Today I share no real recipe, just a suggestion for combining components in the most luscious of grilled cheese sandwiches built on colors and flavors that complement and contrast.
“Sandwiched” between 2 pieces of a rosemary olive oil bread are slices of Tofutti’s American style cheese, griddled green apple (sliced about 1/4 inch thick), caramelized onions, and a harissa cream cheese made with about 2 or so tablespoons of Tofutti Garlic-Herb Better-Than-Ceam Cheese and about 2 teaspoons of prepared harissa. I gently heated them together for a few seconds in the microwave and whisked until smooth.
The tangy cheese slices, tart apple, sweet onions, and spicy cream cheese are the perfect foils for each other.
If you are unable to get Tofutti products where you live, their website Includes a product locator.
Few things are better than these tasty rounds–buttery, tangy, and crisp-tender–with a glass of wine or non-alcoholic Proxies (pictured is “Pastiche”). Made by Acid League of teas, fruit juices, vinegars, bitters, herbs and other unexpected ingredients to pair with food, these wine alternatives have an “intoxicating” nose.
A Gift from Your Kitchen
An easy and welcome gift, the Shortbreads pack beautifully inside coffee filter-lined tins which I shared this holiday season with my freelance editors/publishers/clients and other professionals who provide service of inestimable value throughout the year.
On December 27, I contributed a dozen shortbread rounds to a happy hour for two (pictured) at the beautiful home of Angela Phillips. We also enjoyed her air fried brussels sprouts and chestnuts warmed with just a hint of olive oil.
Angela lives 8 or so miles away from us and, despite splitting the entire bottle of Proxies, I could drive home safely. These bottles really are “free of alcohol, full of complexity,” but are NOT dealcoholized–and are perfect when you want something beautiful, interesting, and exciting to sip on its own or, especially, with food, but prefer not to imbibe.
The pair of us drank the entire bottle of Pastiche, at only 75 to 100 calories total for each of us. Pastiche is a white wine alternative, made of the following: (FRUIT) Lychee, Pineapple, Peach, Gewurztraminer Grapes; (ACIDITY) Rose Vinegar; (SPICE) Pink Peppercorn, Amchur, Galangal, Clove; and (BODY) Bai Jian White Tea, Oolong Tea, Mosaic Hops. Proxies may remind you a bit of Kombucha but without the assertive fermentation and with many more layered and subtle flavor notes.
Savory Parmesan + Fennel Shortbread
Yield: approximately 4 dozen
(Note: these are also tasty without the parm.)
2 cups flour 1 tablespoon fennel seeds 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (optional) 1 teaspoon sea salt 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder 1/4 teaspoon onion powder 1 cup Follow Your Heart or your favorite plant-based brand shredded Parmesan cheese 1/2 cup plant-based butter (I like Myokos), broken into chunks 1/2 cup olive oil (may need slightly more or less)
Place first 7 ingredients in food processor and pulse a few times to break up fennel seeds. Add parmesan and pulse a couple more times. Add butter and pulse to distribute. With motor running, drizzle in olive oil, stopping occasionally, until dough comes together, but is not sticky. It should be fairly firm, like roll-and-cut cookie dough. Form into 3 to 4 logs, approximately 1 1/4 to 1 1/2″ in diameter. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a baking sheet with Silpat or parchment paper. Slice rolls into 1/3-inch disks, place 1″ apart on baking sheet, and bake 18-20 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool on wire racks. Package in airtight containers.
Vegan and plant-based queso blanco is typically made with cashews and potatoes, but mine is made with cashews and cauliflower for fewer calories and loads of nutrition. Served with plantain chips, it is my new obsession.
Yield: approximately 4 cups
12 ounces cauliflower florets 2 cups raw cashews 4 cups water 1 teaspoon sea salt 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder 1/2 teaspoon onion powder 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin Juice of 1 medium lemon 2 tablespoons brine from a jar pickled jalapeños 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast 2 teaspoons white miso 1 tablespoon cornstarch 4.5 ounce can chopped green chilies with juice Garnish: Fresh cilantro and finely diced bell pepper (I like tri-color) Accompaniment: plantain or tortilla-style chips; also delicious served over Mexican dishes like enchiladas, Quesadillas, and nachos
Place cauliflower, cashews, water, and sea salt in a medium saucepan and gently boil until very tender and all but about 1/4 to 1/2 cup water has evaporated. Carefully transfer to food processor or high speed blender and add all remaining ingredients except green chilies. Process for several minutes or until very smooth. Rinse out saucepan, pour in cauliflower mixture, green chilies and juice, and heat through for a couple minutes over medium or medium-low heat, stirring frequently. Garnish with bell peppers and cilantro, and serve with chips or spooned over the Mexican dish of your choice.
