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Vegan Cream Cheese Experiment

So I volunteered to help some friends make food for a Vegan Bruncheonette thing they are doing this weekend to raise money to go off for yoga teacher training.

Only I won’t be around this weekend, so I had to think of something on the spot that I could make ahead, and I said to my self, “Hey, I know there’s vegan cream cheese – it must be better with stuff in it than plain. I could make flavored cream cheeses.”

And the guy said, “Why, yes, that’d be wonderful.”

So I said, “Where’s the best place in Philly to buy vegan cream cheese?”

And he gave the wrong* answer – “I have a recipe.”

note: after checking recipes online, I did go back to him and say, “Do you really think this sounds like appetizing food?” and he was still pleased with the idea.



Yester morning (Monday) I ran around shopping for silken tofu and cashew butter. Last night, I borrowed the use of a friend’s food processor at 10pm and tried out a couple recipes.

I have to say that the results were kind of nasty.

But they did firm up into a more cream cheese-esque firmness this morning (Tuesday), and I figure it’s as good as any other homemade vegan cream cheese. Blech.


So the next stage of the plan will be to flavor the hell out of them tonight Tuesday night.

Here’s the list of things I’m thinking of adding. Let me know if you have any other ideas/suggestions.

The first batch was made with: silken tofu, cashew butter, lemon juice, salt, black pepper, and white sugar

  • Korintje cassia cinnamon, cinnamon, brown sugar, toasted walnuts, and buckwheat honey**
  • bronze fennel, black pepper, Japanese pepper, black cardamom, lemon zest, nutmeg, and clove
  • black olives, green olives, and toasted almonds

The second batch was made with: silken tofu, canola oil, rice vinegar, lemon juice, salt, black pepper, and white sugar

  • roasted garlic & herbs from my garden (chives, parsley, rosemary, thyme, savory, and lovage)
  • pesto (Genovese basil, purple basil, toasted pine nuts, roasted garlic, and black pepper)
  • chipotle & adobo, garlic (roasted and fresh), brown mustard, and molasses

*Only wrong in that I hadn’t expected the extra layer of complication and uncertainty of results. IN fact, the whole experiment was rather fun.

**Great Vegan Honey Debate is discussed at length here.


Results as each was made –

So far, the pesto one has turned out surprisingly well.

The chipotle one, however, is not for the faint of heart. I ended up adding dijon mustard in order to get enough bulk to make my mini food processor happy, and then a tiny little bit of molasses for sweet. But I still had to add the entire portion in the food processor before it stopped tasting of ick, and that might be too spicy for a lot of people. I’ll add a little warning on the label, and no one will believe me, but that’ll be fine.

have just made the garlic and herbs one. Right now it is very disappointing, but I yet have confidence that it will turn awesome over the next couple days as the flavors mingle.

Olives – I don’t know, since I don’t like olives. I ended up buying ones with pits in my quest to get only 6 olives per color, so I wasn’t able to mark the container with a pretty olive slice.

fennel – meh. It’s flavors did suit the tofu concoction well, but you’d have to like the tofu concoction in the first place to enjoy this one.

honey/cinnamon/walnuts – winner! This one was tasty. I wouldn’t put it on a bagel, but I had no problem just eating the spoonful that wouldn’t quite fit in the container.

Vegetarian Foods – Sauteed Tofu with Bitter Greens, Muhammara

I think I am excited about Autumn, since I was cooking a lot last week… but I’m still loving to cook with the available Summer produce. *shrug* who knows. It was tasty.

I cracked open the 1 pound (*cough* 14 ounces *cough*) package of tofu. Two of the blocks went in to marinate for my standard spicy tofu recipe (and are still marinating, so that should be exciting…), and the other half went to marinate for this Martha Stewart recipe for Sauteed Tofu with Bitter Greens.

So I did up the marinade according to the recipe (only cut for less tofu and longer time):

  • 1 teaspoon real soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon sambal oelek
  • 1/2 lime, freshly squeezed
  • a chunk of ginger, finely minced

And then I was on the phone with Meghan to help me pick out which of the prepped dinners I had available I should eat. And when I was describing this meal, it was a honey and soy sauce kinda thing. And then it wasn’t. But we both agreed that it really ought to have honey.

