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.