Vegan Cheese Challenge #6: Galaxy's New Cream Cheese Line

Galaxy Nutritional Foods, the company that brought you Rice Slices and Vegan “cheese” Slices, has debuted their much anticipated new line of delicious non-dairy vegan cream cheeses. And let me tell you, to this non-dairy girl, the little tubs of vegan cream cheese couldn’t have come at a better time.

Just when I was thinking of throwing a garden party to celebrate the coming of spring with little cucumber and cream cheese tea sandwiches, Galaxy throws down the best vegan “cream cheese alternative” I’ve ever tasted!

Galaxy Nutritional Foods Cream Cheese Alternative

Galaxy Nutritional Foods Cream Cheese Alternative

The Chive and Garlic version was out of this world – I took it to a karaoke party where the vegans in attendance (Michael Parrish Dudell, HuffPo writer and editor at the Domino Project, Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart the Founder of Vaute Couture, and Marisa Miller Wolfson the director of Vegucated, a documentary following a group of people who try a plant-based diet for 30 days) practically licked the container clean.

Galaxy’s new product is missing that old grainy, kinda-tofu like consistency and texture that was such a turn off.

The line is available in Classic Plain and Chive and Garlic under the Galaxy Nutritional Foods Veggie and Vegan brands. Both lines are vegan, gluten free, and certified kosher.

Nutrition information: Serving Size 30g. Servings per container 8. Calories 90. Total Fat 9g. Calcium 4%. Cholesterol 0mg. Sugar 0g.

Vegan Cheese Challenge Week 5: Mochi Cheese

Did you know that brown rice melts? And puffs up? And oozes into delicious dumplings?

My first introduction to mochi is etched in my mind. Sitting around a table with my fellow culinary students at the Natural Gourmet Institute, where I attended classes almost 10 years ago, my teacher brought out a huge bowl filled with cooked brown rice and a wooden mallet that looked like a baseball bat. We took turns pounding the rice until it became sticky and totally mashed.

This is mochi, said our fearless teacher, who then told us of its Japanese origins and uses.

This whole food is so simple and does such magical things when treated the right way. People often furrow their brows when I begin to share my love for mochi, because they can’t quite believe that brown rice can do what it does until they see it for themselves.

Found in health food store refrigerators in hard, thin bricks, mochi can be cut into thin strips and laid on a hot waffle iron to make puffy, whole grain waffles in minutes. Grainaissance is the most common brand found in the U.S., and they make several flavors including sesame-garlic, cinnamon raisin, and “pizza.”

Another mysterious property of mochi is that it actually melts. Cut the brick up into squares, bake for 10 minutes, and the brown rice puffs up into chewy, almost-cheese-like pastries. When it is cooked, it goes golden and crispy on the outside and gorgeously gooey on the inside.

A naturally gluten-free food, mochi can easily be added to your diet as a simple breakfast with a dab of nut butter and jam, or as a treat for after school or work. Used as an energy tonic and blood-builder, mochi is used to support pregnant and lactating women as well.

Eden Foods also sells mochi and has a delicious recipe on their site for quick miso soup with mochi dumplings….mmmmmm…dumplings.

Vegan Cheese Challenge Week 4: Follow Your Heart

Here we are at Week 4 of the Vegan Cheese Challenge. It’s a time and place for me to explore the every widening world of fake-cheese, homemade dairy-alternatives, and “wow! I didn’t know that was vegan!” products for those of us who can’t or won’t eat dairy products.

I admit it: I REALLY like Follow Your Heart’s vegan cheeses. They melt pretty well (not as fast or as completely as Daiya), and I like the milder flavor sometimes.  I also like that Follow Your Heart cheeses don’t have the almost-slimy texture of Daiya, which sometimes is a bit too much for me. Since it comes in blocks which you can grate or slice, it’s great for veggie burgers, toasted sandwiches, and macaroni and cheese.

These cheeses come in a wider variety of flavors than other brands, including mozzarella, jack, nacho, and cheddar.

Made from water, expeller pressed canola oil, tofu, soy protein, inulin (a natural extract of chicory), natural flavor (vegan), agar, sea salt, Brewer’s yeast, carrageenan, calcium lactate (vegan), lactic acid (vegan), and annatto, these cheeses are casein-free (which some dairy-free cheeses aren’t -go figure), gluten-free, non-GMO, and kosher to boot.

