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!

http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/id/QAA44833

http://www.notmilk.com/carageenan.html

http://blog.healthkismet.com/carrageenan-cancer-health-inflammation

http://www.cornucopia.org/2012/05/shopping-guide-to-avoiding-organic-foods-with-carrageenan/

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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.



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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!


36 comments:

  1. oh man! i had no idea about carageenan. i just split a big mail order with a friend to get some, since i thought it would have a better texture over the agar. good to know, and i'll look into it. so hard to eat healthy sometimes...

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    1. Kittee, I'm just overly cautious about additives, but there is some concern that carrageenan causes intestinal distress and possible damage. There are different forms of it, but it's possible even the "safe" form can change into an unsafe one under certain conditions. I'd be interested in what you find out. Carrageenan is what makes the cheese melt, from what I understand, but at this point I'm going to use agar agar.

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  2. What a newsy post! I'm sorry to hear that your July was so stressful and hectic! It's such a disappointment when people aren't more respectful of another person's home and belongings. Does it make you hesitant to rent the place out again?

    Like Kittee, I had no idea there was an issue with carageenan. Whenever I'd see it on something it would say it was from seaweed, and so I just assumed it was safe. It's worth looking into! Thanks for the heads up!

    That artisan cheese book looks fantastic! Everyone who posts about it seems to be blown away. I'd love to have a natural cream cheese to defer to for bagels and whatnot. A lot of the vegan cream cheeses on the market are less than ideal when it comes to being natural. I wonder how it would hold up for cheesecake.

    Your comment about the food at Pure being reminiscent of what vegan food used to be was funny. I totally know what you mean. Sometimes that can feel refreshing and wholesome, but it sounds like in this case it wasn't a complete success.

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    1. July was stressful but also really enjoyable as we spent a lot of time with friends — would have been able to see more people if we hadn't been so busy with the house. I think most of the damage was done by poorly supervised kids, though some, like not adding salt to the water softener, was not. We are definitely nervous about renting it out, but have no other choice but to sell it, which I'm getting more and more inclined to do.

      I used to make a cream cheese from tofu, tahini and umeboshi paste that is great, but this one is better. If only it didn't take three days. Sigh. Miyoki does use the cream cheese for cheesecake. The book has recipes for using the cheese as well as for the cheeses themselves.

      Pure is, in many ways, a refreshing change from overwrought, "modern" vegan food. I need to go back and try some of their other options. :)

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    2. Hi Andrea,
      I do hope you come back to try Pure again! Yes we keep it simple , the food is clean, not weighted down with sodium soy and gluten. not fancy , but simple and based in nutrition rather than "restaurant foodish" We have a real feel to our little cafe not a corporate whole foods clean status feel with hand sanitizing wipes on every isle of course but we do our best to keep the cafe clean and tidy. We are a real small business in America, started on a shoestring, I admit Our white tile floors do collect alot of foot prints and I've debated whther or not I should just put down a nice big grass rug or something . The dressing , yes you must have come right when we were modifying our recipe, Yes our tahini dressing went through a phase where it was breaking everyday . partially due to the blender getting old, and also the ratio of lemon and olive oil which is heavy compared to other oils. I ended up added purified water and that was what it needed to bind correctly!! I substituted olive oil for canola oil that most every commercial salad dressing uses even the so called health brand salad dressings (unfortunately canola and soybean oil) Our Tahini is now awesome, not breaking and quite creamy , it has become so popular that in september we are even selling in small jars to customers who ask. Thanks for checking us out on your visit to Vashon. we made into our 2nd year this summer operating with 2 then 3 people and a handful of volunteers so usually we are staffed with one person at a time. one person is taking the order,preparing the food, doing the dishes,wiping the tables serving the food, taking the money , restocking the water, which is why we have self service utensils, bus bin etc. If you come during our lunch rush or right after there may be a better chance that quinoa or brown rice grains left are left on the tables or the sink area will be piled high with dishes but we do wipe down our tables as soon as we can if we are working in singular fashion and we aren't slammed. We do our best to keep our tiny space very clean because we have and entirely open kitchen, we use gloves and have a very compact counter working area in which to make food so it does get chaotic but I promise it is clean. Many regulars ask me for a bar towel from our bleach bucket (health code) and wipe down the tables if they see Im slammed with a full rail of orders or have just finished the rush. the turn over is high in cafes/restaurants , if I train a cleaning person , I give them a 32 point cleaning checklist, but depending on the day and their level of experience things will vary. ,its common for a family with kids to spill a green smoothie on my freshly laundered table cloth or drop blueberries on the front counter in between customers. It happens. Im glad you appreciated the clean simple food !! Thanks for posting pics!! BTW The pizza was written up in the seattle Weekly beet street sp Im glad you took a pic of it. The crusts are flax pumpkin sunflower seed, celery parsley and herbs dehydrated for 36 hours we make our own seed or cashew cheese as well. Thanks!! Stephanie (I created pure :))

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    3. Thanks for your comment, Stephanie. I must say I was surprised you found my little blog! I realize I'm cooking on a very small scale compared to you, but my tahini dressing only has tahini, lemon and water, or tahini, umeboshi plum paste and water. It mixes perfectly and stays creamy and smooth in the refrigerator for several days. I've never added additional oil because tahini is so naturally oily.

