An Incentive to Stop Eating Cheese

I read in the paper today that the cost of cheese is skyrocketing. People have apparently been stockpiling cheese during the pandemic, in addition to Oreo cookies. God knows I’ve done my share of stress-eating over the past three months, and my waistline shows it. But the quarantine has also given me the opportunity to cook more homemade meals and not all of them have been regretful. I recently recommitted to eating more healthfully — and that includes my ongoing quest to eat dairy-free.

So when I saw the headline about expensive cheese, I thought, “What a great incentive to stop eating cheese.” Quarantine cooking doesn’t have to mean cheesy casseroles. Comfort food can be cheeseless. For those of you who are considering going dairy-free but can’t imagine life without cheese, I assure you it can be done.

Instant ramen, jazzed up with soft-cooked egg, bok choy, scallions, and leftover pork.

Of course, there are some comfort foods that don’t make sense without cheese — for instance, pizza, mac-n-cheese, or grilled cheese sandwiches. For those cravings, I’d encourage you to try the many dairy-free cheese alternatives out there. I personally like Daiya shreds for things like pizza. You can read my review of Daiya shreds here.

But other foods, like burgers and most sandwiches and salads, are just fine without cheese. It may take a little while to shift your thinking on this if you’re a diehard cheeseburger fan. But the truth is, most burgers already have enough flavor — there’s the beef, ideally flame-broiled, which is delicious in itself. Then there are a multitude of toppings. I just ate a takeout burger the other day that had bacon, grilled onions, arugula, and garlic aioli on it. Believe me, I did not miss the cheese.

Here are some other cheese-free foods I’ve made during quarantine. I hope they inspire you.

Grilled hot links, spicy collard greens, and potato salad.
The bougie breakfast: avocado toast.
The British breakfast: toad in the hole.
I now have a daily espresso habit.
OK, so this coffeecake isn’t dairy-free, but I just had to show it off!

Oatly Dairy-Free Ice Cream (and a New Blog)

After retiring this blog, I haven’t felt a burning desire to write another post until I discovered Oatly Dairy-Free Ice Cream on a recent stocking-up-for-the-apocalypse shopping trip. We are in the middle of a coronavirus pandemic, and it’s obvious that people are buying up all the comfort foods: frozen pizzas, pasta, and — believe it or not — dairy-free milks and ice creams. In the nearly bare freezer case at Gelson’s, I saw this cute pink carton of Oatly strawberry ice cream and thought, “If not now, when?”

Turns out this oat-milk-based ice cream is as close to perfect as you can get. It’s smooth, rich, and creamy. It tastes like real strawberries. And there’s no weird aftertaste like so many dairy-free desserts have. (Trader Joe’s coconut-milk-based strawberry ice cream is very good, but it does have a coconutty flavor.)

So, if you’re sheltering in place, feeling anxious, and needing a hit of almost guilt-free comfort food, hunt down some Oatly ice cream the next time you’re braving the supermarket or ordering a delivery.

Meanwhile, I’ve started writing a new blog called Apocalypso Now as a way of sharing my thoughts and feelings about everyday life during this global pandemic. Please check it out and follow me if you’re interested.

Be safe and take good care of yourselves. I hope to hear from you.

Another Blog Bites the Dust

Just before the holidays, I decided to take a break from writing this blog. During the break, I had a chance to do some careful reflection about both my eating habits and the blog itself. What I realized is that, after nearly four years of weekly posts, the time has come to put Dairy-Free To Be You and Me to rest. Here’s why.

First, let me be honest: It’s been hard to find material. Although new dairy-free alternatives are showing up all the time, many of them are similar, and I’ve started to feel like a broken record. The last thing I want to do is “jump the shark,” like Fonzie did on those water skis. Better to admit I’ve run out of ideas.

Second, at the risk of being a cliché, I have embarked on a New Year’s resolution to eat more healthfully. For me, this means cutting back on carbohydrates and sugar. What I’ve noticed is that most dairy-free alternatives are paired with foods I shouldn’t be eating anyway — like pizza, grilled cheese, bagels, ice cream and other desserts. In my attempt to find material for the blog, I have actually brought more of these foods into my life.

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Some of the sugary gifts we received this Christmas.

Giving up the blog will free up more of my time for healthy pursuits. I remember hearing an interview with Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, in which he said that if people stopped watching cooking shows and spent that time actually cooking instead, they’d be eating a lot better. What will I do with the time I used to spend researching and writing this blog? Perhaps cooking that extra vegetable dish or prepping stuff for salads. Because the only thing keeping me from eating more salads is all that damn chopping.

Before I go, I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite dairy-free items, the ones I have come back to again and again. Consider it a “greatest hits” list.

Daiya “Cutting Board Collection” Dairy-Free Cheese Shreds
Ben & Jerry’s Non-Dairy Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
Magnum Non-Dairy Chocolate-Dipped Ice Cream Bars
Peet’s Almond Milk Latte
Nutella Latte at Republic of Pie
Lebanese Rose Milk Tea at Labobatory
Dole Whip

Thank you to all my faithful readers. I’ve enjoyed sharing this space with you, and I wish you the best of luck in your dairy-free adventures.

