Review: Artisan Vegan Cheese

Artisan Vegan Cheese & cheeseboard

I still remember being seven or eight and standing in Kmart looking over a tall stack of dolls in boxes.  I was looking for the perfect gift for a birthday party I was attending the next day when my mom gave me this advice:  Give a gift that you would want yourself.  (Perhaps that’s why my Dad gave me a buzz saw for my birthday that year.  I kid, I kid.  It was for Christmas.)

While it may be good advice, it can be much harder to give a gift away when it’s something you’d like to keep for yourself!  I remembered this nugget of wisdom when I was deciding on what to get a friend of mine who is also vegan.  I’d read so many glowing reviews across the blogosphere about Artisan Vegan Cheese (from Kittee, Andrea, Tami, and so many more).  So I decided to pair the book with a cheeseboard and to-do list (to remember to pick up cashews, soy yogurt, and carageenan).  Once it was wrapped and ready to go, it was the kind of gift I would want to open.

Luckily I didn’t have to question whether or not I’d like to keep the present for myself since I had a brand spanking new copy of Artisan Vegan Cheese in my cookbook cupboard I’d already purchased for myself.  I’ll admit I’d been a bit intimidated by what sounded like a drawn out process of soaking and sprouting in the making of the cheeses, and so I decided to start with a couple that didn’t require much in the way of planning ahead.

cashew cream cheese and marmaladeI started with the Cashew Cream Cheese, which is made with cashews that have been soaked for eight hours and drained.  It’s then cultured with plain, nondairy yogurt and left at room temperature for 24-48 hours, depending on how sharp one prefers one’s cheese.  I let the cream cheese culture for 48 hours until it had developed a good, tangy bite.

I used the cream cheese on crackers with lemon and rose petal marmalade, as I wrote about a while back.

cashew cream cheese on tacosMy favorite way to use it has been on tacos or burritos like a non-dairy sour cream.  It has the same tanginess about it and adds a cooling addition to spicy tacos.

My husband’s favorite use of the cream cheese is by making a simple blueberry cream cheese and spreading it on bagels.  I just added about one-quarter to one-half cup of cream cheese with a couple handfuls of blueberries in a food processor and blended.  I look forward to trying it out with strawberries and raspberries in the future!

The cream cheese continues to sharpen over time in the refrigerator, but for us, it seems like it just gets better and better.  It will keep for about two weeks in the refrigerator or in the freezer for four months.

easy cheesy sauce nachosNext I made the Easy Cheesy Sauce, which required no planning at all since I went with the option of not culturing the cashew cream.  (It can be made either way.  Culturing the sauce gives it more depth.)  It just involved blending raw cashews with water in a blender, transferring it to a saucepan, and adding nutritional yeast flakes and lemon juice.  (For a stretchier consistency, xanthan gum can be added, but I skipped that part.)

nachos in cheesy sauceThe cheese sauce has a cheesy, neutral flavor that would be quite good over pasta or steamed vegetables.  Instead, I wanted to use it for a nacho platter.  So I added cumin, paprika, and chili powder to the sauce and poured it over tortilla chips.  I then topped it with spicy black beans, tomatoes, avocado, and jalapeno peppers for a cozy movie night.

making rejuvelacFinally, I felt ready to dive into one of the more involved recipes that required rejuvelac.  Rejuvelac is a fermented culturing agent filled with probiotics.   It can be found commercially in some natural food stores; although, I couldn’t find it in my area.  Luckily, it isn’t hard to make your own.  It simply involves soaking and sprouting grains (or seeds in the case of quinoa) in a jar, culturing it with fresh water, and then waiting a few days until the water is tart like lemon juice.

The cookbook author, Miyoko Schinner, is very active and helpful on the Post Punk Kitchen forum, and so if you want to study up before you begin or if you’re having troubles, she’s been incredibly helpful.  I’d read on the PPK forum that the easiest starter for making rejuvelac is quinoa and so I went with that.  Sure enough, the quinoa began sprouting tails overnight.  I replaced the water and had rejuvelac about three days later.

I used the rejuvelac to make basic cashew cheese, which is a neutral cheese with a texture like cream cheese.  It’s used as a base for several recipes, including Sun-Dried Tomato and Basil Cheese, which used one whole batch of the basic cashew cheese.

