale yellow colour, and had a vibrant, intense lime flavour. Serve this chilled or at least cool, so that on a hot day, it makes a perfect dessert at the end of a summer meal.

For the Key Lime Pie:

• 250g ginger nut biscuits (or digestive biscuits), finely crushed.
• 90g unsalted butter
• 4 medium or 3 large egg yolks
• zest of 4 limes
• 400g tin of condensed milk (the thick, sweet stuff)
• 150ml fresh lime juice (4-5 limes)

For the crust: preheat the oven to 180°C. Melt the butter, and combine with the biscuit crumbs. Use to line a loose-bottomed flan dish (mine was 21cm diameter), covering the bottom and sides. You might not use all of the crumb mixture, as you want it to be relatively thin. Pat down and smooth the crumbs with the back of a spoon, and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

For the filling: whisk the egg yolks and zest until creamy and lighter in colour (1-2 minutes). Add the condensed milk, and whisk until light and creamy (3-4 minutes). Finally, add the lime juice and stir until combined and slightly thick.

Pour the filling into the pie crust, and put back into the oven for 20 minutes. The pie should not colour, and is done when the filling feels just set when you press lightly on the centre. Remove from the oven, allow to cool, then place the cooled pie into the fridge until needed.

Serve with a dollop of whipped cream and a slice of lime.

Worth making? Yes. This pie recipe worked really well and was easy to make. No messing around with pastry, and the filling is simple to make. It can also be prepared well ahead of time and left to cool (and indeed, benefits from this). I would happily make this again.

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