Searching for good vegetarian meals in Charlottesville, Virginia

Sunday, November 7, 2010

In which we make pies

I haven't been getting much baking, or any type of cooking done lately. Such is the life of a student-mother with a new kitten.
Recently, Carnivorous Husband and I celebrated our twelfth wedding anniversary at a quiet (kids were elsewhere) beach condo on Fripp Island, South Carolina. We had a lovely, spicy meal at a restaurant called Yes, Thai Indeed! And we walked around Beaufort for a while, blissfully uninterrupted in our conversation.
We stopped in a shop called Lulu Burgess, a favorite of my stepmother and a playful amalgamation of jewelry, rubber chickens, and cookbooks.
We picked up a book called Southern Pies by Nancy McDermott. Pictured above is one of the first pies I've made from it: pecan pie. Unfortunately, a lemon pie and an almond custard pie escaped photographing. The recipes are largely excellent, and I especially love that the pecan pie uses only brown sugar and no refined liquid sweeteners.
This anniversary get-away may be repeated for not just anniversaries but also half-anniversaries and even un-birthdays.

In which we eat toffee

Carnivorous Husband spent a few hours helping a friend (Megan) to change a tire the other day. A few hours? Yep--the car in question will henceforth be known as "Cursed Car" should it make another appearance. I really hope it doesn't. It's given Megan far too much trouble as it is.
Megan opted to repay him in toffee. I have decided to call it "Karma Candy." At this writing, the karma has passed mostly to me. And it's the best toffee we've ever eaten. So, enjoy.

Karma Candy (adapted from a recipe in a book long since forgotten)

2 cups of sugar
2 sticks of vegan butter, or the equivalent (I used Earth Balance)
1/4 cup water
tiniest dash of salt
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
(sometimes I play with this, using almond or coconut instead)
vegan semi-sweet chocolate chips
walnuts (or almonds, pecans, etc.)

Cover a cookie sheet (with edges) with aluminum foil and grease thinly but entirely.

Combine the sugar, butter, salt and water in a large sauce pan and bring to a boil. Some use a candy thermometer; I never have. (If you do, you're aiming for 300-310 degrees Fahrenheit.) You'll need to stir it constantly to keep the caramelizing consistent throughout, while watching the deepening color carefully. There's a frustrating thin line between underdone and burnt, and you're looking for the color of caramel. I use the hard crack test to check if it's done, which simply means dripping a tiny bit of the molten toffee into a cup of cold water. If it forms hard, thin threads that break when bent, the toffee's done, and you should take it off the burner faster than you'd think is required. When it's done, it's less than than a half a minute away from burning. After removing it from heat, immediately add vanilla extract and stir it thoroughly. The toffee should be loudly protesting at this point, bubbling furiously.

Pour onto greased aluminum foil, spreading evenly. Leave it alone to cool, after which, store in the refrigerator to set.

If using a topping on the toffee, be sure to remove the toffee from the refrigerator for at least an hour so that the heated chocolate doesn't force the cold toffee to crack.

Melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler and spread evenly over the toffee. Garnish with walnuts and press down into the chocolate. Take a sharp knife and score the toffee with the point. Store in refrigerator. Once chocolate has set, the toffee should break cleanly along score marks. If it's crumbly, you didn't leave it on the burner long enough; if it's burnt, you'll taste it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

In which there is dressing

Even though the kids are not in school, and you might think that we're therefore immune to the tumult of the return of the "back to school" time of year, it has taken a toll on us as it always does. Meals have been simpler of late, and blog posts may be shorter for a while. Pictured is homemade blue cheese dressing, a fine dip for vegetables of all stripes.

It's very simple to make, and I honestly don't remember discrete quantities, but you'll want to use much less vinegar than oil and as much cheese as suits you.
I love my little wand blender for dressings and creamy soups. They are very cheap, as kitchen gadgets go, and they make short work of all sorts of blending. I also like that they are easy to wash in the dishwasher (only wash the blender end this way, not the part with the cord), and they allow me to use fewer dishes.
The dressing includes only extra-virgin olive oil, blue cheese (your favorite), and vinegar. I'd stick with red wine or white balsamic or maybe champagne, because a traditional balsamic will be too sweet, and cider vinegar might convey the wrong flavor. But if you try it and like it, let me know.
I used a gorgonzola I found at the Cheese Shop in Stuart's Draft. I also happen to love Point Reyes Blue, stilton, and Great Hill Blue, should you be able to find those. I'd stay away from traditional Gorgonzola Dolce--save that for pizza and pasta. Something crumblier is better here.
We served the dressing with celery, steamed broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, and peppers. The summer produce won't be around much longer.