      We've only been to Vashon once, but I'm sure we'll visit again, it's such a beautiful place, and it's nice to know a restaurant like yours is there!

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  3. Let's call a spade a spade here, I'm glad you had a good time with friends in July, but all that loss and ruin super sucks. I am so sorry.
    I took a chunk out of the spade, while I waiting for the creme cheez to form. Man that looks good,and I love your additions. Do you have vegan lox to go with it? I was just over at Kittee's blog (pity that I can never view her photos for some reason)and I am going to have to get this book. So enticing. I wasn't aware of the carageenan issue either.

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    1. I can't take credit for all the additions since I followed Miyoko's suggestions. Adding red pepper and toasted nori is her suggestion for cream cheese and lox. I like cream cheese to have chives or green onions, and olives. I never ate plain cream cheese — it made me gag and shiver — but add some chives and I was A-OK.

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  4. I had no idea carrageenan was controversial. I was looking forward to the book, but I am a bit hesitant now. Not because I wouldn't use that seaweed stuff. I just think my pantry doesn't need another ingredient I'd have to order online for a lot of money just to use it once a year. Thank you for your review!

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    1. Don't be hesitant. You can make plenty of amazing cheeses without carrageenan. And as I noted, not everyone is as cautious as I am. The book is well worth having in your cooking library. You can make the cheese without carrageenan if you choose.

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  5. Dang, hope you have better renters now. Glad at least you got to spend time with friends. I'll have to check out that book and blog - the cheese looks amazing! I've been trying to move away from the store-bought stuff especially if there's an easy alternative. Trying to avoid carrageenan, I just switch soy milk brands. And if I can't avoid it, I do try to limit how much of it I do eat. Doubtful, I would ever add it to anything. Seems like these kinds of issues never end...

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    1. Well, we THINK we have better renters. But, we loved the renters we just had, and look how that turned out. I don't think they meant any harm, just weren't totally on top of things.

      You're the first person to say you try to avoid carrageenan, and I'm glad I'm not the only one. I was starting to feel a little paranoid. There's always something, isn't there?

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  6. Oh, Andrea, I am so sorry about the damage/loss to your house! I know how vulnerable it can feel to have people in your house when you are not there and using your things etc. Your renters clearly took advantage of it. Hopefully this will be a better year in terms of renters!

    Your tomatoes look delicious...a small crop is better than no crop :-)

    Courtney

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    1. PS are there any non-nut based cheeses in the cheese book? I am always looking for new cheese recipes...
      Thanks!
      Courtney

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    2. Thanks. I'm over it. I just have to control my urge to feel guilty for complaining about it, even though it wasn't my fault.

      The tomatoes are delicious, though a big crop is better than a small crop. :)

      As for the cheese, I haven't looked at every recipe but I'm pretty sure they all involve nuts and seeds. I once made a "cheese" from sprouted chickpeas but it wasn't like any cheese I've ever tasted. It was good, but weird. (The recipe is on my blog if you want to try it. Just remember "good but weird.")

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    3. Thanks for the info on the cookbook, and the recipe tip--I am going to look for that recipe!

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  7. I remember hearing some negative things about carageenan years ago--will have to go check out those links. Sorry about all the rental damage (no wonder our landlord asked us to stay in his house "for the rest of our lives"--I guess we really *are* good tenants!!). And I feel your pain re: the computer woes! But cream cheese might help to make a lot of thing better--! ;-)

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    1. I laughed at your landlord comment — a little, anyway. I wish we could get the tenant before the last ones to come back. The house never looked better than it did when she left.

      I thought of you when I was going through my computer trials — it's amazing how dependent we become on our stupid hard drives.

      The cream cheese is pretty great and looking forward to spreading it on a rice cake makes getting up in the morning so much more pleasant.

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  8. wow what gorgeous photos! and that cheese sounds fabulous! and wow! i wish i could eat at Pure -- it looks amazing!

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    1. Thank you! I highly recommend the cheese — the whole cookbook, actually. Many of the cheeses take some time to make, but they're not hard if you have patience to wait for them to ferment.

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  9. That is one great looking cream cheese! I love the thick consistency- definitely going on the list of things to try once I replace my food processor (my last one just passed away). Thank you for the heads up on carageenan- I had never heard any negative things about it, so now I need to do my research!

    I'm sorry that your tenants weren't all that respectful of your property. My parents used to rent out a couple condos, and the damage some people would cause was just outrageous!

