Two Cashew Reviews for You (Woohoo)

Wow, sorry about that title. It’s day 24 of MoFo and I’m clearly going a little nuts. GET IT?! NUTS?? Because this post includes product reviews of two nut-related items. Hilaaarious.

So – at work we have this little general store where we can purchase fruit, frozen meals, drinks (including organic soy milk!), granola bars, candy, and various small toiletry items. They make it so easy to spend money, because you can just swipe your ID card and it gets automatically deducted from your next paycheck. Yowza. I work on the other side of campus, though, so I rarely make the trek over to the general store to buy a snack I don’t really need.

Today, though, I had limited food supplies and wanted something yummy to tide me over until lunch. Recently they started carrying vegan cookies made by the Simple Soyman, a Milwaukee-based company. So far I’ve only seen the Sesame Circle (made with peanut butter) and a Mexican hot chocolate-type cookie, both of which are excellent. Today I noticed that there’s a version of the Sesame Circle that features cashew butter instead of peanut butter. Consider me sold!

True to the Simple Soyman’s name, their products contain only the simplest ingredients. Check it:

It was a circle until I started eating it... oops.

I can get behind a product with only 8 ingredients! By which I mean, I can happily stuff said product in my piehole for a deeelicious midmorning snack. I love the Sesame Circles because they’re crispy and crunchy and just a little sweet. I think I prefer the cashew variety to the peanut one… peanuts are kind of overused, y’know? But cashews and sesame? That’s a less common combination, and a winning one at that.

Now, I didn’t intend to eat something cashew-y twice today, but I’d brought along a cashew-based soup for lunch, so that’s how the cashew cookie crumbled! I remember reading a review for various vegan soups on someone’s blog (if it’s yours, let me know!), and Pacific Natural Foods’ Cashew Carrot Ginger soup received top marks. When I saw it on sale for $2.50, I picked up a carton and saved it for a rainy day. Or, y’know, a cold day that eventually turned rainy, although it wasn’t raining when I ate this soup. Full disclosure; you haz it. Anyway, I gave it a try today.

Sittin' on my food shelf at work!

My verdict? Eh. I think it’s partially because I still don’t totally care for soups with noticeable coconut flavor, but I was not in love with this soup. I also realized that I have a slightly less than high tolerance for very liquid-y soups – I like pureed soup, but it needs some texture! This was nearly drinkable, and that didn’t do much for me. I did enjoy the otherwise pleasant flavor and the delightful back-of-your-mouth, slowly-building spiciness – mild but enjoyable. Would I buy this again? Probably not. Do I regret trying it? Nope.

Have you eaten anything cashew-y and delicious lately?

If you’re celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow, happy cooking & eating & giving thanks! I am not doing anything, and I’m actually quite relieved. I didn’t want to fly to RI for a long weekend, because that would’ve required taking Friday off work and I want to use my vacation days for Christmas. A friend invited me to her family’s celebration, but they live ~2 hours away and I didn’t feel like driving there after work tonight and then leaving tomorrow night so I could be at work on Friday. I also received an invitation from the Madison veg meet-up group for a big veg potluck with any displaced Madisonians, but honestly, the thought of socializing with strangers for an entire day was too exhausting to contemplate (yes, I know that’s an issue). So – the roomie and I will chill out and enjoy our day off work. If I could Apparate and celebrate with my family, I totally would, but as it stands, I’m excited to spend the day knitting and watching movies. Anyway – happy Thanksgiving, again!

