Site Meter

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 ;)


  1. Very interesting. I have been vegan for over 12 years now and never really liked cheese before then. However, with the introduction of Dayia and Follow your Heart I have began using the un-cheeses a bit. This book sounds very interesting.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts on the Uncheese Cookbook. I'm so used to living without cheese that I've never thgouth to purchase it. But now that Daiya & Dr. Cow have reminded my tastebuds, perhaps I should buy it after all.

    P.S. As a new vegan, try to make it to Lula's Sweet Apothecary while you're in NY; it will knock your socks off!

  3. I have the Uncheese book, too, and had so much fun with the hard cheeses! The recipes were delicious, as I recall. And I have the same plate as you! :D

    Glad you liked the care package--I think the cookies would be my favorite item, too, but I adore the Indian Punjabi snack mix. And of course, chocolate! I feel very spoiled by the package you sent to me--I have been working my way through the sunbutter and of course the lentil curls are long gone! ;)

    Thanks again, Sarah, for partnering with me--so much fun! And have a great time on your trip.

  4. Thanks for the review of the Uncheese book. That is one I don't have and was wondering if I should get it or not.

    Ricki did spoil you, lucky you!

    Enjoy your trip it sounds wonderful.


  5. Seriously, your pictures of the cheeses should be in a magazine! They look so good! And you made them perfectly!! Go Girl!!!! And the care package looks really good!

  6. How fun on that swap. And OMG on those "cheese" yummo! I need to check this book out. Thanks so much for the review!

  7. thanks so much for sharing the recipe! I can't wait to try it, your photos look so good! :)

  8. I love this book! It was one of the very first cookbooks I bought when I was flirting with veganism, but I've STILL not tried any of the block cheeses! Your pictures are so gorgeous. I'll have to try one of these soon!

  9. Hi, Sarah! I'm delighted to know you are having so much fun with my Uncheese recipes! Your photos look scrumptious (and I agree--you made them perfectly)! I usually advise starting with something other than the block uncheeses because they have a softer texture than what most people expect (though I think they are delicious). But aren't they a blast to make? Be sure to try the Crock Cheez and Havarti (my personal favorites), Gee Whiz Spread, and to-live-for Lemon Teasecake, too. Keep on uncheesin'!

  10. Great review! I can't wait to get this book :)

  11. Hi Sarah! Isn't this book the greatest? I have absolutely loved every recipe I've tried, and that's almost all of them. It is so great knowing that there are delicious alternatives to dairy for us vegans. Jo has really discovered the secret of vegan cheese and I am so happy she did! Your photos are beautiful! :-)

  12. Jo, Your books are so amazing as are you. This article ignited a bug for me to try these - they would be wonderful over thanksgiving if I can get my act together - don't you think?

  13. Wow, I've seen that book but just thought it would be full of the usual nutritional yeast recipes! Those cheeses look fantastic!

    Another trip? Lucky girl.

  14. Thanks for your nice comments everyone. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, Jo, I am honored! I appreciate the recommendations of your favorite recipes, can't get better than a direct recommendation from the author! Will definitely be trying those out next :)

  15. This is really interesting! Although I do eat cheese, I had a vegan cheese at a local raw food restaurant which was AMAZING. Luckily they sold it as well and I left with a few blocks that were worth the hefty price tag and piece of mind. Great review!

  16. I LOVE this book too. When I began my vegan adventure I couldn't find it anywhere in stores and had to order it online and then patiently wait for it in the mail ;) YOur cheeses look wonderful! I haven't made any of the block cheeses yet! One of my favorites is the still the cottage cheeze.

  17. um, your agar skills rock! my un-cheezes never turn out that amazing. i'm totally drooling.

  18. The first edition of this cookbook was one of my first vegetarian cookbooks, and the second one is on my computer desk right now! Several recipes have become staples over the years, in particular the All Season Blend (page 52, you don't ever need to buy broth mix again!) I really need to branch out beyond my current staples and will be trying the Colby and Muenster soon, and Jo's faves too! So cool that the author gave you a shout-out!

  19. OK, so I almost bought this book the other day. Have you tried any other recipes from it and do you recommend buying it??n I still cant believe how perfect yours look. This would be PERFECT for entertaining in place of the old cheese balls from back in the day!

  20. Your vegan uncheeses look amazing! I've been intrigued by that cookbook for a long time so it's great to see a review. :) Hope you have an amazing trip!

  21. I've never much liked vegan cheese - not least because I always wonder what strange things go into it! So it's very interesting to see that there are recipes to make it for yourself at home. Thanks for sharing :)


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.