Don’t Forget To Smoke Your Weed

I follow blogger Shared Skillet and find her recipes useful as I too am living in a “mixed” family in that I am the sole vegan amidst omnivores who don’t mind eating strictly vegan meals a surprising amount of the time but who are not interested in giving up meat, eggs, and cheese.  In January, a recipe for Smoked Spinach and Artichoke dip was posted on Shared Skillet’s blog and I read the recipe as just that: smoked spinach and artichoke dip.

How does one smoke spinach? I wondered.  Does the spinach get crispy like when making kale chips?  Wouldn’t that be a weird texture?  Would the spinach stay crispy once the other ingredients were added?  Didn’t I read somewhere that spinach is referred to as ditch weed?  Ha Ha.  Smoked weed.  Especially apropos as I live in Colorado.  And that, my friends, is how a blog post title is born.

In answer to my most pressing question, no; spinach is not synonymous with ditch weed.  According to Wikipedia, wild spinach is wild spinach and feral cannabis is ditch weed.  In answer to all my other questions, I found it helpful to actually read the recipe.  It isn’t the spinach that’s smoked: “smoked” refers to the type of cashew cheese used.

I recently found myself with artichokes I needed to use and remembered the recipe.  I had enough ingredients on hand that, while I didn’t exactly follow the recipe, I didn’t make any weird substitutions.  The only big substitution I made was Heidi Ho brand smoked chia cheese for the Miyoko’s Kitchen  High Sierra Rustic Alpine cheese because Heidi Ho was on sale and Miyoko’s Kitchen wasn’t.  I used a package of frozen spinach instead of fresh and my artichokes were jarred rather than canned.  No worries: I borrowed my parents’ food scale and weighed out 14 oz of artichokes.

The recipe calls for olive oil and I don’t use oil to cook so I wasn’t vigorous when squeezing the water out of the defrosted spinach in hopes it wouldn’t stick when cooking.  The little bit of water and medium low heat was all I needed.

I wish I could say leaving out the olive oil makes this dip a healthy treat but it doesn’t.  A cup of vegan mayo and the entire package of chia cheese made this dip as rich and creamy as any I ever ordered as an appetizer in my pre-vegan days.  I admit that, while it was cooking, I wondered if it was something I was going to be interested in eating…

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Hmmm…doesn’t look very delicieux

…but then the smells hit me and I started salivating.  When all the ingredients had heated through I could hardly wait to spoon some into a dish and set to.  The recipe suggests eating the dip with crusty bread which I would have done if I hadn’t eaten the bread I had with spaghetti earlier in the week.  I did have some Tres Madres purple corn chips-non GMO thank you very much-which I figured would do just as well.

I was not disappointed.  The dip is rich, creamy, and I could taste both the sweet and smoky flavor of the paprika.  My version might be a bit too smoky with the cheese I used as well as including a full cup of nutritional yeast.  I probably could have used a bit less nutritional yeast as the smoked flavor of this dip did hit me in the back of the throat.  I don’t mind strong flavors though and now my only question is; how am I going to avoid eating the entire pan by myself?

It’s My Party and I’ll Fromage if I Want To

I have friends and family that are interested in my vegan lifestyle but I invariably hear; “I could never go vegan-I could never give up cheese”.  I understand.  Cheese was an important part of my life before becoming a vegan.  The sharper the Cheddar the better, Stilton; Gouda, Gruyére, Brie…yes, I did eat a great deal of cheese.

I haven’t missed cheese; not with brands like Daiya, Follow Your Heart, and Chao slices by Field Roast taking care of most of my needs.  There is no denying the texture is not the same and, excepting Daiya’s Gouda style farmhouse block, I haven’t found a vegan cheese substitute I like sliced and eaten with crackers.  Cheese and crackers along with grapes or a sliced apple is one of my favorite simple snacks and one I was willing to drop the cheese portion if I had to.  And yet, I couldn’t help holding out hope that I’d find a cheese substitute I’d find tasty with a cracker.

It turns out, I don’t have to give up my snack.  My local King Soopers has a vegan/vegetarian section that carries some Tofurky and Field Roast products, some Tofu, some cheese options, and something new.  I found Treeline brand cheese: a non-dairy product made from cashews.  King Soopers carries the Chipotle Serrano Pepper, Scallion, and Herb-Garlic flavors.  I’m always willing to try something new and, hoping it would prove delicious, I purchased a carton of the Scallion and took it home.

