Say Cheese!

Names, dates, phone numbers: my memory fails me on these specifics nine times out of ten, embarrassing me to no end when I’m introduced to the same person for the seventh time. The one birthday I will always remember, of all things, is for someone I’ve never even met. Amy, the inspiration for Amy’s Kitchen, shares my same birth year, making it even more astonishing to recognize over 30 years of vegetarian and vegan meals made available to the masses, all from such humble beginnings. Those frozen samosa wraps, tamale pies (RIP), and vegetable barley soups saved my life back in high school, before I could even operate a toaster without causing a conflagration.

Where so many brands have failed and folded, Amy’s Kitchen has grown in leaps and bounds, expanding their dairy-free options exponentially while still maintaining high quality standards, and an endless hunger for both adventurous flavors and down-home comfort foods. Breaking into 2020 with a boom, Amy’s Kitchen has just unleashed a new line of ooey, gooey, cheezy vegan entrées, including two pasta dishes and two Mexican-inspired options. They’re all going into regular rotation here as emergency dinners at Casa BitterSweet, but if I had to play favorites, my money would be on the Vegan Broccoli & Cheeze Bake.

I’m rather picky about my pasta, to put it lightly, and I was stunned to realize a few bites in, going back to read the label, that these noodles were gluten-free, too. Tender, chewy, springy, the texture surpasses that of most average frozen wheat options, too. There’s no sacrifice nor compromise for accommodating such a range of dietary restriction; nothing makes it into the bowl but delicious, creamy instant gratification.⁣

You really can’t improve on perfection, by definition, but you can match it on the same level in an equally compelling, yet wholly unique way. That’s where these fool-proof party starts come in.

Baked, not fried, to golden brown and crispy brilliance, this is the halfway homemade food hack that could very well become the stuff of legends. Better than mozzarella sticks, they won’t start to congeal and lose their luster the moment they hit the table. The breading ensures easy prep, no culinary skills required. Banishing greasy fingers by adding no extra oil means you could be saving your sofas- and stomachs- from unnecessary anguish later, too.

Tender spiral noodles and organic broccoli, bathed in luscious, creamy vegan cheese sauce burst forth from their crisp breaded shells, a rush of comfort and savory satisfaction in every bite. This is one unforgettable finger food that will serve you well for many happy years, too.

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Easy Brie-zy Entertaining

What’s that I hear, off in the distance? Could it be the sound of winter boots storming down the driveway? The staccato knock of knuckles against the front door? The unmistakable chime of the doorbell, ringing out as clear as day: YOUR GUESTS HAVE ARRIVED!?

Ah yes, it sounds like the holidays are here again! Trickling in slowly, gathering in greater numbers with every passing minute, the kitchen swells with sounds of merriment, laughter and banter ricocheting off the walls. Cue the music, crank the oven, and break out the appetizers; it’s time to dazzle with more than sparkling tinsel lining the hallways.

Play your cards right, and one spectacular starter will set the whole party in motion. The pros know that it’s only possible by keeping it simple, prepping ahead, and using the best ingredients. That’s why I’m dropping this show-stopping wheel of homemade vegan brie, supple and soft, crowned with the bold combination of tart raspberries and balsamic vinegar. If that doesn’t kick off the festivities with applause, at least, perhaps you’ve invited the wrong audience.

Buttery, creamy, melting at room temperature, this brie isn’t a dead-ringer for its dairy counterpoint, but it doesn’t need to imitate exactly when it can exceed that experience. Reaching into my pantry for an easy accompaniment, bottles of Alessi White Balsamic Raspberry Blush Vinegar and Alessi Raspberry Infused White Balsamic Reduction inspired this unconventional, yet compelling combination. Melding that tangy, fresh flavor with sweet whole berries in a lightly simmered compote created a heady aroma that no one could resist.

I can count on Alessi ingredients to raise the bar on everyday staples, no matter the recipe or occasion. Family owned and operated for 72 years, these essentials have stood the test of time. They’ve been stocking grocery store shelves across the country for as long as I can remember, that’s for sure. Going straight to the source reaps the greatest rewards, though, since orders over $20 ship free and no where else can you find such a wide section of authentic Italian specialties. As if that wasn’t enough, if you shop directly through Alessi.com and enter the code HANNAHK at checkout, you’ll get 15% off your order! This code is good for 1 use per customer, until December 31.