Monday, August 16, 2010

In which we enjoy summer

The markets are full of delicious tomatoes, and my parsley survived the summer. So we made salad with some English cucumbers, Maldon sea salt, and the Laudemio Italian extra virgin olive oil I get for Christmas from my father every year. It was simple, but it was so pretty I just had to share.

I finally got around to making granola. Carnivorous Husband will thank me, I'm sure. Actually, how he's managed to survive since the last batch ran out is a bit of a mystery. Here is how I go about it:
Mix 9 cups of rolled oats with about a total of 3 cups of unsalted nuts of various types. Today, I used almonds, pecans, and walnuts. In a smaller bowl, mix together 2/3 c canola or other light oil and a total of just over a cup of a mixture of maple syrup, barley malt syrup, and honey, or any of these that you have. There is no need for a special trip to the store. I also like to add a little almond extract and sometimes cinnamon. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix thoroughly. Spread the mixture on a couple of rimmed baking sheets lined with parchment. Roast at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, checking to make sure that the grains are browning and making lovely, large crunchy chunks--but not going overboard. Cool, mix with the dried fruit of your choice (I used cranberries and golden Hunza raisins) and pack into jars such as this sensible, old-fashioned one my grandfather gave me.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

In which there are snacks

Carnivorous Husband and I decided to try the new frozen yogurt place on the Downtown Mall the other day. As unappetizing as the name "Sweet Frog" sounds to me, we'd heard that their not-too-sweet plain frozen yogurt should be sampled. But first, lunch.
Marco & Luca is one of our go-to lunch places if we're short on cash. It's not exactly a well-balanced meal, so we plan to eat a more nutritious dinner when we eat there. But it's fast and tasty. I'm not a huge fan of cold noodles, and I don't eat pork dumplings, so I generally get the "vegetable hot bun," a variation of traditional Chinese "bao," a word that also means "purse." The buns are steamed and filled with a mixture of napa cabbage, cellophane noodles and some other veggies. They also come with a sweet and spicy sauce. I do sometimes make these at home, and my father made a comfort-food, pork-filled variety, but Marco & Luca's are good when I have neither the time nor the inclination to make my own.
As for Sweet Frog, the tart yogurt was surprisingly good: I tire of overly-sweet desserts. It is apparently also fat-free and contains live cultures. It was very cold and became slightly icy in texture, probably due to the lack of fat and sugars. But it was good nonetheless, and I didn't feel like I'd swallowed a butterball after eating it or anticipate that my brain wouldn't be functioning for a while. After some dishes of ice cream, I need a lie-down.
I'm not a fan of self-serve bars of any kind, because of the germ factor, and their toppings are in such a case. They have the usual suspects as well as tropical fruits and an oddball topping of soft, opaque squares called "coconut jelly" or something similar. I tried one, and it wasn't my favorite.
The yogurts are in a vault-like dispensary. Everything was very clean: the floors, tables, counters, and dispensers. One spoon had fallen, handle and all, into the strawberries, but it was the place's only flaw. It was also affordable, and I do like that I can choose how much (or little) I want on a given visit. There are no set sizes, and price is determined by weight.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

