April 07, 2015

Easy vegan scallion-crushed red pepper jack cheese


In my last post I talked about a dinner party we hosted, and how I made so much food I couldn't talk about it all in one story. This is a continuation. I previously mentioned the mini-omelets we had as part of the appetizer assortment.  In addition to the omelets, I also made a nacho dip and a sliceable vegan cheese. You can read about the fabulous nacho dip (from Miyoko Schinner) and find a recipe link and how-to video, here. What I want to tell you about now is the cheese.

A wedge from the round cheese — roasted peppers and scallions.

Vegan cheese isn't one of my favorite food groups. It makes up a very small part of my diet, and I almost never buy it, unless I'm really curious about a new brand, or someone is coming for dinner who I know is a fan. One thing I can tell you, though, is when I eat vegan cheese, I don't really care if it tastes exactly like dairy cheese, as long as it tastes good. Vegan cheese has to be worth eating on its own terms, not because it tastes like something else. And it has to be made from ingredients that, in my opinion, are worth eating! Fermented nut cheeses, for example, are real food and real cheese, but I don't like the idea of eating some of the other commercial vegan cheeses — something made of fat and starch — just because it is cheese-like. That might not be the most popular opinion, judging from the tidal wave of vegan cheeses on the market, but that's how I feel. I know cheese is very hard to give up, and I appreciate that. I was there. Now that I don't need cheese to be happy (:D) I only want to eat vegan cheese that's worth eating. Or not at all. I've made cheeses that I thought were really good, but except for cream cheese-type-cheeses, they didn't make me think I was eating dairy cheese, and that's okay. I've had people say tell me that they can't understand the concept of 'vegan cheese.' If you want cheese they say, why not just eat 'real' cheese. Well, I could give you a few dozen reasons, starting with animal cruelty, global weather change, food equity, etc., but I don't really want to get into all that here. I just want to share a recipe that I've become extremely fond of. It is cheese-like, tastes really good, satisfies certain textural and taste cravings, and isn't filled with added oils.

One of the reasons I write this blog is to provide ideas for new vegans, or those just looking for a vegan-friendly dish or two, so even if a certain food category isn't a priority for me (like cheese), I still try out recipes in case someone else might enjoy it. But I never post recipes I haven't tried and really like a lot. Which brings me to today's recipe for vegan pepper jack cheese, or, in this case, vegan scallion-crushed red pepper cheese.
 
A thin slice of the scallion-pepper flake cheese.

I found the recipe for Vegan pepper jack cheese on Baked In (Sept. 2014). But after further checking before posting it here, I see that Julie from Baked In found the recipe on Nouveau Raw (Oct. 2013). The only difference in ingredients I could see between the two versions, was that on Nouveau Raw the recipe contained one and one half tablespoons of agar agar, and on Baked In it contained two tablespoons. I tried the Baked In recipe as written, and I found the cheese a bit too jelled — if you know what I mean. I served it as appetizer to a mix of vegans and omnivores, who liked it fine, and gobbled it up. It's a very good recipe as is, but the texture just wasn't my cup of tea; it reminded me too much of extra firm jello. Texture can be a personal hangup. I tried the recipe again with less agar agar and more tahini, as well as a few other changes, but the same group of people preferred the first version. Oh well.

Scallion and pepper flake cheese melted in the microwave.

I tried it a few more times, and am finally delighted with the result. It's softer and creamier than the original, but still can be thinly sliced — and it melts! I put a cracker with a slice of cheese on it into the microwave for 15 seconds, and it melted, and tasted great. (I haven't tried melting it in the oven, yet.) I gave a melted sample to my husband and he was uncharacteristically enthusiastic. He also loved the unmelted version. I made the latest version with green onions and crushed red pepper flakes because when I went to get the roasted peppers from the refrigerator, they were gone. The green onions made for a great-tasting cheese, and I think I might use green onions again next time I make the cheese.


