March 25, 2015

Product Review: Field Roast Coconut Herb Chao Cheese

This past fall, I was browsing the aisles of a co-op in Asheville, NC and I spotted a vegan cheese that I'd never seen before, Field Roast Chao cheese slices. I assumed that it was a product that had been out for some time. My mistake! There are new vegan cheeses launching all the time, and as someone who doesn't eat that kind of stuff often, it's hard to keep up with what's new and not. I do love to try new vegan cheeses out though because 1) J loves cheese and 2) I can recommend them to family, friends, new vegans and have actual experience behind my recommendation. Well, my curiosity was distracted by hemp tofu, an item I'd never tried but had been dying to, on the bottom shelf which I placed in my basket before walking away from the cold cases, vegan cheese far out of my mind.

As I was on my way back to Pittsburgh, I started seeing Chao on all of my social media. It was a growing wave of pictures from all across the country singing the praises of this cheese. I got back to Pittsburgh and couldn't find it anywhere. I was so mad that I had been standing right in front of it and didn't get any!

Recently, I told a friend about Chao cheese, and a few days later he texted me, "You have to try that Field Roast cheese. It's soooo good!". He travels a lot so I made sure that he was in Pittsburgh before excitedly telling J that we were finally gonna get to try this awesome cheese.

The next day, we took Tucker to the park and stopped at Whole Foods on our way home. I was going to buy ingredients for a specific recipe, but I didn't know what the cheese was like. I figured I could create something at home with what I already had.

First thing was first. When we got home, we cut open the package and broke off a corner for each of us. I really loved the oregano and black pepper in it. J loved the texture and said how much it tastes like cheese. It's been about 12 years since I've had dairy cheese, so I have to take his word for it!

We decided to make quesadillas. I put red peppers and spinach in mine. J did the same but also added Tofurky Italian sausage. We assembled our fillings in brown rice tortillas and cooked them in a skillet until the cheese was melted and the outside of the wrap was crisp.

Our impressions: 

Me: I really liked it. It was very creamy; it didn't spread out too much, become too liquidy, or ball up when it was cooling. It had nice depth of flavor, and I'd most definitely buy it again. It tasted like all the good things I remember about cheese and none of the bad ones. I hope that our Whole Foods gets the other two flavors in at some point because I'd love to try those as well.

J: He loved it. The first thing he said after taking a bite was, "This is pizza worthy!" which is high praise in his book. And even after we ate a full meal of quesadillas and roasted potatoes, all he was talking about was making a pizza with that cheese. He even started to get freaked out because it looked and tasted so much like dairy cheese to him.

The only downside I see - and it's such a small one - is that the package says, "Do not freeze". I'm not sure what the result would be texturally, but I'd imagine it messes it up enough that it's not worth it. Sometimes it's nice to throw a half used bag of Daiya into the freezer for later use, and I know some people (especially those who don't live close to stores that carry vegan specialty items) like to stock up their freezers with items like this.

I've established before that J has very strong cravings for foods from his pre-vegan days. The fact that he was speaking so highly of this cheese should mean a lot to any of you who really love and miss dairy cheese. There are a lot of great vegan cheeses out there, but for the price point, I'd say this is most comparable to dairy cheese out of all those I've tried.

Have you tried Chao? What did you make with it? What was your impression?

March 23, 2015

Vegans Create!: Upgrade Your Plant Milks

You'll hear it time and time again from new and seasoned vegans alike: "Veganism encouraged me to get creative." Learning a whole new way of eating can be daunting, for sure. But when the heart is all in, there is no stopping us.

My creative foodie self didn't fully awaken until two important events occurred:

Firstly, I had 2 jobs that fostered my culinary creativity. One was at a cafe which showcased organic ingredients and vegan-friendly options. It was there that I learned my beginner skills; knife skills, flavor pairings, basic recipe development, etc. Following that, I worked at a raw vegan cafe and learned even more creative ways to approach food, this time from the raw food perspective.

What was most important in these jobs was that I was encouraged to explore my enthusiasm for food, and my managers took an active interest in helping me, answering all of my questions, and giving me the freedom to express myself through my job responsibilities. Needless to say, it wasn't the typical kitchen cook experience. Have you ever read Kitchen Confidential? Now that's a more accurate depiction of working in kitchens!

The second important event that unleashed my creativity was when I switched to eating mostly whole, unprocessed vegan foods. I did this for my health, during a dark period of illness, and so regaining my health was incentive enough to stick to my new path. Stick to the path I did, and I wanted to do it right. I read nutrition books and learned about different foods and what they provide for our bodies. I wanted to squeeze every bit of nutrition out of the foods that I could, and I wanted to feel as vibrant as the summer sun.

With my steadfast motivation, I worked up a storm in the kitchen with every spare moment that I had. In this phase of my life, I grew more than I ever imagined that I could. I've embraced my relationship with earth's nutritious gifts, and in turn I've been enriched in body, mind, and spirit.

This post is the first of a new series here, Vegans Create!, in which I hope to demonstrate easy ways that we can creatively satisfy our whole selves through our compassionate diets. Today, I am sharing a recipe for a fancied up hemp milk. I served it with a bowl of granola, which is how I like this best, but you can use it any way you'd like!

What I love about hemp milk is that it doesn't need to be strained. That means that if you don't have any vegan milk on hand but need some, hemp milk can be made in a minute without any mess! I made this on a day that I didn't have any greens yet, and I saw an opportunity to get some in. I added in romaine, a mild green which you most likely can't detect in the milk. You can also try using spinach. I also added in lucuma because I love it's deep caramel flavor and how it adds some body to the milk.

Enjoy this delicious hemp milk upgraded with greens and superfoods!

Upgraded Plant Milk
serves 2

1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp hemp seeds
1 Tbsp lucuma*
1 1/2-3 cups romaine leaves, roughly chopped
desired sweetener to taste**

-Add all ingredients to the blender (add in the romaine last) and blend until smooth.

*The lucuma is primarily used to thicken this up. If you don't have lucuma and want it to be thicker, try adding some of your favorite protein powder, a tablespoon or so more of hemp seeds, or a couple tablespoons of rolled oats.

**Because granola is already sweet, I didn't add any sweetener into the milk. If you would like a sweeter milk, add in a few dates or a Tbsp or so of your favorite liquid sweetener, or 2-3 drops of stevia.