Teesin’ It Up: Eggplant & Mozzarella Sammies

Years before I moved out here to America’s Dairyland, I was an unashamed, unabashed cheesehead (and not the football-fan type). I enjoyed the tang of provolone, the creamy richness studded with bites of spice in a slice of pepper jack, the sharp saltiness of cheddar. Like so many vegetarians, I pulled the “I could never go vegan – I love cheese!” card for more than a few years. Once I opened my eyes and learned about the cruelty involved in dairy farming, though, I realized that I was being selfish. I’d gone vegetarian because my personal ethics and morals told me that eating animals wasn’t right, so how could I continue to support a system that inflicted cruelty on animals? How could I justify the momentary pleasure of a cracker spread with brie or a salad laden with feta when I knew the pain that had gone into creating those cheeses? I couldn’t. In my “effectively vegan” phase, I didn’t eat cheese, and I found that, hey, I didn’t miss it! Once I made the “official” switch to veganism (which, after all, wasn’t so different than the other phase), I realized that saying goodbye to cheese hadn’t been nearly as bad as I’d thought it would be. It was a clean break, so to speak; no tears were shed on either end and no angsty poetry was written about our split.

The idea of vegan cheese (or cheeze, or uncheese) is something I’ve sort of glanced at out of the corners of my eyes; I know it’s there, and I nominally acknowledge its existence, but I’ve never faced it full-on. Early in my days of effective veganism, when I was testing the waters, I bought what I thought was a bag of shredded vegan cheese, only to discover casein lurking in the ingredient list. Hmm, no wonder it melted so well! Other than that and the occasional tub of Better than Cream Cheese, though, I’ve not ever been truly tempted to try a vegan cheese. Sometimes at the grocery store I’ll linger by the Follow Your Heart or the Tofutti slices and imagine quesadillas and grilled cheese sandwiches and eggplant parmesan, but ultimately the price tag sends me down another aisle, cheese-less. I’m a cheapskate; what can I say?

And beyond my feelings that the price tag doesn’t justify whatever tiny desire I have to try a vegan cheese is the thought that it’s just really unnecessary. I get by damn fine on a diet that’s heavy on healthy and whole foods, so why throw something processed into the mix when it’s not necessary? Vegan cheeses aren’t exactly what I’d call health foods, and if I don’t particular crave them or want them, why would I buy them for novelty’s sake? That’s silly.

And now I’m going to contradict everything I just said. :) When Chicago Soy Dairy twittered about a contest to try one of their new products, I was intrigued. I retweeted their post, and by some luck of the cheezy gods, I was one of the winners. And by winners, I mean “people who got to try Teese’s new mozzarella recipe.” Ooer!

As my previous ramblings may have indicated, I’ve never actually tried Teese’s *old* mozzarella recipe. So, really, I had no point of comparison when giving this stuff a shot. Chicago Soy Dairy just wanted my honest opinion on the product. I figured, coming from such a vegan-cheese-virginal standpoint, I would not be tainted by any pesky intimate knowledge of other cheeses.

A few days ago a box arrived from Chicago, and along with a sticker and some cute pins (woo!), I received my first-ever tube of vegan cheese. Now, I’m not gonna lie – that tube freaked me out a bit. Unrefrigerated, tubular cheese? Umm… eek! But I was game for it, so after dropping off/checking out some library books, I picked up some supplies at the local grocery store. For my first-ever vegan cheese experience, I made something I’ve been craving for a while.

"Yeah, I'm a sandwich, chillin' on the floor. What?"

Eggplant sandwiches, with tomatoes and basil and – whoa there! – mozzarella! My dad used to make these every so often, and they were always so. freaking. good. that I couldn’t resist trying my hand at them. I’ll admit that I forgot to buy fresh tomatoes, so I used some leftover Muir Glen fire-roasted tomaters, and that actually worked just fine. And the mozzarella?

Well. Welllll, I’m going to be honest here. When I opened up that tube, I was met with a powerful odor that was eerily reminiscent of dairy cheese and that freaked me the crap out. I almost chickened out at that point! But I persevered, cut some slices of the mozzarella, and threw them on my sandwich. Unfortunately, I had to take my sandwiches out of the oven before they burned, so the cheese didn’t get super melty.

