It’s been a busy period here at Nerdsong central, so I’ve had less time than normal for both cooking and updating my blog, but I figured it was way past time I posted about the rest of the Vegan Diner cookbook challenge. For those just joining us, the cookbook challenge involves taking one underutilized cookbook in your collection per week and making at least three new recipes from it. As I mentioned in my last post, I was really inspired by Julie Hasson’s Vegan Diner, and went a little crazy, making a lot more than the three recipe minimum, so I thought I’d spread the Vegan Diner love over several posts.
I already posted about the “breakfast” diner food I enjoyed. Today, it’s time for lunch and dinner.
Vegan cheese (or cheeze, as it’s often spelled to differentiate it from its dairy counterpart) can be a contentious issue. Cheese is one of the hardest things to give up when going vegan, and is also one of the hardest things to replicate. Commercial plant-based cheezes like Daiya, Cheezly, and Sheese have their fans and their detractors, but I think most vegans agree that if you expect them to taste like dairy cheese, you’ll be disappointed. A lot of them are good when used in recipes, or melted on pizza, but not the kind of thing you’d happily eat on a cracker*. So I was really curious to try the Great Smokey Mountain Cheeze in Vegan Diner. It would be my first attempt at making my own cheeze, and it looked simple enough. But how would it taste?
The answer is, it tasted amazing! It’s a creamy, spreadable cheeze that’s got a bit of a smokey, spicy bite to it (thanks to the addition of smoked paprika). It’s spreadable, but also holds up to slicing, not like a hard cheese would but like one of those spreadable cheeses that come individually wrapped in foil. And most importantly, it passed the cracker test!
I found myself taking little nibbles of it every time I went to the fridge for something else, and the fairly large batch I made on Monday barely made it to the end of the week. I ate it on crackers, on bread, on a bagel. So, this is definitely a cheeze that stands on its own. The next test is, how would it melt? Enter the grilled cheeze!
As I mentioned in my last post, diner food is comfort food, food that reminds you of your childhood. Grilled cheese and Tomato Soup are a classic combo that fits that bill. I was happy to discover that the Smokey Mountain Cheeze lends itself perfectly to this all-time favorite sandwich, and The Old-Fashioned Tomato Soup – fresh, creamy, and just garlicky enough – makes the perfect foil for it!
So far, I’ve focused on breakfast and lunch foods, but of course, diners are known for their down-homey dinner foods too. The one I decided to try from Vegan Diner was the Veggies and Dumplings. This was somewhat more labor-intensive than the other dishes I’ve made from this cookbook, but so worth it!
As Northern Europe slides inexorably into winter, I find myself craving hearty, stick-to-your-ribs meals, and this was just what the doctor ordered: saucy, veggie-rich stew, with fluffy, steamed dumplings. This recipe makes a buttload, so it’s something that you could serve to the whole family, or in my case, have lots of leftovers for generous late-shift work dinners.
If anyone had asked me before what my favorite cookbook was, I would have unhesitatingly responded that it was Appetite for Reduction. Now, I can say without a doubt that Vegan Diner has shot into the number one spot in my cookbook case!
Coming up: Chloe’s Kitchen, and some thoughts on why I made the choice to go vegan.
*Recently, there has been more focus on making actual cultured vegan (generally nut-based) cheezes that seem to take things to the next level, but these are not a feasible option for everyone. The store-bought ones are both expensive and only available in limited areas, and the homemade ones take a certain level and skill and patience that I certainly don’t have at this time.