Cheese Substitutes: Nutritional Yeast and Vegan Cashew Cheese Sauce


To give you a sense of how much we love cheese in my family, I will tell you that my mother once toyed with breaking the law bucking the system to smuggle carry cheese in her suitcase on a return trip to Paris. When I asked her, “Do you feel like this cheese is really worth maybe getting arrested by customs?” she took a long time thinking about it. So did I. Because really, a good cheese might just be worth getting into a little hot water. Our people are French in heritage and we love our cheese. Cheese, however, does not always love me–one of many cruel food ironies.

As we start our marathon training in earnest this week, I am on the lookout for some replacements that will give me the satisfaction of cheese without the tummy trouble on my long run the next day. I am also exploring other plant-based sources of protein and nutrition during marathon training with the help of a great website, The No Meat Athlete. We have been reducing our meat consumption for several years now, so this is just one extra shift in our journey.

In general, I am not a big fan of cheese substitutes (and as I’ve detailed, I do love good cheese). Cheese substitutes often get the texture or flavor wrong and overall I’d rather NOT have cheese than to pretend I’m having cheese that tastes like salt or playdough. I have found some great ideas from other blogs that hold promise for me to enjoy some cheese-y flavor without any tummy trouble. If you are interested in trying something new or just shaving off some saturated fat from your diet, give these a try!

Nutritional Yeast

The first good cheese substitute is nutritional yeast. I know, sounds gross, but bear with me here. Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast super high in B12. It is also a complete protein. So, by itself, it is very good for you and it has the added benefit of the wonderful umami flavor of Parmesan cheese. Nutritional yeast comes in large flakes, so this is not something you would serve on crackers, but it is amazing in soups, stews, scrambled eggs/egg substitute or in a pasta dish. You can mix it with some olive oil to add to foods or just sprinkle it over foods like you might a dry cheese. Definitely, it’s worth a try. Not sure if you would like it? You can buy nutritional yeast flakes in the bulk bin of Whole Foods or other natural food stores and try just a little to see if you like it.

Vegan Cashew Cheese Sauce

Cashews are amazing little nuts that, when softened, can replace peanut butter and even cheese! I love reading the blog My Whole Food Life (check it out!). She has terrific ideas, recipes and now videos! I saw THIS video for a cashew cheese sauce and thought it would be great for nachos. It is easy to make, tasty and great for serving with corn chips, quesadillas or even drizzled over burritos. I’m not sure, but you could probably use this to make a vegan mac and cheese. I add a little more cumin and some red pepper flakes to the sauce because I like it spicy, but you could make this sauce yours in a million ways. Unlike conventional cheese sauce, this is healthy (have you read the ingredients in processed queso?) and without the heaviness  or tummy issues of milk-based cheese. Watch the video, starring her lovely daughter and her husband and see for yourself! If you like what you see, you can subscribe to her YouTube channel and get more quick videos!

Tuna Pasta Salad

  We have reached that point in the summer when I don’t like cooking anything complicated, especially if it will heat up the kitchen at the hottest part of the day. Grilling is always an option, but sometimes you just want something light and cool for supper. Enter this salad! It has a lovely combination of protein and carbohydrates that will leave you satisfied, but not sluggish. It keeps well for about 48 hours in the refrigerator, so if you have a small family, you can have leftovers for lunch the next day with no problem!

This salad is meant to be served at room temperature or a little warm, but it is also very good cold, especially if you add an extra squeeze of lemon.

A note about canned tuna. I try to buy the most sustainable tuna I can afford, and prefer tuna packed in olive oil. Trader Joes has a very affordable Skipjack tuna that is dolphin safe. If you decide to use tuna packed in spring water, you may need a bit more olive oil to keep the salad from getting dry.

Tuna Pasta Salad (makes 4-6 servings)

  • 1 pound pasta
  • 2 cans of tuna, drained
  • 1 head of butter or Romaine lettuce, washed and torn into bite-size pieces
  • 1/2 cup Kalamata olives (optional)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  1. In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta to al dente according to package directions.
  2. Drain pasta and toss with the olive oil. Set aside to cool about 5 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the tuna, lettuce, olives, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
  4. Add the cooled pasta to the bowl. Toss all ingredients together.
  5. Correct seasonings as needed.
  6. Serve immediately at room temperature or refrigerate and serve cold.


