An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


Hearty and Heartfelt

Timing is everything, especially when it comes to seasonal cravings. Though immediately inspired to get in the kitchen as soon as my copy of Hearty Vegan Meals for Monster Appetites by Celine Steen and Joni Newman came in the mail, mere months ago, it was too hot to even contemplate turning on the stove, or even approaching the oven. After pouring over the pages with shining eyes and growling stomach, leaving a barrage of bookmarks in my wake, all I could do was wait for the inevitable switch that would make a warming, belly-filling meal more appealing than a bucket filled with ice-cold watermelon. As temperatures now dip and dance around the 40’s and 30’s, it’s safe to say that that time has come.

Finding a pause in the action to break into my long list of desired dishes was another matter, though. Luckily, many recipes are brilliantly simple to throw together, and pretty much cook themselves, as was the case for the Slow Cooker Corn Chowder (page 76). Toss ingredients into your slow cooker, crank it up to high for a few hours, and eat. Preferring a thicker, creamier chowder myself, I opted to blend half of it to add body, but otherwise followed the recipe to a T. The natural sweetness of the corn was nicely balanced with the spicy kick contributed by a dose of cayenne pepper, giving this unassuming recipe a complex, delicately nuanced flavor profile. Though I had never used a slow cooker prior, now I can’t for the life of me figure out why not.

Having first spied the Red-Eye Treats (page 250) on Celine’s blog years back, I knew that it was time to finally give them a test run for myself. An unusual combination of chocolate, coffee, and peanut butter, I wasn’t entirely convinced that these distinctive components could all play nicely together. Happily, my fears evaporated with one taste. A soft, chewy, but crisp bite yielded subtle sweetness, and a very satisfying depth of roasted flavor due to the coffee. The chocolate does take a bit of a backseat here, contributing more color than flavor, but next time, I think I will just have to add a handful of chocolate chips to remedy that, because there will be a next time.

The sleeper hit of my recipe trials actually came about by accident. First lured in by the promise of Hickory-Smoked Breakfast Strips (page 36) wrapped around water chestnuts to imitate bacon-wrapped scallops, my original plans were dashed once I popped open that can and discovered tiny chestnuts approximately the size of chickpeas. So here I was, far too much seitan bacon on hand, and no where to go with it. Quickly switching gears and frying it up as one typically would for “bacon,” I riffled through the pages for an appropriate accompaniment. Scramble, there had to be a scramble, I thought, homing in on the breakfast section. There, almost as an afterthought, the Scrambled Eggs hidden within the recipe for a Hearty Breakfast Bowl (page 35), were the perfect thing. So few components, so little effort, I didn’t expect much other than a nice way to round out the photo, to be honest. Adding in a bit more creaminess with a splash of soy creamer, I could scarcely believe how downright eggy things were beginning to smell- and look.

The hickory strips were completely overshadowed by the greatness of this scramble. A bit too sweet and chewy for my tastes, any flaws could be forgiven as long as that scramble was on my plate. Although I always add tons of veggies and seasonings, yet again, the mantra of “simpler is better” was proven true. I’m only slightly embarrassed to say that I wolfed down the first entire batch, unaided. The very next day, I had to have this killer tofu again, and couldn’t help but make further tiny tweaks, just to suit my own palate to perfection. Though there are a million recipes out there for tofu scramble, I implore you: Try this one. You will never miss eggs again.

Straight-Up Scramble
Adapted from Hearty Vegan Meals for Monster Appetites, by Celine Steen and Joni Newman

1 16-Ounce Container Extra-Firm Tofu, Pressed for About 45 Minutes
2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
1/2 Teaspoon Onion Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Kala Namak (Black Salt)
Pinch Turmeric
1 Teaspoon Braggs Liquid Aminos
2 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine or Coconut Oil
3 – 4 Tablespoons Plain (Unsweetened) Vegan Creamer
2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced

Crumble the pressed tofu into a large bowl and add in the nutritional yeast, garlic and onion powder, kala namak, turmeric, and braggs. Use a fork to lightly mash and combine.

Set a saute pan over medium heat, and melt the margarine or coconut oil. Once liquified, add in the tofu mixture and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until heated through and just barely browning in some places. Pour in the creamer until it reaches your desired state of creaminess, cook for 1 minute longer, and turn off the heat. Toss in the sliced scallions and serve while hot.

