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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Paradis Handcrafted Ice Cream

Last week I was trapped in the San Fernando Valley during a heat wave, and I did what any sane person would do: I got ice cream. But this isn’t so easy for us lactose-intolerant folks. The options for us are usually very slim.

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I looked up “vegan ice cream” on Yelp and found Paradis Handcrafted Ice Cream in Sherman Oaks. A look at their menu made it instantly clear that this place has more interesting vegan options than most ice cream shops. (One nitpicky point: I wish they separated their vegan flavors from the dairy ones on the menu.)

On the day I visited, the three vegan flavors were strawberry sorbet, elderflower sorbet, and peanut butter coconut cream caramel chocolate chip. The strawberry is a constant, but the other two vegan flavors change daily.

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I love the taste of elderflower, but this sorbet is a little too subtle for me. The peanut butter coconut cream caramel chocolate chip is better; it reminds me of Ben & Jerry’s Non-Dairy P.B. & Cookies.

But the best vegan flavor was the strawberry sorbet. It’s smooth, creamy and fluffy — not dense, icy or overly sweet. (Actually, none of their ice creams is too sweet, which earns Paradis five stars in my book). There are bits of real strawberries mixed in, but they aren’t big enough to interrupt the smooth texture.

Simply put, it tastes like real strawberry ice cream.

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Full disclosure: I was a bad girl and sampled a spoonful of the Afternoon Tea ice cream, even though it contains dairy. I’m sorry to report that it is absolutely delicious. It’s like having a cup of Earl Grey and a tea biscuit… in ice cream form. I pleaded with the guy behind the counter to tell the powers-that-be to make a dairy-free version of it.

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You can check Paradis’s Facebook page to see each day’s flavors. A soon as they have Grandma Margaret’s Apple Cinnamon Pie Sorbet, I’m making a special trip to Sherman Oaks.

PARADIS HANDCRAFTED ICE CREAM, 14512 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, CA 91403

 

Why I Hate Starbucks and Will Never Drink a Pumpkin Spice Latte

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If you’ve been following my blog, you know I hate Starbucks. Well, today I’m going to explain why. First, let me just say that I’m not one of those people who hates things just because they’re popular. For example, I love Star Wars. I’m a huge fan of The Beatles. I am unapologetically a dog person.

But Starbucks, like the worst popular stuff, appeals to the lowest common denominator. Simply put, their coffee sucks. That’s the number one reason I hate them. You can’t make good coffee drinks if your base is bad. If you haven’t noticed the mediocrity of their beans, it’s probably because the drinks you’re getting are so heavily flavored with syrups and other bells and whistles. Try this experiment: Get a cup of Starbucks’ regular old drip coffee. You’ll see that it’s bitter and burnt-tasting.

Here’s another reason I hate Starbucks: False advertising. I wrote a blog post about this recently when I got suckered into trying their masterfully marketed Toasted Coconut Cold Brew. Starbucks is constantly rolling out new concoctions that sound appealing but are nothing but the same bad coffee with a shot of sickly-sweet syrup. Which brings me to my next point.

Starbucks is all about sugar.

This is especially obvious now that it’s autumn and Starbucks has brought back its famous Pumpkin Spice Latte. The fanfare around the Pumpkin Spice Latte, or “PSL” as it’s known among rabid fans, is absurd. (It’s like the McRib. People go nuts over that nasty thing, simply because it’s not available all the time.) Comedian John Oliver aired a hilarious segment about the PSL craziness on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight.” (Warning: This clip contains profanity. Very funny profanity.)

So what’s a Pumpkin Spice Latte? According to Wikipedia, it’s “a coffee drink made with a mix of traditional fall spice flavors (cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove), steamed milk, and espresso, topped with whipped cream and pumpkin pie spice. Since 2015, it has also contained a small amount of pumpkin puree.”

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Now available in instant, which contains no pumpkin at all.

That’s right, only in the last two years has the PSL contained any real pumpkin. Before that, all the “pumpkin” flavor came from artificial flavorings. But people drink all sorts of unnatural stuff if it’s yummy enough, and last fall I decided to see what all the fuss was about, since Starbucks now offers almond milk and coconut milk as dairy-free alternatives.

I asked the barista if he could make a PSL with coconut milk. “Sure,” he said. But here’s the problem: I asked for no sugar. And he couldn’t do it — because the syrup that makes the drink taste like pumpkin is already sweetened. This is the same thing that happened with the Toasted Coconut Cold Brew, and it’s the case for every flavored coffee drink at Starbucks.

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The latest Starbucks fall offering.

Americans are hooked on sugar. And Starbucks, though not solely responsible for this problem, is definitely not helping. Starbucks drinks are nothing but milkshakes with caffeine in them. In fact, Starbucks is alarmingly popular with kids and teenagers. Have you heard of the Cotton Candy Frappuccino? No? That’s because it’s on the secret menu that only kids seem to know about. Even if they get their drinks non-caffeinated, there’s so much sugar in these Fraps that the kids will be bouncing off the wall in minutes.

Do yourself and your loved ones a favor. Don’t fall for this Pumpkin Spice Latte bullshit. You don’t need a diabetic coma to embrace the festive fall season. Just… carve a pumpkin or something.

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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.

Silk Almond & Coconut Milk

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Nowadays, there are so many dairy-free milks to choose from, it can be overwhelming. Makes me think of that Devo song: “Freedom of choice is what you got/ Freedom from choice is what you want.” After having a good experience with Califia Farms Better Half, I decided to try Silk Almond & Coconut Milk, also a blend of two dairy-free milks.

No bueno.

This was a surprise to me, since I actually like Silk Coconut Milk for some purposes. But Silk’s blend of almond and coconut is terrible. It has an artificial flavor which I can only describe as “clay-like.” It tastes a little like Play-Doh.

In fact, this clay-like flavor is so strong that, when I used it in a smoothie, you could taste that weirdness despite all the fruits and vegetables that I expected would mask it. I also used it to make chai tea, and the result was undrinkable.

Finally, I did a head-to-head taste test between Silk Almond & Coconut and Silk Coconut, drinking each one straight up. Although they both have the same consistency, Silk Coconut has a neutral, subtle flavor that allows it to work well in smoothies, coffee, tea, cereal, etc. Silk Almond & Coconut, on the other hand, has that unmistakeable artificial flavor that is truly gag-worthy.

So when you’re in the milk aisle, staring at all the Silk variations and hearing that Devo song in your head, just remember: Coconut ‘kay, blend bad.