I'm providing a recipe for my latest version of the cheese, and the one that I like best of all the ones I've tried. I've made it in so many variations, that giving it a name seems kind of hard. I've made it with olives, peppers, green onions, sun dried tomatoes, and various combinations of these. They were all good, and, if I didn't plan ahead, the add-ins I used depended on what I had on hand. The cheese takes about 20 minutes (or less) to mix up, and an hour in the refrigerator. If you have a high powered blender, you don't have to soak the cashews or seeds, but if not, soak them for two to four hours, drain well, and be sure the blended mixture is super creamy with no trace of grit. The first few times I made the recipe, I formed it in a 7"x2" round pan because I thought the round cheese looked cool, and I liked slicing it into wedges. But for the most recent version I used a 4"x8" loaf pan, and I think I like the rectangular slices better. I think you'll like this as much as I do. It's so easy to make you can whip it up spur of the moment, or it makes a great make-ahead snack for a party. You may want to try the original version instead of mine, but either way, try it. Do you have a favorite vegan cheese? Is having vegan cheese in the pantry important to you? Do you care if it tastes like dairy cheese?


Vegan scallion-crushed red pepper cheese
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 3/4 cup raw cashews
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons onion powder (I used toasted onion powder from Penzey's)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1 medium lemon)
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened non-dairy yogurt (I used coconut milk yogurt)
  • 1 tablespoon arrowroot powder
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon agar agar powder (not flakes)
  • 1 cup finely minced green onions (or jarred roasted peppers, or calamata olives, raw red or yellow peppers, roasted red peppers, jalapenos — whatever)
  • 1 tablespoon dried pepper flakes (optional)
pan suggestions: 7" x 2" round or 8" x 4" x 3" loaf pan
  1. If you don't have a high speed blender, soak the cashews and seeds for two to four hours and drain.
  2. Prepare the pan. For a round pan, cut a round piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan. For a loaf pan, cut a piece of parchment paper to cover the bottom and extend up the two long sides. It's not necessary to oil the pan.
  3. Place the almond milk, sunflower seeds, cashews, tahini, nutritional yeast, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, smoked Spanish paprika, yogurt and lemon juice into the blender jar. Blend until very smooth and creamy with no trace of grit.
  4. Put the arrowroot powder into a small pot. Add the water and stir to dissolve. Sprinkle the agar agar into the pot and let it sit a minute to soften. Bring to a slow boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Once bubbling, turn the heat to simmer and cook, continuing to stir, about four minutes until the agar agar is completely dissolved and the mixture is translucent and has thickened.
  5. Scrape the agar agar mixture into the blender and blend on high until thoroughly mixed. Turn the blender off and quickly add the pepper flakes and about 2/3 of the veggies. Turn the blender to low and blend for about two seconds (in a high speed blender) or until the veggies are as fine as you want them to be. You don't want them to disappear. Turn the blender off and quickly stir in the rest of the veggies. By leaving some of the veggies larger, you add color and interest to the cheese. You can, if you wish, stir all the veggies in by hand.
  6. Immediately scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and allow to cool, uncovered, in the refrigerator for at least one hour. 
  7. Unmold onto a plate and sprinkle with paprika, chopped scallions, or decorate as you wish.
FYI: As soon as the agar agar mix is blending, soak the pot right away in hot water, not cold. Cold water will cause the mixture to immediately jell and adhere to the pot. You can still get it off, but it will be harder. Agar agar jell will solidify even at room temperature, so the faster you get hot water into the pot, the better.

Here's a link to a blog post about arrowroot and kudzu on Real Food for Life that you might find interesting. I haven't checked out the claims recently, but I remember hearing the same information years ago when I was macrobiotic.

P.S. 

As long as I'm talking about cheesey foods, I want to repeat my recommendation to try Miyoko Schinner's nacho (queso) dip made from butternut squash. None of my dinner guests could guess what the main ingredient was. One person said, "It tastes just like cheese." It's now one of my three favorite hot dips. And you don't have to use it just for a dip. You could make mac 'n cheese with it, or you could spread the leftovers (if there are any) over roasted brussels sprouts.

March 31, 2015

Party food that lasts for days

Flowers brought by our guests.

We had a little dinner party recently and the plan was a simple soup and salad supper with an appetizer. You know how that goes; "hmmm, maybe we should have roasted brussels sprouts with the soup. Maybe I should make more than one appetizer," etc. I was thinking that when the main course was served, the appetizers could go onto the table and blend in as part of the meal. So the dinner party is over and we're still eating the food — not that I mind, of course. I like leftovers. We ended up with soup, salad, roasted brussels sprouts and bannocks for the main course, a hot nacho dip with chips and raw carrots, mini-omelets, a sliceable vegan cheese with two kinds of crackers for appetizers, and great brownies (minus the walnuts) from Oh She Glows, for dessert. Read on for photos and links to recipes.


