August 30, 2012

Did someone take a bite out of my garden spade? | Artisan Cheese | Vashon Island

It's been a crazy summer. July was spent at our house in Madison (where we used to live but now rent out because we can't yet bear to sell it and admit we live in Seattle) doing upkeep on the house and hanging out with friends. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the "upkeep" was a little more stressful than usual because there was a lot of unexpected damage to the house and to our possessions. Some of the repairs we did were expensive, and some damaged items were just losses. The spade pictured here represents the peculiar nature of some of the smaller ruined items, like smashed tin watering cans, missing planters, knocked over sculptures, flattened downspouts, bent curtain rods, etc., etc. I won't bore you with all the details, but we were busy repairing what we could, and hiring people to repair what we couldn't. In addition to endless cleaning, fixing and repairing, we also enjoyed good times with friends, and a prodigal number of restaurant meals. I may still do a post about the trip there and back, and all the fun and food we enjoyed in July. But not today. I've got the present to consider, and a post I'd like to do on the subject of Artisan Vegan Cheese by Miyoko Shinner. But first a little explanation of where I've been in August.

I did a couple of August posts, then we went to the Oregon coast to meet-up with Madison friends. We had a great, relaxing vacation which we really needed after the stress of July. After a wonderful week, we came back to Seattle to find my computer wouldn't boot up. After being on the phone with Apple, and back and forth to the store to meet with a Mac genius, it was determined that the hard drive was dead. The good news was there were 11 days left on my warranty, and the hard drive was replaced for free. The bad news wasn't as bad as it might have been, though having a computer hard drive bite the dust is never fun. I had most of my files backed up and, though it took a while to get it all straight, nearly everything is now back in place. Not everything, but that's the way it goes. I now have a new, bigger external hard drive, and time machine is running. My fonts are a little screwed up but hopefully I'll be able to work that out over time, and the bookmarks and some other things are gone, but it could be worse. Anyway, back to the cheese.

In the latest issue of VegNews, Miyoko Shinner shares some of the recipes from her latest cookbook. (There are also a number of her recipes you can try on Amazon.) In the book, she has assembled, all in one place, a collection of  vegan cheeses that can be made at home and that rival traditional dairy cheese. From fast preparations to culturing and aging, she shows you how to create your favorite gourmet cheeses at home. I'm reviewing my experience with just one of the cheeses, not the whole book.

I made Philadelphia cream cheese because I had all the ingredients, it was fast and easy and it didn't need any "additives." (I'll get to that later.) The directions said to blend or food process the mixture of cashews, yogurt and salt, then let it ferment on the counter for 24 to 48 hours. I tried both the Vitamix and the food processor, and found the food processor was the superior option for getting the cashew mixture smooth. It was too thick to blend well and very hard to remove from the blender jar. Use a processor if you have one.

I divided the mixture into two portions so I could use one batch for a company dinner after a 24 hour ferment, and let the second batch ferment another day. I added roasted red peppers and green onions to the first batch, and served it to accompany crusty bread and soup. It was great, and tasted a lot like cream cheese — maybe even better than cream cheese, in my opinion. Let's just say it was hard to stop eating.

The second batch, after fermenting for the full 48 hours, tasted exactly like I remember cream cheese tasting. I added roasted peppers, chives and kalamata olives, and, well, what can I say. You'll just have to make some to see how good it is. I'd show you a photo but it didn't last long enough to get one. (You can see what Kittee, at Cakemaker to the Stars, has made from the recipes here.) And you can check Miyoko's blog for helpful cheese-making hints and recipes. This is definitely better than the cream cheese I used to say was the best.

Now I have a question for you. Many of the recipes in Vegan Artisan Cheese use carrageenan. (Many recipes do not use this ingredient.) In the "olden days," when I was starting to eat healthier food, one of the ingredients on the avoid-list was carrageenan. I know it comes from seaweed, and thus is considered "natural" by some, but many unnatural ingredients get their start as a natural product. Back in the 70s, natural foods companies were making products without carrageenan because it was considered dangerous, while mainstream food processors included it, as they did many other suspect additives. Now that so many of the small independent natural foods companies have been bought up by large food conglomerates, I see that carrageenan has become a common additive in non-dairy milks, yogurt, and ice cream, and it's hard to avoid it. It even shows up in fruit juice. It's easy to think you are only consuming a small amount until you look at all the products it appears in. It's on the FDA GRAS (generally regarded as safe) list and many people consider it perfectly OK. I'm personally not inclined to add more of it to food I make at home, and was surprised to see it in the cheese recipes, though I understand its usefulness. Miyoko addresses the issue in her book, having done her research into the matter, and concluding carrageenan is safe, but I'm still leery. I've included a few links to articles by others who have concerns about carrageenan. What do you think? Am I being over-cautious? In any case, I would still want this book!


