Here we are, Day 1 of the Challenge!
Normally, if I want to buy a book, I just order it from Amazon. It's usually cheaper than at my local bookstore, and since I'm a Prime member, I get free 2-day shipping. However, since I needed some info on non-dairy baking and cooking immediately, I made a quick trip to B & N. Actually, not that quick, since I had a whole list of books I wanted to look at and I browsed them all carefully before making my selections. While browsing, it became quite evident that
Cheese. Is. Going. To. Be. A. Problem.
I can already see that's going to be the biggest challenge of going dairy-free. Just to clarify, when I say "dairy-free" I mean no milk products, cow or otherwise, like milk, cream, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and yogurt. After today's experiment, I'm thinking I may still use butter, at least in some recipes.
I grabbed a few vegan cookbooks to browse through and realized that they will be helpful mainly in the baking area. As far as creating dairy-free versions of other dishes, I may be on my own here. This is because not only do I have to watch it with the dairy, I also have to take it easy on simple carbs that have a high glycemic index value, like rice and potatoes. So a macaroni and "cheez" dish consisting of pasta, rice milk, nutritional yeast flakes, water, potato starch, and veggies is gonna send me zooming to the moon sugar-wise only to crash and burn severely in about 40 minutes. I was so excited to find a recipe for creamy tomato soup (my favorite!) only to realize I could never eat it because the creaminess was created by the addition of more than a lb. of potatoes to the soup, a sure recipe for a crash and burn.
Whereas dairy milk and cheese in a standard mac and cheese recipe bring some protein, calcium, and most importantly, FAT, to the party. For my body, fat is a good thing, because it slows everything down and keeps the carbs from slamming into my bloodstream like a rocket. The protein helps balance things out too.
From experiences in the past with low-fat diets (remember Susan Powter and Stop the Insanity?) I am only too aware of a dreary underworld of pseudofoods, created solely to taste like something else. E.g., fat-free salad dressing. Non-dairy cheese also falls into this category. Sometimes, a "pseudofood" tastes good and provides a good nutritional value. Soysage, for instance. I love it-- prefer it, even, to real sausage because it isn't greasy. It's loaded with soy protein and "good" fat.
But I just have to wonder about the benefit of some of the other pseudofoods that are out there.
To make the delicious cupcakes below, I used two products new to me, coconut milk yogurt and vegan cream cheese. The recipe calls for soy yogurt, but at the store, vanilla and plain soy yogurt was only available in a huge vat, which I didn't want to invest in. One reason being the dr. told me to avoid highly processed soy products. The coconut milk yogurt was available in vanilla in a single serving size, so I decided to try it for the recipe.
Compared to regular yogurt, coconut milk yogurt is a bit watery and "thin," but it tasted fine. It did NOT taste like yogurt, but it did taste sweet and vanilla-y. It also worked fine in the recipe. It even has 6 active and live cultures, according to the label.
But check out the ingredients: water, coconut milk, vanilla, evaporated cane juice, pectin, chicory root extract, dextrose, natural flavors algin (kelp extract), magnesium phosphate, tricalcium phosphate, rice starch, locust bean gum, agar, culture, carrageenan, guar gum, dipotassium phosphate, vitamin B 12. The primary ingredients are water, coconut milk, and sugar. Plus emulsifiers.
Checking the nutrition label, I see a carton has 150 cals., with 50 of them coming from fat (so 33% fat). There are 22 grams of carbs, 19 grams of sugar and 2 grams of fiber. I gram of protein. It provides no vitamin A or vitamin C, but does provide 25% of the daily value for calcium and magnesium, as well as 30% of your B12 and 8% of your iron.
Let's compare that to my usual yogurt, Fage 2% Greek yogurt. It also has 150 cals per serving, with 40 cals from fat (26% fat). There are 9 grams of carbs and sugars, but of course, this is plain and not vanilla so it should be lower. No fiber, but 20 grams of protein. No iron, no vitamin C, 2% DV for Vitamin A, and 25% calcium. (Magnesium and B 12 aren't listed.)
And here are the ingredients for the Fage yogurt: milk, cream, and active cultures. That's it.
Clearly, the Fage is a cleaner and more natural food, and has the advantage of providing a significant amount of protein in addition to the calcium. I'm not saying the coconut milk yogurt is bad. If I had soy and milk allergies, the coconut milk yogurt would be a godsend! I'm just saying because something is "non-dairy" that doesn't automatically make it nutritious. In fact, the health benefits to me in the Fage yogurt might mean it's a food I would not eliminate, but would try to eat less of.