Makes 2 Servings, or 1 for a Vegan with a Monster Appetite

Printable Recipe


Tasty Takeout at Home

There’s a lot to be said for ready-made frozen meals, even for the avid cook and fresh food fanatic. Having a plan B safely squirreled away, just in case of a dinner emergency, can make the difference between choking down impossibly tough seitan burgers or enjoying something a bit more edible. Well aware of a certain bias against most prepared foods, I will go on the record to say that there is nothing inherently wrong with the classic tv dinner every now and then; it’s the ingredients and the over-processing where these easy options frequently go wrong. Homemade frozen meals of leftovers are fantastic, and the only difference is that you’re still the one doing the legwork to put that food on the table. For the overworked mom, student, busy professional, or anyone who doesn’t spend all of their waking hours in the kitchen, a warm, relatively healthy meal that can be on the table in five minutes or less can be downright miraculous. The key is choosing the right brands to pledge your dinner allegiance to.

New on my radar but hardly newcomers to the freezer aisle, Vegetarian Plus has been cranking out the meatless frozen meals for years now, providing vegan options directly to consumers and to larger institutions that wish to feed them. Featuring easily accessible flavors for even the pickiest palates, while still covering a whole world of exotic cuisines, they’re excellent for serving to a crowd with varied tastes.

Plate provided by Steelite

Take for example, their latest offerings of Indian-inspired entrees. Vegan Chicken Tikka Masala, looking for all the world like curried poultry, rather than its actual soybean fiber and wheat protein construction. Redolent of warm spices and a certain savory scent, the flavor is shockingly on par with some of the better takeout I’ve had. Initially sweet but switching over to spicy in seconds, the spice profile is impressively well-balanced, and on the spicier side for a mainstream meal. Nothing to burn a hole through your tongue, for sure, but lively in flavor and fairly true to its title. I would absolutely purchase this again in the future, and anyone who appreciates Indian food should take a chance on it too.

Defrosting a package of Vegan Lamb Vindaloo on another hungry and somewhat desperate evening, I had no clue what to expect. I’ve never eaten lamb, so I can’t say with any authority how authentic those protein chunks were, but I can tell you that the texture seemed chewier, perhaps gamier as far as imitation meat goes, and more similar to seitan than the previous offering. Somehow the flavor struck me as less rich, and a bit lacking in body compared to the first amazing meal, but rest assured, I had no problem cleaning my plate. Unarguably spicier, those craving a meaty meal with some bite to it would no doubt enjoy this.

Craving greasy but oh so good Chinese takeout? Vegetarian Plus has got you covered there, too. Their Vegan Kung Pao Chicken tastes as though it could have just as easily come from a cardboard carry-out box as your own freezer. Not just an homage to the idea of kung pao, this version goes the whole nine yards; coated in the same shiny, vaguely sticky, semi-sweet and generously salted sauce, it coats the palate richly, perfectly scratching that itch for something a bit indulgent. As “authentic” as American Chinese food goes, this is exactly what I remember chowing down on as a picky omnivore ages ago. Accented by a decent kick of heat, it manages to avoid descending down the sad path of bland Americanized ethnic food, so it may even have a leg up on the competition.

I must admit that what I was most intrigued by, however, was not the offering of a completely ready made and defrostable dinner, but the possibilities presented by their Vegan Shrimp. Packaged with a sweet chili sauce that I didn’t particularly enjoy, the “shrimp” needed only a bit of love to become something even better. Genuinely fishy, they both looked and smelled the part. Sure, the mere concept may sound dubious at best, but they don’t deserve the harsh judgement they’ve so often received. Bouncy between the teeth and relatively bland unadorned, the flavor strikes me as being very similar to the somewhat controversial shirataki noodles. Either you love them or you hate them, so the same could probably be said for these “shrimp.”

Plate provided by Steelite

Lightly pan-fried in a generous dose of garlic I dressed up my imitation crustaceans as a riff on shrimp and grits. Rather than making grits from dried cornmeal, my version is more like a cross between polenta and creamed corn, utilizing fresh, coarsely pureed corn for a brighter, lighter flavor. You certainly don’t need fake shrimp to enjoy it though; a bit of crispy tofu on top would be just as good, if slightly less convenient for the harried cook.