The soup, called Aash-e Reshteh,  was inspired — copied actually — from the Persian New Year Celebration featured at Vegan Eats and Treats. If you follow the link, there's another link in Amey's post to the recipe. My husband made the soup, and he says the reason Amey's soup is more red is because he used a golden beet instead of a red one. Maybe. Her soup also looks thicker to me. In any case, it was very good soup, though a tad labor intensive.

Leftovers.

Amey also inspired me to make muffin pan mini-omelets from Isa Does It as one of the appetizers. When Amey made them for her dinner party, she added cupfuls of fresh herbs to make the little omelets more suited to a Persian New Year celebration, so I followed her lead and added parsley, dill, green onions and spinach to mine, and they were pretty green. They seemed softer, creamier and less springy than the ones I had previously made with fewer herbs, but they were delicious, and a big hit with our guests. And they were so easy to make. I made them about an hour ahead and we ate them warm. The leftovers are great cold.


Even with all the herbs and greens I added, my mini-omelets weren't nearly as green as Amey's. She is just a more colorful cook than I am. :D


A couple of weeks before hosting the party, I made a batch of mini-omelets to try out the recipe. I added a few fresh herbs I happened to have — basil, oregano, chives, plus green onions — but not nearly as many as for the party — and loved the results. The omelets you see in the photo above are closer to the original recipe than the ones served at our party. Both versions were wonderful.

If you don't own a copy of Isa Does It (and you should!), I've found you a link to the recipe for muffin pan mini-tofu omelets. 

I'm limiting myself to no more than two or three recipe links per post, and I've reached my limit, but I'll share more party ideas in a future post. Do you get carried away with food choices at parties? Do you have a favorite easy appetizer?

March 23, 2015

Seattle Vegfest 2015 (nachos included)


I've been told that Vegetarians of Seattle was the first group to coin the name "Vegfest." Now, it seems everywhere you turn there's a vegfest going on, one more bountiful than the next. I'm not complaining; the more vegfests there are, the more people are exposed to the idea of following a plant-based diet, and the fewer animals have to suffer. Of course, I'm not sure I've ever seen an actual vegetable at Vegfest, but rather a mind-boggling array of edible products made without the use of animal-derived products. Seattle Vegfest wasn't entirely vegan, but it seemed that more items than ever were vegan this year. And a large number of the products were gluten-free as well.



This year our plan was to attend two cooking demos, then wander the hall tasting the products that were most appealing to us. Miyoko Schinner did a demo on vegan cheese, of course. She made two things — a butternut squash nacho cheese sauce, and a cream cheese and lox spread. I have actually made the smokey chipotle no-queso nacho sauce before (recipe on page 63 in Artisan Vegan Cheese, or by following this link) and it's delicious, and I've made the cashew cheese (Artisan Vegan Cheese) but haven't turned it into a lox and cream cheese spread ... yet. Miyoko was very entertaining — even singing to us. I had no idea she was a singer, but apparently, at one point in her life, she sang jazz in clubs! Huh. You can watch her make the nacho sauce in a video from her TV show, above.

I've written more about making cheese from Artisan Vegan Cheese, here.

Similar to, but not exactly, the spring roll from the demo.

Our second demo was by Chat Mingkwan, who has written a whole slew of Asian Fusian cookbooks. He made fresh spring rolls and a spicy dipping sauce. I thought I knew how to hold my chef knife, but now, thanks to Chat Mingkwan, I know I've been doing it wrong. What a difference it makes to hold it correctly. Tonight as I type, my husband is in the kitchen making pho from the new Vietnamese Fusion cookbook he bought at Vegfest. I wish he were making spring rolls to go with it.


Here are a few of the vegan foods we sampled at Vegfest. I'm not really a great fan of vegan cheese — maybe it's because I never was a big dairy-cheese eater except for mozzarella and sharp cheddar. Maybe a little brie. Or maybe it's because I've been vegan so long I don't crave dairy cheese anymore. But, I always taste the cheese offerings at Vegfest, just to see if any of them can change my mind about vegan cheese. I LIKED the Punk Rawk Labs cheese — a lot. Punk Rawk Labs is owned and operated by three women who make fermented nut cheeses in Minnesota, and if you want vegan cheese, try some of this.


