Ben & Jerry’s Non-Dairy Peanut Butter Half Baked

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When I heard months ago that Ben & Jerry’s was coming out with new non-dairy flavors, I started checking the freezer case at Ralphs every week. Finally, Peanut Butter Half Baked has arrived, just in time for 4/20. You know, baked? Get it? (This is the kind of thing that will seem much funnier on 4/20.)

Why “Half” Baked? Because it contains fudge brownies that are baked, and cookie dough that is not. I have often lamented about no longer being able to eat my favorite Ben & Jerry’s flavor, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, because I’m lactose-intolerant. Well, here’s a dairy-free ice cream that contains raw cookie dough — peanut butter cookie dough, no less! And it’s delicious!

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Although on the Ben & Jerry’s website this flavor appears to have a vanilla base, as you can see from the photo above it’s very chocolatey. The two predominant flavors in this ice cream are chocolate and peanut butter, and as evident from the popularity of Reese’s, this is a classic combo that everyone loves.

If I could tinker with this ice cream, I would turn up the dial on the cookie dough and turn down the chocolate. The cookie dough is by far the best thing about this flavor. I’d also prefer that it had more vanilla to it, but we have P.B. & Cookies for that, another B&J’s non-dairy offering that is still my #1 choice.

To read my reviews of other non-dairy Ben & Jerry’s flavors, which are all made with almond milk, click on the tag below that says “Ben & Jerry’s.”

This Friday, get yourself a pint of Half Baked and get thoroughly baked.

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Dandelion Chocolate

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Last week my husband and I were in San Francisco. When I travel, I like to check out the dairy-free fare available in other cities. As far as I can tell, San Francisco is ahead of the curve when it comes to dairy-free options that don’t leave you feeling deprived. Case in point: Dandelion Chocolate.

Dandelion specializes in small-batch chocolate, and these folks are serious about chocolate. Of course, everyone is serious about everything in San Francisco — it’s actually kind of annoying. For instance, I went to Philz Coffee, very popular in SF, and found out they have about a hundred different kinds of coffee bean blends but no espresso drinks. So you can’t even get a latte. And they make you feel inferior if you want a latte, like that’s not the “right” way to drink coffee, man.

Dandelion is similarly preachy. Next to the chocolate samples there’s a sign that says “How to Taste Chocolate” and lists four steps you’re supposed to follow, as if it were a wine tasting. I’ve been tasting chocolate my whole life, thank you. I did not read the sign and proceeded to pop those chocolate bits into my mouth willy-nilly.

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Chocolate bars with varying levels of cacao.

Preachiness aside, Dandelion makes some fantastic chocolate. Their chocolate bars are awesome, but what got me really excited was the hot chocolate, something that us dairy-free folks usually can’t have. Dandelion can make any of their hot chocolate drinks with almond milk.

I ordered the Mission Hot Chocolate, “our spicy take on the Mesoamerican original with Madagascar chocolate and almonds.” As you can see in the photo below, it’s topped with little bits of chili pepper and a homemade marshmallow. Usually I think marshmallows in hot chocolate are overkill, but holy moly, theirs was so good that I never want another hot chocolate without one.

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In the background are s’mores. They torch them before serving.

You’ll also notice that the cup comes with a holster containing a small ginger cookie. The cookie itself didn’t blow my mind, but a cookie holster? How adorable is that? It’s these details that stay with you long after the hot chocolate and the cookie are gone.

The hot chocolate itself was rich, decadent, and spicy indeed. As the marshmallow melted, it made the drink thicker and creamier, so that the experience of drinking it changed over time. It was a complex and deeply satisfying beverage that warmed both my belly and my soul. I wished I had been sipping it outside on a cold winter’s night, warming my gloved hands on that cute-as-hell cup.

DANDELION CHOCOLATE, 740 Valencia St., San Francisco, CA 94110 (factory & café)

DANDELION CHOCOLATE, One Ferry Building, San Francisco, CA 94111 (stall only)

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Flavor of India

For those of us who can’t or don’t eat dairy, Asian food is usually a safe bet. The one exception is Indian food, which often contains yogurt, milk or cream—such as in chicken tikka masala, korma dishes, mango lassi, raita, and chai tea. This is rotten news for me because I love Indian food. But I’ve found a way to dine at Indian restaurants without eating dairy—at least, at my favorite one, Flavor of India.

