BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


18 Comments

Puff Piece

When Earth Balance, a company once known only for producing vegan buttery spreads, announced that it was expanding its product line into the unlikely realm of snack food, it was impossible not to be curious. How would expertise in spreadable condiments (and now non-dairy milks) translate to munchable morsels? Hunting down these new offerings has been hit and miss, so I’m thankful that company representatives kindly stepped in and sent me a complete collection.

What really caught my attention and appetite were the Vegan Aged White Cheddar Flavor Puffs. Above all else, this sounded like (and later proved to be) a snack worth seeking out. To my knowledge the only other vegan puffs on the market are Tings, which don’t compare to this new cheesy doodle. While Tings taste like nutritional yeast, the Earth Balance Puffs, taste like… Wait for it… Cheese! Yes indeed, subtle nutty, tangy, savory, and funky notes combine to create something startlingly delicious, and undeniably cheesy. Though they may look like large, furry cashews, their flavor is enough to prompt proclamations of “I can’t believe it’s vegan!” from eaters young and old. Bearing a much denser, more substantial crunch than the classic doodle, they’re more filling than the averaged puffed junk food, but it’s still dangerously effortless to plow through an entire bag in one sitting. Just the right amount of salt keeps you reaching for one more, and as a bonus, there will be no tell-tale dayglow orange “cheez” fingers afterward.

After such a positive initial experience, I was clamoring to tear into the next bag in the set: Vegan Buttery Flavor Popcorn. First impressions were not as positive, as opening the bag released a plume of artificial “butter” scent. Off-putting and chemical in nature, it could be compared generously to Molly McButter. Mercifully, that aroma doesn’t carry through to the flavor. The crisp, fresh kernels are in stark contrast to traditional movie theater popcorn, typically a greasy lard bucket with a bit of popcorn on the side. No slick fingers here, but a distinctly buttery flavor can be found throughout. Applied with finesse, it doesn’t beat you over the head with “BUTTER!”, and bears the perfect hit of salt on each tender kernel. I should never have doubted that Earth Balance, forefathers of all things buttery and vegan, would nail this flavor with ease.

As for the Vegan Aged White Cheddar Flavor Popcorn, just imagine that same crisp, corny base coated in the previously described cheesy powder. The harmonious blend produces my favorite snack of them all, which I would consider the ultimate movie munch. Quite frankly, I can’t imagine who wouldn’t enjoy this, and if it were possible, I wouldn’t want to meet them.

Finally, taking a sharp departure from the previous light and fluffy nibbles, P.B. Popps stands out from the crowd in both flavor and appearance. Described as “popcorn cuddled in peanut butter and a bustle of oats,” I’m not sure my own tasting notes can really compare to that statement. Employing round mushroom kernels as opposed to the butterfly popcorn kernels in the previous savory offerings, each dense sphere is a veritable peanut butter bomb. The somewhat soft, creamy exterior gives way to a solid crunch, with whole roasted peanuts and oats intermingling throughout. Reminiscent of decadent granola clusters, the popcorn loses its characteristic corny flavor underneath the heavy coating, acting more as a vehicle for the sweet and salty nut butter. Peanut butter lovers will surely adore the stuff, but I’m not quite sure it has a place in my own snack food lineup.

While the buttery and peanut-y popcorn offerings are perfectly worthy of a midday snack attack, it’s the cheese flavors that mark a big leap forward for vegankind. It’s a brave new world out there, and the food is only getting better (and cheesier.)


31 Comments

Breakfast for Dinner

How can it be that I’ve gone about my life for 24 years, blissfully ignorant of the glorious celebration that is National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Month? That’s 24 wasted Aprils, 24 missed opportunities to indulge in this childhood pleasure. No- Make that only 23 chances to indulge in melted cheesy goodness between two pieces of toasted bread, because this is the year that I start making up for lost time.

The time to start small with the standard assemblage has passed; I’m plunging in with gusto. Ditching the standard white or wheat bread, the party gets started with two fluffy pancakes on either end. Ever so lightly sweetened, they provide the perfect counterpoint to the salty, savory ingredients that they flank. After cooking and cooling, the pancakes go back into the frying pan, this time topped with a heaping handful of Mexican Style Shreds, so graciously provided by Go Veggie! (formerly known as Galaxy). Once melted to a magnificently gooey consistency, one pancake is topped with a hefty serving of the eggiest, creamiest tofu scramble I know, while the other is garnished with thinly sliced ripe tomato. Grilled until warmed through, the two halves come together to create one monster of a sandwich, better than a mere grilled cheese and yet one that carries the same comforting nostalgia. Break out the fork and knife for this one, because it’s messy, it’s sloppy, and oh so satisfying.