Protein Recovery Smoothie

  After a long run or intense training, I’m usually pretty hungry, but also pretty lazy. I don’t want to cook anything and sometimes even a sandwich just seems to take too much effort. I started making these delicious protein smoothies and they fit my post-run needs perfectly: they are easy, quick, delicious, and healthy. With no mystery ingredients or preservatives, these smoothies taste like a chocolate milkshake (more like a Wendy’s frosty), but fit into a clean eating diet. Win-win!

Full disclosure: Learn from my unfortunate experience. Bananas can have a laxative effect on some athletes. If your tummy is sensitive to banana (mine definitely is) have this AFTER your workout, not before🙂

Speaking of bananas, I freeze my bananas in little bags and use them in smoothies right from the freezer. This prevents me from finding gross, rotten bananas in my fruit bowl and they thicken the smoothie more if they are frozen. If you don’t have any bananas frozen, just use a room temperature banana and maybe add a little more ice. No big deal.

Raw cacao is an incredibly healthy, minimally processed cocoa powder that retains its antioxidant properties because it is not heat processed. It is more expensive than regular Dutch processed cocoa powder, but it has an amazing, rich chocolate flavor without bitterness. Worth the extra pennies, but you can use other unsweetened cocoa powder as well if that is what you have.

Enjoy these warm, summer months, but keep yourself hydrated and your body fed!

Protein Recovery Smoothie (makes 1-2 servings, depending on how hungry you are!)

  • 1 peeled banana, frozen
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of organic peanut butter (any nut butter will work)
  • 1 tablespoon raw, hemp seeds
  • 1/4 cup organic, raw cacao powder
  • 1/4 cup organic rolled oats
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup ice
  • 1-1 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk or hemp milk
  1. Put all ingredients in a blender.
  2. Blend until smooth.
  3. Serve immediately with a straw or a spoon.
  4. Enjoy!

Buddha Bowl

  Buddha bowls are pretty much what they sound like–fat little happy bowls full of goodness. I’ve read various theories about the name Buddha Bowl–some think that the bowls are like a rounded Buddha belly and some liken the bowls to those that monks use to ask for their meals. I think maybe it’s just trendy, but if that is the case, they are at least trendy and delicious! Like all bowl meals, these are very flexible, allowing you to create whatever you like with whatever is seasonal.  Also, these are a great way to use up those leftover grains and vegetables in your refrigerator. Buddha bowls seem to have a formula of sorts and this seems to represent: grains + greens+ vegetarian protein + fermented vegetables + light sauce.

Our bowls contained black rice, baby kale, toasted chickpeas, roasted local vegetables (mushrooms, zucchini, onion, peppers), steamed sugar snap peas, kimchi, tahini sauce and a fried egg. The egg, of course, does not make this a true vegetarian dish, but if you eat eggs, I highly recommend adding one. A note about black rice. Black rice is higher in nutrients, antioxidants and fiber than white rice. In my experience, it takes longer to cook (more like wild rice), so if you use it, be prepared for longer cooking times! It does have a nuttier, smokier flavor and we love it!

Buddha Bowls (serves 3)

  • 3 cups cooked organic black rice (or other grain)
  • 6 cups organic, baby greens
  • 2 zucchini, ends removed and cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1 bunch baby broccoli, washed and cut into bite sized pieces
  • 4-6 fresh shitake mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
  • 1 small, yellow organic onion, peeled and chopped into bite sized pieces
  • 1 organic bell pepper, trimmed, washed and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 2 cups sugar snap peas, steamed lightly
  • 1 can organic chickpeas
  • 2 cups kimchi or other pickled, fermented vegetable
  • 3 farm eggs
  • Tahini sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Drain and rinse the can of chickpeas. Toss with salt and pepper and any seasonings that you like. Put drained peas in a cake pan or other shallow pan and add to the oven. Cook for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently. They should be a little crunchy, but not burned.
  3. Line a sheet pan with foil. Add zucchini, mushrooms, onion and pepper and broccoli to the baking sheet. Toss all with the toasted sesame oil, salt and pepper and arrange in a single layer. Roast vegetables in the oven (while chickpeas are roasting) for 20 minutes, flipping them over at 10 minutes.
  4. Assemble your bowls. Line each bowl with some fresh greens. Add a cup of the grains to the center of each bowl. Arrange the roasted vegetables, sugar snap peas, chickpeas, kimchi and tahini around the rice.
  5. Heat a saute pan over medium heat and cook the eggs, sunny side up, until done (about 2 minutes).
  6. Top each bowl with an egg.
  7. Serve immediately.