Halloween 2019
Me as Freddie Mercury, singing “Another Blog Bites the Dust.”

SusieCakes Dairy-Free Fruit Crumble Bar

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I’ve blogged about SusieCakes before, extolling their delicious cupcakes. But cake isn’t the only thing they do well. We recently ordered a pumpkin pie and an apple crumble pie for Thanksgiving, and both were amazing — especially the latter, whose crumb topping was the best I’ve ever tasted.

Alas, those pies weren’t dairy-free, but their Fruit Crumble Bar is. It’s made without dairy or eggs — a feat that you will realize is quite impressive when you taste it. This treat is less decadent than cake or pie. It’s not too sweet, and it even makes a nice breakfast pastry, as the berry filling is kind of jam-like.

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SusieCakes is now my favorite bakery in Los Angeles, surpassing Big Sugar in Studio City, whose cupcakes have been stale too many times on my recent visits. Hopefully, SusieCakes will add more dairy-free and vegan items to their menu.

Here’s a tip: Sign up for the SusieCakes rewards program, and you’ll get a free slice of cake on your birthday!

SUSIECAKES, 11708 San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90049

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A NOTE TO MY READERS: Due to the busy-ness of the season, I will be taking a break from blogging until January 2020. Happy holidays, and I’ll see you in the new year!

Follow Your Heart Vegan Caesar Salad Dressing

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What are the hallmarks of a Caesar salad? It should be thoroughly coated in grated Parmesan cheese; it should be garlicky and lemony; and it should have a salty, fishy bite from anchovies mixed into the dressing (and also laid atop the salad). Without these elements, can a salad really be considered a Caesar?

Follow Your Heart makes a vegan Caesar salad dressing that lacks all of these elements, and not just the non-vegan ones. The website describes this product as “creamy, thick, and rich with garlic and pepper notes.” This is just patently false. Straight from the bottle, this dressing is pitifully thin and struggles to coat the lettuce. I don’t taste garlic at all.

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I managed to salvage the dressing somewhat by mixing in some freshly squeezed lemon juice, minced garlic, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, and lots of ground black pepper. I garnished it with a few anchovies, but if you don’t eat fish, you can leave them out.

With these modifications, you can create a decent dairy-free Caesar salad. But the whole point of buying dressing in a bottle is so you don’t have to spend a lot of time whipping up your own. With that in mind, this dressing from Follow Your Heart isn’t worth it.

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Kite Hill Plain Almond Milk Cream Cheese

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I’ve been unable to find an acceptable dairy-free cream cheese. This one, made by Kite Hill, uses almond milk, and although I wouldn’t call it inedible, it’s not good. A long time ago I tried their chive cream cheese and gave it a somewhat positive review. So it’s surprising how much I disliked the plain version.

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First I tasted it straight up — the best test for any dairy-free alternative. There was nothing to mask its pasty texture and odd, artificial aftertaste. Thankfully, it has no detectable almond flavor, but it also lacks the sharpness that is the hallmark of cream cheese. Overall, epic fail.

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Spread on a toasted poppy seed bagel, Kite Hill Almond Milk Cream Cheese was slightly more tolerable. Still, I could only stomach a few bites before deciding it wasn’t worth the calories.

Now, re-reading my review of their chive cream cheese, I realize that even though I didn’t hate it at the time, I never bought it again. So there you go.

The search for a decent dairy-free cream cheese continues…

Tofutti Better Than Sour Cream

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Sour cream is one of the extras I learned to live without when I went dairy-free. I used to put it on baked potatoes, nachos, quesadillas… and the tanginess and cooling quality of the sour cream were a nice finishing touch. But even with the plethora of dairy-free alternatives available today, it’s been hard to find dairy-free sour creams.

Tofutti Better Than Sour Cream is one of the few I’ve seen. As the name suggests, it contains tofu, so it’s not suitable for those who can’t eat soy. But that’s a moot point, because no one should be eating this stuff — it’s terrible.

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As you can see in the photo above, it looks like the putty you use for spackling. Good thing I tasted it before actually putting it on my food. It wasn’t sour or creamy — in fact, it had no resemblance to sour cream at all. It was pasty and just tasted odd.

Tofutti is one of the older brands of dairy-free products; I remember seeing Tofutti Cuties — soy-based ice cream sandwiches — back in the early 2000s. But they’ve been lapped by newer brands with better food science. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet found any that make a good imitation sour cream. If I ever do, you’ll be the first to know.

Star Wars Blue Milk at Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland

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As soon as I read that the “Blue Milk” at Galaxy’s Edge — the new(ish) Star Wars-themed section of Disneyland — was dairy-free, I knew I’d be reviewing it for my blog. I was fortunate enough to visit the Happiest Place on Earth last week and finally saw Galaxy’s Edge for myself. Since this is a food blog, not an amusement park blog, I won’t say much about Galaxy’s Edge itself, except that overall it was underwhelming. Not bad… just not as amazing as it could be. And the same could be said about the Blue Milk.