Fresh Corn Grits

1 Tablespoon Non-Dairy Margarine, or Coconut Oil
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Large Shallot or 1/2 Small Yellow Onion
1 Teaspoon Light Agave Nectar
3 Cups Fresh or Frozen Sweet Corn, Thawed
3/4 – 1 Cup Unsweetened, Plain Non-Dairy Milk
2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
Salt + Pepper

Melt your margarine or coconut oil in a saute pan over medium heat, and swirl in the olive oil. Add the shallot and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until softened. Incorporate the agave and continue to saute for 10 – 15 minutes, until lightly golden brown. Toss in the corn next, and allow about 5 – 10 more minutes on the flame to soften the corn and enhance its sweeter flavors.

Transfer everything into your blender or food processor, along with 3/4 cup of the non-dairy milk and nutritional yeast, and plus lightly until the mixture is creamy, but still has a good bit of texture to it. Drizzle in more non-dairy milk if needed, to reach your desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.

If preparing the “grits” in advance, add more non-dairy milk when reheating, because it thickens significantly as it sits.

Serves 3 – 4 as a Side Dish

Printable Recipe


An Earth-Balanced Diet

Having nearly cornered the market on vegan butters, both nut- and soy-based, Earth Balance now seeks to conquer the whole buttery world. Expanding their empire exponentially in one fell swoop, those who eschew dairy can now spread it on thick with no less than three types of Mindful Mayo, plus a Coconut Spread. Specifically trumpeting the lack of soy in half of these new products, it’s clear that Earth Balance seeks to provide a little something for everyone, vegan and allergic alike.

Most groundbreaking of the bunch is the Coconut Spread. Claiming to be “perfect for baking and cooking instead of butter!” a challenge has been clearly declared and battle lines drawn. Tall promises for a humble ingredient, it does fill a niche left yawning wide open for decades, providing a soy-free option for those wary of the maligned bean. Pure white and somewhat waxy in appearance, it has no discernible scent out of the container. Solid straight out of the fridge but fast to melt, it smooths easily over a slice of hot toast, fresh from the broiler. Subtly sweet in the way that coconut naturally is, with a decent hit of salt to round out the fresh coconut flavor, a faux-butter, this is not. Don’t expect a straight butter replacement in the flavor department, as the Coconut Spread is true to its ingredients, tasting for all the world like a more spreadable coconut oil. Whether you like the flavor of coconut or not should be the deciding factor of your preference for this product.

The real question, however, was how would it bake up compared to Earth Balance’s more buttery offerings? Though I generally do not recommend using spreadable, tub-based margarines for baking, as they contain a greater percentage of water than stick-based “butters,” I gave the coconut spread the benefit of the doubt. Whipping up a simple chocolate-chocolate chip cookie, made many times over, I noticed a difference in the consistency of the dough right away. Far softer than usual, even a brief chill in the fridge did little to firm it up. Though they baked up just fine and were quite tasty, there was a marked variation in texture from the norm. Cakey rather than chewy, I would have to say that the coconut spread is not a viable direct substitute in baking, if you’re hoping to achieve exactly the same results. It will certainly work, and for those with no other option, fire up that oven by all means. I’m just not about to trade in my buttery sticks just yet.

Once my culinary nemesis but now a guilty pleasure, the Mindful Mayo couldn’t have been released at a better time. Now primed for a tasting, I was still reluctant to sample the spread in such a naked format, but I did it for you, my dear readers. Short of plunging in a spoon and eating it straight, it seemed that including it in a classic BLT would be an acceptable format for getting a good read on the flavor. Using tempeh bacon for the “B” portion of the sandwich, I made sure to really slather it on thick, as much as common sense told me not to. Thank goodness, my fears were unfounded, and it was a genuinely delicious sandwich! Thick and flawlessly creamy, you could easily stand a spoon straight up in the jar, which meant that it held up beautifully to the more hefty filling ingredients. Tangy, with a strong flavor of lemon and mustard than Vegenaise, it’s incredibly well balanced and adds serious “umph” to an ordinary bread and veggie assemblage.

