Saturday, October 18, 2008

Vegan MoFo Days 17 & 18: Caramel Take Two and I Suddenly Like Salad

No post yesterday! Aaah! I guess Wednesday and Friday are my Saturday and Sunday. Either that or I'm just lame. No great excuse for yesterday, except that I really didn't eat anything of note... I had a bagel for breakfast (with tofutti and tomato) and exactly nine of the Trader Joe's not chicken nuggets for dinner (with sriracha and agave nectar for dipping). And of course, I skipped lunch. I spent the day doing homework and avoiding doing homework (very mentally intensive) and the afternoon/early evening making caramel again (to send to a friend) and the evening drinking wine and reading The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.

For the second take on the caramel, I decided to try vanilla sugar made out of vanilla beans and unprocessed cane sugar instead of vanilla extract and brown sugar. The resulting flavor is very, very different-- the vanilla flavor is much more noticeable and tasty, and the sugar flavor is much less molasses-y and much more burnt. My husband likes this version much better, but I actually liked the first one more. The additional vanilla flavor is rather yummy, but ultimately I think it gets a little lost amidst the strong caramel flavors. And the burnt flavor of the cane sugar just doesn't do as much for me as the velvety, buttery, tongue teasing melted molasses flavor I got from the brown sugar. Maybe next time I'll make vanilla sugar out of brown sugar and use that for the ULTIMATE CARAMEL.

Two things that were really great about this batch, though: the texture is much better, because I cooked them all the way up to 245 this time. At room temperature, they're perfect... chewy, but not tooth shattering. Refridgerated, they're pretty hard, but perfect for letting melt in your mouth. Excellent! The other thing I definitely did right this time was adding flavorings at the end-- I added a bit of coarse grey sea salt to half the batch and lime zest to the other half. Both toppings kind of sunk into the caramel, because it was still warm... however, the lime flavor is still really noticeable and good. The salt flavor kind of disappeared, so I sprinkled a bit more salt on those ones after they cooled all the way. Still pretty tasty.

There's something I did terribly wrong this time, though! I'll share my mistake with you so that you never ever make it yourself. Something no one precisely says to you ever is that making caramel takes FOREVER. Like literally close to two hours. The caramel gets to about 200 degrees very very quickly... in maybe 5 minutes or so. But don't get hopeful, the next 45 degrees are going to take a million zillion years. At one point, I thought perhaps I would turn the heat up somewhat (from medium low to just plain medium) to help things along... I reasoned that making the stove top hotter would mean that heat would enter the caramel more quickly.

While I expect I'm right about how that heat transfer works, I did not anticipate the effect it would have on the caramel physically. Yeah... it caused the caramel to expand VERY quickly, aaand I was washing the microplane at the time and yeah, the caramel boiled and got all over EVERYTHING. I caught it before anything bad happened (no caramel fire) and moved the caramel to another un-goopy burner fast enough that I didn't have to throw it out and start over... but it was still a pretty big pain to clean up. Burning caramel smells really, really good though.

Anyway, this is probably not a huge problem if you use a big enough pot, but as I don't have a pot that is the right size, this will always be a problem for me. Whee.

In other news: I've been out to eat twice this week. Both times were at very vegan friendly establishments. And yet, both times, I felt compelled to order SALAD. Typically, I hate salad. This is something that distances me from the vegan stereotypes, but this is not why I do it. I just don't like salad. I genuinely feel like lettuce is the least worthwhile vegetable in existence. It is only good for two things: putting in sandwiches and feeding to my guinea pigs. (Iceberg lettuce is not even good for either of these things.) So, it naturally follows that salad is anathema to me.

But I ordered it and super enjoyed it twice this week! To be fair, the Wednesday night salad was a spinach salad, which is sort of like cheating. Spinach is like what lettuce would be if you took all of the things that suck out of lettuce and put good things into it instead. It has actual nutritional value... and a flavor. It is fun to chew and does not just leave you with a mouth full of water. Oh man, I love spinach. That salad was great overall: warmed (but not mushy or wilted) spinach topped with walnuts and fried scallions and tempeh bits on top of a bed of lightly stewed tomatoes and mushrooms. It made me really want to make baco bits out of tempeh... really really badly.

The salad today was a genuine lettuce salad, but equally delicious: romaine lettuce, black beans, a little salsa, corn, some crispy taco shell bits, and a bit of griller patty all atop a small pool of cilantro lime dressing. Other than lettuce, the thing I really hate about salad is salad dressing. It's not that I hate the flavor of most salad dressings... it's that I hate the quantity. Basically any time I order a salad anywhere and don't get dressing on the side, I get salad suspended in an ocean of lettuce. This is gross, especially if it's a lettuce salad, because sitting in a big old bucket of dressing makes lettuce mushy and even more disgusting than usual. Also, I want to taste the individual bits of the salad! If everything is soaked in dressing, then all I will taste is the dressing, and if all I taste is the dressing, then I don't understand the point of the exercise.

Anyway, like I said, this salad was on TOP of the dressing. At first I thought they had forgotten the dressing, but then I found it on the bottom. This is wonderful as far as I'm concerned. I had enough dressing that if I WANTED to drag every piece of lettuce through it and eat a bunch of soggy messes, I could have. And yet, being that the salad was on top of it, I could also abstain from dressing as much as I wanted to. And I didn't even have to feel like an ass for asking the waiter to give me dressing on the side! Perfect!

Have I become a salad lover? Probably not. I really do feed all of the lettuce I get from the CSA to the piggies, because they love lettuce desperately. They hate spinach, though, so next time that comes around, you can bet I'll eat the heck out of it in salad form.

Tomorrow: I may make soup! And I may also take photographs off of my camera at long last because I have got a new card reader for it. Hooray! You can see the beauty that is my caramel and maybe some other things too.


Jeni Treehugger said...

I just LOVE Salad. I live off it every day in the summer.
I've never tried making Caramel before (it does seem a lot of effort).
Glad you avoided any major Caramel catastrophes!

Bethany said...

the graveyard book sounds interesting. I liked his book neverwhere.

caramel making sounds pretty tedious. I'm going to be making candy corn using the urban housewife's recipe from last year. now that is going to be time consuming.

sophia said...

hey - i just tried this caramel recipe and i'm really confused! my candy thermometer never went above 240 F, but my caramels are totally hard and brittle, and possibly burnt - i haven't tasted yet, they don't smell burnt so i'm hoping for the best. any ideas as to what went wrong? i bought the stupid thermometer for this express purpose!