And she suggested corn starch because she says it fries up crispier and colors better with corn starch. Not having a comparison, I don’t know – but it sure was both gorgeous and tasty with the addition (because I trust the women completely when it comes to food).

So – I dropped 1 tsp of this lovely buckwheat honey I have into the marinade and shook it all up. And let me tell you – I’d been wondering what to do with such a dark, strongly-flavored honey, but one smell and this marinade and this honey were meant to have lots of hot sex together. I restrained myself to only one spoonful of it all raw.

And then I poured off the marinade and added more honey directly because it wasn’t sticky at all.

And then I put 2 teaspoons of cornstarch into the sticky tofu and shook it up. (We’d discussed the merits of dredging the tofu in cornstarch, but in the end I decided I was too lazy to wash an extra dish.)

Lay out a single layer of tofu in a pan with a teaspoon of oil… decide that really two teaspoons is a minimum for the oil here. And let brown. Flip. Let more brown. Guh. Because this is gorgeous – did I mention? So set them aside on a plate.

And I had some baby bok choi (well, more like teenage bok choi – 5-6″ and green all the way from tip to base) so I just washed them, shook them out, and then cut across into very rough strips about 1″ thick (and kept the very bottoms for my bag of bits for stock). That went into the same pan I’d cooked the tofu in.

And then I poured over the rest of the marinade.

I plated it up with the tofu, the greens, and a bit of short-grain white rice.

It was very very tasty, but I think the ginger ended up a little too strong – perhaps because it had longer to marinate that the recipe suggested.


And I finally made Muhammara, but I might have been led astray my westernized recipes.

So, right after reading the Vegetarian 100, I searched for a recipe and found a really tasty looking one.

So I printed it out and I took it home to put into my binder of recipes. And I did a bit of trimming of things (admitting that I will never be a great baker) and reorganizing of things (soups. then salads. then things that might be salads or might be side vegetables. side vegetables. vegetarian meals. vegetarian meals whose main bulk is beans. meals whose main bulk is tofu. meat. and then somehow I have a miscellaneous pasta dish (some vegetarians, some not) after the meats… you get the idea) I found that I already had a recipe for Muhammara (no, I can not find the link now without the paper right in front of me).

And I also had a recipe for a pomegranate & walnut spread.

Clearly, this is something I have been wanting to make for a while.

So I bought 6 large, juicy red peppers and roasted them. (and then realized that the recipe didn’t call for that many, but now I have a fridge full of tasty roast peppers) I also bought a tube of 5 heads of garlic and decided to roast them all, too, while I had the oven on anyway.

I pulled my bag of walnuts (from back when I was stuffing them in dates at the drop of a hat… no, the kind of dates that are a fried fruit/berry) out of the freezer and thawed a cup and 2/3rds.

So. my refrigerator is now its own country of abundance right there. It is so stuffed, that I had to give my new neighbor a half gallon of homemade hard cider so that I could get the door to close.

But I get ahead of myself.

In batches, toast walnuts on the stove. (I once tried to toast pecans in the oven… at 4am, just for the record… and there was no watching and hovering over them, so I swear that two second later there was a smoke alarm going off. Yeah, that was a good morning. So now I always toast nuts on the stovetop even though I secretly suspect that the innards get warmer and sexier when you do them in the oven. But no matter – because this way they get toasted only to a point where I can actually eat them.)

And then, because one of the recipes suggested it would be a good idea, I pounded the toasted walnuts in a mortar. Yes, I do have a wee tiny food processor, but I had not yet seen this Muhammara video to show me the perfect consistency and I am not used to having one available. Also, again with the liking to watch over the food.

I’ve been having a houseguest, and she asked, “So is there anything I can do to be helpful?” So I promptly told her to take over the toasting and pounding processes.

The same recipe (not the toomuchgarlic.com one) had suggested then grinding the roasted red peppers in the mortar – I, however, (because there was company) was wearing clothes. So I put the nuts into a separate bowl and then sliced three or so roasted red peppers (I find it hard to piece together whole peppers to know how many your are using when you are pulling them out of the container the next day) thinly against the grain and dumped them into the bowl, too.

