30.) Yummy Nondairy “Cheese”

With a slight increase in downtime lately, I’ve gotten back to playing in the kitchen. I loooove to cook, and I especially love to experiment – it can be hit or miss, but the hits are so unusual and unique and tasty! The misses are at worst still edible. 😉

This semester has been filled with time-crunch food, like Lean Cuisines and canned tuna, fried eggs, deli meat sandwiches and chicken salads from local to-go places, etc. It’s not like I’ve been gorging myself on Texas barbecued brisket daily, but I’ve definitely been eating more meat than I have in years. Morally, I haven’t been feeling fabulicious about that. 😦

I was a vegetarian for 5 years. I didn’t eat any meat, primarily because of an incident I had while working at a stable one summer in high school. We had a pig that used to keep the horses company in the barn. After he died, we bought the sweetest little baby calf named Wilbur. Wilbur would keep me company while I mucked stalls and he’d frolic clumsily about on his wobbly calf-leg stilts. Then one day I came in and found him, neatly packaged in white butcher paper in the shared employee freezer, with an open invitation to take some with us if we wanted. 

From that moment on, all fleshy food products reminded me of Wilbur, and kind of nauseated me. I found I didn’t do well on a veg-only diet, though….after awhile I got pale and thin and was sick constantly, catching every cold and flu I came within 10 feet of, so after 2 years I started eating some meat and felt better. That hiatus was short though – again in college I went back to vegetarianism (I was working on a neuroscience project using rodents, and felt like I had to give up eating meat to even the playing field a bit karmically…I know this might make absolutely no sense, but I felt awful using animals for research AND eating them). The same symptoms of weakness, exhaustion, and low immunity came back. After three years of being sick all the time I slowly reintroduced occasional meat into my diet. Looking back on it, I probably was not supplementing properly. I never took vitamins (which I take religiously now). I was an inexperienced cook, so I ate whatever vegetarian options the cafeteria had (…which was not much).

Now, though, I’m ready to start playing more with options. I am not going to say I’m going 100% vegetarian or vegan right now, but I would really like to make more of my meals cruelty free. I’d like to experiment more with alternatives to meat and cheese. And actually, it’s the vegan bit that’s been harder for me to latch on to. Since in Austin, I’ve found plenty meat alternatives. Some of my favorite products are the Field Roast sausages which taste so similar to meat (esp in pasta dishes), portobello cap burgers (mmm with guacamole!), and I adore vegetables and tofu of all kinds. However, I cannot seem to get into faux cheeses.

I’ve always adored cheese. Austin’s Central Market and Antonelli’s have both vastly expanded my cheese-world, and I’ve learned so much about aging levels and undeniably delish cheese (especially brie, bleu, sheeps’ milk cheeses, and aged goudas). I know cheese is supposedly bad for your body (namely, your arteries), and I’ve been making efforts to replace some (right now I’m aiming for half) of the cheese in my diet with nondairy cheeses. It’s been a bit of a challenge – I recently tried a shredded brand of cheddar that a lot of vegan recipes call for, and found it kinda…gross. And pungent. The almond mozzarella was the next that I tried, and that was not bad, but not very flavorful – it was good enough that I could eat it sliced like regular cheese. I have found two delish winners so far – Tofutti non-dairy cream cheese and nutritional yeast.

The Tofutti was an impulse buy at Whole Foods. It was on super sale (cheaper than cream cheese) so…why not? And man, is it tasty! I actually think I like the taste almost BETTER than cream cheese! It’s healthier, but also tastes super creamy and a little sweet! I also picked up some bulk nutritional yeast from Central Market. Nutritional yeast initially sounded like such a weird product – at first I imagined it to be some sort of protein powder that big burly guys pumping iron would add to their post-workout shakes. I was super wrong…nutritional yeast is a yellow flaky yeast product that actually reminds me a LOT of the yellow packets of powder that come with boxed mac and cheese (and it kinda tastes like that too…salty and savory).  I’ve been using it to mix into my Italian sauce dishes or beans to make them taste cheesy.

I’m not putting too much pressure on myself to embrace a 100% vegan-vegetarian diet…I’m trying to embrace this lifestyle shift with less “you can’t eat this and that!” and a more playful experimentation attitude. And I’m trying to make one or two big batches of food for the week, and supplement them as needed daily. Last week (while still recovering from a head cold) I made a big pot of tom yum soup with tofu, and braised veggies with tofu.  This weekend I made portabella mushroom and apple-sage veggie sausage pizzas and Italian style millet. Then for this week I made smoky black beans (slow cooked with smoked paprika, onions, garlic, cilantro, and cayenne pepper).  

I’m so excited to see what new recipes and options come out of the kitchen. 🙂 



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