Day trip to Vashon Island
Yesterday we hopped a ferry for a day trip to Vashon Island. The ferry ride is very short (and expensive, I think) but not because the ferry is fast. I could barely detect movement on the boat but it must have been moving because we did indeed end up on the Island. We headed to Fisher Pond Preserve for a lovely walk on the Fisher Pond trail. The forest was a soothing, magical place that I wish were closer to home — I'd be there every day.

We also visited Maury Island Marine Park for a walk but I didn't take photos.

I had a list of Island thrift shops I wanted to stalk but the one I most hoped to visit, Granny's Attic, turned out to be closed. It's only open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, so I must have misread the information online. This means, of course, that we'll have to return to Vashon. I also want to visit the quilt shop on our next visit.

All the walking and stalking made us hungry so we stopped in the town center for a late lunch at Pure, a vegan cafe that reminded me of what vegan food was like before it became more mainstream and complicated. It's kind of a relief, really, to come upon a restaurant serving real food like I might make at home. My selection was a beans-and-rice bowl and my husband had a raw arugula and basil pizza.

The food was basic and filling. The small restaurant didn't give the impression of being particularly clean, but maybe I'm being too picky. Also, my tahini sauce was kind of curdled-looking — no matter how much I stirred it, it wouldn't come together. I think it was mostly oil. Would I go there again? Oh, probably, but first I want to try the other vegetarian restaurant on the island, though Pure is vegan and the other one isn't.


It won't be a bumper crop
This is our first picking of tomatoes from our two tomato plants. Apparently the climate here is not tomato-friendly, so I guess we'll be enjoying just a few. But they are good ones!

August 13, 2012

Cold summer soup | Probably a smoothie | Something icky

I just made a summer dinner for eight that was so easy and relaxing I barely felt like I'd cooked.  I did cook, but I also let Costco (stuffed grape leaves, hummus) help a little. And I made two of the dishes (quinoa salad and raw candies) the day before. Don't you just love when a dinner party comes together just the way you'd hoped — great guests all getting along and making vibrant conversation, nice food, and a calm and entertained hostess. (Yes, that's right, entertained. I want to be entertained rather than entertaining. Why not?)

I'm focusing here on the first course — a cool and refreshing chilled cucumber and avocado soup that I whipped up in my VitaMix. (Any decent blender will suffice.) I was recently served the soup at my son and daughter-in-law's house, and immediately made plans to serve it at my upcoming dinner party. The recipe can be found on the Whole Foods Web site, and the soup is so easy to prepare it practically makes itself. I pretty much followed the recipe, though I substituted almond milk for the soy milk, and upped the basil. I made the tomato topping ahead of time with a little extra lime juice and it was still perfect three hours later when I served it, so I don't think you have to make it at the last minute like the recipe says to do. I added a few drops of stevia to the soup to balance the extremely tart flavor of the yogurt, and I didn't add extra yogurt to the bowls when I served it. The soup is thick, creamy, cooling and delicious. I served it with Food Should Taste Good chips on the side.

I was still feeling the quinoa salad I'd prepared for a potluck last week so I made another bowlful. My husband and I were the only ones having it again so why not repeat a good thing? It's so delicious I doubt I'd ever get tired of it, but just  to change it up a little I topped it with toasted pumpkin seeds this time.

Here's my plate with the rest of the edibles. We had grape leaves, carrot sticks, hummus, grape tomatoes, quiche topped with fresh tomato sauce, and a wonderful salad brought by my good friend, Wendy. For dessert we had ice cream and raw candies.


Probably a smoothie but tastes like juice
Cadry's been juicing up a such a creative storm over at her kitchen that it's been giving me a bad case of juicer envy. Truthfully, I don't know where the hell I'd even put a juicer if I were to get one, so I'm depending on my beloved VitaMix, the workhorse of my kitchen, to make me something that may be a smoothie but tastes like a juice — smooce? Here's what went into my "juice":

1 ripe organic peach, with the skin
1 stalk of organic celery
1 heaping tablespoon hemp hearts
1 heaping tablespoon goji berries
1 date
1 cup almond milk
1/2 cup prepared organic carrot juice
1/2 cup filtered water

It was thin like juice, and tasted like juice, but I suppose it was probably a smoothie. I had it for breakfast and it was really, really good.