Dump 1/3c. breadcrumbs into the bowl.

Add 1/4 c. Pomegranate molasses. Or you can make your own by boiling down 3 parts pomegranate juice to 1 part sugar. Me, I had bought some pomegranate concentrate from the halal down the street some months ago, and I was going to use that… with glee! Because concentrated pomegranate! I’d been looking for a use for that for months.

And then (possibly because I had decided my primary recipe source was going to be toomuchgarlic.com), I was supposed to add 12-16 cloves of garlic. The other recipe didn’t call for any. So I said to myself, “Wasn’t it clever of you to have roasted all that lovely garlic?” So I added 2 heads worth of roasted garlic (let’s call that 20 cloves). Plus 1 clove of raw garlic. And I kept her additional 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder.

As I stirred it all together, I tried to mash between the tines of my fork the red pepper and the garlic cloves to make a more even paste.

Add pinch of salt, 1 tsp cumin, and the juice of 1/2 lemon.

And then I started playing.

Because the other recipe had included some birds eye peppers, I added a wee tiny pinch of chipotle pepper (I wasn’t too experimental with this because I was going to be trying to pass off some of this on my friends, and they have different standards of spiciness than I do).

Because my pomegranate concentrate didn’t have any sugar added at all, I gave it a pinch of sugar and then tasted it. And then I added a spoonful of buckwheat honey. I think this would have been just as good without sugar if we hadn’t added the lemon juice, either. So I went back and looked at the other recipes – no lemon juice in any of the others. Buggery.

So I think that, while tasty, this isn’t the conclusive version of Muhammara.

Oh, and then for my friends I also added the recipe’s amount of olive oil.

Too Much Garlic’s Muhammara Recipe

I think I should have done more research (since I found so much more while looking for that other recipe I printed out some time in the distant past). For other recipes, see:
The Washington Post, using tomato paste and suggesting that Aleppo peppers would make it more authentic.
The Perfect Pantry also believes in Aleppo pepper – and they have the order from Penzey’s to prove it
Unrequited Thai uses nuts other than walnuts to make this dip for a vegan passover.
Pikelet and Pie makes an (unorthdox) muhammara that swaps out balsamic vinegar for the pomegranate
Actually, I think I’m liking the simplicity of this recipe at Closet Cooking the best. Next time I try this dip, I’ll start here.


Also, I have reservations at Tinto, a tapas bar owned by the same people as my favorite tapas joint, for Center City Restaurant Week.

food food food

food I have
6 potatoes
1 head of garlic (roasted) + plenty raw
1 huge butternut squash (possibly ripening, possibly rotting – it was cracked when first harvested)
1 orange and 1 apple
3 nectarines
1 tomato
hot peppers galore
bag full of small bok choi (when I find a more accurate term, I’ll change this)
small amount of chinese broccoli
spring mix lettuce
3 grapefruits
3 cucumbers
1 calabash?
lemons & limes
partial leeks
roasted vegetables: 2 zucchini, 1 yellow squash, 2 red peppers

pork and cow bean chili
roughly 2 oz of thinly sliced beef
1 lb tofu (sealed package) (half marinated for spicy tofu, half marinated for Martha Stewart recipe)

Making meals
Tuesday, September 9 *done*
Gai Lan with beef (and leeks)

Wednesday, September 10
have company
fry up potatoes, onions, garlic, hot peppers, and tomato in curry powder. (see if I can stop by indian grocer and pick up fenugreek to make it closer to this recipe
Freeze into lunch portions, and then dump some onto lettuce for a salad – with a cucumber!

* Start stock *done*

Thursday, September 11
Baby bok choi – in something. How about with my signature spicy tofu stir fry? (Therefore, I’ll have to remember to put the tofu to marinate before work – no problem) That should do about half of the greens

*strain stock *done*

freeze chili into lunches

Friday, September 12
Sauteed tofu and greens (And I am kind of sad that the Martha Stewart variation won out over the Gourmet version)

So, yeah, again with setting up the marinade before work

Saturday, September 13
So I’ll go exercise, and then I’ll go to the farmers’ market, and then I’ll come home with a whole bunch of fresh greens (but nothing else because everything else I can get elsewhere cheaper) (well, maybe some more of the adorable baby yellow squash, if they’re there)

Split open butternut squash and see whether it looks tasty. If so, roast it, scoop out the innards, and then set it to making soup. Oh, wait, that means I need stock.(*)

If calabash is still perky, make that roman recipe with it.