There are three Flavor of India restaurants in the Los Angeles area: Burbank, Studio City, and West Hollywood. Of all these, the best is Burbank. When my husband and I lived there, it was our favorite place to eat out. It’s got cozy booths, colorful murals, and big-screen TVs playing Indian pop videos and Bollywood musicals.

Most important, the food at Flavor of India—or as my husband and I call it, Flavor Flav—is interesting and spicy. It’s so good that once we actually started licking our bowls clean, like dogs, before realizing we weren’t in the privacy of our own home.

Now, keep in mind that if you have a dairy allergy, you might still be unable to enjoy some Indian food because a lot of it is cooked with ghee, a form of clarified butter. Technically it’s still dairy, but with the milk solids removed, it’s digestible by those of us who are lactose-intolerant. A nutritionist once even advised me to use ghee for cooking, as it’s considered a “healthy fat.”

Here are a few of the gems at Flavor of India that I love and can eat without getting the dreaded lactose-induced “bubble guts.”

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Bhel puri. “India’s most popular railway snack.” A mixture of puffed rice, tomato, potato, onion, and cilantro. It’s a delightful mixture of tastes and textures.

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Samosas. A vegetarian turnover stuffed with potatoes, peas and spices. An Indian friend of mine told me, “It’s impossible to mess up a samosa.” But I disagree; I’ve had some mediocre ones. Flavor of India’s are great. They’ve got a flaky exterior that’s not too doughy and an unusually long, pointy shape that makes them easy to bite into. I especially like them dipped in mint chutney (pictured above, right).

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Bombay chicken. Like an Indian version of Jamaican jerk chicken. Unfortunately, it’s no longer on the menu, but if you ask for it, the chef will still make it. Long ago, it used to be called “dalla chicken,” and my husband insists on using the original name so that the server knows we’re old-timers and will tell the chef to make it extra spicy.

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Mixed vegetable curry. I love dishes that contain a variety of veggies. This curry has cauliflower, carrots, peas, onions, and a savory tomato base and contains no yogurt or cream. Like all their dishes, you can ask for the spice level you prefer.

Rack of lamb. My favorite tandoori specialty at Flavor Flav. Four tender lamb chops covered in a spicy, flavorful rub. Comes with that mint chutney that’s to die for.

Lamb curry. Their best dairy-free meat curry. Tender chunks of boneless lamb in a garlicky, oniony brown sauce. Lamb vindaloo is also great, but much spicier, so beware…

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Nimbu panni. Sparkling ginger lemonade. There’s nothing I love more than a cup of chai with my Indian food, but since it’s made with milk, I order a nimbu panni instead. It’s a mixture of lemonade and Reed’s ginger beer. Just sweet enough to put out the fire in your mouth!

There are quite a few vegan dishes on their menu, and some dishes that can be made vegan upon request. Give Flavor of India a try and let me know if you end up licking your plate, or at least thinking about it.

FLAVOR OF INDIA, 161 E. Orange Grove Ave., Burbank, CA 91502

FLAVOR OF INDIA, 12321 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, CA 91604

FLAVOR OF INDIA, 7950 Sunset Blvd #105, West Hollywood, CA 90046

Lollicup Fresh

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I recently stopped by Lollicup Fresh on Sawtelle Boulevard in West LA for some boba and was thrilled to find out they’re having a special through the month of March: $2 for a 16-ounce boba milk tea. That’s half price! I love a bargain!

Even though I rarely get a plain boba milk tea and usually opt for more fanciful flavors, it’s nice to go back to basics sometimes. The boba milk tea is made with non-dairy creamer, so it’s safe for lactose-intolerant and dairy allergic folks. You can customize the sweetness level, even going for no sugar at all, like I do. To read more of my musings on boba, click here.

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I’ve always thought of Lollicup as just a place to get boba, but they have a much bigger food menu than most boba shops. It’s Taiwanese comfort food, like beef noodle soup, sweet Taiwanese sausages, and popcorn chicken (little pieces of fried chicken with a spicy kick). It’s not the greatest food, but when you’re grabbing a boba tea anyway, it’s super convenient.