Blueberry Lemon Jam

20130617-080549.jpgBlueberries are awesome little powerhouses of nutrition. High in antioxidants, fiber and vitamins, they are sweet little health heroes. For me, as much as I like blueberries, I tend to like them better when paired with another flavor. Unlike our local blackberries, blueberries are just a bit too sweet for me. When partnered up with a more tart flavor, their sweetness is a bit more in balance. I love the combination of blueberry and lemon (and our blueberry-rhubarb combinations this spring were terrific also). So this weekend, I made a new jam experiment with just blueberry and lemon. The result? I think the blueberries taste far better in this jam than in plain blueberry itself! The lemon and lemon zest really brings out the brightness of the berries. This is a keeper!

One of the wonderful things about making jam with blueberries is that a lot of the work is done for you. Unlike strawberries, which require hulling and chopping, blueberries just need a quick wash and a check for any remaining little stems and you’re ready. Also, blueberries have a lot of natural pectin, so you don’t have to use any pectin at all, unless you’re in a hurry. If you want to use a pectin recipe, try using Pomona’s Universal Pectin. It is harder to find (Whole Foods does carry it, as does Amazon), but you can make low sugar jam using this pectin. Typically, I use about 1 cup sugar for 6 half-pints of jam. I love that because what I want to taste is the fruit, not sugar. Other pectins require almost 1 cup sugar for each cup of fruit, which seems ridiculous.

This recipe uses two kinds of lemon juice–bottled lemon juice (this is to provide enough acid in the jam that the jam will remain shelf stable) and fresh lemon juice and zest (for fresh lemon flavor). This is one place you want to buy an organic lemon. Actually, any time you are zesting citrus, you want to use an organic or pesticide-free fruit because you are using the part of the fruit that is most exposed to pesticides and toxins.

Blueberry Lemon Jam (makes 5-6 half pints)

  • 8 cups fresh blueberries (preferably pesticide free)
  • 1  or 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup bottled lemon juice**
  • Juice and zest from one organic lemon
  1. Fill a canning pot with water, insert the rack and add 6 half pint canning jars. Heat over high to boiling, then turn off heat and let sit until you are ready.
  2. Wash the blueberries in cool water and pick off any remaining stem pieces.
  3. Put the washed, wet blueberries into a non-reactive stock pot and heat over medium. Mash berries with a potato masher several times while cooking.
  4. When blueberries and juice come to a low boil, add the sugar, lemon juices and zest. Stir well to dissolve the sugar.
  5. Turn heat down a bit and keep blueberries at a low boil, stirring frequently, for about 45 minutes or until the berry mixture gels.
  6. Remove hot jars from the canning pot (carefully!) and set them on a clean tea towel. Put the jar lids into a bowl and pour some of the hot water over them to cover.
  7. Carefully ladle jam into the hot jars, leaving 1/4″ of headspace. Add lids and bands, just tighten bands to finger tightness.
  8. Return the filled jars to the canning pot, cover pot, and heat over high to boiling. Boil for 10 minutes. Turn off heat, remove cover, and let sit for 5 minutes.
  9. Remove jars from the hot water bath and let sit undisturbed for 24 hours. Check seals and store in a cool, dry place for up to 1 year.

**You can use fresh lemon juice, but because bottled juice is more consistent in its acid content, the bottled stuff may be more reliable.

Blueberry Lemon Pie with Stuffed Crust


Blueberry and lemon are definitely fruity BFFs. I love blueberries, but sometimes they are too sweet for me. Lemon is the perfect balance to that sweetness. Like all good best friends, these fruits compliment and bring out the best in each other, and the praline stuffed crust adds a lovely, crunchy surprise! Served chilled, this pie is the perfect, refreshing antidote for the hot days of early summer.