    Glad you're back at home after what seems to have been a very busy summer! Take care! :-)

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    1. I've got my second batch of cream cheese fermenting as I type. I want to try the other cheeses but I have a tendency to get stuck making something I like over and over. However, I WILL make the mozzarella next.

      I think everyone has a different tolerance for, and definition of, "damage." I don't think they realized the extent of the repairs their lifestyle required us to make, since we have to keep everything is good shape for the next tenants. Oh well.

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  10. Love the sound of red pepper and nori in cream cheese. I did used to love my lox (being a New Yorker and all). I hadn't known there was controversy about carageenan but I'm always a bit loathe to introduce YET ANOTHER bag of whatever into my pantry that will (most likely) be used a couple times and forgotten about. I enjoy making cashew cheeze and that's enough for me, ocasionally picking up FYH or Tofutti or something.
    Do you know the Stepaniak book on cheese? How would you say the two compare?
    Beautiful pictures from yr vacation. The pizza looks great too.

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    1. Lox was a Sunday morning ritual in my family, so I agree that a lox-sub is comfort food for sure.

      The Uncheese book is a great resource and I used to use it a lot, but Miyoko's book is totally different. Many of the recipes can be made quickly, but many require days of fermenting, and may require creating rejuvelac to use as a starter. The cheeses are more like dairy cheese. Just the simple cream cheese is mind boggling in the resulting taste and texture. I suggest looking at the preview on Amazon or checking out a copy of VegNews for examples. If you have any amount of mad scientist in you, you may want the book.

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  11. I absolutely love this book - despite the space we've lost in the kitchen and fridge due to James' endless supply of fermenting grains, liquids, and culturing cheese everywhere.

    The carrageenan thing makes me a bit nervous - but so far, it's way too expensive for us to order, so we've avoided it. Was very interested to see what you said about the Vitamix too - I would have thought a great food processor would have worked much better, and I'm considering a Vitamix.. but hmmm...

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    1. I only have one bowl on the counter at the moment but will probably be starting some rejuvelac tomorrow. I don't even care about cheese and I'm not a person with patience for foods that require days (or weeks) of prep, but I'm a little transfixed by these cheeses!

      The Vitamix is a blender, and though it's great for blending, and I love it, the food processor worked better for puréeing the cashews because there was so little liquid. Did you try the Philadelphia cream cheese? So simple but so yummy.

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  12. I've been devouring the Artisan Vegan Cheese book, fairly literally, and am planning a full review shortly. Spoiler alert: It's freaking awesome.

    As for carageenan, maybe I'm missing something, but I never understood why people got so fussy about it. It's no different from agar or any other seaweed, and thus I have no qualms using it at all. I love my seaweeds!

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    1. Looking forward to your review — I've only tried one recipe so far but just acquired the ingredients for the next one. I love seaweeds too, but have read too much about carrageenan to not be a little cautious.

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  13. the cheese looks so good. and so does vashon. i appreciate any opportunities to see seattle through your blog. hope you guys have a great late summer there.

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    1. We're having an amazing, and possibly record-breaking summer. I think we're up to 44 days without rain! It's been sunny and pleasant — you'd like it. :)

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  14. I've never been concerned about carageenan, although I have read quite a bit about it.

    Mike would probably like that cookbook. I'll have to check out here blog.

    Looks like you had some good times this last month, which were much needed after your house fiasco. It's a shame that some renters treat property that isn't theirs like that.

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    1. The cookbook is a great addition to a creative cookbook library, though I know you guys have pared your collections down. You can probably find some recipes to try online, and borrow the book from the library to record recipes you might want to try.

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  15. the cheese looks so delicious! i have to try the vegnews ones too before i get the book.
    i am so sorry about all the repair work. the thought renting our current belltown condo scares me too. we are looking to move to a bigger house this year.

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    1. You should definitely try the recipes, Richa. I'm on my second batch of cream cheese and plan to make mozzarella.

      I think when you rent your home you have to expect some damage — accidents happen. We usually let it go, but this time we were taken by surprise at the amount and type of repairs we had to make. This is the first time we kept the security deposit, and it didn't cover our costs. Hope you can find good tenants.

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  16. Hi,
    I just spent the morning reading your blog, thanks and I'm very interested in trying out the cream cheese. However, I cannot find the recipe for it did I miss it? Could you please show me where it is? I also looked at the links but no cream cheese recipe :)

    Enjoyed the read

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  17. I first found the recipe on page 69 of the Sept./Oct. 2012 issue of VegNews. It is also in Miyoko Schinner's book, Artisan Vegan Cheese on page 20. The recipes are copyrighted so I can't share them, but you might be able to find a copy of the book in your local library. Sometimes you can find older magazines either in the library or at used book stores. Miyoko has shared her recipe for mozzarella on her blog. I wish I could publish the recipe for the cream cheese. Thanks for looking at my blog. :)

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