Homemade Dairy-Free Smoothies

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I’ll admit that when I first heard about the NutriBullet blender, I thought it was one of those cheesy “As Seen On TV” fads. I couldn’t imagine this gadget was any better than our old-fashioned blender. But oh, it is!

Let me back up. Back in my dairy-eating days, I used to make smoothies all the time using yogurt and milk as the base. After giving up dairy, I stopped making smoothies. I never thought of using a liquid like coconut water. Not only is this possible, it’s way healthier. Coconut water, often called “nature’s sports drink,” has lots of nutrients and electrolytes. The flavor can be hard to get used to when you drink it straight up, but in a smoothie you can barely taste it.

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One of the reasons I have a love-hate relationship with Costco.

So, back to the NutriBullet. This thing has some key advantages over a traditional blender:

  • It’s more powerful and can blend ingredients faster and more thoroughly.
  • It’s smaller and easier to store.
  • The plastic cup that you blend the ingredients in can also be used to drink from, saving you extra dishes to wash.
  • The cup comes with a to-go lid that snaps open and closed easily.
  • Every part of the NutriBullet is easy to clean, including the blade attachment. (Our traditional blender is a heavy beast that we despise washing.)

I could go on and on giving the NutriBullet free advertising, but suffice to say that since my husband and I got one, we’ve been drinking at least one smoothie every day. And because the NutriBullet app lists tons of recipes, I haven’t gotten bored yet.

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Not a single smoothie I’ve made contained dairy products. So, what can you use instead of milk? In addition to coconut water, I’ve also used almond milk and coconut milk. And some recipes, like one of my favorites, the “Super Beauty Blast” (pictured below), uses chilled green tea as the base.

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You’ll notice there’s a fair amount of greenery in this smoothie, and that is the case for most of the smoothies I make now. Ever since we got the NutriBullet, we’ve doubled our consumption of green vegetables. The recipes are so tasty, you really can’t tell you’re drinking a handful of spinach or kale.

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Toxin Cleansing Blast, with boba straw for extra-fast slurping

Sometimes when I’m feeling creative, I’ll wing it and do an “Improv Blast.” The basic formula is you fill half the cup with greens (e.g., spinach, kale, chard, spring mix) and half with fruit (e.g., apple, orange, banana, pineapple, mango, berries).

I like to use some frozen fruit in every smoothie because (a) it’s convenient and (b) it makes the smoothie cold without having to add ice. (This is also a great use of overly ripe bananas, if you don’t have the time or inclination to make banana bread. Just peel, slice, and freeze the bananas in individual Ziploc bags for future use.)

After adding fruit, you can throw in a tablespoon of chia seeds or flax seeds for added protein and omega-3s. And finally, you pour in the liquid of your choice up to the MAX line on the cup. Blend for 30 seconds and you’re done.

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I like to think about how many fruits and veggies are in my smoothie and how long it would take to eat all of that if it weren’t blended up. A long-ass time, folks. If you’ve ever gotten tired of chewing a salad, you know what I mean.

So if you’re lazy and thinking it’s too much work to make a smoothie, especially first thing in the morning, just remember that smoothies are the ultimate boon for lazy people. It is far less work than chopping up a bunch of vegetables and stir-frying them — and then of course, the chewing. As my husband likes to say, “In the future, all food will be in tubes.” And that includes straws through which you drink your smoothies.

Easy Vegan Banana Bread

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Do you always end up with a couple of bananas that are too ripe? Spotted and maybe even completely brown? Don’t throw them out — use them to make this easy vegan banana bread. Here’s what I love about this banana bread:

  • It’s dairy-free (doesn’t even contain eggs).
  • It’s super moist.
  • It only requires two bananas, so you can use those ones you have lying around that would otherwise end up in the compost.
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The darker the bananas, the sweeter they taste.

I adapted this recipe from a banana cake recipe in The Peaceful Palate, a classic vegetarian cookbook. I halved the original recipe because I only had two bananas on hand, omitted the walnuts, and used a loaf pan instead of a 9-inch square pan. The result was a very short loaf of banana bread that was the perfect size for a household with only one banana bread eater (me).

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I also substituted the oil with melted Earth Balance, an oil-based butter alternative. The Earth Balance worked beautifully, giving the banana bread a nice buttery flavor without the dairy. I only had the kind of Earth Balance that comes in a tub, but you can get it in stick form that’s easier to measure out for baking.

I baked this banana bread in a toaster oven and it came out way better than anything I’ve ever baked in my full-size oven. First of all, the toaster oven heats up faster so you don’t have a long preheating time. Second, it doesn’t make the house hot. And third, electric ovens produce a more even heat and better browning than gas ovens. So use a toaster oven if you’ve got it.

Now go on and put those spotty bananas to good use!

Easy Vegan Banana Bread Recipe

1 cup unbleached or whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup loosely packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons Earth Balance, melted and cooled
2 ripe bananas, mashed (about 1  cup)
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9″x5″ loaf pan. In a small bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, and salt together.

