Griddle Me This

Every dog has its day, and so, apparently, does every food. If I observed every national “holiday” assigned seemly at random to all the various dishes and ingredients on currently listed on the calendar, this blog would become nothing but a giant red-letter day reminder. National Grilled Cheese Day, however, deserves a special mention. Today, like any other day that ends with a “y,” is the perfect time to butter up two thick slices of your favorite bread and stuff them to the point of bursting with any gooey non-dairy decadence your heart desires. Such a sandwich is a staple across the globe, beloved by all and easy enough for even the most novice cooks to whip up with confidence. It was even one of the first foods I managed to create for myself in my tween years, before cooking or even eating roused my enthusiasm. Sure, back then it was plain whole wheat bread and florescent orange slices of unmelting crayon wax that passed for vegan cheese, smashed and warmed into submission via an electric sandwich press, but a strong attachment to the concept still took hold.

Thankfully, we can do better- So much better, and with barely any additional effort. That’s why the sandwich in particular is truly worth celebrating. Even in its most fanciful, fully decorated formats, it will still be piping hot and ready to enjoy in a matter of minutes, at most.

The cheese itself remains a slightly controversial subject, with diehard fans taking sides either for or against various mainstream options, but the good news is that now there are actually options, and scores of them! If you’re not up to the task of starting from scratch, even your average big box store in middle America will carry at least one reasonable alternative to get your grill on. Daiya is perhaps the best known, with shreds, slices, and blocks of many flavors, with their new cutting board shreds leading the pack. Follow Your Heart does indeed remain close to my heart, offering some of the most diverse flavor options that range from pepperjack to provolone. So Delicious is still more of an ice cream powerhouse than anything else, but their classic shredded cheese options are making quite a splash on the savory side of the grocery store. Chao is best known for its smooth, creamy melt and unique coconut/tofu base. New on the scene is Culinary Co, still a bit difficult to track down but fantastic eaten hot or cold, which is quite a feat for most dairy-free cheese. Similarly, Parmela shreds are found in very limited markets, but worth buying in bulk should you manage to locate a good supply. Violife is making a big splash with its US release, once available only overseas but now taking the North American market by storm. Truth be told, this is but a tiny nibble at the larger feast of non-dairy gooey goodness, but we haven’t even begun to dig into the actual savory additions!

  • It’s hard to beat the umami punch offered by your average sauteed mushroom, but you can one-up that basic approach with silky caramelized onions, a touch of garlic, and to really gild the lily, a pinch of truffle salt.
  • For a little sweet and savory twist, crisp slices of green apple add a crunchy, tart punch to the combination, which goes particularly well with a cheddar shred or slice.
  • Spice things up with a generous handful pickled jalapenos, and take your sandwich on a quesadilla-inspired departure with roasted red peppers, black beans, and tender summer squash.
  • Go green to ramp up the health factor by stuffing your bread with a serious serving of wilted spinach, kale, and/or arugula, and play up the fresh herbs like thinly sliced scallions, parsley, rosemary, oregano, and thyme.
  • Keep it classic with juicy ripe tomatoes, or sun-dried if out of season, and a few crisp slices of meatless bacon if you’re feeling particularly indulgent.
  • Consider a more spring-y approach with grilled asparagus and roasted beets ramping up the vegetable factor, and don’t forget a touch of lemon zest and ground black pepper to brighten the whole package.
  • Make something that an avowed carnivore would crave by loading up on cooked beefy crumbles, finished with a dollop of marinara sauce or fresh pesto.With so many fantastic culinary adventures to embark upon, the most difficult part of crafting an excellent grilled cheese sandwich is simply deciding on the flavor destination! Do tell: what’s your current favorite combination?
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It’s Easy Being Cheesy

Dear Mr. Chester Cheetah,

I take issue with your early assertions on the degree of difficulty one might encounter attempting to become properly cheesy, whether it was in regard to humor or flavor. Though the remark was somewhat ambiguous on that point, it was poignant enough to remain a prominent reference point in modern culture over three decades after the initial statement, misinforming generations of ignorant eaters. For this, countless have been deprived of full cheesy satisfaction. Respectfully, I would request that you retract this proclamation, post-haste.

