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September 20, 2010

Fun with Uncheese and Vegan Care Package Swapping

Over the past few weeks I have been cooking up recipes from the newest cookbook in my collection, The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook by Jo Stepaniak. The word on the street is that this cookbook lives up to its name, so this recovering cheese-o-holic had to see for herself.

Not too long ago I was a vegan cheese newbie (January to be exact). Since then I have tried a few other dairy-free cheese recipes, and have occasionally enjoyed a couple store-bought varieties. After 6 months of vegan cheese experimentation I was ready for The Ultimate Uncheese experience.

This book offers everything cheesy under the sun, including dips, sauces, soups, fondues, casseroles, sweets, and more. The section that grabbed my attention first was block uncheeses. That's right block uncheeses, as in smooth, firm, slice-able, shred-able vegan cheese. I had never heard of such a thing! This section includes vegan versions of Swiss, Gouda, Colby, buffalo mozzarella, muenster, Monterey Jack, and brie. The obvious first choice to me was Colby, a mild tangy cheese, with that classic yellow-orange color shared by many popular American cheeses. As you can see the color was spot on!

Many of the ingredients in the Colby recipe are the usual suspects in vegan cheeses, including nutritional yeast, cashews, tahini, onion powder, roasted red pepper, and lemon juice. However, there was one ingredient that I had never used making vegan cheese: agar flakes. Agar is a sea vegetable available in dried flakes or powder, which I found in the Asian section by the other sea vegetables at my local Whole Foods. This ingredient is responsible for turning this recipe from a liquid uncheese to a block uncheese. Agar is the vegetarian alternative to gelatin (which is made from animal products). When it is heated in water it creates a thick gel, which becomes more solid as it cools. I had first purchased agar flakes for a vegan lemon bar recipe, so knowing what it is capable of I was excited to see how it worked on vegan cheese. I was very pleased with the results! While it isn't quite as hard as the real deal, this cheese has a nice firm texture that is smooth and creamy to the bite. The flavor is light and tangy, with added depth from the hints of roasted red pepper, and the garlic and onion powders. A+ for flavor!

I enjoyed the Colby recipe so much that I decided to try another block cheese. This time I wanted to try a bolder flavor so I made the pepper jack variation of the Monterey Jack recipe. It turned out to be a pretty mild cheese as well because I was too shy with the hot peppers. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this recipe immensely. I served both cheeses sliced on top of crackers and sandwiches, and shredded over steamed veggies, tofu scrambles, and burritos.

Moving away from the block uncheeses I decided to try out a recipe from the "Casserole and Dinner Pie" section. I love broccoli and I love any dish involving phyllo dough, so I had to try the Broccoli Strudel. Light crispy phyllo dough over a savory crumbled tofu and broccoli filling. Perfect! This was a simple and satisfying meal, easy to whip together on weeknight.

I must say that The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook does live up to its name! I have so many other recipes bookmarked to try. So far the Colby block uncheese was my favorite--it is definitely going to make regular appearances in my kitchen. I'm excited to be able to share this recipe with you by permission of the publisher, Book Publishing Co.. Enjoy!

Colby Cheez
from The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook by Jo Stepaniak
(published by permission of BookPubCo.)

1-1/2 cups water
5 tbsp agar flakes, or 1-1/2 tbps agar powder
1/2 cup roasted red peppers (skin and seeds removed), or pimento pieces
1/2 cup raw cashews or skinless Brazil nuts
1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp tahini
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp mustard powder

Lightly oil a 3-cup plastic storage container and set aside. Combine the water and agar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring often, until dissolved, about 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a blender and add the remaining ingredients. Process several minutes until completely smooth, scraping down the sides of the blender jar as necessary. Pour into the prepared container and cool uncovered in the refrigerator. When completely cool, cover and chill several hours or overnight. To serve, turn out of the container and slice. Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator. Will keep 5 to 7 days.

Variations: In place of the red peppers, use 1/2 cup cooked chopped carrots, 2 to 3 teaspoons paprika, or 2 tablespoons unsalted tomato paste. For Chedda Cheez add 2 tablespoons light or chickpea miso prior to blending. For Olive Cheez replace dry mustard with 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard. After blending, stir in 3/4 cup chopped black olives or sliced pimento-stuffed green olives.

In other news, I participated in a vegan care package swap hosted by Cook.Vegan.Lover. I was paired up with none other than the lovely Ricki Heller of Diet, Dessert and Dogs. Check out the amazing goodies that she sent me!

Ricki lives in Toronto, the most multicultural city in the world, so she went with a multicultural theme, including several local Canadian goods.

Can you believe how much she spoiled me?! This is what I got:
  • Chana Masala spice mix. How cool is that? Chana Masala is one of my favorite Indian dishes, and the next time I make some I won't have to measure out 10+ different spices!
  • "All in One" rice flakes and chickpea mix. Oh my goodness this Indian snack is so spicy, crunchy and delicious!
  • Onion Rings. These remind me of funions, except way crunchier, way tastier, and way less questionable ingredients :)
  • Dried mangoes from the Phillipines. 
  • Milano mille feuilles. These crisp flaky Italian pastries are way too good!
  • Roasted fava beans. This was the most intriguing item in the package, so I had to try it first. These beans are crunchy and salty, and actually kind of remind me of salted peanuts, but crunchier. Yum!
  • New Moon Kitchen Mo' Mints. Organic fair trade cookies made in Toronto, so so delicious, my absolute favorite item so far.
  • Empower Glo Bar. I have always wanted to try Glo Bars! They are made by Canadian blogger, Angela, of Oh, She Glows. Can't wait to try!
  • Creamy dill dip mix. This will be great for parties.
  • Two Girls Looking Kale Chips - spicy, cheesy, perfect!
  • Cinnamon chocolate bar from the French choclatiers in Montreal. Oh-la-la, tucking away this beauty for a rainy day!
  • Theobroma almond cranberry chocolate bar - more local chocolate, poor me!! ;)
  • President's Choice organic popcorn - little did Ricki know that popcorn is my ultimate snacking weakness, good choice!
  • Last but not least, some non-food items: 2 cute new dishtowels and Windmill Hill handmade pear and vanilla soap (which I must have accidently cut out of the picture). This soap smells amazing!
Thanks again, Ricki! It was so fun care package swapping with you, and all of your selections are most excellent! (Here is Ricki's post about the swap, which also includes a giveaway for some Amy's brand goods!).

Now I am going to disappear again for a couple of weeks. I am leaving for a 3 part trip including New York City, Spain, and Amsterdam. I look forward to sharing my adventures and my vegan dining experiences with you when I return. I may even try to blog while traveling, but we'll see how that goes ;)