In which we eat burgers and fries

Burgers and fries for a vegetarian? In a restaurant? Actually, yes. No, the burger didn't come out of a box in the freezer section of the supermarket.
The restaurant in question is Boylan Heights, one of many restaurants in the "Corner" district by UVA. It has been a favorite spot for our family to watch the UVA baseball team compete in the College World Series. For this post, Mr. Persnickety will be known as Baseball Fiend.
Miss Voracious and I have both tried Boylan's vegetarian burger: it's a patty made with quinoa, corn, zucchini, and other less-identifiable but tasty veggies and grains. I find it tasty but a little tough to digest. Baseball Fiend really only likes the fries: the grilled cheese wasn't his style, but I imagine most other children would like it. They also offer a peanut butter sandwich with bananas. It sounds very sweet from the description, which could be good or bad, depending on the child. No, we don't just feed our child fries--he eats at home, and fries are his dessert when it's baseball season.
Boylan Heights is very casual and has tables of various heights on two levels. We have only eaten downstairs at traditional tables with chairs and benches. The tall tables with stools don't look as comfortable to me.
Last night, on a date with Carnivorous Husband, I tried the vegan burger: a brown rice-and-nut affair with an addictive savory flavor like Thanksgiving stuffing. It's a bit crumbly, so be prepared to use your fork. Actually, the burgers are generally piled high with toppings of your choice, so they can be hard to eat in the usual way. Vegans will be happy to observe that there are multiple toppings to suit them and lots of tasty sauces. Vegetarians will enjoy selecting one of several possible cheeses and then tackling the mostly-vegetarian topping list. I tend to have trouble deciding where to stop. The menu also suggests several topping combinations if you're feeling indecisive or overwhelmed by all the choices. I favor spicy toppings and sauces, and I also like cheese on my fries, but the milder choices and sweet potato fries are also really hard to pass up.
I now prefer the vegan burger to the vegetarian and find it to be easier on my tummy as well. Both are superior to anything you can buy in the store. I commend Boylan Heights on being the sort of restaurant to remember that vegetarians like their food to taste good, too. They could have purchased a pre-made frozen burger, but they didn't. They want us to come back often and bring our friends. And this is a burger joint.

In which we have tapas at Bang!

Carnivorous Husband and I were pleased to re-discover Bang! over the weekend. The evening was pleasant, so we decided on the front porch rather than the shabbier, dark, and very red interior. Bang! also has a nice outdoor seating area in the back, but it was closed for some reason.
Most of the vegetarian options on the menu, which must be filled out with a pencil or pen, are also vegan. There were certainly more than we could try in one dinner, and we'll have to return soon for the others. We picked tempura green beans, which I seem to remember was listed on the menu in Franglais ("Haricot vert fries" or something similar), beet salad with goat cheese, and chickpea spring rolls. I had the vegetarian noodle dish, with asparagus and mushrooms.
Carnivorous Husband had the scallops, and he insists they were good.
The green beans were heavier than the fried desserts we ordered later, the banana fritters and Asian doughnuts. Still, they were tasty, as was the spicy garlic sauce,
but I'd recommend sharing them, possibly with several people. The beet salad was half eaten before we remembered to photograph it: very fresh with lots of goat cheese. The chickpea spring rolls have been on the ever-changing menu for years, and they are a favorite: creamy, crispy, and savory. They're also piping hot, so be careful. My noodles were good but not incredible, and the asparagus was a bit woody. The desserts, which we ate entirely before we even thought of
taking pictures, were, well, gone.
The service was friendly but not overbearing, and we had no complaints. In fact, servers kept trying to serve us dishes from other tables. We didn't accept them, but we might have liked to.
Everything was very tasty.

Monday, August 2, 2010

In which I make some changes

I adore the Smitten Kitchen food blog. Its light humor and lovely pictures of delicious, prolific, and largely vegetarian dishes (hooray) bring pleasure to my mornings. I don't visit it and my other favorites for exact measurements--I prefer inspiration.
Take this nectarine cobbler. I found the original recipe there, and I believe she modified it significantly from a recipe she found elsewhere, if I'm not mistaken. Her version has the cake on the bottom, the fruit in the middle, and a streusel on top. I'm probably the laziest cook I know, so I made a version of the cake, with half the sugar and Greek yogurt thinned with a little milk, and put the nectarine chunks, peels and all, on the bottom instead. It baked up at 375 degrees in about 45-50 minutes and was wonderful. As you can see, we had eaten half of it before I remembered to take a picture.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

In which we have pizza

Pizza is a little bit of an ordeal to make, but we love it so much, we still manage to have it frequently. My father ("Papa" to the kids) has perfected a crust recipe, and I've made variations by substituting various whole grains for part, but not all, of the all-purpose flour. The version pictured was topped with a thin layer of Parmigiano Reggiano, then whole-milk mozzarella, gorgonzola dolce, and rosemary from the garden. I also made a couple with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and herbs, but they were eaten by Mr. Persnickety, so no picture.
I could write a whole blog just about pizza, so look out for more topping ideas in the future. For now, I leave you with Papa's crust recipe:

For two thin or one thick pizza:

3 c flour (at least one of these should be unbleached, all-purpose, but whole wheat well, too)
1 1/3 c warm water
2 t yeast (I prefer the instant yeast sold by King Arthur flour--a little goes a long way)
3 T extra-virgin olive oil

I make my dough in my large Kitchenaid standing mixer. I usually double the recipe and make three thicker or four thinner pizzas. I bake them on perforated pizza pans atop a pizza stone.