In a large bowl, beat the brown sugar and melted Earth Balance together. Add the mashed bananas, water, and vanilla extract; mix thoroughly. Add the flour mixture and stir to combine, just until moistened.

Spread batter evenly into greased loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then invert pan and continue cooling loaf on wire rack.

After banana bread is completely cool, store in plastic wrap at room temperature.

Trader Joe’s Almond Beverage

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The first thing you may ask is what’s the difference between almond “beverage” and almond “milk”? Answer: There is none. Some folks have gotten in a twist about non-dairy milks using the word “milk” on their packaging, but the controversy is kind of silly. Most people use almond milk the same way they would use dairy milk, so calling it milk just makes sense. This “beverage” is exactly the same thing.

There are a lot of almond milks out there and it can be hard to pick one. I’ll admit that, if everything else seems equal, I go for the most attractive packaging. Presentation matters. This brand stood out from the rest because of its clean design and robin’s egg blue color scheme. I suspect that even the most feminist, nonconformist woman is subconsciously drawn to a Tiffany blue box.

You’re not going to find a diamond ring in this one, but you will find a very nice almond milk.

Trader Joe’s Almond Beverage Unsweetened Original tastes nutty and natural. Compared to Almond Breeze Unsweetened Vanilla, Trader Joe’s makes a much better “blank slate” when you add it to coffee or tea, use it for smoothies, or eat it with cereal. (Perhaps the vanilla flavor of the Almond Breeze is what makes it taste a little unnatural; I haven’t yet tried the unflavored kind.)

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When you eat cereal with coconut milk, it turns to paste. Almond milk works better.

Every so often I get a hankering for a latte, and I was pleased to find that I can make a wonderful foam out of almond milk using a manual milk frother.

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Almond milk latte sprinkled with cinnamon

I also used Trader Joe’s Almond Beverage in a cup of Earl Grey iced tea and it worked beautifully. The slightly nutty flavor of the milk goes well with lots of black teas.

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Earl Grey iced tea with almond milk

I wouldn’t make a special trip to Trader Joe’s to buy this almond milk, but the next time I’m there, I would definitely get this one again. At $1.79 a carton, it’s a steal. And as superficial as it may sound, when I open my refrigerator and see that pretty blue box, I get a lift. Who doesn’t need that?

The Chairman’s Coconut Rice Pudding

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Hip decor. Mediocre food.

If you happen to be in the Arts District of downtown L.A., you might be tempted to try The Chairman, an Asian fusion restaurant specializing in bao (steamed buns filled with meat). And if you’re lactose-intolerant, you might get excited about their dairy-free rice pudding.

Don’t.

First off, the bao is highly overrated. Almost every meat filling on the menu is too sweet, dry and bland. But the dessert was the biggest disappointment because it’s hard to find dairy-free rice pudding and this one looked so delicious. I mean, look at this beauty!

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It’s made with coconut milk instead of dairy. I’ve eaten and made quite a few desserts that contain coconut milk, and many are great — for instance, the hot chocolate I made last Christmas that converted even my coconut-milk-hating husband.

But what I learned from The Chairman’s rice pudding is that dairy-free desserts must have a strong flavor (like chocolate) to mask the flavor of the coconut milk. This pudding tastes overwhelmingly of coconut. Maybe some people enjoy that. I’m not a fan. I want my rice pudding to taste like vanilla and cinnamon.

I have since tried making my own rice pudding using almond milk, with better results. However, almond milk isn’t as thick as dairy or coconut milk, so the pudding comes out on the thin side. And besides, most of us are too busy to make our own rice pudding; if we’re taking the time to cook, we’re making an actual meal.

So it would be nice to find an off-the-shelf dairy-free rice pudding that tastes as good as Kozy Shack. Unfortunately, you won’t find it at The Chairman.

THE CHAIRMAN, 1200 East 5th St., Los Angeles, CA 90013

Almond Dream Non-Dairy Yogurt

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So bad, even Godzilla won’t touch it.

I’ve already written one blog post about a terrible non-dairy yogurt, So Delicious, and I don’t want to repeat myself… but I feel it’s my duty to warn people about another terrible non-dairy yogurt, Almond Dream. This one is made from almonds (duh). I’m usually in favor of almond milk — for instance, I love almond milk lattes and cappuccinos. But this yogurt is godawful.

I don’t understand why it’s so hard to make a non-dairy yogurt that tastes decent. Can anyone explain this to me?

I got this yogurt because my husband and I recently purchased a NutriBullet blender and we’ve been making awesome green drinks and smoothies with it. Because the NutriBullet is so powerful, it can turn frozen chunks of mango into a sippable beverage in seconds, which our old, traditional blender couldn’t do. I found a NutriBullet recipe for mango lassi and wanted to try it using non-dairy yogurt.

But when I opened this yogurt and tasted it, I was so repulsed that I didn’t even make the lassi. Why waste good mango?

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Next to a white napkin, note its unappealing beige color.

This yogurt tastes nothing like yogurt; it doesn’t even have the sourness of the So Delicious coconut-based yogurt. Nor does it have the nutty flavor of almond milk. It just tastes… unnatural. There’s really nothing good about it.