Both the cheese and chutney can be made up to a full week in advance, so there’s no need to stress on the big day. Just take off the chill as conversations warm and spirits flow. The savory wedges will melt in your mouth, and any extraneous worries will melt away. Now that’s what makes a happy holiday.

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Now Schmear This

Turn any day into a special occasion with little bite-sized cheesecakes, every bit as rich and luscious as a thick slice but quicker, easier, and ideal for a more intimate gathering. In fact, with these beauties on tap, I wouldn’t hesitate to throw a party for one.

I was lucky enough to snag an early sample of Treeline’s new cream cheese and it was love at first schmear. The cashew-based spread is very creamy and smooth, with a finish that tastes clean, buttery, and definitely rich. The flavor is on point; mild, delicately nuanced, both subtly savory and sweet at once. Easily one of the best options on the market so far, no matter your dietary preferences.

It’s not a dead-ringer for dairy, but quite possibly even better. Beyond slathering it on bagels and toast, it works perfectly in recipes. In fact, it excels in baking since there aren’t any additives, stabilizers or gums. Nothing but pure creamy indulgence here in these mini cheesecakes, from crust to cream topping.

Even if you can’t track down the brand, don’t sleep on these tried-and-true classic treats. Get the recipe details over at GoDairyFree.org and celebrate the everyday, any day.

 

 

 

Schmear Campaign

Whoever first looked at a cashew and thought, “Hey, I think this could taste like cheese!” deserves some kind of gold medal, if not a Nobel Peace Prize. Though this tropical nut has quickly been adopted as the staple ingredient to many dairy-free delights, it truly shines brightest when blended to a creamy consistency and inoculated with savory cultures. Something about the fermentation process brings out all the best flavors, not to mention the probiotic benefits, locked away inside those unassuming beige kernels. Recipes have flooded cookbooks both print and digital within the span of just a few years, and you don’t have to look very far to find evidence on the grocery store shelves, too. Just take the new line of schmears from NuCulture for example.

Based in the Columbia River Gorge region of Oregon, I was lucky enough to stumble upon these fresh blends while visiting Seattle for the VegFest this past spring. Availability is still limited, but growing at a steady clip, as more savvy consumers catch on and get hooked. Very rich and buttery, each flavorful option is so much more than just plain pureed cashews.

Garden Herb is the best entry point for the uninitiated; think of it as an upgraded cream cheese, simply begging for a bagel. Scallions take the lead here, bringing onion flavor to the fore, while gentle notes of parsley, thyme, and oregano play backup in perfect harmony. For whatever reason, it’s the thickest of the three, making it less of a contender as a silky smooth dip, but still perfectly creamy and spreadable.

On the other hand, to all you nostalgic southerners out there, your pitch-perfect pimento cheese dip dupe has arrived. Paprika Pimento bears a mild kiss of red bell peppers, lending a gentle warmth without a bite. An irresistible savory spread with subtle, balanced sweetness, it was the first to disappear when the snacks hit the table.

If you like it hot, though, Bacony Chipotle has your number. Beware that it’s not a treat for the meek! This one is packing serious heat. It starts with a smoldering, smoky, meaty flavor but quickly progresses into a blazing finish. The fire definitely builds as you eat, which can catch up quickly if you’re a serial snacker, unprepared to face the flame.

For all you keeping score at home, mark this one down as yet another win for cashews. Though currently a regional specialty, I hope that the love of this nutty schmear will continue to spread through all 50 states soon, and beyond.

Out of the Blue

Sharp. Salty. Smelly. Moldy.
What, were you raised in a cave?

If you happened to be a wheel of blue cheese, the answer is most likely “Yes!”

These complex blue-veined curds have traditionally been aged in caves, and still are to acquire the distinctive ambrosial funk specific to the local bacterial population. Some speculate the the earliest batches of the stinky wheels were actually mistakes, unintentionally inoculated with the natural mold in these subterranean shelters. Praise of the highest order is due to the brave soul who first thought such a terrible case of spoilage might still be edible, let alone delicious.