Sincerely,

Hannah Kaminsky

My friends, you’ve been misinformed all these years. I’m sorry for anyone that’s been deprived of their full inalienable rights to cheesiness due to the confusion, but I’m here today to put an end to that grave injustice.

Cheese doodles, cheese puffs, cheesy poofs or any variation on the name have been a mainstay in American snacking practices since their invention in the 1930’s, yet few people have successfully recreated the same crunchy, crispy treat in their own homes. Big manufacturers would like us to believe that only specialized equipment can create that distinctive snacking experience, but it’s not so! The truth is, you just need to use your noodle and get a little bit creative.

Inspired by the Tresomega Nutrition’s Blogger Recipe Challenge, I found that the unique blend of whole grains and starches found in their gluten-free pasta could create a perfectly hearty yet light crispness with just a little bit of experimentation. Their unique composition is what will make or break the recipe, so you do want to source out the genuine article for best results.

Happily, the quinoa fusilli is available for purchase at Tresomega.com, Sams.com, Amazon.com, and Walmart.com, so there’s no need to hunt and scour grocery store shelves in vain. Technically, any shape would do the trick, but those tight spirals fry up to a perfectly crisp consistency and capture the most cheesy seasoning in every delicious bite.

Savory, salty, and oh so addictive, I daresay these just might beat that misinformed cheetah at his own game.

Once and for all, I’d like the record to state that it IS easy being cheesy, and without any dairy or gluten, either!

Cheesy Pasta Doodles

1 (8-Ounce) Box Tresomega Gluten-Free Organic Quinoa Fusilli
1 Quart Neutral Oil (For Frying)
3/4 Cup Raw Cashew Pieces
1/2 Cup Nutritional Yeast
2 Tablespoons Arrowroot
1 Tablespoon Ground Golden Flaxseeds
2 Teaspoons Onion Powder
1 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Turmeric
1/4 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika

Begin by bringing a generous pot of water up to a boil. Add in the full box of pasta, stirring to make sure the pieces don’t clump together, and cook for just 3 minutes. You’re not trying to fully cook them yet, so they should still be slightly crunchy on the inside. Drain, immediately rinse with cold water, and spread the noodles out on sturdy paper towels or a clean dish towels. Air dry thoroughly, so that they’re no longer wet or sticky to the touch.

Begin heating the neutral oil in a medium saucepan with high sides over moderate heat on the stove.

Meanwhile, prepare the cheesy seasoning by combining all of the remaining ingredients in your food processor or blender, pulsing until the nuts have broken down into a fine meal. Be careful not to overdo it or else you’ll create a cheesy cashew butter instead! For best results, freeze your cashews for 8 hours in advance to prevent them from heating up too much while processing.

Once the oil comes up to about 375 – 385 degrees, add in a handful of the par-cooked pasta, using a wire basket strainer to push the pieces around and keep them separate. Fry for 3 – 4 minutes until the pasta floats and the vigorous bubbling subsides. The pasta will not become particularly brown, so don’t judge the doneness by color.

Scoop out the finished pieces, drain away the excess oil, and let rest on fresh paper towels or dish towels for about 1 minute. Toss in a large bowl with a hefty sprinkle of the cheesy seasoning, to taste. Repeat with the remaining noodles. Serve right away.

You may have extra cheesy seasoning, which can be saved in an airtight container for up to two weeks in the fridge, or two months in the freezer.

Printable Recipe

Dip, Dip, Hooray

In the battle for snack supremacy, the competition is fierce, but a few front runners have emerged from the pack. Potential winners are obvious from any vantage point in the bleachers, if you just take a moment to look at the odds. Think back and try to remember the last time you attended a decent party that didn’t have a bottomless bowlful of hummus on display, for starters. And what would Taco Tuesday be without nacho cheese in ample supply- Maybe just Tortilla Tuesday? All bets are off when it comes to picking a winner between the two, but I think I have a solution that neither side would see as a compromise.