In the mixer, I place the water and yeast. I attach the paddle attachment and start it up on low and then add the oil. I then add 1 cup of flour with the mixer off and then start the mixer to mix it in. When the dough starts to come together, I switch to the dough hook. The amount of flour is inexact and depends more on the temperature and humidity of your kitchen than on some preconceived notion of how much flour pizza dough should have. Add more flour as needed to prevent sticking and knead the dough a couple of minutes, until it is elastic.

I use a dough-doubler container, oiled, with a lid. You can also use an oiled bowl, covered with a damp cloth or plastic wrap. Let the dough rise about an hour, depending on how quickly it rises. It should double in bulk.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface, preferably a large, wooden board. Let it rest a few minutes and divide it into pieces if making more than one pizza. Use a rolling pin to roll the dough minimally into circles to fit your pans. Place the dough on the pans and top with your favorite toppings.

I bake my pizzas at 450 degrees.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

In which I make Marcella's tomato sauce with butter

Yes, you're looking at spaghetti with tomato sauce. But it's no ordinary tomato sauce, even though it's the one my mother made, and it's the one I usually make. It's the one the Carnivorous Husband created for me time and again as I recovered from the birth of Miss Voracious. Actually, it is possibly the only meal he's ever made from scratch.
Well, not entirely from scratch--the tomatoes are canned, not fresh.
When he made this sauce, he might have used pureed. I prefer this method:
Notice the food mill that was a gift from Miss Voracious.
Notice also the ample butter, Parmigiano Reggiano (please don't use anything else), and halved garden onions. You remove the onion pieces after the sauce has simmered adequately. My father liked to eat them, and maybe you will, too.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

In which I avoid Cooking

It's been a slow week for cooking and baking. When the Carnivorous Husband is out of town, I tend to put my own culinary desires on hold and appease Master Persnickety and Miss Voracious instead. In other words, we've been eating pasta. Last night's hoisin seared tofu and vegetables pushed Master Persnickety to his limits of open-mindedness, even though he loves tofu and vegetables and hoisin sauce--just not together.
We've also had our hands a little fuller than usual with a certain house guest. He's the gray and white blur on the photo's left. His name is The Professor.

The Professor returned to his usual home today, and the children, who have been uncharacteristically reasonable in their demands this week, required a small treat to take their minds off things. The best solution to a house with no kittens is, of course, Eppie's.

You'll be hearing about Eppie's again. It's not one of those family restaurants with only Kraft-like macaroni, french fries, and stewed apples for vegetarian diners, because the "vegetables" actually contain more meat than the meat dishes. Here, herbivores can peruse the menu with confidence. The greens do not contain bacon and are nonetheless delicious. Actually, much of the menu, unlike several trendier ones in town, is pleasantly bacon-free.

You won't find gourmet fare at Eppie's--the food is much like what I would make at home if I wanted to cook a long time and use lots of pots and pans, which I don't. Master Persnickety had penne with pesto and pumpkin bread, his favorite. Not a bite remained. Miss Voracious loves to partake of the ample vegetarian selections on the menu, and tonight she settled on one of the myriad options of the "Three Veggie Plate:" the Greek salad (a favorite), the cornbread (featured on the plate unless a substitution is requested), and the evening's dessert: banana pudding. Yes, dessert counts as a veggie; if you go when they're offering a crisp or cobbler, get it. My three veggies also included dessert and cornbread as well as black beans--sort of a chunky soup/stew--and a large baked sweet potato. It is also possible to order Four Veggies, but I usually find this amount to be too much for one meal. Not being able to decide on only three because there are so many choices that sound good is a novel problem for a vegetarian to have.