Available in three varieties, I found the Organic and Original to be indistinguishable in flavor, unsurprisingly, but the Olive Oil mayo did mix things up a bit. Soy-free, whereas the aforementioned spreads are not, it’s a solid option, and one of the few available for those avoiding dairy, eggs, and soy all at once. However, I did find it a touch looser than the previous, and tangier, with a more fruity flavor as you would expect from decent olive oil. Lighter on the palate and perhaps a bit less rich, it’s a nice light option for those not as crazy about the traditional taste of mayonnaise.

Now fully stocked with three full jars of vegan mayonnaise, I had to do something to work down my excess. A simply green garlic dip easily filled that need, providing an excellent accompaniment to any party platter of crackers, veggies, or chips. Thanks to a serendipitous find of frozen garlic scapes, it took just a push of the “blend” button to churn out a gloriously emerald-hued and garlic-imbued dip.

Green Garlic Dip

6 Ounces (1/2 Package) Extra-Firm Silken Tofu
1/2 Cup Frozen Chopped Garlic Scapes, Thawed
1 Cup Fresh Spinach, Packed
1/2 Cup Vegan Mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons Fresh Lemon Juice
2 Teaspoons White Miso Paste
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Simply toss everything into your food processor or blender, and blitz until perfectly smooth. Pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed, to ensure that everything gets incorporated. Season to taste, and chill thoroughly before serving.

Makes About 1 Cup

Printable Recipe


It’s All Greek to Me

Nipping at the heels of the latest food trends yet again, Turtle Mountain has managed to combine two powerful buzzwords in one fell swoop: “Coconut” and “Greek yogurt.” As if their plain coconut yogurt, a boon to the dairy-avoidant and soy-intolerant all at once, wasn’t enough, this latest creation manages to up the ante further. So new that I have yet to spot it on grocery store shelves, I was lucky enough to get advanced warning for this latest coconut invention and a box of three unmarked and label-less white containers in the mail. Slated to include 6 flavors in all for this line, I’m still dying to get a taste of the chocolate, strawberry, and plain varieties not included in my small sample package.

What’s most important here, however, is the texture. Without that critical viscosity, there’s little separating this latest offering from their pre-existing line of standard coconut yogurt. Achieving entirely different results from such a small change in the formula could be difficult to believe, but the promises do hold up to scrutiny- Across the board, these Greek yogurts are quite thick, somewhere along the lines of a sour cream consistency. Completely smooth even without stirring, no lumps or chunks to speak of, the richness that each spoonful brings is incredible, especially considering the substantial nutritional content. Insane amounts of fiber mean that one container plus perhaps a side of veggies or a piece of fruit makes for an entirely satisfying meal, which still feels slightly decadent.

Pale purplish-pink in color, the Raspberry Greek yogurt carries not only the seeds of its namesake, but even the tiny raspberry hairs (ie, remnants of the pistals; the female portion of the flower) as well. Much more tangy than sweet, it’s balanced by just enough cane syrup to resist bitterness, but may not be for those expecting a dessert or pudding-like experience. All the better, if you ask me! I for one don’t want to eat candy for lunch, and this option actually offers a complexity of flavors beyond pure sugary sweetness. However, fair-weather coconut friends beware: this yogurt doesn’t attempt to hide its roots, and definitely has a bit of tropical twang.

Blueberry fell a bit short for me, considering my high expectations. Very tangy but low on actual blueberry taste, it seemed to have more color than flavor. Chunks of fruit would have helped, but alas, all that can be found throughout this plastic tub are merely a few scattered seeds, merely proof that perhaps there were once berries involved. Sure, it’s fine, certainly not bad, but boring at best.

Ending on a high note, the Vanilla was the expected redemption to the whole tasting experience. A creamy off-white that reminded me of mayonnaise, I didn’t have very high hopes. Surprisingly, it carried only a slight aftertaste of coconut, and allowed the vanilla flavor space to breathe and be tasted, with a very modest amount of sweetness as well. Not terribly tangy, but mellow and agreeable, it works beautifully as a pairing to countless other treats. Dressed up in a fruit and granola parfait, I had an impressive yet simple and healthy treat in a matter of seconds. Such versatility is really the winning aspect of the Greek yogurt angle, since it’s thickness can stand up to more demanding applications than the typically runny plain yogurt.