We use fresh berries for this, but you can substitute frozen berries, just add a few minutes to the cooking time–no need to defrost them. I like turbinado (raw) sugar for the crust filling–it’s richer flavor is terrific with the pecans. But, if you have regular, granulated sugar, you can use that instead.

Enjoy berry season! It is short and sweet, but always very tasty!

Stuffed Crust Blueberry Lemon Pie

  • 2 pie crusts from your favorite recipe
  • 1/4 cup organic, raw turbinado sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup organic butter, melted
  • 1 cup toasted pecan halves
  • 3 cups organic or pesticide-free blueberries
  • Lemon juice and zest from 1 organic lemon
  • 2 teaspoons quick cooking tapioca
  • 2 tablespoons organic cane sugar
  • 8 ounces lemon curd
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Add turbinado sugar, pecans, and cinnamon to the bowl of a food processor. Blend until finely textured, about 30 seconds. Set aside.
  3. Roll first pie crust into a 9″ pie pan, making sure crust connects with the sides. Brush entire crust with the melted butter.
  4. Add remaining melted butter to the sugar mixture and blend well. Cover bottom of the crust with the cinnamon/pecan mixture.
  5. Top with the second crust, pressing crust down to make contact with the cinnamon/pecan mixture and the sides of the first crust. Crimp edges and trim extra crust.
  6. Use a paring knife, cut small slits in the crust (this will allow steam to escape when baking).
  7. Bake crust for 20 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and cool for 1 hour.
  8. When crust is cool, combine 1 cup of the berries, lemon zest, juice, tapioca and cane sugar in a saucepan. Heat over medium. Mash berries well and bring to a gentle simmer for 10 minutes.
  9. Add remaining blueberries, stir well and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes.
  10. Spread lemon curd over cooled crust. Spread blueberry mixture over the lemon curd.
  11. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Keep leftovers refrigerated for up to 5 days (if the pie lasts that long!),

Mediterranean Hummus Bowl

 We are very big on the bowl meal these days–not only are they healthy and delicious, but they help use up lots of little bits of vegetables and occasionally meat that we have left over from other meals. This Mediterranean bowl came about in just that way. I had the leftover feta and some hummus and some orzo. Why not put them all together and call it lunch? You could add a meat protein if you like–chicken or fish would be terrific–but it’s great without as well.

A note here on salting your salad. Have you ever wondered why salads at a restaurant taste so much better than salads you make at home? Guess what? They salt the greens. Not like making pickles or something, but just a sprinkle of good quality salt. Try it–you will love it.

What makes a good bowl meal? Here is a little formula I use to make sure I’m getting a balanced meal:

2 cups greens + 1 cup raw or grilled vegetables + 1/2 cup protein + 1/2 cup cooked grains + sauce or dressing of your choice

Mediterranean Hummus Bowl (Serves 1)

  • 2 cups fresh baby greens (I used arugula, kale and spinach), washed
  • 1/2 cup cooked orzo
  • 1/4 cup spicy hummus
  • 1 small, ripe tomato, cut into chunks
  • 1 small, ripe cucumber, peeled, sliced and cut into quarters
  • 1/2 yellow bell pepper, washed and chopped
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup Kalamata olives
  • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinaigrette dressing

In a large serving bowl, layer the greens and the next 6 ingredients. Salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette and enjoy!

Pasta alla Ceccha

Pasta alla Ceccha

  Some summer days just beg for easy cooking, and this past week was full of them! Sometimes serendipity intervenes and provides you with what you need. At a race I ran last week, one of the vendors was giving away yellow tomatoes. Tomatoes!!! So we came home loaded down with little packages of delicious tomatoes, just in time to make a dish that is summer simplicity at its best. 

Italian cooking makes the best use of simple, ripe, seasonal foods and this dish  is one of my favorite ways to get our pre-run carbs without turning the kitchen into a sauna. The sauce is a raw tomato sauce that is flavorful and satisfying without being heavy. Tossed with hot pasta, it fills your kitchen with the amazing aroma of basil and garlic. Try this with your best, ripe summer tomatoes! This recipe is based on one from Giada deLaurentis and is a favorite summer staple.