The vegan cream cheese is gluten free, has no trans or hydrogenated fats, no cholesterol, no preservatives, no dairy, and no sugar. It seems to consist primarily of palm fruit oil and soybean oil, with some chicory root extract, agave syrup, lemon juice and rice starch thrown in. Like regular cream cheese, it's mostly fat, with 90 calories per serving, 70 of them from fat. But obviously, this is a much healthier food than regular cream cheese.
Which brings me to the other issue with "pseudofoods." Taste.
I understand that something that is NOT dairy cannot be made to taste exactly like its dairy counterpart. However, for me, it has to taste reasonably similar, and it also has to taste good. The texture can be totally off, but if it tastes good, it works for me. WF carries a vegan chocolate mousse. Does it taste like real chocolate mousse? No, but it has a similar texture and certainly does ring my chocolate chimes, and is delicious besides. Someimes I even deliberately buy IT when I'm in the mood for something chocolate.
But the vegan cream cheese?? Not so much. While I wouldn't call the taste unpleasant, it unfortunately tastes an awful lot like mayonnaise. DC tasted it and agreed: mayonnaise. Which means I'd have a hard time eating it spread on a bagel. I'd be wondering where the rest of my sandwich went. The prospect of putting it in the cupcake frosting alarmed me, but since this is the first time I've tried these cupcakes, I wanted to follow the recipe as given. And surprisingly, it turned out ok.
If this tells you anything, DS, who hates cream cheese and cream cheese frosting with a vengeance, had 2 cupcakes and licked his fingers. Actually, we all did. They really were quite tasty!
Here is the recipe, from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World:
(Vegan) Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
12 standard cupcakes
2/3 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 t. baking soda
1/4 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. ground ginger
2/3 c. sugar
1/3 c. vegetable oil
1/3 c. soy yogurt (plain or vanilla)
1 t. vanilla
1 c. finely grated carrots
1/4 c. chopped walnuts
1/4 c. raisins
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a muffin tin with cupcake papers, and spray top of tin with nonstick spray.
2. Cream together the sugar, oil, and vanilla.
3. Sift together the dry ingredients and combine well. Add to the wet ingredients and mix until combined.
4. Fold in the carrots and walnuts.
5. Fill the tins 2/3 full, and bake for 26-28 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
6. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn cupcakes out onto a rack to cool completely.
1/4 c. non-hydrogenated margarine, softened
1/4 c. vegan cream cheese, softened
2 c. confectioner's sugar
1 t. vanilla
Cream the margarine, cream cheese, and vanilla together. Add 1 c. of the powdered sugar and beat well. Add the remaining sugar in 1/4 c. increments, until you are satisfied with the texture.
Pipe the frosting on the completely cooled cupcakes.
The authors suggest rolling the edges of the frosted cupcakes in 1/3 c. chopped walnuts, but I didn't bother.
The cupcakes were delicious. However, the recipe could use a little tweaking. I barely got 10 cupcakes out of the batter. I think I will increase the flour next time to 1 c. I'm also going to be sure to pack the carrots down when measuring. Also, I doubled the amounts on the cinnamon and ginger, and they came out tasting great. I think they would be bland as written.
I'm a little puzzled about the ratio of baking soda to baking powder, since the soda is the more powerful leavener of the two, usually use less of it-- the amounts almost look reversed! However, the one problem with the cupcakes was that they didn't rise much at all. And then they sank as they cooled. Next time I'm going to experiment with adding an egg. Which will make them non-vegan, but fine for me!
Oh yes, and the other thing-- 26 to 28 minutes baking time?? Yikes! Mine were done at 20. Proceed with caution.
The frosting: I mentioned I had reservations about using the vegan cream cheese, since it tastes like mayonnaise. Which might be ok inside the cake, but not on top of it! However, I was pleasantly surprised that the combination of ingredients created a tasty frosting.
Now, the frosting WAS tasty, but the flavor was definitely kind of strange. Not unpleasant, just weird. Obviously, it wasn't weird enough to keep us from eating seconds! I don't know how to describe it, it just had an "off" flavor. I think I might try using butter next time instead of the margarine to see if that improves the taste. (Again, I know that will make them non-vegan.)
Bottom line: we loved 'em, weird frosting and all!