Oh April, if only I knew of your cheesy charms sooner. If this is just the start, this will be a good month, indeed.


21 Comments

The Big Cheese (Aged to Perfection, Part Two)

For fear of inadvertently turning a little review post into a long, drawn-out novel, the urge to insert flowery prose was kept in as close check as possible. Still almost double the girth of the average article around here, it was a behemoth alright, providing plenty of info to chew on over the weekend. Countless tiny tasting notes abbreviated or discarded, I was ready to call it a day, mark this book done, and revisit it at leisure. Cleaning files and photos, it was with horror that I discovered my omission. Shortened text is one thing, but an entirely forgotten recipe trial and photo? Not on my watch.

Slipping through my fingers for a second time, I suppose, there’s a very good reason why the Air-Dried Cheddar (page 30) missed the boat on the original posting; it was ugly as sin. So ugly, in fact, that I couldn’t manage to capture any remotely appealing picture of it whole. Greasy to the touch, crackled and flaking on the outside, it was the only block of cheese that somehow picked up a little spot of mold as well. Gamely cutting out the offending fuzz, at four days in, it smelled more like yeasty bread dough than cheese. I did not have high hopes for this experiment. Although not nearly firm enough to shred or slice as promised, it was pleasantly musty in a ripened cheese-sort of way. Tasting more like traditional vegan cheeses of yore, it leaned heavily on the nutritional yeast addition, skewing it further from an authentic flavor than the previous recipes. Admittedly, I may have enjoyed it more straight out of the pan prior to aging, but it still had great potential once cured.

Making the first thing that comes to mind when anyone mentions the word “cheddar,” a lightning-fast batch of mac and cheese saved the day. Thickly coating al dente pasta in a creamy blanket, any small disappointments could be forgiven, bringing out its full culinary potential.

Easy Cheese Sauce

8 Ounces Air-Dried Cheddar from Artisan Vegan Cheese (page 30)
1 1/2 Cups Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
Pinch Smoked Paprika
Pinch Turmeric, Optional (For Color)

Break the cheddar into chunks, and puree all of the ingredients thoroughly until completely smooth. Transfer to small saucepan and heat, stirring occasionally, just to warm it through.

To make an almost-instant mac and cheese, toss one batch of sauce with about 1 pound of cooked pasta and serve immediately.

Makes About 3 Cups

Printable Recipe

Finally, because a recipe is a terrible thing to waste, I feel duty bound to share my approach to the famed aligot. Take my word though, it’s no mere variation on mashed potatoes; these spuds are far richer than any mere mashers could hope to be, even in the hands of Paula Deen. Dole out conservative portions, if you dare…

Aligot

2 Pounds Yukon Gold Potatoes, Peeled and Diced
1 Clove Garlic, Sliced
2 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine
3/4 Pound Emmentaler from Artisan Vegan Cheese (page 32), Diced
1/4 Pound Brie from Artisan Vegan Cheese (page 12), Diced
Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper, to Taste
2 – 3 Tablespoons Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk

Fill a large stock pot with water and toss in the prepared potatoes and garlic. Set over moderate heat and bring to a boil, cooking until the spuds are fork-tender. Drain thoroughly before transferring the cooked potatoes to the bowl of your food processor.* Toss in the margarine and both cheeses, pureeing until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste, and thin out with non-dairy milk if necessary. Continue processing for an additional minute or two, until silky, ribbon-like strands form when scooped up with a spoon.

Serve immediately while still hot.

*Yes, I did say food processor. This breaks all the known rules of mashed potato-making, but remember, this is aligot, not mashed potatoes. You want them to end up rather sticky, stretchy, and gooey.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

Printable Recipe


41 Comments

Aged to Perfection

Hard pucks of florescent yellow plastic; waxy, limp shreds that are more likely to burst into flame than melt in the oven; odd imports that carry a price tag equivalent to edible gold. It’s hard to believe that only a scant few years ago, this was the array of options for the pitiful vegan craving a taste of something cheesy. We’ve come a long way, baby, and we’re not done yet. Achieving mainstream acceptance of a meltable, palatable vegan alternative seemed like the climax of the story, the best that anyone eschewing dairy could ever hope for, but now Miyoko Schinner has gone and raised the bar once more.