Though caves are no longer required for production, such a unique flavor and aroma can only be reproduced with Penicillium roqueforti cultures to accurately bear the label. Such rigorous regulations put this funky delicacy firmly out of reach for the average food crafter, no matter how obsessive, especially if dairy is off the menu.

Authenticity be damned, irrepressible cravings for a bite of the blue stuff needn’t be denied for lack of access to this illusive ingredient. Lending its own singular sort of funk, fermented Chinese tofu is what gives my plant-based facsimile its unmistakable, irrepressible twang. Taking this shortcut to building instant bold flavors allows my particular cheesy delight to achieve depth without delay. No need to wait for any spores to work their magic; it’s instantly delicious, as soon as it’s set.

Swirls of blue-green algae lend it a convincing appearance, but this is purely for aesthetics. Feel free to skip straight to the finish line without detracting from the overall eating experience one bit.

Such a pungent fixing goes a long way in small doses, which makes it ideal for sprinkling on salads or mixing into dips, rather than serving it up solo. Finally achieving my platonic ideal of a wedge salad, this deceptively simple composition of crunchy lettuce, smoky bacon bits, and fresh cherry tomatoes is really just a vehicle for that deeply savory dressing. Go ahead and really slather it on thick; we all know you’re not eating a head of iceberg lettuce for any other reason.

Yield: Makes About 1/2 Pound Blue Cheese

Vegan Blue Cheese

Vegan Blue Cheese

Funky, fermented blue cheese takes shape with a Chinese tofu and no dairy at all! This vegan version is quick and easy to whip up, and packs in a savory, satisfyingly salty flavor into every creamy bite.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Additional Time 8 hours
Total Time 8 hours 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 5 Ounces Fermented Chinese Tofu
  • 1/4 Cup Cooked White Beans
  • 1/2 Ounce (About 1 1/2 – 2 Tablespoons) Chopped Scallions, White Parts Only
  • 2 Tablespoons Barley Miso Paste
  • 1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
  • 1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 Teaspoon Lemon Juice
  • 1 Teaspoon Nutritional Yeast
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Onion Powder
  • 1/3 Cup Refined Coconut Oil, Melted
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Spirulina (Optional, for Color)

Instructions

  1. Before getting started, have a 1 1/2 - 2 cup glass, ceramic, or BPA-free plastic container at the ready. I like to use glass containers that come with lids, so they can function both as the mold for initial shaping and as a more long-term storage solution. Lightly grease and set aside.
  2. Very thoroughly drain the fermented tofu before tossing it into your blender or food processor along with the beans and scallions. Puree until completely smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed to incorporate all of the ingredients. Add in the miso, both vinegars, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, and onion powder next, blending to combine.
  3. With the motor running, slowly stream in the liquefied coconut oil, creating a creamy emulsion much like a salad dressing. Make sure the whole mixture is perfectly silken, without any remaining lumps, before proceeding.
  4. Remove about 2 tablespoons of the base and place it in a small bowl. Stir in the spirulina and briefly set aside. Pour the rest of the concoction into your prepared storage vessel, tapping it on the counter to remove any air bubbles. Add the blue-tinted portion in small spoonfuls, swirling it throughout with a thin spatula or knife.
  5. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or until fully solidified. The finished cheese will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Recommended Products

Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. I have experience with all of these companies and I recommend them because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something through my links.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

16

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 56Total Fat: 5gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 41mgCarbohydrates: 2gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 1g
Yield: Makes 4 Servings

Classic Wedge Salad

Classic Wedge Salad

The ideal wedge salad s deceptively simple composition of crunchy lettuce, smoky bacon bits, and fresh cherry tomatoes is really just a vehicle for that deeply savory dressing. Go ahead and really slather it on thick; we all know you’re not eating a head of iceberg lettuce for any other reason.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes

Ingredients

Blue Cheese Dressing:

  • 1/2 Small Shallot, Finely Minced
  • 2/3 Cup Vegan Mayonnaise
  • 1/2 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
  • 1 Tablespoon Fresh Parsley, Minced
  • 1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
  • 1/2 Cup Crumbled Dairy-Free Blue Cheese (See Recipe Above)

Wedge Salad Fixings:

  • 1 Head Iceberg Lettuce
  • 4 Ounces Vegan Bacon
  • 2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
  • 1 Cup Cherry Tomatoes, Halved

Instructions

  1. Prepare the blue cheese dressing by simply combining the shallot,
    mayo, non-dairy milk, parsley, and vinegar in a medium bowl, stirring
    until smooth. Add the blue cheese chunks and mix in gently.
  2. Assembly is just as easy. Quarter and core the lettuce, placing one
    wedge on each plate. Drizzle liberally with the blue cheese dressing and
    top with meatless bacon bits, scallions, and cherry tomatoes. Serve
    right away.