I’m starting to think I may never be able to drink a mango lassi again.

Of course, that’s what I said about ice cream and look what happened. So maybe there is hope… if Ben & Jerry’s starts making non-dairy yogurt.

Kreation Cacao Pudding

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Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and for many people, that means one thing: chocolate. If you don’t eat dairy, this can be tricky. Luckily, these days there are dairy-free options that are delicious, decadent, and even healthy.

In the summer of 2015, Kreation Organic Juicery opened on West Third Street in Los Angeles, a few blocks east of the Beverly Center. Walking by during its grand opening party, I was intrigued by the open-air layout and grassy decor, but let’s be honest, mostly by the live sitar music and couples yoga demonstration in the middle of the dining area. Pretentious or awesome? I couldn’t decide.

It wasn’t until just a couple of weeks ago that I actually tried any of Kreation’s creations. They specialize in cold-pressed juices and smoothies, but they also make desserts, which they’ve given the cute category name “Saints & Sinners.” The saints are the healthy ones with no dairy or refined sugar. The sinners… well, let’s just say they probably taste great.

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I went right for the Cacao Pudding, one of the saints. What makes it different from other dairy-free puddings? It doesn’t contain any milk substitutes. The ingredient list is short and a little surprising: dark chocolate, avocado, orange juice, cacao powder, cinnamon, vanilla, maple syrup, Himalayan salt, cacao nibs.

Avocado? Orange juice? Really?

But I love how natural everything is, and the result is excellent. You’d never know there’s avocado in it, but I assume that’s what gives the pudding its thick, creamy texture. Genius. The sweetness comes from the orange juice and maple syrup. I have to say it’s a little too sweet for my taste, but I’m willing to forgive that because it’s otherwise really good. This pudding is so rich, it took me almost a week to finish it; after a few spoonfuls I would be satisfied. That is the sign of a fabulous dessert.

So, if you and your sweetie want to indulge in something chocolatey and guilt-free this Valentine’s Day, swing by Kreation and pick one of these up. And then maybe do some couples yoga in front of the other diners.

Dairy-Free Scrambled Eggs

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I always thought you needed milk to make fluffy scrambled eggs. In fact, after I went dairy-free, I pretty much stopped making scrambled eggs because every time I did it without adding milk, they came out tough and heavy.

Well, here’s a secret for you: You don’t need milk to make great scrambled eggs. You just need the right technique. Here are some tips.

Beat It

Crack your eggs into a small bowl or a measuring cup and beat them vigorously with a fork. Really put some speed into it and try to whip as much air into the eggs as possible. This will break up the proteins which cause the eggs to be tough and stringy.

Add Salt Before Cooking

I used to think it didn’t matter whether you added salt before cooking or after. But it does. The salt, like the vigorous beating, helps break down the proteins. So add it early and don’t be afraid to let the beaten eggs sit for a few minutes before you cook them.

Use a Nonstick Pan

A few years ago I got paranoid about nonstick pans leaching toxic chemicals into my food. So I switched to stainless steel pans. Which are great — except when making scrambled eggs. No matter how much you lubricate the pan, once you start scrambling those eggs, they’ll stick like glue. You’ll lose half your eggs to the bottom of the pan, and you’ll spend half your morning scrubbing that pan. No fun.

Do yourself a favor and use a nonstick pan for scrambling eggs. I use a brand called Scanpan that’s supposed to be eco-friendly and nontoxic. Just make sure you don’t use metal utensils on it or you might scratch the coating. I find that a rubber spatula works best.

Never Use High Heat

Unlike fried eggs, scrambled eggs should never be cooked over high heat. Start warming your pan over medium heat. Once it’s hot, lube the pan. Butter gives the best flavor, but if you’re lactose-intolerant or vegan, you can use a butter substitute like Earth Balance. Don’t use olive oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil, or coconut oil. All of those will impart a flavor that just isn’t right.

Keep ‘Em Moving

Once the butter is melted, tilt the pan to make sure it coats the bottom. Give your eggs another good whipping and then pour them into the pan. Immediately turn the heat down to low. Start scrambling the eggs with a spatula and don’t stop. Seriously, you can’t leave those eggs alone for a second or they’ll end up clumpy.

The eggs should be done almost instantly. When they’re mostly solid but still look a little wet, take the pan off the heat and scoop the eggs onto your plate — they’ll continue cooking on their own. Trust me, there’s nothing that can ruin breakfast like dry scrambled eggs.

Eat While Hot

This is probably the hardest part: timing your breakfast so that as soon as your eggs are done, you can sit down and enjoy them. Once they get cold, they’ll be far less appealing. So fix your coffee, make the bacon, toast your pastries, blend your smoothie, get your fork and napkin set up — then scramble your eggs. Do not attempt to multi-task while scrambling eggs. It’s a lightning-fast procedure that requires your full attention.

But when you give it that attention, you will be rewarded with fluffy, moist, beautiful scrambled eggs that contain no milk whatsoever.