Nacho hummus, bearing all the cheesy, spicy decadence of a good queso dip with the more substantial heft of a chickpea spread. The two rivals complement and contrast one another with surprising ease, a natural union that has been long overdue.

Whether you smear it in a pita, thin it out to drizzle on corn chips, or just set it out with cut vegetable crudites and let the crowd go wild, it’s a fool-proof formula deserving of a gold medal.

Nacho Hummus

1 14-Ounce Can (or 1 1/2 Cups Cooked) Chickpeas, Drained and Rinsed
1/2 Red Pepper, Seeded and Roasted, Chopped
1/3 Cup Nutritional Yeast
1 Tablespoon Tomato Paste
1 Chipotle Pepper Packed in Adobo Sauce
1 Clove Garlic, Chopped
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
3 Tablespoons Tahini
1 Teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1 Teaspoon Onion Powder
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/4 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/4 – 3/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/4 – 1/3 Cup Olive Oil
Thinly Sliced Scallions, to Garnish (Optional)

Like any other hummus variant, this dip couldn’t be easier or quicker to prepare. Toss the chickpeas, roasted red pepper, tomato paste, chipotle, and garlic, and lemon juice into your food processor. Pulse to being breaking down the ingredients and pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add in the tahini, mustard, and all the seasonings and spices, starting with just 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne.

Puree, and while the motor is running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil, until the mixture is silky-smooth and it reaches your desired consistency. If you’d like it to be more of a sauce than a spread, follow that with water or vegetable stock, as needed. Adjust the spice level to taste.

Top with sliced scallions and dip the day away!

Makes 6 – 10 Servings as an Appetizer

Printable Recipe

Got Greens?

Milk mustaches are out; juice mustaches are in. Unlocking a world of flavor and liquid nutrition that dairy could only dream of, it’s no surprise that fresh pressed produce has taken up the torch in this race for beverage dominance. Green Mustache is one of many companies making a splash with blended fruit and vegetable smoothies, all built upon a foundation of leafy greens like kale and spinach. Inspirational though unexceptional in this burgeoning field, the differentiating factor in their origin story is that these drinks are blended with younger tastes in mind, palatable for both kids and adults alike. More importantly, they don’t neglect the need for more traditional snacks with more mainstream appeal, which is what first sparked my attention- And appetite.

Though not green in color or overt taste, Mustache Munchies “Cheddarish” Crackers quietly sneak a serving of vegetative goodness into these adorable handlebar crisps. Tanned to a gentle golden hue, these aren’t the screaming florescent orange wafers of similar mainstream competitors. Instead, they’re a study of careful balance and nuance, bearing a subtle nutty undertone and light but naturally cheesy essence. Each piece is a perfect little bite, ensuring no crumbs nor mess to contend with later when munching on the run.

As a serial granola bar-eater, sweet snacks start to lose their appeal early on in the day, which makes these satisfyingly crunchy crackers an ideal alternative. I never thought a mustache might look good on me, but these lightly salted morsels could add stylish new flair to any smiling face.

Eat to the Beet

Well into my second decade of veganism, it’s difficult to imagine anyone turning up their noses at beets, even though I was once firmly in that camp, too. Dark and earthy, they’re a polarizing specimen that still divides many otherwise harmonious dinner parties. Somehow the haters always take me by surprise, no matter how many times I see the look of disgust pass their eyes upon the vaguest mention of these humble root vegetables. Perhaps they’ve simply never had beets prepared with the love and care they need to shine; a bit of coaxing and a slow oven transforms the beet into a sublimely sweet, tender delicacy, no matter what other spices are invited to the party.

I will forever fight to win over those who haven’t been properly introduced to the kinder, gentler ways of the beet. Golden beets are the gateway to greater beet appreciation; milder yet somehow brighter than their blood-red brothers, they positively glow on the plate.

Naturally rich and full-bodied, it doesn’t take much to dress up a gold beet. Salty, cheesy tofu feta draws attention to the beets’ striking sweetness, which is further accentuated by a spritely twist of citrus. Something so simple couldn’t possibly be so good… And yet it surpasses all expectations, especially for someone expecting that same old taste of “dirt” they associate with those much maligned vegetables. No matter how seemingly indelible the stain on one’s memory may be, these beets will leave behind only contented smiles, and perhaps a healthy new craving.