Recommended Products

Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. I have experience with all of these companies and I recommend them because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something through my links.

 

 

 

Yes, Peas

“Congratulations San Francisco, you’ve ruined pizza!”

Harsh words for an innocent little slice. The catalyst for this outburst was a pie topped with verdant green broccoli florets. A perfectly reasonable addition, in my opinion, but far from the kid-approved standard menu that one might expect. If you too find unconventional vegetables adorning the typical thin-crust construction wholly offensive, I’d suggest you shield your eyes. Click away, don’t scroll any further, and let’s pretend like this never happened.

Are you still with me? Good! I knew we were friends for a reason.

Pea-zza, a springy seasonal variant on the classic, is lavished with tender sweet peas, of course, as well as crisp raw snap peas. Delicately nuanced and herbaceous cashew spread joins the party, rather than a gooey mozzarella that might otherwise smother such subtle flavors. If we’re going to put peas on pizza, we might as well change the whole game, right? Elevated to the status of gourmet fare with that simple substitution, you could easily serve this to the most discerning gourmet without batting an eyelash.

That’s not the final twist, though. Creamy coconut yogurt, flecked with lemon zest, lends brightness, lightening the whole affair in ways that defy its underlying richness. All yogurt is not created equal, and I have to admit, the stuff that Cultured Kitchen makes was largely the inspiration for this whole culinary experiment. Thicker than sour cream, completely unsweetened, just a tiny dab will satisfy. I found myself using it more like a whipped topping to accompany fresh berries than anything else.

It tortures me that it has such a limited release! There’s not even information about it online, and it’s unlikely I’ll encounter such a treat in regular grocery stores. If you’re in the same boat, all is not lost. In the case of this fresh flatbread, simply opt for a non-dairy yogurt without any added sugar or flavor, and omit the lemon juice, doubling down on the zest instead to prevent the drizzle from becoming too watery.

Please, give peas a chance. If it helps you wrap your mind around this crazy combination, think of it more as a seasonal flatbread, piled high with the best that nature has to offer. Your average onions, mushrooms, and olives can wait; this limited edition novelty is one to savor right away, while those lush green peas are still perfectly plump.

Pea-zza

1 Pound Prepared Pizza Dough
All-Purpose Flour
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
3 Tablespoons Minced Garlic
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast (Optional)

1/2 Cup Cultured Kitchen Herbs & Chives Cashew Reserve
1 Cup Fresh Peas, Blanched or Frozen Peas, Thawed
1/2 Cup Sugar Snap Peas, Sliced into 1/2-Inch Lengths
2 Tablespoons Toasted Pistachios
2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
Flaky Sea Salt
Ground Black Pepper

Lemon Yogurt Drizzle:

1/3 Cup Cultured Kitchen Live Coconut Yogurt (Unsweetened)
1 – 2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Teaspoon Lemon Zest

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees and lightly grease a large baking sheet or pizza stone.

Press the pizza dough out roughly into a flat round, lightly dusting both sides with flour. Pull and toss by hand or use a rolling pin to stretch it out to approximately 10 inches in diameter. Brush the entire surface with olive oil and sprinkle evenly with the garlic and nutritional yeast, if desired.

Bake for 5 to 7 minutes, until dough is thoroughly browned all over.

While it’s in the oven, prepare the yogurt drizzle by simply mixing up all the ingredients in a bowl. Set aside for the moment.

When you crust is hot and ready, slather it generously with the cashew spread and top with the peas, snap peas, pistachios, and scallions. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with the yogurt sauce, slice, and serve immediately.

Makes 1 pizza; 3 – 4 Servings

Printable Recipe