And the taste? Well – it was mild, and pretty similar to the mozzarella I remember, but definitely not identical. By itself, I don’t think you’d confuse it with the “real” thing. It worked well in the sandwich, though; as I sort of forgot what I was eating, I had this weird sensory-memory where I felt as if I were chomping on one of the  sandwiches of my youth – the flavors all blended together, and when I didn’t think about the cheese as a separate entity but as part of the sandwich, it added that perfect bite of creamy saltiness to the combined flavors. Y’know what I mean? Good.

I will also say that when I reheated the other half of the sandwich the next day at work, the cheese melted and looked so legit that I felt compelled to hide it from view – what if people thought I was eating rEaL cHeEsE?!? Silly, I know, but the idea of the occasional vegan who makes exceptions for cheese is not one I want to associate with myself.

So, overall? This cheese can play a very particular role very well. I bet it’d be great on pizza with lots of yummy vegetable toppings, when all the flavors can mix and meld. That’s when it works best. Hmm… maybe that’ll be my next Teese endeavor. I’ve still got 4/5 of a tube left, after all.

I feel like I’m supposed to make some sort of disclaimer here. Chicago Soy Dairy sent me their cheese to try, but I was under no obligation to blog about it – they just wanted honest feedback. Okay, um, disclaimer = made.

Product Review: Sesame Seaweed Rice Balls

I woke up this morning with the intention of doing my first ever “daily eats” post – I was going to photograph everything I stuffed into my gob today, and then share it with y’all tonight. But then I got lazy, and then it got all grey outside and the lighting in my kitchen was horrible, so… I gave up. Instead, I need to – need to – tell you about my new favorite thing.

YUMMY.

Forget cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudel, I’m talkin’ about these SESAME SEAWEED RICE BALLS, people. Trader Joe’s had a bag of these intriguing specimens on sale for somewhere in the region of $1.50, and I had to try them. In two days’ time, this is what remained of my bag:

DONE.

A whole lotta NOTHIN’. These lil guys are like CRACK. They’re not overly salty, but they have little flecks of seaweed that give them little bursts of yumminess. And the sesame flavor is understated, but in the best way possible. Basically, they’re tiny little balls o’ deliciousness. I’m pretty sure I could’ve eaten the entire bag in one sitting, but somehow I managed to make it last two days. Small victories.

Anyway, if you’re in the market for a relatively cheap snack food, give these little guys a shot! They’d make great travel food, I bet. They’re easily munchable yet they won’t leave you feeling all gross like you would if you downed a bag of chips or something. Plus, they’re vegan AND gluten free! Everyone’s a winner! Yeehaw.

A Tempt-ing Solution

One of my most perplexing conundrums (conundra?!) as one who eschews dairy is what kind of milk to use. Soy milk is pretty standard; it works in baked goods and hot and cold cereals alike. But I’m not too keen on consuming tons of soy products, so I’d like to cut back on that. Plus, I don’t actually enjoy drinking soy-milk straight-up from a glass. Maybe it’s because I was never much of a dairy girl to begin with, but I was never one to pour a glass of ice cold cow’s milk and suck it down just because I thought it tasted good. Even so, every once in a while I’d like to drink a glass of something with my cookies. I tried it with soy milk a few weeks ago and quickly remembered why I didn’t do that in the first place. Blech. Even the vanilla kind just doesn’t do it for me.

A better alternative in the taste department is almond milk. I actually enjoy the way it tastes, and it’s also great for baking and cereal-eating. But while I’m at home with my family, using it in baked goods is a no-no – my dad and sister are both allergic to almonds. Boo.

And I just can’t get behind rice milk. It’s way too watery and thin for my tastes. I’ve used it in baked goods, but I don’t think it’s ideal for that purpose.

So, apart from having multiple cartons of multiple types of alternative milks in the fridge, I generally just stick with soy so that I can ensure I won’t kill anyone who accidentally eats an almond milk-laced cupcake. But that MoFo survey got me thinking about less common types of milks, types I’d always vaguely meant to try. So when a recent trip to Whole Foods I discovered Tempt Hemp Milk on sale for $1.87, I did a mental dance of glee and snatched up a carton. Oddly, only the vanilla variety was on sale, but that works for me. The regular price was $3 and change, so it was a pretty fantastic sale. I thought that maybe some of their vanilla cartons were nearing their expiration date, but mine’s good ’til July 2010, so no problems there! I was so excited about this purchase.

