Follow Your Heart Vegan Caesar Salad Dressing

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What are the hallmarks of a Caesar salad? It should be thoroughly coated in grated Parmesan cheese; it should be garlicky and lemony; and it should have a salty, fishy bite from anchovies mixed into the dressing (and also laid atop the salad). Without these elements, can a salad really be considered a Caesar?

Follow Your Heart makes a vegan Caesar salad dressing that lacks all of these elements, and not just the non-vegan ones. The website describes this product as “creamy, thick, and rich with garlic and pepper notes.” This is just patently false. Straight from the bottle, this dressing is pitifully thin and struggles to coat the lettuce. I don’t taste garlic at all.

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I managed to salvage the dressing somewhat by mixing in some freshly squeezed lemon juice, minced garlic, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, and lots of ground black pepper. I garnished it with a few anchovies, but if you don’t eat fish, you can leave them out.

With these modifications, you can create a decent dairy-free Caesar salad. But the whole point of buying dressing in a bottle is so you don’t have to spend a lot of time whipping up your own. With that in mind, this dressing from Follow Your Heart isn’t worth it.

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Pumpkin-Shaped Nacho Cheese Ball

Halloween 2014

Halloween is coming up, and you know what that means: MORE PUMPKIN STUFF! At Halloween parties, no one can resist this spicy nacho-flavored cheese ball that is shaped like a pumpkin. I have a thing for food that looks like other food — cupcakes that look like spaghetti, for instance. Want to make something look like a pumpkin? Make it round and orange. Done.

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From the book Hello Cupcake.

I first found the cheese ball recipe in Food Network Magazine back in October 2012, and I made it using regular cheese. Every year it was a huge hit. But I’m lactose-intolerant, so I wanted to try making the cheese ball using lactose-free products. Guess what? It works!

I used Green Valley Lactose-Free Cream Cheese and Beemster Vlaskaas Cheese (which is naturally lactose-free). But you can use dairy-free, vegan cheeses if there are some you like.

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PUMPKIN-SHAPED NACHO CHEESE BALL RECIPE
Adapted from Food Network Magazine

16 ounces lactose-free cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups shredded lactose-free cheese (preferably cheddar)
3 tablespoons minced onion
3 tablespoons salsa
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1-2 handfuls of spicy Doritos (e.g., Tapatío, Spicy Nacho, Poppin’ Jalapeño), crushed
1 bell pepper stem
blue corn tortilla chips

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to blend the cream cheese, cheddar, onion, salsa, and cumin. Don’t overmix or the cheese will become too soft.

Line a small bowl with plastic wrap and scoop the cheese mixture into it. Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Lift the plastic-wrapped cheese mixture from the bowl and shape it into a 5-inch ball. Unwrap it, roll it in crushed Doritos, and press a bell pepper stem into the top. Serve with blue corn tortilla chips.

Miyoko’s Vegan Cheese Wheel

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The Los Angeles Times recently published an article in its “Health Happenings” section introducing some new dairy-free alternatives. One of those was Miyoko’s Kitchen vegan cheese, created by a “lifelong vegetarian” to “satisfy her love for dairy while honoring her compassion for animals.”

As I have yet to find a good dairy-free alternative to cream cheese, I thought I’d give Miyoko’s a try.

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Here’s what Miyoko’s Vegan Cheese Wheel in Classic Double Cream Chive looks like out of the package. Like other nut-based cheeses I’ve tried, this one has a beige color that got darker as time wore on. Not exactly appetizing. I’ve said it before: Appearance is important when it comes to food. We eat with our eyes as well as our mouths and stomachs.

Even though Miyoko’s cream cheese alternative would presumably be better for spreading on a bagel, that one wasn’t available at the Ralphs I went to. So I tried the Classic Double Cream Chive on a bagel. You can see the beigeness more clearly here. Also, its texture was immediately dubious. Not smooth.

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When I tasted the cheese, I was even more bummed out. It was tart, which I usually like, but this was way too tart. I would even say it was sour. The chives were okay but couldn’t save this cheese, which was woefully grainy and pasty. Yuck.

Here’s my half-eaten bagel thirty minutes after I abandoned it. Reminds me of the playa at Burning Man.

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It’s possible this cheese would’ve fared better on a cracker, as an accompaniment to some charcuterie. But I still think the sourness of it is a deal-breaker. Now that I’ve had the vegan goat cheese from Vromage in West Hollywood, I know that nut cheese can be better than this. Vromage’s goat cheese is tart without being sour, it’s white (not beige), and its smoothness is exactly what you want in a cheese.