Something icky
Click if you dare.
Thanks for sticking with me all this time, and to thank you I'm giving you a warning that if you don't like icky stuff, you should leave now and go get the soup recipe. To those who stay, I'm sorry but this has been on my mind all week and I just have to get it out, and hopefully be done with it. You're the first people I've told.

When we got back from our trip to Wisconsin, I was snacking on some toasted nori while unpacking a stained glass art piece. I thought a small piece of nori had fallen onto the glass, and, following the 5-second rule, I picked it up and popped it into my mouth. Only it wasn't nori. I spit it out and saw that it was a dead, dried-up earwig. Sorry, sorry to have shared that. Eewww eewww. Gross, right?

August 08, 2012

You must make this now (fragrant Tuscan herb salt)

We just returned to Seattle after a month away. Most of the time was spent in Madison, Wis., but we drove there from Seattle, which means we spent four days in the car each way. I have lots of stuff to post (or not post) from our trip, but I want to start by sharing an amazing seasoning I learned about in the car on the drive back to Seattle. I have to say we didn't cook much — maybe not at all — in Madison. We ate out all the time with friends or just by ourselves, partly because we were lazy, and partly because it was so hot a lot of the time that cooking seemed too hard. I guess we didn't totally forget about cooking though, because on the car trip home we were listening to a podcast of The Splendid Table. The host, Lynne Rossetto Kaspar was talking to Sally Schneider about making herb salt, and as Ms. Schneider described her technique for crafting the salt, I could hardly sit still  — I wanted to make it right away.

As Ms. Schneider described the process of chopping garlic, kosher salt and herbs together, I could almost smell the aroma wafting through the car. I knew making herb salt was going to be a priority the minute we arrived home. As I type this, the aroma of the herbs and garlic is billowing around me as the mixture dries in a dish near the window in my work room. The fragrance is inspirational.

I'm not a big salt user, preferring to use minimal amounts to bring out flavor rather than impart a salty taste. My taste buds are used to little salt, and too much masks the flavor of food, in my opinion. The herb salt adds a new dimension of flavor without adding extra salt to a dish. It's so full of herbs and garlic, you can use less salt. For my herbs I used sage, rosemary, golden oregano, and tarragon, and I used the food processor method. I made half a recipe using 1/4 cup of kosher salt, two cloves of garlic and 1 cup of herbs.

I used the fragrant herb salt for the first time last night to add depth to a quinoa tabooli I was bringing to a potluck. (Couldn't wait for it to finish drying so I used it partly dry.) I cooked 2 cups of quinoa in 3-1/2 cups of water and broth. I didn't follow a recipe for the tabooli, just added the ingredients you'd expect to find, such as a large cucumber, a handful of chopped grape tomatoes, lemon juice from a large lemon, four chopped scallions, a handful of parsley and of mint, and a little olive oil, plus ingredients I felt like having, like raisins — and a teaspoon of herb salt. It was served on a large platter surrounded by stuffed grape leaves, tomatoes, olives, hummus and carrots, and was well-received.

Today, I had some leftover tabooli and olives for breakfast, and was amazed at how fantastic it tasted. I could really notice the herbal notes and I think it may have been the most delicious quinoa salad I've ever had.

If you would like to make herb salt, (and why wouldn't you?) here's a video of Sally Schneider telling you how. (If you could smell what I'm smelling right now, you'd make it immediately!) If you prefer to just read the recipe for Fragrant Tuscan Herb Salt, you can find it here. I suggest reading the recipe after watching the video to get the correct proportions of ingredients, because she makes a much smaller quantity in the video. Enjoy!

Note about salt: Different salts have different sodium contents by volume, so read the nutrition info on the package and compare. I know that kosher salt has less sodium by volume because of its large grain size, but I didn't realize how much variation there was among coarse salts in general. Kosher salt has the least sodium content by volume, but I found a very coarse sea salt with a comparable amount of sodium, and that's what I used. By volume, I mean when measured out by teaspoon rather than by weight. Kosher salt's large grains contain less sodium than fine salt when measured by volume. However, I found coarse sea salts that seemed to have the same grain size as kosher salt, but more sodium, even though all the measurements were the same (per 1/4 teaspoon).

Some comparisons of sodium per 1/4 teaspoon of salt: 
Diamond kosher salt = 280 mg
Lima Atlantic sea salt (coarse) = 330 mg
Selena Naturally light grey Celtic sea salt (coarse) = 410 mg
Morton fine sea salt = 560 mg