I also liked Vtopian cheese. And Miyoko's Creamery double cream chive, which had a lovely sweet and mild creamy taste.


I was curious about the new Follow Your Heart block cheeses. Follow Your Heart has always been the vegan cheese I liked best in the past. The provolone I sampled at Vegfest wasn't bad, though not as flavorful as dairy provolone, but the mozzarella was spot on. I'm not comparing it to fresh, artisan mozzarella, but to a standard cheese you might buy in the supermarket. Eating it plain was appealing in both taste and texture. What isn't appealing to me is the ingredient list. You may not feel this way, and I respect that, but I can't see any reason (for me) to eat it when there are so many delicious, real foods to eat instead. I'd rather eat a fermented nut cheese, but if you are absolutely craving a mozzarella fix, try Follow Your Heart. The factory is solar powered, and the company is extremely ethical in all its practices.


What you're looking at is sipping broth. It's meant as a satisfying snack instead of a mug of tea. It was really delicious, and maybe I could get used to sipping broth.


If you're into vegan meats, you would probably like Beyond Meat. It had a very good taste and texture.


Might as well include the Sorta Sausage here, too. I'm sorry to say I have no memory of eating it, but my husband says it tastes sorta like sausage and is sorta good.


I had a little shock when I picked up and consumed a small cup of probiotic drink at the Firefly table. It was exactly like drinking sauerkraut juice. I probably won't be buying any, but I like other Firefly products a lot — especially the kimchi. It's made here in Seattle. Do you see the book in the photo? It's a book about fermentation written by the people who make Firefly cultured foods, and I have a copy sitting on my pile of books I'm supposed to review. One of these days. One of these days.


I don't know how much squash is actually in a serving of chips, but they sure tasted good!


GT's is our favorite brand of kombucha, and ginger is our favorite flavor. We went back to the GT's table quite a few times to sample the kombucha in between our other indulgences. The citrus tastes a lot like the ginger, and also is an excellent flavor.


The Purple Sunrise breakfast cereal was a pleasant surprise. After indulging in chips, cheese, ice cream, etc., the little cup of cooked mush required will power to consume, but I'm glad I made the effort. It's made on Camano Island, not far from Seattle, and I'm going to include a blurb from their Web site rather than try to describe it myself.
Product Description
Purple Sunrise™ – The hot cereal that tastes like cookies.
Whole Grain Gluten-Free, an exotic blend of rare ancient grains, nuts and rices. It is a SUPERFOOD powerhouse with knock-your-socks-off taste.

This isn’t your mother’s oatmeal. In fact, it is great for people who may want an alternative to oatmeal. Purple Sunrise contains an ancient rice that only Emperors were allowed to eat, hence the name “forbidden rice” and the purple color. You can have this incredible superfood and 9 other grains or seeds in one powerhouse cereal with taste that will knock your socks off.

Take the best certified organic ancient grains and rices, mill them and package them in just minutes from the process, add an oxygen absorber and put it all in a high-barrier foil bag and you will have the freshest tasting cereal available.

If you like the taste of Mandel Bread, you will love this cereal.

100% Certified Organic Grains and Seeds, Non-GMO, Vegan, Non-Oat, and Gluten-Free. No wheat or animal products are used or have ever been used in any part of the production process.

Almonds, Amaranth, Brown Basmati Rice, Short Grain Brown Rice, Canahua, Forbidden Rice, Buckwheat, Chia, Flax, Millet, with vanilla and almond flavors. No preservatives added.


What would Vegfest be without So Delicious. Seriously, I would have been mighty disappointed if I hadn't had my ice cream treat. I was hoping to try the new cashew milk ice cream, but had to settle for an coconut almond mini bar instead. Poor me. So delicious.


Here's a snack I really liked — flavored nori. I tried the chipotle. The excess packaging is the main problem, though I was told the nori is also available in full sheets in family-sized packages. I don't know exactly how much the packages contain or what they cost.


I tasted quite a few of the Way Better chips, and they were excellent. There were several flavors available, and I didn't really have a favorite. They were all good.