Stuffed Golden Beets

8 Small or 4 Medium Gold Beets
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Tofu Feta, Crumbled, Plus More to Serve if Desired
1/2 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
1/2 Teaspoon Orange Zest

When selecting your beets, bear in mind that larger ones will be easier to work with, but they will take longer to cook. Smaller beets make for excellent appetizers while medium ones are ideal single-serving side dishes.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Lightly grease and set aside.

Remove the greens from the beets and reserve them for another recipe (like creamed greens or pesto.) Scrub them very thoroughly; the skins are thin enough that they’re entirely edible, but need a good cleaning first. Rub olive oil all over the outsides of the beets and sprinkle with salt before placing them on your prepared baking sheet, giving them plenty of space to breathe so that they cook more evenly. Cover with another sheet of foil to prevent them from browning too much.

Roast for 60 – 75 minutes, until fork-tender. Let stand until cool enough to handle, and then slice off the top 1/4 of each beet. Use a melon baller to hollow out the larger part, being careful to keep the outer walls intact. Save the innards for another recipe (try my Pistachio-Quinoa Pilaf!)

Crumble the tofu feta and toss it with the lemon and orange zest before stuffing it into the beets. Mound it up slightly, and replace the tops to mostly cover the filling. Return the beets to the oven for another 15 minutes or so, until lightly brown and warmed through. Crumble additional feta over the top if desired.

Makes 4 – 8 Servings

Printable Recipe

More Mac and Cheese, Please

Like countless other American children, I had an unshakable affinity for mac and cheese even before I could properly pronounce the words to request it. Elbows, twists, ambiguous character shapes that would better be described as pasta amoeba; they were all greeted with enthusiasm, as long as they came from that magical blue box. I had never even heard of such a thing as baked macaroni and cheese until I hit high school, and by then it was much too late to swap allegiances. Soft noodles slowly drowning in a pool of neon yellow cheese sauce were the only thing for me, and no bread crumbs, vegetables, or fancy seasonings need apply.

Happily, my palate has considerably improved since my formative years, allowing me to discover the joys of homemade mac, spruced up with a brave new world of different flavors. That said, the love of that ubiquitous blue box will always be embedded deep within my psyche, drawing comparisons to each new mac and cheese contender, for better or worse. Now that there are genuinely cheesy vegan options appearing in every aisle of the supermarket, there’s a new blue box on the market, seeking to dethrone the old mac monarch.

Earth Balance first made waves when it unleashed vegan cheddar and white cheddar mac and cheese options about a year ago. Casting aside all preconceived notions of how a classic mac should be constructed, they’ve fearlessly unleashed a revised box that is not only dairy-free, but also gluten-free. Even I have to say that this is a pretty risky move, considering past hits and misses for non-allergenic noodles alone.

The cooking procedure is identical to every past mac I’ve known and loved; boil the pasta until tender, drain, mix with “cheese” powder, “milk”, and “butter”, and shovel into your mouth as fast as you can. Okay, that last part isn’t specifically written into the instructions, but just like any other cheesy macaroni mixture, this one doesn’t sit around well, and reheats rather miserably.

However, when hot and fresh, the rich, subtly starchy sauce has an undeniably cheesy, savory flavor. The initial flavor is somewhat delicate, but builds with subsequent bites. Though the dense, toothsome noodles are impressive for gluten-free pasta, they still clearly lack the distinctive springy texture granted by traditional wheat flour. As a certified gluten-lover, I probably wouldn’t pick these over the original, but they’re easily one of the better options for those already accustomed to celiac options.

As my omnivorous sister could attest, they certainly wouldn’t fool someone who’s more familiar with the old fashioned blue box, but even she admitted that they were “not bad.” High praise from someone who balks at the sight of anything remotely green on her dinner plate. Overall, Earth Balance has created an impressive offering for an instant, out-of-the-box dinner that can accommodate eaters of all stripes.