Pasta alla Ceccha (serves 4)

  • 1 lb pasta
  • 2 pints cherry tomatoes or the equivalent in ripe, regular tomatoes
  • 3 green oinions, white parts and a little of the green
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 ounce parmesan cheese
  • A generous handful of fresh basil leaves
  • Salt and ground pepper to taste
  • 6 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into 1″ pieces
  1. Cook pasta according to package directions to al dente.
  2. In a food processor, combine all remaining ingredients except mozzarella. 
  3. Pulse until all is combined but still chunky. Don’t puree ( although if you do, it’s not the end of the world).
  4. Toss the sauce with the hot cooked pasta.
  5. Add the fresh mozzarella and serve immediately.

See? Easy peasy! Enjoy!

Watermelon Smoothies

  Watermelon is one food that makes my summers extraordinary. Ripe tomatoes are right up there as well (nothing beats a summer lunch like a tomato sandwich), but ripe, cold watermelon is the antidote to our hot, sticky summers. 

This smoothie is like summer in a glass–perfect after a long run or a day at the pool. With no added sugar, it is also a healthy way to rehydrate! Don’t leave out the lime juice–it really helps balance out the sweetness in the watermelon. 

What is your favorite summer food?

Watermelon Smoothie (1 serving)

  • 3 cups watermelon
  • 1 cup ice
  • Juice from one lime
  1. Put all ingredients in a blender.
  2. Blend until smooth.
  3. Serve immediately

Summer Egg Salad!


Egg salad. Oh yes, summer is here.

When the days are warm and no one feels like cooking (well, not me anyway) and the thought of something cool and creamy for dinner makes everybody happy, it is time for egg salad. This is one of those dishes that is quick, easy, delicious and very budget-friendly–even if you buy farm fresh eggs like we do.

Any dish where eggs are the star deserves farm fresh eggs. We buy our eggs from farmers who pasture raise their chickens–not only do the egg yolks look healthier in color, but the eggs themselves taste noticeably better than grocery store eggs. They are also healthier for you, providing more omega-3 fatty acids than factory eggs and packing more protein as well.

I know people who don’t like to make this dish because they have a hard time peeling their hard boiled eggs. The recipe below details my system and I have never had this go wrong. Yet.

You can make this cold salad up to 24 hours ahead. Keep in the refrigerator with a slightly damp paper towel or piece of plastic wrap covering (touching) the surface of the egg salad to prevent any discoloration. Egg yolks, like avocados or bananas, react quickly to oxygen in the air and can turn brown. This doesn’t mean it’s bad, but it won’t be as appetizing.

We serve our egg salad with locally made sourdough from La Farm bakery or honey whole wheat from Great Harvest Bread Company. Pumpernickle is good, too, if you can persuade your children to eat it (if you can, please send tips). It is also delicious served on a bed of greens. Good sides for egg salad include homemade pickles or pickled okra, celery sticks, carrot sticks or even kale chips!

Egg Salad (makes about 3 cups)

  • 6 farm fresh eggs
  • 2 stalks organic celery, trimmed and diced (optional)
  • 1/3 cup good quality mayonnaise (we used Dukes)
  • 1/4 tsp. ground pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  1. Gently put the eggs in a stock pot or large saucepan. Add water to cover eggs by 1″ and cover pot with lid.
  2. Heat pot over medium high heat until water starts to boil. Remove from heat, and let sit for 12 minutes.
  3. Unocover pot and remove eggs to a colander. Run cold water over the eggs to stop the cooking process.
  4. One at a time, take each egg and gently tap it all over its surface so that the surface of the egg has small cracks all over it.
  5. Holding the egg under a stream of cold water, gently peel the shell from the egg. The running water helps a lot. If some of the white sticks to the shell, that’s ok. You’re going to mash them up anyway. Put the peeled egg in a medium sized mixing bowl.
  6. Continue with all your eggs until they are all peeled and in the mixing bowl. With the back of a fork, mash the eggs so you have a rough mixture of egg whites and yolks.
  7. Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and mix together with the fork until you have a thick, yellow mixture. Add more mayonnaise if your mixture seems too dry. Taste for seasoning and correct as needed.
  8. Serve on bread, toast or on a bed of greens!
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