4 tablespoons plant-based butter, divided (I like Miyoko’s)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon Braggs Liquid Amimos
1 1/2 cups grated plant-based cheddar
1 small onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 pound plant-based sausage, crumbled or diced depending on type (I like Gimme Lean for this)
3 to 4 cups loosely packed baby spinach
Optional garnish: chopped parsley, pecans, and tiny or diced tomatoes
*Preheat oven to 350ﾟ. Spray an 8 or 9 inch casserole dish with nonstick spray. In a medium saucepan, bring unsweetened soy milk and vegetable stock to a simmer over medium heat. Stir in grits and 1 tablespoon butter along with salt, garlic and onion powders, black pepper and Liquid Aminos. Cook, stirring frequently, using a whisk if necessary to break up lumps, for 15 minutes. Lower the heat if necessary to keep at a very low simmer.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium, melt remaining 3 tablespoons butter, add onion, bell pepper, and a pinch of salt, and saute, stirring frequently until soft. Lower heat if necessary. Add sausage, breaking up as needed, and cook a few minutes, stirring very frequently, until sausage begins to brown. Turn off heat.
Stir cheese and spinach into grits mixture. Cover to facilitate wilting and melting. Pour grits mixture over sausage mixture and stir well to combine. Transfer to prepared pan, smooth top, sprinkle with remaining half cup cheese, and bake for 12 to 15 minutes.
Garnish if desired and serve immediately or cool, cover, and refrigerate.
*If you prefer, you can stir all of cheese into grits and not bake casserole.
A delicious deck dinner with our dear friend and Aint B to our dogs, Bonnie Mattiko, signals the cusp of summer:
Sichuan Slaw over Stoneground Cheez Grits
I sometimes like a slaw-salad mix that is part shredded cabbage/carrot and part mixed baby greens. The dressing was mayo, artisanal habenero pickle juice (though any sweet or dill juice would be tasty), and hot chili crisp to taste. I purchase the crisp in the Asian foods aisle at Kroger. It is piquant, but not too spicy.
If anyone cares about such things, I found a no- cal mayo that allows me all the delicious dressing I want. Called Walton Farms, I purchase it at Harris Teeter and, while I don’t care for it on its own, I really like it jazzed up with assertive flavors such as this.
My friend, Jeff Dunn, to whom I gifted half of the recipe in a red-lidded carton tied with a bow, texted me that “The soup is Phenomenal!! I think this is my new favorite soup of all time.”
This is a rich,creamy, deeply flavored, and dramatically cleaned up version of a dairy-based beer Cheddar soup recipe I came across. It was made with lots of dairy, coconut milk, and no pumpkin, rather pumpkin beer.
While I didn’t taste that soup, I can’t imagine a tastier nor velvetier version than mine made with pureed pumpkin, coconut milk, the vegan beer of your choice, and a small amount of vegan Cheddar supplemented with cheesy and ultra-healthy nutritional yeast.
Pumpkin Beer Cheddar Soup
(vegan & plant-based) Yield: 6 servings
1 medium-large yellow onion, diced 1/2 teaspoon sea salt 2 cloves garlic, minced 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch 1 vegetable bouillon cube or 1 teaspoon paste 1-15 ounce can pureed pumpkin 1-15 ounce can coconut milk, lite or regular 12 ounces vegan beer (Google to identify vegan brands) 1 cup shredded vegan Cheddar 1/2 cup nutritional yeast Ootional toppings: grated vegan Cheddar, sliced green onions, roasted and lightly salted pumpkin seeds or pecan halves, pomegranate arils, dried cranberries or cherries, sprig of rosemary, sage leaves, croutons, etc.
Cover bottom of large soup pot with water and add onion and salt. Place over medium heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until onion is soft. Add garlic and saute 30 seconds. Add cornstarch and stir well to combine. Add remaining ingredients, in order, stirring after each to completely combine. Simmer for 10 minutes or so until beer mellows and all flavors marry. Season with additional salt if necessary and serve topped as desired.
This rich, thick and creamy cheese sauce–which contains no added fat and is ridiculously low in calorie–owes a debt of gratitude to Susan Voisin. I consulted her recipe, but then tweaked the flavor to suit my taste. It instantly became a staple in my home.
Angela Phillips, my friend and the owner of the yoga studio where I can be found every Saturday and Sunday morning, came over for happy hour on Wednesday evening, bringing with her some lovely baby Romaine. So, instead of serving the sauce with a spoon as I’d threatened, I served it with Romaine leaves and waffle-cut carrot slices. So pretty and delicious. And Angela, who is not a vegan, loved it, reporting this morning when I saw her at the studio, that the leftovers with which I sent her home were delicious with plain broccoli last night.
Our happy hour would have been practically virtuous except that Bob decided to make some of our famous French fries. Angela and I allowed ourselves a very few and, boy, were they good dipped in this cheese sauce! I’m quite sure there is not much that wouldn’t be improved with some of this addicting sauce, perfect in taste and texture. And so easy to boot.