Buy yogurt. Make tzatziki.

Make a half measure of muhammara (I blame [redacted] for the temptation).

Buy pita and make a feast of roasted squash, muhammara, and tzatziki. (and calabash on the side)

Tofu Shirataki

Food experiment: Tofu Shirataki

Yeah, so this was a total shot in the dark as to whether they would be edible, but they were both weird and on sale so they fit my standard requirements for a culinary adventure.

Shirataki noodles are made from a root (often translated on the packaging as yam) and – in this case – tofu. They are packaged wet, kind of like sauerkraut.

Because the packaging warned that they are often parboiled to get rid of the smell (other notes included “distinctive texture”), I drained the packaging liquid and set it to marinate in a spicy cooking sauce. Then, I fried it all up in a pan with eggplant and shredded cabbage.

Right after cooking – fairly tasty, but still not as sexy a texture as proper noodles… they ended up having an almost al dente texture. Maybe I should have parboiled, but I was more worried about the flavor.

After freezing – No. Just no. So the website has a warning not to freeze, but the packaging didn’t, and ew! It turned into thin strips of plastic, I swear! So I am picking those out and dropping them in my trash so I can eat the rest of the goody.

Eggplant experimentation – Eggplant curry, Eggplant Jambalaya, Spicy Eggplant and Tofu Stir Fry

I have two different kinds of eggplant waiting for me in my fridge.

So, I looked through my cookbooks – vegetarian recipes, Italian recipes, eggplant recipes. and a binder with my recipes… and then decided that I’d do something different.

I have pre-cooked the two long skinny eggplants in the oven – that’s my current favorite way to peel eggplant: charring it under the broiler, and then picking the skin off in a couple long strips.

I put some beans (1/2 pink lentils, 1/2 yellow split peas) to soak in a small container. I’m thinking of making a curry with the beans, eggplant, and a bit of coconut. I still haven’t decided whether there will be dairy products or tomatoes or both – I’ll have to taste it.

And then I have medium-small “regular” eggplant. I think I’ll peel it, dice it, and then salt it and leave it to sit in a colander to leech out any bitterness. Then I’ll rise it and pat dry. That will turn into some weird (yet tasty!) jambalaya with diced chicken, eggplant, and zucchini – and maybe some collard greens. And that will get packed up directly and frozen for lunches.

And while I was reviewing the recipes I had put up here, I noticed that I missed one of my favorite eggplant recipes:

Spicy Eggplant and Tofu Stir Fry

Choose an eggplant that does not look bitter: a fresh, small, firm chinese eggplant or a firm white eggplant.

Use firm tofu. I often use the kind that comes in a plastic tub, but if it doesn’t you will need a container that is about the same size as the tofu to marinate it.

Cut the tofu into large slices no thinner than 1cm (I usually do one cut down the middle and several crosswise).

Work a crushed red pepper sauce in between every slice and then a little more over top. Let that sit overnight (or less, but I don’t usually have a couple hours to wait, so I’ll just prep stuff for the next day).

Heat up your favorite oil for stir fry. Lay the tofu slices flat in the pan (and this is the part where I confess to using a skillet to stir fry instead of a wok – if using a wok, improvise). Let them fry until they start to darken, and then flip them carefully to the other side to keep frying.

Immediately after flipping the tofu, add the eggplant, the tofu’s marinade, and a splash of some other liquid (water will do, but fruit juice or stock is better).

Once your can feel the peppers getting spicy, add a whack of creamy peanut butter.

Stir it all around – the tofu will crumble into bite-sized pieces and the peanut butter will melt and blend into the sauce.

And then it’s done.

Serve over lots and lots of rice – with more on the side because this dish is hella spicy.

I recommend having sauteed greens on the side as well – with lots of garlic.