BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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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.


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Read/Eat All About It!

Have you received the March/April edition of VegNews Magazine yet? Well, you’ve got a lot to look forward to- After a brief hiatus, my column is back! Don’t miss my recipe for Tea Cake Sandwiches, perfect for dessert and tea parties alike. The brown sugar sponge cake especially turned out to be a runaway success, and has become my go-to dacquoise for all sorts of plated desserts, layer cakes, and everything in between. In this case, just add a layer of vanilla creme, ripe strawberries, and a few leaves of fresh mint, and you have yourself a sweet sandwich worth coveting.

I also had the pleasure of photographing Jesse Miner’s BBQ Lentil and Mushroom Tacos in this issue as well. Let me tell you, these things are crazy good! I have a serious distaste for all barbecue sauce in general, so that’s really saying a lot.

Lest I leave you without a recipe, don’t miss out on the Peanut Butter Ginger Muffins I shared with Leela at The Kitchn! Shockingly, I actually forgot to get a photo of these beauties, so you’ll just have to hop on over and checkout Leela’s lovely images. Now get to it, there’s plenty of food to make!


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The Secret is Out!

…And despite the fact that this is the first official announcement, it has long been out, since it’s near impossible to hide an Amazon.com listing.

Well, there’s no turning back now- My second cookbook, Vegan Desserts, will soon be on its way to a bookstore near you! Get your sweet tooth in gear, because this one will be jam-packed with well over 100 brand new, never before seen recipes, each and every one accompanied by a full-color photo. Arranged by season and drawing inspiration from fresh ingredients, holidays, and innovative flavor combinations, this is not just another classic baking book.

As if that all wasn’t exciting enough yet, brace yourself, because the much sought-after recipes for vegan meringues and macarons will be included!

Three years in the making, this book came precipitously close to being tossed out altogether. Sitting on my computer, growing older and less attractive by the day, I eventually realized that a final decision was necessary: Forget the whole mess ever existed and move on, or painstakingly fix all of the blemishes, large and small. This meant rephotographing everything, rewriting everything, and revamping the recipes. It was the equivalent of ripping 250 pages out of their binding, shredding 200, and starting again from there. But for that precise reason, because I couldn’t just speed this text along to the printer without a second thought, I am truly grateful. That initial rejection gave me time to grow as a baker and photographer, to vastly improve this final collection of recipes and images as a whole. Vegan Desserts is so much more than just another cookbook to me; it’s my baby, and I couldn’t be more proud of how it’s grown up. Now, I can only hope that everyone else feels the same way, too.

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