The combination provided the hearty meal I needed after a long week with no husband, and the banana pudding was not in the least bawdy like the song of the same name (Southern Culture on the Skids). The salads are crisp and freshly-prepared with no wilted greens and several interesting flavor combinations. The Daily salad (a favorite of mine) is spinach with blue cheese, cranberries, tomatoes. The Greek salad has lots of onions, feta, and olives. A special I've had several times, an inspired Cesar salad, has a chipotle dressing and cornbread croutons. Vegans can enjoy several selections here, from a hummus sandwich to several of the veggie options. Personally, I love the black beans, sweet potatoes and collards with a generous drizzling of their spicy vinegar, but there are several other possible vegan combinations, and the marinara sauce for pasta appears to be vegan--just make sure to ask for no cheese. For conventional vegetarians, even the macaroni and cheese is tasty and has tiny bits of mushroom cooked into it for added depth of flavor.
I could go on and on, but I'll leave you in suspense until the next time. Eppie's is quick and great for those weeknight meals after baseball practice or dance class. It's probably not the most romantic choice and does not offer table service, but tables and restrooms are kept clean, and it's a favorite spot of mine for a casual dinner with friends.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

In which I order the Blue Plate Special

Having first moved to Charlottesville more than ten years ago, I have seen many restaurants come and go. Some of the departed were exclusively or predominantly vegetarian: Garden of Sheba, Liquid, and Veggie Heaven. Last week, on a rare lunch date without kids, we went to an old favorite that always has a vegetarian offering: Hamilton's. It's the most upscale local restaurant to offer a decidedly vegetarian lunch option, so I thought, "We may as well start at the top."
Their soup of the day is always vegetarian, and they have a vegetarian "Blue Plate Special" that may vary subtly from day to day and changes entirely from time to time. Because, aside from a salad with goat cheese, these are their only vegetarian dishes, it's fortunate that they are not always the same. This statement might sounds snarky but isn't: the food here is a lot more interesting than most. You won't find the ubiquitous "veggie lasagna" or sandwich smothered in sprouts here. In fact, my plate has always been blissfully sprout-free.
Hamilton's cuisine is not "budget" fare, but the lunch is, in my opinion, generally a good value for the calibre of the food. Last week's lunch specials included a chilled vichyssoise as the soup, and a mini tofu burger, two bean salads, and eggplant fries could be found on the blue plate. The vichyssoise was simple and seasoned mainly with black pepper and a splash of bright green infused oil. The flavor was mainly pepper: not bad, but another herb wouldn't have been unwelcome. The tofu burger was a bit overwhelmed by the copious spicy sauce but wasn't oily, and the texture was pleasant. The only funny bit was that the tiny bun had a papery film of baked egg-wash stuck to its bottom. One salad was of green beans in a buttermilk dressing, and the other was black-eyed peas: both were fine. I was a little put off by the elderly-looking undressed watercress that was taking up a lot of room on the plate. It and a small sliver of tomato looked like they might have gone on the burger, but it was much too small for them. The eggplant fries were good and light rather than greasy. I might have liked a bit of that spicy sauce from the burger to dip them in. Lunch was filling, so we didn't order dessert, but the desserts I've had there in the past have been delicious. The service was, as always, efficient and amiable.
For vegans, there were no menu options. The salads on the blue plate did not seem to have been made to order, so it's unlikely the green beans could be had without the buttermilk. Usually, there are more dairy products in the vegetarian special--this time, the other elements were plausibly vegan.
Note to self: Next time, remember to bring the camera.

In which the Search begins and I bake Bread

A Sunday of baking, inside and out. It's possible that I could save energy by using the car as an oven. Cooling storms are breaking up before they reach us. The garden, pictured in its former glory and recently untended during our trip to Ireland, withers and turns brown. My plans to tame the blackberries and plant beans are on hold until the weather breaks. Cleaning out the attic, piled high with boxes from three moves to and from Charlottesville, will have to wait.
So, bread. Instead of the planned Irish brown bread, for which I ordered proper Irish coarse wheat flour, buttermilk white bread. It's probably very naughty of me to begin a vegetarian blog with white bread, so call it a guilty pleasure. We plant-eaters like our fun, too.

Brown bread seems best with soup or a good aged cheese, such as the ones we sampled some in counties Kerry and Clare. The Kerrygold butter was waiting in the fridge. As hot as it is, a simple soup seemed to fit, so I made one from green peas and potatoes. I used onions and parsley, which is somehow thriving, from the garden, and I seasoned it with smoked salt and pepper. Topped with raw milk blue cheese, it didn't seem too hearty for summer, even today.