I was not disappointed.  Treeline’s product is smooth, creamy, and spreads easily onto a cracker so there’s no worry of breakage.  The flavor is pleasant as well.  Despite being made with cashews it doesn’t take at all like cashews.  Treeline isn’t heavy on the spice either.  I liked the Scallion so much that, when I was ready for another treat, I purchased the Herb-Garlic and didn’t find the flavor too strong.  I am looking forward to trying other vegan substitutes as they come to hand, especially that made by Miyoko’s Kitchen, but I am thrilled to have access to Treeline.  Now, I only have to find a place that offers the other flavors.

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My favorite cracker for cheese and crackers indulgence used to be Triscuit crackers.  Unfortunately, despite releasing new and interesting flavors-including a pumpkin spice-Nabisco has not sought 3rd party non-GMO verification for their Triscuit crackers.  Fortunately, Back to Nature makes a Harvest Whole Wheat Cracker that tastes exactly like a Triscuit but sports the non-GMO butterfly.  My snack life is saved!

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I don’t mind purchasing a product like Treeline as an occasional treat but there’s no denying it’s a bit expensive so I’m scouring my cookbooks for recipes I can try at home.  A few make-at-home cheese recipes will be ideal for the Holiday Season.  Have a favorite?  Let me know.  I’m always up for cheese and crackers and perhaps a little wine.

You Mean; I Can Eat Cheese?

Since becoming vegan, pizza as I always knew it has become a thing of the past.  I can make my own pizza at home using a vegan cheese like Daiya but ordering pizza with my family has become a cringe-worthy feat.  Blackjack Pizza has been my sole option for getting a vegan pizza and I’m not going to deny the pizza I order from Blackjack is delicious.  I get the square crust, olive oil and garlic sauce, then top it with veggies.  It’s like veggie garlic bread rather than pizza and I will admit the veggies have a tendency to roll off.  I’ve never minded but I didn’t realize how completely I’d given up getting an actual pizza, vegan, with cheese, until my niece suggested we go to Beau-Jo’s.

My niece has been staying with us for a little over a week and I’ve been steadily introducing her to vegan food items.  She’s been surprised at how good vegan food it; at times, better than it’s animal-based counterpart.  She’s an excellent listener but I admit I was hesitant when she suggested a pizza parlor.  I was at work so couldn’t check out the menu myself but no need: she’d already done so.  She wanted to go because Monday was balloon animal night and kids ate for free so she’d prepared a defense for every argument my vegan self could invent.  Yes I could eat there, I could get tofu on my pizza if I wanted, and there was a gluten free crust.  The menu even offered a dairy-free mozzarella.  I could get a pizza with cheese?

Off to Beau-Jo’s we went.

Dairy-Free Cheese?  Why Haven't I Come Here Before?
Dairy-Free Cheese? Why Haven’t I Come Here Before?

Beau-Jo’s is a fun place.  The ceiling is low, which made me feel a little claustrophobic, but the restaurant isn’t so loud it’s impossible to hold a conversation with the person across the table.  There are several televisions mounted displaying various sports shows but beautiful nature photography lines the walls for those of us seeking to turn our eyes elsewhere.  I was highly covetous of the two antique stoves that greeted me when my family and I walked through the door and the friendly wait staff helped prepare me to enjoy my evening.  We were seated and I dived into the menu, looking for the vegan options.

I chuckled as I found hummus listed in the appetizer section: I’m going to have to start a list of restaurants offering hummus to the vegans-what would we do without it?-but flipped to the build your own pizza section.  I decided to try the gluten-free crust and topped that with tofu, black olives, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, and the dairy-free mozzarella.  I requested the entire thing be topped with fresh basil.  I waited, alone and hungry, while my family visited the buffet and then, at last, my pizza arrived.  (It wasn’t that long: maybe twenty minutes but we’d headed off directly after work and I was STARVING!) The pizza was well worth it.

I’d wondered if I’d dislike the gluten-free crust: some of that gluten-free stuff is pretty nasty but Beau-Jo’s does it well.  The crust is both chewy and crispy and the creamy cheese and sun-dried tomatoes perfectly complimented each other.  With the tofu as my protein option, the pizza was both tasty and filling.  No need to eat within a couple of hours.  No need to eat for several hours.  My favorite part?  I haven’t exhausted my vegan options at Beau-Jo’s!  I’m looking forward to going again and trying a completely different pizza.  I’m thinking a Wednesday night.  Wednesday night is wheat-free night and Beau-Jo’s offers a free trip to the salad bar with any gluten-free food purchase.  Pizza and salad.  It will be just like old times.

All Gluten-Free, All Vegan, All Yum
All Gluten-Free, All Vegan, All Yum