Here’s one of their newest offerings, the braised pork belly plate. It comes with pickled vegetables, rice, and my favorite thing of all, a seasoned boiled egg. The pork belly is very fatty, so this isn’t the kind of lunch you want to eat before heading into a business meeting or doing a Zumba class. But it’s tasty and cheap — the whole meal, including my $2 boba milk tea, cost less than $10.

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Think of Lollicup as Taiwanese fast food. Not something you want to eat every day, but satisfying as a sometimes treat. And if you want to try their boba milk tea at a discount, get thee to a Lollicup before the end of this month.

LOLLICUP FRESH, 2206 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025

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Trader Joe’s Vegan Mochi Ice Cream

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The first time I tried mochi ice cream was in Honolulu back in the mid-nineties. It was at a revolving sushi bar, one of the things I love most in the world. That little ice cream bomb wrapped in a light, chewy dough was the perfect ending to the meal — compact, cute, and a little strange.

Ever since I gave up dairy, I’ve been looking for a dairy-free version of my favorite flavor of mochi, green tea. Imuraya makes a good dairy-free strawberry mochi, but I tried their green tea flavor and didn’t like it. Too coconutty.

Then I strolled past the frozen dessert section at Trader Joe’s, always a dangerous thing to do. Trader Joe’s constantly rolls out new snacks that are irresistible. Then, as soon as you get hooked, they mysteriously disappear, leaving you bereft and bitter. Just take a look at this non-dairy mochi display and tell me how you could pass this by!

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Yes, I know the coffee mochi with the “saucy mocha center” sounds pretty insane, like, have-to-try-it insane. But the green tea was the one calling out to me. Given the Imuraya green tea mochi, I knew the odds weren’t good; Trader Joe’s mochi (actually made by Buono) also uses coconut milk, and I was worried that it, too, would taste too coconutty. But I gave it a shot.

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As you can see, there are two differences between the mochi and the picture on its package. One, the mochi have a lot more powdered sugar on the outside. Two, the dough is thinner than pictured.

But I have to say, this mochi rocks. The strong green tea (matcha) flavor gives this dessert a bold, almost savory quality. Given this, the generous amount of powdered sugar on the outside actually helped balance it out. As for the dough, it was the perfect thickness. Any thicker and it would’ve been too doughy.

And although it’s made with coconut milk, I didn’t detect the coconut flavor at all. Just green tea. Excellent.

So a big thumbs-up for Trader Joe’s non-dairy green tea mochi. As a footnote, though, I’d like to add that not all of Trader Joe’s non-dairy items are this good. For instance, I also bought some of their coconut milk yogurt on a whim, and it was horrendous.

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I didn’t want to devote a whole blog post to it because I’ve written a lot about bad dairy-free yogurts. But I just felt the need to warn you all about this one. If you’re jonesing for a dairy-free yogurt, try Coyo Coconut Milk Yogurt Alternative; it’s the only one I’ve had that isn’t awful.

Nutpods Non-Dairy Half-and-Half

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Ever since I gave up dairy, I’ve been on a perpetual hunt for a dairy-free creamer that mimics the creamy white properties of half-and-half. Well, when I read about Nutpods dairy-free creamer in the Los Angeles Times, it seemed like I might have found my white whale, no pun intended. Nutpods is intended for “plant-based consumers who like their coffee creamy.” That would be me.

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The mouthfeel of Nutpods is pretty creamy. I’ll give it that. It’s also not quite as beige as most non-dairy creamers that contain almond milk. It does a good job of lightening my coffee to the tan shade that I find appealing.

The cons? The little particles that float at the top of my coffee. This tends to happen with products that contain coconut milk. There’s no harm in it, but it’s unsightly. I tried straining the Nutpods through a tea strainer; however, those little particles are small and some of them slip right through the mesh.

The other con is that Nutpods has a little bit of an aftertaste that I find in a lot of products that contain almond milk. It’s not overpowering, but it’s there.

Overall, I would say Nutpods is the equivalent of Califia Farms Better Half, another dairy-free creamer made from a mixture of almond milk and coconut cream. Nutpods is available at Ralphs, which Better Half isn’t. Are either of them perfect? Sadly, no.

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Straight-up full-fat coconut milk, like the kind from a can or box, is richer, creamier, and more natural. But the problem is it tastes like coconuts. So I really haven’t found anything that truly gives you the experience of half-and-half.

But I’ll keep searching for that white whale.

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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.