4 cups cauliflower florets
4 cups lightly salted water
Juice of 1/2 medium-large lemon
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
2 tablespoons yellow miso paste
1 teaspoon stone ground mustard
1 teaspoon Liquid Aminos
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
In a large bowl, combine cauliflower and water. Microwave for about 10 to 15 minutes or until very tender. (Alternatively, you may simmer, partially covered, in a large saucepan over medium to medium-high heat.) Transfer cauliflower and about a half cup of the water into the bowl of food processor. Save remaining water. Process until cauliflower forms a thick paste. Add all remaining ingredients to the bowl of the processor and process until very smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. Transfer to a large saucepan and simmer over medium heat until desired consistency is reached, adding remaining water a half cup or so at a time. Serve immediately as you would any cheese sauce. It is delicious for dipping, drizzling, or stirring into casseroles and fillings. Or…eaten with a spoon.
We decided to eat-in on Valentine’s Day to avoid the crowds on what a friend in the restaurant biz once referred to as “amateur night.” But we wanted a bit of romance…maybe something we could feed each other little tastes of. Enter fondue.
After researching lots of vegan fondue recipes with potato, rutabaga, and more–and admittedly loving the rutabaga-based fondue at Vedge restaurant in Philly–all of them sounded like lots of work with questionable textures.
As with queso and all of the machinations vegans go through to create a Mexican cheese sauce causing me to wonder, “Why not just melt vegan cheese with Rotel tomatoes?,” and doing it with great success, I decided to veganize a very traditional dairy-based fondue.
I simply swapped out vegan for dairy-based cheese in a recipe by Tyler Florence and I wouldn’t change a thing about the dairy version for Bob nor the vegan version for me. Swiss is traditional, but if you can’t find vegan Swiss, cheddar is lovely too.
We own a fondue pot, but for just the two of us, we didn’t want to break it out because we didn’t want to make that large of a quantity. I wasn’t sure if microwaving would work, but a gratin dish in the mic seemed more fondue pot-like than a saucepan, and it worked beautifully.
Yield: 1 serving (easily doubles; if you double perhaps use 2 gratin dishes)
1/4 pound vegan cheddar or Swiss cheese, shredded
In a small bowl, coat the cheese with cornstarch and set aside. Rub the inside of a small ceramic gratin dish with the cut sides of the garlic clove halves, and then discard.
Using full power in the microwave, heat the wine and lemon juice and bring to bubbling, 30 seconds or so. Stir the cheese into the liquid and heat 30 seconds at a time, whisking in between, until melted. Once cheese is melted and smooth, stir in cherry brandy, mustard, and nutmeg.
Serve immediately on a wooden cheese board or platter with dippers. Gently reheat fondue and whisk as necessary.
And hopefully I am not posting this too late for your Super Bowl festivities.
Recently, a local vegan bakery advertised their vegan “chick-un” nugget platter with “cheese” sauce for the Super Bowl. I was curious about the sauce because, fairly recently in researching vegan cheese sauces online, there was a baffling array of sauces made with potatoes, eggplant, cashews and more. But I was highly skeptical and wondered to myself at the time, “Why not just melt some vegan cheese?” And I shied away from experimenting. But, Friday, I purchased some of the advertised sauce on the way to school to enjoy with my lunch at my desk. It was a nice texture and lovely color, but it tasted oddly of garlic and mustard, ingredients I have used in vegan cheese spreads, but better camouflaged than that. It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t taste convincingly like cheese.
So, I looked up the old recipe from my childhood–10 ounces of Ro*tel tomatoes and 1 pound of Velveeta–and purchased some Ro*tel yesterday on my grocery store run. The cheese I had on hand. Velveeta is so processed that it always reminded me of what would happen if orange vinyl were sold in blocks, so I figured that vegan cheese would be a shoe-in. This morning I melted it in the microwave with the So Delicious vegan shredded cheeses I had on hand–both cheddar and cheddar-jack–and I was right! I needed look no further for my go-to cheese sauce. And, shamefully, I fantasized almost all the way through my yoga class, buying some jalapeno-lime corn chips on the way home and diving in.
Granted, this is not health food folks. It is an occasional splurge. And with the price of vegan cheese, it’s not cheap. But it is super simple, lightening fast, and delicious. It contains no nuts as some cheese sauces do, but it does contain soy. However, soy is not even a whisper of a problem for me and hopefully not for you.
Plus, I can think of a million ways to use it. It is hard to beat, plain, as a hot dip for chips. But why not add corn, black beans, green chilies, vegan sausage, cooked diced potato, or some of all and enjoy it as a chunkier dip, as a sauce for nachos, a filling for enchiladas, or even as a base for a casserole, say potato and Poblano? Or simply kick it up with some cumin, coriander, chili powder, or lime juice?
While your wheels are turning, why not make a batch and munch on it with some crispy chips?
Vegan Ro*tel “Velveeta” Dip
1 10-ounce can Ro*tel Diced Tomatoes and Green Chilies, mild or spicy
1 pound shredded vegan cheese (I like So Delicious cheddar and cheddar-jack sold in 8 ounce packages)
Optional garnish: chopped fresh garnish
Place in a microwave safe bowl or a double boiler and heat until melted, stirring frequently, approximately 8 minutes. Whisk for a smoother finished product. Serve warm with chips and a sprinkling of chopped fresh cilantro.