Let me save you from wasting your money on Miyoko’s Kitchen. If you live in L.A. and you want a nut-based vegan cheese, try Vromage instead.

Progresso Tomato Basil Soup

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It’s that time of year when I start eating a lot of soup. Of course, homemade is the best, but I like to keep a few canned soups on hand for those days when I don’t have the energy to cook.

I love a smooth, tangy tomato soup. Many have dairy in them, so I’m always on the lookout for ones that don’t. Progresso Tomato Basil is dairy-free and I was excited to try it, since their Chickarina soup is one of my favorites.

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Unfortunately, this tomato basil soup was a huge disappointment. It’s a beautiful red color, but has a thin, watery consistency. And it’s way too sweet. I don’t understand why any soup should have sugar in it; soup should be strictly savory, in my opinion. This one tastes like ketchup.

To quote my favorite movie, Goodfellas, “I ordered some spaghetti with marinara sauce, and I got egg noodles and ketchup.” Nothing should ever taste like ketchup — except ketchup. And even that’s questionable.

So where can you find a good dairy-free tomato soup? They serve a fantastic freshly-made one at Tender Greens, a healthy California chain that focuses on sustainable ingredients and will soon be opening locations in New York and Boston. Their roasted tomato soup is vegan, and it’s delicious and easy on the eyes with a drizzle of basil oil floating on top.

In the meantime, stay away from Progresso’s tomato soup and always check the label on canned soups to see if there’s sugar added. If it’s the second or third ingredient listed, you can bet it’s going to be too sweet.

Know of any great canned dairy-free soups? Please share in the comments!

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Dairy-Free Wedge Salad

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Like many people, I’m not a big fan of iceberg lettuce — or as my favorite YouTube food reviewer Daym Drops calls it, “crunchy water.” Pretty much the only time you’ll catch me eating iceberg lettuce is in a wedge salad, a classic that you find at old-school steakhouses.

A wedge salad traditionally consists of a wedge of iceberg lettuce (hence the name), smothered in crispy bacon, tomatoes, and bleu cheese dressing. Because I’m lactose-intolerant, when I order a wedge salad in a restaurant, I ask for Thousand Island dressing instead of bleu cheese. But I must admit I miss that cheese.

Recently I discovered Follow Your Heart Vegan Bleu Cheese Salad Dressing and knew I had to try it on a wedge salad. It worked beautifully. The recipe is simple, but there’s one part that can be tricky…

The key to a successful wedge salad is crispy bacon. After years of making limp, chewy bacon, I finally rolled up my sleeves and did some research. Here’s the trick: Start with a cold (not preheated) pan and add a little water before cooking.

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Probably should’ve used a bigger pan, but you get the idea.

As the water evaporates, it renders the fat from the bacon, and you end up with leaner, crispy bacon that doesn’t get burnt — unless, of course, you wander away from the stove and forget about it. The water step doesn’t add that much cooking time, and it always results in bacon with that proper “crispity-crunch.” As Daym Drops would say, “This is how bacon is supposed to be.”

DAIRY-FREE WEDGE SALAD RECIPE

4 slices bacon (not thick-cut)
1 small head iceberg lettuce, cut into 4 wedges
1 cup Follow Your Heart Vegan Bleu Cheese Salad Dressing
1 vine-ripened tomato, chopped
1/4 cup chopped red onion (optional)
ground black pepper to taste

Lay the bacon slices in a cold (not preheated) skillet. Add enough cold water to cover the bottom of the pan. Cook over medium-high heat until the water evaporates, leaving melted bacon fat. Turn heat down to medium and continue cooking the bacon, turning frequently, until crispy. Remove bacon from pan and drain on paper towels. When cool enough to handle, chop the bacon into bite-sized pieces.

Place one lettuce wedge on each of four plates. Top with dressing, tomatoes, red onion (if desired), and bacon. Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper. Serve with a fork and knife. Makes 4 servings.

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Follow Your Heart Vegan Bleu Cheese Salad Dressing

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I haven’t had bleu cheese in over three years because I’ve never seen a dairy-free version of it. I used to love bleu cheese — the stinkier and more pungent the better. I would even order filet mignon with a big mountain of bleu cheese on top.

Bleu cheese is an acquired taste, for sure, but there are certain dishes that make little sense without it. For instance, cobb salad, wedge salad, and buffalo wings. (Don’t even get me started about the sacrilegious practice of eating buffalo wings with ranch dressing — which is also off-limits because it contains lactose!)