Though there wasn’t enough of any flavor to spare for recipe experiments, rest assured that those won’t be far behind… Especially when I can get my hands on some plain Greek yogurt, there are endless possibilities for both sweet and savory baking!


Liquid Gold

Often likened to gemstones and other rare treasures, quite frankly, the rocks pale in comparison to argan oil. Incredibly rare, this so-called “liquid gold” is produced only in Morocco from the kernel of a dying breed of tree. Extracting the oil itself is a painstaking process, and thus the cost is near astronomical. Used for culinary, cosmetic, and medicinal purposes, rumored health benefits reach far and wide across any proposed usage. Whether it’s eaten, rubbed into the skin, or applied to the hair, it would seem as though anything it touches is magically improved and given a certain glow. Deciphering where the hype ends and the health benefits begin is hard to say, but there is definite merit in the claims; truth be told, it’s long been my hair care secret. Few chemical combinations have been able to tame my curly locks, but this simple oil has brought shine and smoothness to my otherwise frizzy mop of a mane. Of course, the argan oil I use in my hair isn’t pure, but cut with a number of other fillers and fragrances to bring down costs. Nothing you’d want to put in your mouth, that’s for sure.

Culinary-grade oil produced by The Argan Tree, on the other hand, is a luxurious indulgence for the palate. Setting aside the proposed nutritional perks, argan oil is worth splurging on at least once in a blue moon for the sublime flavor. Richly scented of roasted nuts, reminiscent of toasted sesame oil, it’s incredibly aromatic for such an unassuming pale yellow nectar. Deep, woodsy roasted notes prevail, though the effect is quite mild and smooth overall. Finishing with a subtle sweetness and absolutely no bitterness or astringent qualities to speak of, the centuries-long love affair with argan oil becomes easy to understand with a single taste. Surprisingly light, it doesn’t coat the palate, but dissipates quickly; a fleeting delight to chase after with another oil-imbued morsel.

An ingredient of such pedigree must be treated with respect, and for the most part allowed to shine unhindered. Applied to salads, soups, or breads unadorned (and never cooked!), the best way to enjoy argan oil is by pairing it with simple but delicious fresh fruits and veggies. Now that heirloom tomatoes are back in season, I simply couldn’t resist dressing them up in a lush argan coat.

Plate provided by Steelite

No recipes required. It would be a shame to cover up or modify such an extraordinary oil.

Have you ever tried argan oil? How do you like to serve it?


Savor Olive Life

Ever since that fateful day so many years ago, when I discovered the snack platter at a “grown-up” party, and found that pitted olives fit perfectly like little hats on my fingertips, I’ve been an unabashed fan. What’s not to love? Compact morsels of briny, salty, and rich flavor, they’re just as suitable as a condiment as they are an hors d’oeuvre. Picky eater that I was though, my appreciation for olives was not all-inclusive; my love was reserved only for black olives, while the green variety received only the cold shoulder. Another nonsensical food prejudice for sure, this one had to be tackled head-first, which is why the offer to review a small selection of Lindsay Olives couldn’t have come at a better time. Having been independently buying the seasoned black olives for months already, I knew this would be the best shot I had at finding a place in my heart for green olives too.

It became quickly apparent that this wouldn’t be a difficult task. Mottled green with brown speckles, these shiny and earthy ovals have a very mildly briny flavor- Mellow, but with a certain smoothness and an unexpected buttery undertone. A very agreeable olive, it hits all the right salty and addictive notes, without being the least bit aggressive. It pains me to have searched high and low for these olives ever since that first sample, to no avail. After trying another brand of green olives and being positively repulsed by those tasteless, unpleasantly crunchy marbles, I can definitely say that not all olives are created equal.

While still possessing an ample supply however, I couldn’t help but play a bit with my bounty. Lucking out on a small stash of eight-ball zucchini meant stuffed squash was on the menu, and olives sounded like the perfect accent flavor for the filling. Greek-inspired seasonings pull together this unusual combination of olives, white beans, artichokes, and spinach beautifully, and set these stuffed zukes apart from the rest. To lend more of a fresh, summery flavor, they would also be fantastic with a smattering of vegan pesto instead of my suggested spices. Don’t be afraid to play around with this one- It would also be quite excellent with black olives, if you haven’t yet found the green olive of your dreams.