You can buy this and all kinds of dairy-free cheese replacements at Cosmo’s Vegan Shoppe.com

I like Follow Your Heart’s other dairy-free offerings as well, and overall the company makes high-quality products. I made a tempeh salad sandwich filling for my omnivorous family in Oregon this summer, and my younger sister, who doesn’t like mayo, really liked the Reduced Fat Veganaise. The flavor is great, and most people can’t tell the difference between this vegan version and the cholesterol heavy mayo sold in stores.

If you don’t have time to make your own tofu sour cream, I highly recommend the Follow Your Heart Vegan Gourmet Sour Cream. It’s perfect for mexican dishes.

My rating overall: A HUGE Vegan Gold Star for the entire line of Follow Your Heart dairy-free foods, and a Silver Star for Follow Your Heart Cheeses. Congratulations!

Vegan Cheese Challenge Week 3: Daiya AKA "Vegan Crack"

Since my own body doesn’t like dairy products (can you say bloat and acne, anyone?), I have been eating a dairy-free diet for over 10 years now. The major issue about not eating dairy has been….not eating dairy. As much as I know it doesn’t work well in my body, I really did like the taste.

After I cut out dairy for health reasons, I started to learn about how the cows are treated on factory farms. I didn’t feel comfortable consuming foods from animals that are truly tortured. I also didn’t like the environmental impact that producing milk and cheese has on our shared air, water, and land resources.

So, I abstain. But I still crave cheese. It’s a natural, and common, food craving. Cheese contains opiate-like chemicals called casomorphins which act like opium in the body – that’s right, cheese makes your body feel good just like morphine does…           I hear. Since I’m on a search for “cheese” that doesn’t mess up my digestive system, skin, and the planet, I have discovered what might be called “the crack cocaine” of dairy-free and vegan cheeses: DAIYA.

It melts, it tastes good, and it’s easy to cook with. Now, when I say “tastes good” let me be honest. It doesn’t taste like French brie. BUT it does taste like pretty high-quality pizzeria shredded cheese, which is more than good enough for me.

I also love that Daiya is created without most of the top food allergens including soy, dairy (casein or lactose), gluten, egg, peanuts, and tree nuts (excluding coconut).

In honor of my dairy-free and gluten-free clients, friends, and readers, I now present:

To Diaya For Nachos:

3 big handfuls of corn chips

(my absolute fav is Xochitl Organic chips pronounced so-CHEEL; seriously, spring for the 9-pack box. They’re amazing.)

1 cup shredded Diaya chedder

DIRECTIONS:

Lay the chips out on a lined baking sheet. Sprinkle the Diaya cheese evenly over the chips. Turn up the broiler and set the chips about 6 inches under the flame. Broil for 6 minutes. Make sure the cheese and chips don’t burn, but do cook long enough for the Diaya to melt – because it does!

Eat with your favorite salsa, guacamole and vegetarian bean dip. These chips are perfect for an upcoming football or baseball viewing party! Just choose a vegan, gluten-free beer from www.barnivore.com’s list to go along with it! Live a little!

My rating over all:

A Big Ol’ Vegan Gold Star!

Vegan Cheese Challenge Week 2: Homemade Almond Cheese Spread

Many of my readers are dairy-free because they either can’t digest animal foods well or they don’t want to eat animal foods for environmental or compassionate reasons.

Still, people loooooove cheese. It’s one of the hardest foods for dairy-free-ers to leave behind.

I’m reviewing different dairy-free cheeses over the next few weeks to help those people find good replacements for when the cheese-cravings strike! Here is an easy almond cheese spread recipe for you to take the edge off those feta-cravings. It takes a couple of days to prepare, because you soak the almonds overnight, then allow the finished product to sit in the fridge for another night, but your actual “cooking time” will be about 20 minutes.

I love almonds because they’re a good source of healthy fat, fiber, complex carbs, vitamins and minerals like calcium.

Try this simple, satisfying almond cheese recipe and vive la difference!