In many ways, Artisan Vegan Cheese reads like the sequel to The Uncheese Book. Recipes are largely nut and agar based, but where it diverges drastically is in technique. Probiotics are added to the mix in the form of either vegan yogurt or rejuvelac, both of which have their own recipes for making at home for the avid cook. Cheeses are aged, just like in traditional processes with dairy milk, which allows for development of those tangy, funky flavors that simply can’t be replicated by any simple ingredient addition.

Miyoko makes it clear from the onset that this book is not about instant gratification. Though plenty of recipes included can be whipped up and eaten right away, the real crème de la crème, if you will, are the aged cheeses. Fermentation and drying times vary from three days to three weeks, depending on your diligence and patience.

While waiting for my millet-based Rejuvelac (page 6) to ferment, I dove right into the simpler recipes, enticed by the promise of Rich and Creamy Alfredo Sauce (page 62.) It wasn’t so much the idea of smothering noodles in the creamy condiment that caught my attention, but the suggestion of using it to top a pizza that Miyoko mentions in the intro. Such a brilliant idea was impossible to ignore, and so I blended up that sauce in record time, slapping it on freshly risen dough, and gilded the lily with delicate squash blossoms picked earlier that day. Nice and thick, the Alfredo sat perfectly in place from baking to eating, all while remaining creamy throughout. Although mild in flavor, the subtle touch of white wine added unexpected complexity to the mix, and allowed my additional herbs and toppings to really shine.

Now with a big batch of yeasty, sour rejuvelac on hand, I steeled myself for the real heart of the matter; the aged cheeses. Making the Smoked Provolone (page 51) was an absolute must, turning out to be my favorite pick of the litter. To give you a hint of how impressed I was, my tasting notes for this amber-orange wheel lead with “shockingly delicious, a total game-changer.” Sure, it seemed promising, but how could it differ so greatly than other cheeses I had made before? Tasting is believing my friends, because nothing else comes close. Unlike so many curd copycats before, the flavor is not of vinegar, not mustard, not nooch, but simply cheese. A firm rind had formed after air-drying on the counter for four days, while the interior remained soft yet slice-able. The smoky flavor made me think more of a gouda than a provolone, but specifics aside, even my omnivorous mom agreed that it tasted like something that a cow would produce, not a cashew.

Next up was Air-Dried Emmentaler (page 32), a cheese similar to Swiss but without the tunnel-like holes. Softer than anticipated, even after aging a full three days, only the sharpest knife in my drawer would facilitate clean cuts. Vaguely gummy, the texture was not ideal, but the tangy, distinctive flavor made up for it. Funky but still delicate enough to play nicely with any sort of pairing, sweet or savory, it’s a highly versatile option.

One of the few remaining “holy grails” of vegan food has got to be convincing dairy-free Brie (page 12)… but no more. Skeptically but optimistically adding the entire cup of refined coconut oil called for, it seemed impossible that anything edible, let alone delicious, would come of this crazy experiment. Oh, how happily wrong I was. After sitting out to warm for 30 minutes before removing a wedge, the texture won’t be runny like traditional Brie, but it does become lusciously spreadable and creamy. To me, it tasted like cream cheese with some extra funk, but I’ve never actually had Brie in the first place. Again seeking confirmation from my mom, she proclaimed it “very Brie-like, aside from the texture,” emboldening me to serve it at a strictly omnivore dinner party. Almost the entire wheel went missing well before the main meal was served.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Risotto Fritters (page 76), otherwise known as arancini, due to the surprisingly loose consistency of the rice even after cooling. A messy struggle with sticky hands ensued, but all the hassle was worthwhile when my Emmentaler-stuffed appetizers came out of the oven. Opting to simplify and bypass the hot oil, these rice balls were just as tasty bake as they would have been fried. A light tomato undertone, with frequent pops of herbaceous basil throughout offsets the creamy cheese inside. Plain old marinara would have been just fine, rather than the somewhat forgettable roasted pepper sauce, since these are flavorful enough to hold their own.