Stuffed Eight-Ball Zucchini

6 – 8 Round (Eight-Ball) Zucchini
1 Cup Cooked White Beans
1 Cup Pitted Green Olives
1/2 Cup Chopped White Onion
1/2 Cup Marinated Artichoke Hearts, Drained and Roughly Chopped
2 Cups Packed Fresh Spinach
2 Cloves Garlic
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Coriander
Pinch Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Dill
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Marinara Sauce or Your Favorite Tomato Sauce, to Serve

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, and line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Cut a thin slice off the tops of the zucchini, including the stems, and either reserve for garnish or discard. Using a small spoon with a sharp edge (such as a grapefruit spoon) or a melon baller, scoop out the fleshy innards, being careful not to scrape the walls of the zucchini too thin, and toss it into your food processor.

To the food processor, add in all of the remaining ingredients except for the salt, and give it a whirl. Don’t process it until completely smooth, but pulse slowly until everything is broken down and the mixture is pleasingly chunky. Give it a taste before adding salt; because the olives have so much salt to them already, you may not need it at all.

Generously mound the stuffing in the hollow zucchini cups, and bake for 25 – 30 minutes, until the filling is lightly browned and the zucchinis themselves are fork-tender. They’re delicious served hot or at room temperature, alongside a smattering if your favorite tomato sauce.

*You could very happily use standard, long zucchini here, too. Just split them lengthwise, remove the interiors as before, and par-bake them, empty, for 10 – 15 minutes (depending on size) before filling and baking as previously instructed.

Serves 6 – 8

Printable Recipe

PS, if you really want to up the olive ante, enjoy this meal with a dirty martini!


Now Shmear This

Tofutti has become so ubiquitous in both specialty and mainstream grocery stores, it’s hard to imagine life without it. Many a vegan cheese cake has been born from those plastic tubs of non-dairy spread, and countless bagels topped with their creamy contents. So devoted am I to this classic staple, which has been around since the infancy of my veganism and beyond, it’s simply difficult to imagine having any other cream cheese in my life. Galaxy Foods wants to change all that though, and has officially entered the battlefield with their brand new vegan cream cheese.

The differences between brands are subtle, but noteworthy. Immediately upon peeling back the protective plastic, it was evident that the textures would be distinctly divergent. Much softer and easy to spread straight out the fridge, the Classic Plain from Galaxy definitely had the upper edge on consistency for everyday eating.

Delightfully but still mildly tangy and well-rounded, the stellar flavor makes this option a serious contender. With just the right balance of salty and sour elements, it’s a very pleasing and agreeable shmear overall. Truth be told though, while I would be perfectly happy eating Galaxy’s version, Tofutti might still be my personal preference in that department.

More importantly, however, how would this newcomer hold up to dessert applications? This was a job for my favorite cream cheese frosting recipe!

What had been a positive aspect previously was now a big negative- Too soft to properly pipe, thanks to that more spreadable texture, I tried to compensate with more confectioner’s sugar, but to no avail. The frosting remained more gooey than desired, and became too sweet through the process of trying to correct the issue.

Adding a bit more of a savory spin to things, the Chive & Garlic cream cheese introduces a few pale green flecks of herbs into the mix. Impressed by the concept but not so much the execution, I could barely taste either of the star ingredients. They’re subtle flavorings, to say the least. Taking that idea and running with it, though, I rolled balls of the cream cheese in a mixture of fresh chives, lemon zest, and chopped pine nuts, and was thrilled with the results. Perfect for serving at a party to spread on toast or crackers, those simple additions accentuated and greatly enhanced the existing herb essence.

Compared to existing non-dairy cream cheeses or tasted without any point of reference, this is unarguably a highly viable and tasty substitute to anything made with cow’s milk.


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.


Happy Tofurky Day!