But now all of those foods are no longer sad reminders of my lactose-intolerance, because Follow Your Heart has made a vegan bleu cheese dressing that tastes just like real bleu cheese. It also looks just like the real thing except that it doesn’t contain the chunks of bleu cheese that some dressings do.

If I weren’t currently trying to cut down on fried foods, I would be running out to get some buffalo wings to dip, stat. But in lieu of that less-than-healthful treat, I’m having the veggies that you usually get on the side: celery and carrots. I probably don’t have to tell you that this rabbit food is much more exciting dipped in a rich, tangy dressing.

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For those of you who do enjoy ranch dressing, Follow Your Heart makes a vegan version of that, too. And it’s just as good as this one. Dip to your heart’s content!

Egg-Lemon Soup (Avgolemono)

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When I see a soup that looks like this, I usually assume it contains milk. But the creamy appearance of this delicious Greek dish actually comes from blended eggs — music to my ears because (1) there’s zero lactose in it and (2) I love eggs. This soup also contains a hefty amount of lemon juice, which gives it a wonderfully tart flavor. I’m a big fan of pairing chicken with lemon.

You can use leftover chicken, such as the scraps from a rotisserie chicken. Or you can cook raw chicken breasts or thighs by poaching them in water. Bring the water to a boil, then immediately turn the heat down to low and simmer for eight to ten minutes. Remove the chicken from the water and shred with two forks.

And by the way, you shouldn’t have to worry about salmonella from the eggs, since the liquid you add to the blender will be very hot. But if you’re really paranoid about raw eggs, this may not be the recipe for you.

For those of you who like to live on the edge, give this one a whirl!

Egg-Lemon Soup (Avgolemono) Recipe

Adapted from Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything

3 pints chicken stock
1/2 cup orzo or other small pasta
1 carrot, peeled and sliced thinly
1 stalk celery, minced
sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
2 cups cooked, shredded chicken
2 eggs
5 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
minced fresh parsley to garnish

Place the stock in a large pot and turn heat to medium-high. When it’s just about boiling, turn the heat down to medium so that it bubbles gently.

Stir in the orzo, carrot, and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they are all tender, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add the chicken. Turn heat to low.

Place the eggs in a blender and whir for 10 seconds; add the lemon juice and blend briefly. With the motor running, drizzle in about 1 cup of the hot soup. Pour this mixture back into the soup; stir and cook briefly, until the soup is slightly thickened. Do not boil.

Garnish with parsley and serve. Makes 6 servings.

Follow Your Heart Vegan Ranch Salad Dressing

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Giving up creamy salad dressings is a hardship for those of us who can’t eat dairy. I’ve written about my perennial search for a good dairy-free Caesar dressing, and as U2 would say, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

But Follow Your Heart Vegan Ranch Dressing is far better than any of the store-bought Caesar dressings I’ve tried. I’ve loved the flavor of ranch since I first tasted it in the mid-80s at a friend’s party where her mother served us crudité with Hidden Valley Ranch dip. Incidentally, ranch dressing was invented in the 1950s by the owners of the Hidden Valley Ranch, a dude ranch in Santa Barbara County. Even though it’s popular in the U.S. and Canada, if you ask for it in any other part of the world, you will probably get a confused look.

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I wouldn’t say that Follow Your Heart tastes exactly like traditional ranch dressing. The most noticeable difference is that it lacks the tanginess of the buttermilk. Ranch usually contains buttermilk, mayonnaise, and a bunch of spices. This vegan version uses “Vegenaise” instead of mayo and nothing but lemon juice concentrate for tartness. The result is a dressing that tastes pretty good, but doesn’t scream “ranch.”

What I like about this dressing is that it’s thick, creamy, and white, not an unappetizing shade of beige. Let’s be honest, salads need to be as attractive as possible or a lot of us won’t bother to eat them.

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Perhaps the real test was when I served it to two people who can and do eat dairy regularly. Both of them liked it and said it didn’t even taste dairy-free. So I’m giving a thumbs-up to Follow Your Heart Vegan Ranch and looking forward to dipping some carrot and celery sticks in it…

But not buffalo wings. Those are supposed to be dipped in bleu cheese dressing (although a lot of West Coast restaurants don’t understand this and insist on ranch instead). And yes, I’ll definitely be trying Follow Your Heart Vegan Bleu Cheese Salad Dressing, hopefully alongside a big plate of very spicy buffalo wings.

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