Suddenly the refrigerator cheese drawer was overburdened with non-dairy delights, calling for drastic measures of reduction. Seeking out the richest, gooiest recipe to pack in as much cheese as possible, the time was finally right to try making aligot. Like mashed potatoes but with equal parts spuds and cheese, this side dish is actually stretchy when made properly. Incredibly, overwhelmingly buttery, it was delicious indulgence, but a bit much for me. After enjoying one portion of full-frontal aligot, the rest of the batch was mixed with a good dose of veggies and thinned out to make an incredible potato soup.

With recipe from Artisan Vegan Cheese in hand, vegans no longer need to offer their cheesy creations to others accompanied by a disclaimer, or a campy title like “cheez.” Leave the excuses back in the 20th century and join in on the future of cruelty-free cuisine; this is simply vegan cheese, no subtitles or purposeful misspellings, and it’s damn good.


13 Comments

Shredding the Competition

For all the progress made in creating better tasting, readily available, and even more affordable vegan cheeses, it’s surprising that one company still has a near monopoly on the meltable “cheese” market. The greatest test of any cheesy substitute, it’s a true feat of food engineering that not many achieve with flying colors. Happily, that doesn’t mean that all the other players are out of the game- Far from it, as evidenced by Galaxy Foods‘ latest bold entry to the arena, Vegan Shreds. Proclaiming that it “Melts and Stretches” right on the package in no uncertain terms, highlighted in red for maximum impact, such a statement clearly issues a challenge to consumers, daring them to try for themselves. Putting these new shreds to the test, I was more than willing to take on that challenge.

Far from new to the field, Galaxy has been pumping out the cheesy imposters for decades, ranging from blocks to slices to “Parmesan” sprinkles, but the shreds are their most noteworthy creation yet. No bones about it, I was not impressed by previous product lines. Though slowly improving throughout the years, I couldn’t shake a certain waxy aftertaste that seemed to plague every sliceable or pre-sliced option. So it was with great trepidation that I approached the two new available flavors: Mozzarella and Mexican-Style Shreds.

Classic French onion soup made an ideal canvas to test both flavor and true meltability of the Mozzarella shreds. Popping the “cheese”-covered wedges of baguette under the broiler, it was a true delight to see pale beige ribbons effortlessly collapse into a bubbling layer of molten lava-like goo. No careful cajoling necessary to prevent premature burns, it behaved admirably and lived up to its lofty assertions of melting with ease. Providing genuinely cheesy flavor, it deserves high marks for the actual taste as well, but I could hardly suggest that it would fool a true dairy devotee.

Cheddar is usually the second standard, but much to my surprise, Galaxy threw a true curve ball for their next move. Submitting a Mexican-Style shred instead, there’s nothing else on the market that attempts to fill such a void. Blending brighter orange-tinted strips into the mix, it’s a pleasing color combination on top of any food, such as my Cincinnati-style chili*, but I’m afraid to say that I couldn’t detect much difference in flavor from the Mozzarella shreds. If eaten carefully, piece by piece, the orange shreds might have a slightly sharper taste, almost like a mild cheddar… But who really eats their food like that? It would take hours to get through a meal if we were all separating the tiny pieces of “cheese” on top of a dish.

Though I can’t necessarily recommend one flavor over the other, I can enthusiastically recommend the Vegan Shreds on the whole. Performing just as promised, it’s an excellent alternative to Daiya, which is a very welcome change of pace. I can’t declare a winner to this battle just yet, but it’s good to see them both on a level playing ground at last.

With a good amount of extra cheese leftover from this trial run, I knew immediately what to do with it. A comforting indulgence that I’ve been making for myself for years now, it’s finally become something worthy of serving to others, now that these shreds no longer scream “fake vegan substitute!” from the rooftops. Filed under my favorite recipe digital folder, “Junky Eats,” this Broccoli and “Cheese” Hummus truthfully isn’t deserving of such categorization, but it certainly tastes suitably indulgent. Pure comfort food, I love eating it warm with toasty pitas, but it also makes an ideal party dip, chilled and ready to please for summer soirees. Chill and serve it on ice- the cheesy shreds won’t seize or become gritty once blended, leaving the texture lusciously smooth. Plus, you get to painlessly sneak another green vegetable into your daily diet.

*By no means would I ever claim my rendition is authentic Cincinnati chili, as true Ohio natives often shun the inclusion of beans. Also, note that the chili was almost completely cool by the time I took the picture, and thus the shreds didn’t have enough heat to melt and this is the correct look for classic Cininatti chili regardless.