Deeply mired in our collective culture and the butt of many a joke, the original Tofurky roast produced by Turtle Island Foods has managed to survive the infancy of veganism, if you will. Even at a time when your Aunt Betsy might that vegans still eat butter and cream, Tofurky was there to save the family dinner, for well over a decade now. Slowly evolving over the years from a modest main meant to serve four, paired with dubious-sounding dumpling “drumsticks,” the contents of a Vegetarian Feast finally deserve such a generous title. Though I had never before considered trying any of those previous incarnations, I can now vouch for the current 3 1/2 pound, all-inclusive Thanksgiving in a box, and let me tell you, it’s worth a taste.

Given the opportunity to review the Feast, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. A vegan who hasn’t tried Tofurky? This was a situation in need of remedying before yet another holiday season came to pass. Made to serve six, the tofu-based roast is filled with wild rice stuffing, and is accompanied by “giblet” gravy, Wishstix, and my favorite part of any meal: Dessert. Amy’s Chocolate Cake, to be precise, which I already knew was a killer little loaf. Designed with the non-cook in mind, it takes only a little planning ahead and some rudimentary knife skills to serve up this celebratory meal in style. Roasted as instructed with a handful of vegetables that were already kicking about the kitchen, the most difficult part of serving a Tofurky is waiting the prescribed hour and half for it to cook to golden perfection, or two and half hours if you forgot to thaw it.

Emerging from its shrink-wrapped tomb looking about as enticing as an overinflated football, it requires a small leap of faith to overcome the lack of visual appeal. Given proper garnishing and a nice wide platter, it becomes quite the impressive entree once sliced thin and ready to serve.

And slice thin you must, as the instructions strongly admonish. Thankfully robust, this request is easily fulfilled, with no worry of tearing apart the roast inadvertently, even if your clumsy Cousin Louie takes over carving duties. Smelling unnervingly like actual poultry, some vegans may very well be turned off by such realism, but I don’t think that this meatless roast will really fool anyone. However, that’s not to say that it falls down in the taste department- Hardly! Surprisingly meaty, the texture was pleasantly chewy yet still tender with a somewhat generic but agreeable savory flavor. If you’re not sure about taking the plunge with a whole roast on Thanksgiving day, just try out the Oven Roasted Deli Slices first; They’re made of exactly the same stuff, but packaged in a more sandwich-friendly format.

Easily my favorite part, the wild rice stuffing provided a much needed textural contrast to the roast, along with adding a hearty starch to this festive meal. If only more could have been packed inside that small cavity! Fairly traditional with a gently herbaceous undertone, it stayed wonderfully moist despite the extended cooking time.

Starting life as a slightly disturbing separated mess in a plastic bag, I was quite leery of the “giblet” gravy from the start. Happily reconstituting with ease after just a minute or two of nuking in the microwave, things improved considerably once it finally hit the table. Although I personally prefer a slightly smoother gravy, the viscosity fits the bill quite nicely, clinging richly to each thin tofu slice while avoiding a gummy mouth feel. Falling on the saltier side of the tracks, the flavor is greatly improved with a very small dose of fresh chopped herbs, but few will object to it served as is.

Eventually, the meal nears a close, stomachs comfortably full, and the question of the Wishstix remains. How should this strange item be served? Literally made of two short pieces of Tofurky Jerky arranged as an “X,” I was somewhat as a loss with what to do with it, especially since there’s no way it could have accommodated six eaters like the rest of the meal was designed for. Ultimately opting to save them as a snack for later, I could have very happily done without this extra item. Does anyone actually serve a real wish bone anymore in the first place? Perhaps the nostalgia is simply lost on me, and other families will get a kick out of it.

Finally, the cake, simply defrosted and sliced, is a perfect ending to a memorable meal. Rich, chocolaty, and impossibly moist, it remains the best vegan chocolate cake available in mainstream stores, in my opinion. Even if all else fails and close-minded family members refuse to taste the festive roast, you will likely have to fight off the hordes to claim your slice of cake.

In case you find yourself at a loss this Thanksgiving or Holiday season, the Tofurky Vegetarian Feast is a safe bet to satisfy veggie guests. Even if you haven’t given a second thought to tomorrow’s holiday up until this point, Turtle Island Foods has made it possible to save the day and still pull out a remarkable meal with close to no effort. Truly, the snide comments and crude cracks about the classic Tofurky are uncalled for; if only those jokers would give it a taste!


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