I'm getting fatigued writing this post, and you're probably tired of reading it, if you've gotten this far, so I'll leave you with one last oddity. When I stopped by the Someday Farm Vegan B&B table to chat with owner, Jill, I was confused by a large poster she had laminated and put on her table.

Last year.
 I had created a tee shirt with this design on the front many years ago, and I knew Jill owned one, because she wore it to Vegfest last year. I asked her where she got the poster, and she said she'd had it printed at Cafepress, where my tee-shirt is for sale. Lots of people who stopped by her table wanted one! I felt bad that I hadn't made a more decorative poster, but I had originally intended the design to be on a shirt, and it was a lot to fit on as it was. I'll have to think about this and come up with a more poster-friendly design.

By the way, if you're ever in the Pacific Northwest looking for a fabulous place to stay for a couple of days,  I highly recommend Someday Farm B&B on Whidbey Island for wonderful accommodations and excellent breakfasts! I posted about my visits here, and here.

March 18, 2015

Millet madness — millet bowls and millet burgers

Babysitting is fun.

We recently did a whole bunch of baby sitting for our grandkids while their Papa was out of town and their Mama had to play cello in the orchestra for a multi-night high school theater production at the school where she teaches music. One of our "duties" was to attend a talent show sponsored by Miss E's elementary school. Miss E is seven years old, and she is now brave enough to appear on a stage and perform.

The concert had a number of singers, a guitar soloist, lots of dancers, a couple of cheerleaders, and a hula hoop demonstration performed by Miss E and two friends. I'm not saying hula hooping isn't a talent — it certainly is — and we and the rest of the audience were exceedingly entertained by the performance, but something about it triggered an old memory of a performance her papa gave when he was about six.

He was a Suzuki violin student at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, and the recitals we attended for all the children from the youngest to the most accomplished, were impressive. They took place in a beautiful, small concert hall at the school of music. At the time he was learning violin, he was also obsessed with playing harmonica, and asked me if I thought he could play his harmonica at the violin recital. I didn't think so, but told him to ask his teacher, and the lovely Mary Beth Cullitan, after hesitating just a moment, said yes. Her goal was to encourage a love of music in whatever form it presented itself. So, at some point during the recital of classical string music, future-papa brought down the house with a polished and rousing harmonica rendition of Old Joe Clark. It was a weirdly thrilling parenting moment that I'll never forget.

Roasted carrots and chickpeas plus kale and tahini-umeboshi sauce over millet.

I love when a current happening unearths an old treasured memory, and I get to enjoy it again. It's a little like when a recent event, in this case a trip to San Francisco and Santa Cruz, inspires a string of cooking choices that play on memories, and become new favorites, reminding me in turn of the source of their inspiration. We were recently in Santa Cruz and I loved the lunch bowl I had at Café Gratitude so much I couldn't stop thinking about it. The grain in the bowl was millet, and I've become a little obsessed with millet, as you will see. Millet tends to be an overlooked food here, and in fact, most millet grown in the U.S. is grown for bird seed. Millet comes from a group of seeded grasses and is widely used for food in arid and semi-arid areas of the world. I like it a lot.


When we returned home from our trip, I made a millet bowl with roasted carrots and chickpeas, plus kale, topped with green onions and tahini sauce.It was so good it was shortly followed by a similar bowl with sweet potatoes, black beans and kale. The kale for the bowl partly came from a leftover deli container of PCC emerald city salad. There was just a tiny bit of salad left so I added a bunch more green onion and chopped kale to the container, mixed it with the remains, and used it for my bowl. I also warmed it up. Although the emerald city salad is meant to be served raw and cold, it also makes a great warm salad.


When I made the millet bowl, I made extra millet because I wanted to make millet burgers. Millet has a chewy texture that seems just right as a base for burgers, and the patties were wonderful. I wish I had written down a recipe, but I was using up leftovers that were in the refrigerator, adding spices like a mad scientist, and I have no precise memory of what went into the burgers. I think there were a couple of carrots, a few mushrooms, a bit of leftover kale, some chickpeas, perhaps some ground flax seed, half an onion, and other stuff I can't remember. The burgers were browned on the stove, then baked. This is the way I prefer to cook — without recipes — but then when something turns out well, sometimes I wish I could make it again.

Do you ever cook with millet? I've read both pros and cons about its nutritional value, but I guess that's true of most foods these days. Sigh.


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