Almond Cheese Spread

2 cups almonds (skins removed*), soaked overnight and drained

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon sea salt (more or less to taste)

Juice from 1 lemon

1 clove garlic, minced

Up to 1 cup water

Directions:

Put everything except for the water in a food processor and pulse for 20 seconds.

Scrape down the sides, add 1/4 cup of water and blend for 20 seconds.

Scrape the sides down again and blend until smooth and creamy, adding more water to reach desired consistency.

Once the almond is in a paste, scrape the entire mixture into a small colander or fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth. Twist the top and hold with a rubber band or chip clip, then place the entire colander in the refrigerator on a plate overnight. This allows the flavors to develop overnight.

The next day, remove from the refrigerator, and unveil the cheese, which has now been shaped into a ball.

This cheese will keep well, refrigerated for up to 3 days.

* If you have raw almonds with the skins on, you’ll want to remove the skins. Here’s how to do it:

Boil a few cups of water over high heat. Add the almonds and cook them for 30 seconds. This is called “blanching” and loosens the skins. Drain the almonds in the sink, and rinse them with cold water to cool. Pop the skins off of each almond with your thumb and index finger. You can toss the almond skins on your compost pile! Now, soak the almonds overnight and proceed with the recipe.

(This is a fun step for kids to help with! They love popping the almonds out of the skins, although you might lose a few under the stove as some go zipping off into the atmosphere.)

My rating over all:

A big dairy-free gold star!



Vegan Cheese Challenge! Weekly Musings on Dairy-Free Products Week 1: Rice Vegan Slices

The one food that most vegans and lactose-intolerant folks miss is cheese. Gooey, fatty, and creamy, cheese does things that few other natural foods can duplicate. It melts, holding things like bread and tortilla chips together. Great national cuisines have been built on the back of cheese: think Italian Mozzarella, French Brie, Wisconsin Cheddar.

The only thing is, many MANY people are lactose intolerant, or their guts get clogged up by cow’s milk products, or they just think it’s gross to drink the milk from a hormone-fed bovine.

The brilliant, and possibly diabolical, food scientists of the world have been coming up with dairy-free cheese replacements for years now, but only recently have quality, tasty, meltingly yummy products hit the market. Since I like playing with my food and enjoy making “healthy junk food” every once in a while, I thought it would be fun for me, and my readers, to explore the world of dairy-free cheeses.

Not only will vegans appreciate the reviews, but also all those lactose-un-lovers. The great thing about vegan cheeses is that there’s NO cholesterol, making these foods healthier for people concerned about heart disease.

First up: Rice Vegan Slices

Made by Galaxy Nutritional Foods, Rice Vegan blocks and slices have been on health food store shelves for a while now. Both dairy and soy free, these cheeses have added calcium for a nutritional boost.

My recipe: Grilled “cheese” sandwich

I decided to go with the old standard, the grilled cheese sandwich. I was hungry enough to want more than nachos, and besides, I was out of tortilla chips.

2 slices Food For Life Sprouted Ezekiel bread

Veganaise

Earth Balance

2 slices each Rice Vegan Pepper Jack and Cheddar

Directions:

Preheat your skillet or panini press. My favorite toy in the kitchen this week? My cuisinart Griddler

(on sale here, by the way)

Slather the inside of each piece of bread with enough veganaise to cover. Layer the vegan cheese and form a sandwich. Lightly “butter” the top of the sandwich with Earth Balance.

Then take another 1 teaspoon dab of Earth Balance and melt it on the heated Griddler. Set the sandwich, “buttered” side up, on the griddler, and press down. Cook on medium heat for 4-5 minutes. You can check after 3 minutes to see how much the cheese is melting, and this Griddler give you nice even grill marks.

The Results:

This sandwich was pretty good. The cheese didn’t melt all the way through by the time the bread was done grilling. This could have been avoided by grilling the sandwich in a cast iron skillet on both sides for  a minute and then baking in a 350 oven for 5-10 minutes.

Pro’s:

Added Calcium, Pre-Sliced for easy preparation of sandwiches and snacks, this brand also offers organic vegan cheeses which are hard to come by.

Con’s:

Doesn’t melt quite as well or taste quite as good as some other vegan cheeses

My rating overall:

A Big Vegan Silver Star