Broccoli and “Cheese” Hummus

2 – 2 1/2 Cups Frozen Broccoli
2.5 Ounces Vegan Mexican-Style Shreds, or Any Vegan Cheddar-Style “Cheese”
1 Tablespoon Water
1 15-Ounce Can Chickpeas, Drained
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Braggs Liquid Aminos
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
3/4 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1 1/2 Tablespoons Vegetable Broth Powder
2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
1/3 Cup Olive Oil

Place the frozen broccoli in a microwave-safe dish, and drizzle in the tablespoon of water to allow it to steam properly. Sprinkle the “cheese” shreds evenly over the veggies, and lightly cover the dish with a piece of parchment paper. Heat at full power for 2 – 3 minutes, until the broccoli has thawed and cheese melted. Set aside.

Meanwhile, combine all of the remaining ingredients, except for the oil, in your food processor. Pulse to combine, and with the motor running, slowly drizzle in the oil to incorporate and emulsify. Pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl periodically, to ensure there are no tricky chickpeas or pockets of seasoning escaping the blades. Puree thoroughly, until completely smooth. For the best texture, you really can’t cut any corners here: It may take as long as 10 minutes of straight blending until the mixture is perfectly silky. Just keep a close eye on it, and stop when you’re satisfied.

Scrape all of the cooked broccoli and melted “cheese” into the food processor, and pulse lightly to incorporate. You don’t want to completely blend it in, but have small chunks of broccoli for texture. Eat right away, or store in an air-tight container for up to a week.

Makes 3 – 4 Cups Hummus

Printable Recipe


56 Comments

Reunited and It Tastes So Good!

Nine years is a long time to go without a childhood favorite. Comfort food that evokes the warmest, coziest memories, even if it did come out of a blue box and was composed of more chemicals than you might find in the average chemistry set. Something about that simple amalgamation of noodles and cheese-product sauce managed to reach the farthest corners of my young brain, imprinting a deep appreciation for the day-glow orange noodles. Sure, I’ve since had numerous non-dairy renditions, some even quite good and worthy of recommendation, but none were quite right. Some unidentifiable piece of the puzzle remained lost, that “perfect” mac and cheese just beyond my reach.

Every vegan and their mother and best friend has a unique formula for creating their ideal mac, so it was one of those things I simply didn’t pursue. There were enough recipes that came close enough; why keep picking on something so close?

But then, there was the mac that changed everything. Assigned by VegNews to shoot their signature macaroni and cheese, as formulated by Allison Samson of Allison’s Gourmet, it was admittedly the first time I had ever made or eaten an oven-baked casserole version of the classic dish. That first bite was just short of transcendent- And even more so if you consider that fact that the original recipe included absolutely no nutritional yeast. A potato-based sauce, standing in for rich, cheesy-creamy-goodness? You bet.

And thus, my macaroni quest began.

Drawn back to my memories of simple stove-top mac, my first adaptation was to lose the casserole dish and bread crumbs. Feel free to add both back into the equation, as I was definitely impressed by how much those crispy edges added to the mix; it’s merely a matter of personal preference.

Naturally, I couldn’t keep away from the nooch, what with it’s delicious umami notes and undeniably “cheesy” essence.

Rich, but not unctuous or artery-clogging, this is perhaps as close to perfection as I’ve tasted in nine years or more. Creamy, very saucy (who hasn’t wished those boxes made about twice as much sauce?), bright but natural orange in hue, this is the mac I’ve been craving all along. That long awaited reunion tasted even better than I had hoped!

Vegan Stove Top-Style Macaroni and Cheese
Adapted from Allison River Samson’s VegNews Macaroni and Cheese

1 Cup Peeled and Diced Yukon Gold Potatoes
1/4 Cup Shredded or Finely Diced Carrot
1/2 Cup Chopped Yellow Onion
1 Clove Garlic, Thinly Sliced
1 Cup Water
1/4 Cup Raw Cashews
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Dijon Mustard
2 Teaspoons Lemon Juice
1/4 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/8 Teaspoon Tumeric (Optional, for Color)
3/4 – 1 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1/3 Cup Neutral-Flavored Oil, Such as Canola or Rice Bran

1 Pound Pasta, Cooked*

*I’m rather fond of tiny spirals or twists here, but elbows are more traditional. Any shape you’ve got, other than long spaghetti, pretty much works though.