Tempting...

I couldn’t wait to try this stuff. I decided to pour myself a glass for a taste test, ready with some of those chocolate chip cookies I made recently in case I couldn’t stomach it plain. But it was love at first sip. It’s creamy and delicate, similar to soy milk but without that, um, soy taste that turns me off. The flavor is much more neutral, but deliciously so. It’s amazing! I haven’t baked with it yet, but I’m excited to try. Maybe I’ll use a blend of rice and hemp milks in the future, since rice is pretty cheap.

I wish I’d bought more than one carton, but before I left Whole Foods I checked to make sure the sale wasn’t ending any time soon; it’s not; the price is good through December! You can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be back to stock up. Alternative milk problem SOLVED, thanks to the amazingness that is hemp.

Stuff That Makes Me Happy: Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge Coconut Bliss

As much as I love your average, everyday vegan eats that I prepare on my own (tofu! sweet potatoes! cupcakes!), there are some pre-made products that just make life a little bit easier – and a little tastier. So here’s the first of my “Stuff That Makes Me Happy” product reviews, wherein I’ll sing the praises of vegan products that, well, make me happy! First up is Coconut Bliss frozen dessert, because I just polished off my first pint of this sucker and it deserves a little love.

Before I get to the good bits, I’ll be honest – the $5.99/pint price tag doesn’t actually make me happy. But I was lucky enough to comment first on a Coconut Bliss blog post, and the lovely people at Luna and Larry’s sent me a fabulous Coconut Bliss t-shirt, a couple of stickers with their logo, some literature on their products, AND a coupon for a free pint of their ice cream! Now, that makes me happy, as does the organic, dairy-free, and soy-free ingredient list.

I used my coupon to pick up a pint of Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge, and, well, yeah. Holy yum. This is decadence in a carton, folks. It has the slightest hint of coconut flavor, which I think works well as a base for the chocolate. The hazelnuts add a fun textural change to your ice cream experience, although I think my pint could’ve used a little more fudge. My only other [eensy-weensy, super-tiny] complaint is that I wish the ice cream were just a bit creamier, but I may be spoiled because the last dairy ice cream I ate was gelato… in Italy. So. Yeah. Take that minor complaint with a [big, gigantic, humongous] grain of salt.

The only shortcoming of this ice cream is its nutritional profile. I’m not gonna lie, it’s pretty dismal in the fat department. Whereas most soy-based ice creams only contain a few grams of fat, coconut milk-based ice creams are extremely rich and contain large amounts of saturated fats. Although the folks at Coconut Bliss address this on their website and explain why coconut-based fats are at least somewhat healthier than animal fats, the fact that one 1/2 cup serving of Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge contains 10g of saturated fat and 16g of total fat is just a little frightening. To be clear, I don’t worry about fat content for weight purposes; I just know that diets low in saturated and total fat are, well, a heck of a lot healthier than those containing lots of fats.

In the end, though, I believe that it’s a matter of moderation. I don’t eat much fat on a day-to-day basis, and if I want to splurge and have a serving of Coconut Bliss every once in a while, I’m damn well going to do it, and I’m going to feel fine about it. I’m treating it like, well, a treat, especially since it’s so rich that I can’t eat much at a time (even when I was a kid, foods high in fat made me feel sick). I’ve made the pint last for at least three weeks now, which is really quite impressive. When I do have a helping, I make sure to savor it – no mindless eating here! I pay full attention to each spoonful, enjoying the flavors and textures. And that, my friends, makes me very happy indeed. :)

(“Photos” aren’t mine, obviously. I found them from Google Images; I imagine they’re from the Coconut Bliss website originally.)