I make notes in all of my cookbooks, so that I know which recipes I liked and didn’t and what I’d tweak in the future.  I’d like to share with you the words that I wrote at the top of the Sun-Dried Tomato and Basil Cheese page:

cookbook entryThis garlicky, spreadable cheese tastes like a creamy bruschetta.  It’s delicious on crackers or spread onto collard leaves and rolled up with bell pepper and tomato slices.  Sprouts or pea shoots would have also been a tasty addition.

sun-dried tomato and basil cheese in a collard leafThe cheeses freeze well, and so I put the Cream Cheese and Sun-Dried Tomato and Basil Cheese into several separate glass containers.  I put one apiece in the refrigerator to enjoy right away, and I put the remaining ones in the freezer for future use.

frozen cheeses(As you can see, I just wrote on the glass with a permanent marker the name of the cheese and the date that I made it.  It will keep for up to four months in the freezer.  Then the permanent marker writing can be easily scrubbed off the glass with a scratch pad, soap, and water.)

I look forward to exploring more from Artisan Vegan Cheese.  Although some of the recipes do involve advance planning, it really requires very little time on task.  Most of it is just waiting for the fermentation and culturing to happen.  There’s a reason it’s called “Artisan” Vegan Cheese, and it’s because it requires more patience.

I look forward to filling my freezer with more cheeses, so that I can pop out a variety for gatherings and get-togethers with no fuss.  Or when I suddenly happen upon a recipe that requires just a tablespoon of vegan cream cheese (as happened to me this past weekend), I just have to thaw a small container from the freezer.  If you too enjoy feeling like a kitchen scientist, this is the book for you!

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Lemon & Rose Petal Marmalade

When a friend told me that his husband, Thom, was a whiz at pickling and canning vegetables & jams, I was eager to finagle a date for a jam making session.  Over the years, I’ve been interested in learning more about canning, but the process has intimidated me.  Botulism worries aside, the idea of working with an enormous pot of scalding water and the thought of the hours in a hot kitchen it might entail curbed my otherwise inquisitive spirit.  But the concept of doing it as a group, with someone who had some experience with it sounded like the perfect afternoon.

My friends picked a new-to-them recipe from Thom’s favorite canning book, Canning for a New Generation by Liana Krissoff.   (The book is not vegan, but this recipe is, of course.  For a sneak peek, the recipe is available here on Google Books.)  The Meyer Lemon and Rose Petal Marmalade is described as the “marmalade to serve with silver spoons at afternoon tea with the queen of a small but important country.”

With a bag of Meyer lemons and a baggy full of rose petals, we began by removing the tiny petals from their stems.  Then we segmented the lemons, cutting the fruit away from the membrane and de-seeding, but leaving the peel on the fruit.  Cutting each fruit apart from its skin wasn’t difficult, but it did take a bit of time to separate each juicy section.  Working as a group, it wasn’t long before we’d finished all of the lemons and were left with leftover seeds and skin in addition to perfectly sectioned lemon pieces and peel.

Instead of using store-bought pectin, this recipe uses the natural pectin in the lemons to gel the jelly.  Thom moved the leftover seeds and membranes to a piece of cheesecloth and tied it with twine.  Then the bag was moved to a preserving pan with the lemon pieces, lemon juice, and water to simmer for a half an hour, until the lemon pieces were tender.

Once they were tender, Thom removed the pectin bag, let it cool, and then we all took turns squeezing every drop of sticky pectin into the pan.  The cheesecloth was now gooey and gelatinous.  Then the remnants were discarded and the dried rose petals and sugar were added to the preserving pan and brought to a boil.

Thom sterilized the jars in boiling water, we filled them with jelly, and then he attached the sterilized metal lids with a magnetic wand to put the hot lids onto each jar.  The filled jars were then boiled for another five minutes.

We had such a fun time working on a project together and making a marmalade that definitely strays from the ordinary.  My friends gave me a show-and-tell of their cupboard and showed off all of the fruits and vegetables they’ve pickled in the past.  It definitely whetted my appetite to explore canning and pickling more in the new year, especially now that I’ve had a helpful introduction from my two kind friends.

With the jelly done, I was excited to try it once I got back home.  I’d made a batch of cashew cream cheese from Artisan Vegan Cheese by Miyoko Schinner, and I thought the tart lemon would balance nicely with the tangy cream cheese.  Spread onto crackers, the jelly and cashew cream cheese taste like a combination between lemon meringue pie and lemon bars.  Because the peel is still attached, the marmalade has a beautiful chunkiness about it with faint pink overtones from the rose petals.  The strong taste of lemon would also pair nicely with vanilla soy or coconut yogurt.

As a thank you to my lovely friends who set aside an afternoon to indulge my canning endeavors, I sent them this calendar from The Little Canoe.  It felt like it went along with some other artwork in their kitchen.  Plus, it looks like a watercolor version of their own pantry.  As an added bonus, if the Queen of a Small But Important Country should ever stop by, I can get my silver spoons at the ready, because I know just what I’ll be serving.

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