Place the cut potatoes, carrots, onion, and garlic in a small sauce pan, and pour in the water. Set over medium heat on the stove, and bring to a boil. Once the water reaches a vigorous boil, cover the pot, turn down the heat to medium-low, and let simmer for 15 minutes, until the potatoes are extremely tender.

Meanwhile, prep the other ingredients to speed things along. Place the cashews, nutritional yeast, salt, mustard, lemon juice, paprika, and tumeric (if using) in your blender. A high-speed blender is recommended for the best results, but you can also use an ordinary machine as long as you have patience. Give these ingredients a light pulse just to begin breaking down the cashews slightly.

When the vegetables on the stove are fully cooked and ready, pour them into your blender along with all of the cooking water. Add in 3/4 cup of the non-dairy milk, and turn on the blender to its highest setting. Thoroughly puree the mixture, until completely smooth and lump-free. If you’re using a blender that isn’t so hearty, this could take 6 – 10 minutes. With the motor still running, slowly drizzle in the oil, to allow it to properly emulsify. Check the consistency; if you like your sauce a bit thinner blend in the remaining 1/4 of non-dairy milk.

Pour the sauce over your cooked noodles, and serve immediately.

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

Printable Recipe


59 Comments

Uncheese, Uncomplicated

17 years later and still in mainstream circulation, it’s clear that the The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook by Jo Stepaniak has serious staying power, and pearls of wisdom still ripe for the picking. Even in this modern day and age of easily available store-bought non-dairy cheese substitutes, found in a vast array of flavors, with many that even melt and taste good, there is still room in the kitchen for homemade renditions. For the avid DIY-er or frugal cooking enthusiast, The Uncheese Book remains the unchallenged authority on the subject. Reprinted and updated in 2003, it remains largely unchanged since its initial 1994 release, and considering how drastically the face of veganism has morphed since then, that fact should speak volumes by itself.

Not to say that this tome of cheesy concepts is entirely infallible, however. After a few trials of my own, it became startlingly clear that the recipes within could be very much hit-or-miss affairs. Most intrigued by the idea of making block cheeses at home that could be sliced and grated at will, I started near the back of the book rather than the beginning.

After all, the possibility of homemade vegan “Gooda” was just too tempting to resist. An old childhood favorite, small wheels of smoked gouda almost always found their way onto the hors d’oeuvre table at many family functions, and had me hooked for most of my preteen years. Firm but easily sliced, the consistency of the milk-less cheese surpassed my expectations from the moment it cooled and solidified. However, eaten straight away that same day, it struck me as having a pungent mustard flavor. Having utilized smoked paprika and hickory-smoked sea salt to impart a subtle undertone, it had just the right lightly smoke-y nuance… But was far from any smoked gouda I could recall. With confirmation from my cheese-eating mother, I was initially disappointed in this wild experiment, and tossed my unloved wheel into the fridge. Forgotten for two days, it managed to mature considerably, and was quite agreeably improved upon second taste. I still can’t claim it will calm any authentic gouda cravings, but I would not be ashamed to serve this up at any party.

Moving on to the Muenster, or what I used to refer to as “monster” cheese, once upon a time, it was a lovely little number, all dressed up in ruby red paprika and begging to be shown off to friends and family. This is the “cheese” that stole my heart, my favorite of the book thus far and a savory treat so good, I don’t think I shared even a sliver. Mild but creamy, with an addictive umami-sort of whisper throughout, I would argue that this one might be able to fake it as “real” cheese. Perfectly complimented by the paprika coating, lending the pale block both a pop of color and sweetly spicy flavor, it was a delight to behold both with the eye and palate. This recipe alone is worth the full cover price of the book, and then some.

Less successfully, I also tried the Almond Cream Cheez… Let’s just say, this one should get a pass, or perhaps a severe edit. The main issue likely stems from the use of arrowroot, which gives the so-called spread a texture more akin to gooey pond scum than any edible item. There is hope for this misguided shmear, however, as the flavor itself was shockingly spot-on for cream cheese. Even dressed up as cute little cucumber and olive canapes, there was no saving that slime. Lightly tangy and with just the right balance of salt, I continued attempting to eating it time and again since the taste was so perfect, but the textural issues were simply unforgivable. With perhaps a bit of love and a new thickener, it could certainly become a winning option as well.

Branching out a bit into composed dishes, I found the suggestion of a vegan Blintzes wholly intriguing, and highly worthwhile. Made of gluten-free, chickpea flour-based crepe and mashed tofu filling, the recipe was deceptively simple. My own sad crepe-making skills may be largely to blame, but truth be told, I couldn’t get one whole crepe out of this mix as written. Only after adding a good measure of glutenous white flour was I able to turn out a feeble three or four flat pancakes. Tasted alone, the assembly was admittedly rather bland, but paired with a basic blueberry sauce, deemed not at all bad by all eaters present. The labor may not be worth such a lukewarm review, but once more, I feel that there is immense potential given a few more flavorful tweaks.

Considering the overwhelming list of options, I would hardly consider my review to be exhaustive, though, and would strongly urge anyone interested to give it a gander for yourself. Whole sections of appealing savories such as stews, casseroles, and other main dishes went entirely untouched, so I have no doubt that the potential to find more stellar recipes is a 100% likelihood. All things considered, I think that this is still a cookbook that every vegan or otherwise lactose-intolerant person should own.


25 Comments

Springing Up Everywhere

Stubborn as ever, the lack of spring vegetables and 30-degree sunshine doesn’t deter me from celebrating the premature arrival of the new season. Besides, the tiny buds of crocuses are already beginning to peer up from the tender, half-frozen earth, and that’s reinforcement enough for me.

Turning to the only edible that’s is reliably and unfailingly available so early in the season, the fridge has been stocked to the brim with fresh herbs. Mint, parsley, dill, basil, cilantro (even though it tastes like soap to my taste buds)- I don’t think there have ever been so many choices of flavorful greenery on hand at one time. Without a solid plan, it was merely a stroke of luck to see the savory cheese and chive bread being created by bloggers following along on the French Fridays with Dorie group. Even luckier, however, was the fact that I actually had good tasting vegan cheese on hand. Clearly, this one was meant to be.

Because everything is better in cute little individual portions, I fashioned my bread into muffins, while bumping up the herb content to accommodate my vast selection. A cross between a light muffin and a fluffy biscuit, even I was impressed with how well this off-the-cuff adaptation came out. Moreover, I couldn’t help but be surprised at how much I truly enjoyed that elusive “cheese” factor. Yes, it’s true: I’ve officially been won over by Daiya. Any vegan cheesy shreds would do, of course, but Daiya has definitely found a fan in me. Plus, even the omnivores approved of the cheddar-y ribbons strewn throughout, so that’s got to say something.

Both rib-sticking and fresh tasting, thanks to that vibrant herbal addition, these muffins managed to strike that fine balance between seasons that I’m still struggling with myself. Any combination of herbs would likely work just as well, so don’t be afraid to switch it up if you don’t have these exact greens on hand.

“Cheddar” Herb Muffins

1 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1/3 Cup Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 3/4 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 1/2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/4 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
4 Ounces (1/2 Package) Daiya Cheddar Style Shreds
1/3 Cup Chopped Scallions
1/4 Cup Chopped Fresh Basil
3 Tablespoons Chopped Fresh Dill
1/2 Cup Chopped Walnuts, Toasted

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, and lightly grease 9 – 12 medium muffin tins.

In a large measuring pitcher, combine the non-dairy milk, oil, and vinegar. Stir well, and let sit for at least 5 minutes for the “milk” to curdle.

Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and powder, salt, paprika, and pepper, making sure that all of the ingredients are distributed evenly throughout the mixture. Add in the “cheese,” chopped herbs, and walnuts, and mix well.

Pour the pitcher of wet ingredients into the bowl of dry, and use a wide spatula to bring the two together, stirring as few times as possible to create a mostly smooth batter. A few lumps are just fine, and certainly beat an over-mixed, tough dough.

Scoop the batter into your prepared muffin tins, mounding it up in the centers. Depending on how large you want you muffins, fill the tins either just to the top, or pile the batter on well over the rim. Naturally, I like my muffins big and bountiful, so I got fewer out of the mix.

Move your muffin tin into the oven, and bake for 16 – 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean and dry. If the muffins seem slightly anemic at that point, just run them under the broiler for 1 – 3 more minutes, until nicely golden brown.

Let rest in the tins for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Serve warm or toasted, along side a hearty bowl of soup, stew, or just with a faint smear of buttery spread.

Makes 9 – 12 Muffins

Printable Recipe

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 7,844 other followers