That azure concoction that Luke Skywalker drank in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope — or as we Gen-Xers call it, just plain old Star Wars — was the inspiration for this beverage, sold at a vendor simply called the Milk Stand. But don’t look for a sign that says “Milk Stand,” because just about every sign in Galaxy’s Edge (other than the one for restrooms) is written in an alien language.

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In addition to Blue Milk, you can also get Green Milk, but I didn’t try that one. I have heard, though, that the Green Milk tastes fairly foul.

Both beverages are dairy-free, vegan, and made from a blend of coconut and rice milks. Blue Milk has the consistency of a smoothie and tastes sort of like a piña colada, minus the rum. But it’s not as sweet, and it has a slightly oily mouthfeel. This might be because — as I found out later from this great blog post on WDW News Today — the drink contains coconut oil.

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This is not what I would’ve envisioned for Blue Milk. If it were up to me, I would’ve made this a blue raspberry-flavored milkshake. (We all know there’s no such thing as a “blue raspberry,” but this mythical flavor is now what we expect when we see a blue beverage.) They could offer a regular Blue Milk, made with cow’s milk, and a vegan Blue Milk, made with full-fat coconut milk.

And finally, they need to dispense these beverages not from industrial spigots like the kind used for Slurpees, but poured by hand from a futuristic Tupperware pitcher, as Luke’s Aunt Beru did. Either that, or squeezed from the udder of an animatronic Bantha.

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All my criticisms notwithstanding, I drank my entire cup of Blue Milk. Several hours later, I had the kind of gastrointestinal distress you really don’t want to have at an amusement park. Now, I can’t say whether this was from the Blue Milk or the twelve other gut-bomb-inducing snacks I consumed that afternoon. But it was bad enough to make me think twice about getting Blue Milk again.

If you do decide to try it, may the Force be with you.

Simple Truth Organic Vegan Pizza Crust

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This time, a pizza crust that is truly dairy-free! The Boboli crust I used the last time turned out to contain milk and cheese, so I went on a mission to find a vegan crust that tastes just as good.

I found one made by Simple Truth Organic, a Kroger house brand. It’s super-thin, more like a flatbread than a pizza — but it still has more of a doughy quality than the gluten-free crusts I’ve tried, which were as hard and dry as a cracker.

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This time I used Classico Traditional Pizza Sauce.  It has a nice tanginess and a not-too-watery consistency. Then I piled on the toppings I had on hand: prosciutto, sliced mushrooms, chopped red onion and, of course, Daiya Mozzarella Style Shreds.

Unfortunately, I didn’t heed the instructions on the pizza crust package to bake at 400 degrees. Instead, because I like my pizza crispy, I cooked it at a blazing 500 degrees and ended up burning the edges.

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It was still good, though!

As a former New Yorker, I’ve always liked my pizza on the thin side, so this crust works for me. If you’re more of a Chicago pizza kind of person, this isn’t the crust for you. But if you’re looking for a dairy-free, vegan crust that doesn’t have the texture of matzo, you might want to give this one a try.

Homemade Dairy-Free Pizza

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Half of a pizza made with mini Boboli crust.

I used to think making a pizza would be a pain. Sure, it’s a lot easier to pick up the phone and order one from Domino’s. But if you don’t eat dairy, ordering a pizza becomes more complicated, because most of the pizzerias that offer dairy-free cheese — like Blaze or Pieology — aren’t that convenient.

So that’s why I decided to make my own pizza, using a pre-made Boboli crust (*see update below), generic pizza sauce in a jar, and Daiya Mozzarella Style Shreds. Guess what? It was a cinch. No driving to the pizzeria, standing in line, and hoping the person who constructed my pizza got the toppings right. I made my own pizza in about five minutes and ate it while it was piping hot.

Boboli makes mini crusts, too, which is what you see in the picture above. These are great for personal-size pizzas — handy when not everyone in the house wants dairy-free cheese. The Daiya shreds don’t melt quite the same as real cheese, but they taste pretty good. So far they’re the best approximation of mozzarella I’ve tried.

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I made a dairy-free version of my favorite pizza: sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers, and red onions. But I can foresee more adventurous pizzas in my future — perhaps prosciutto, cherry tomatoes, and fresh basil? A Mexican-inspired pizza topped with carnitas and Daiya Pepperjack Style Shreds? A “Joe’s omelet” pizza with ground beef and spinach? A while ago I even made a chicken curry pizza using naan for the crust. The possibilities are endless.

Best of all, this is a fun weeknight meal that yields easy-to-reheat leftovers. There’s no recipe to follow — just pile the toppings on your crust and bake in a very hot oven (preferably 500 degrees F) until the cheese melts and the crust is browned.

The rule of thumb is to layer the toppings so the ones that need the most cooking (like raw vegetables) are nearest the top. Feel free to go nuts with seasonings, too; a generous sprinkling of garlic powder, crushed red pepper, dried basil and oregano, and coarse sea salt will bring your pizza to a new level.

UPDATE: One of my readers pointed out that Boboli crusts do, in fact, contain milk and cheese. As I’m not allergic to dairy (only lactose-intolerant), I failed to notice this — there isn’t enough lactose in Boboli crusts to cause any issues for me. But if you are allergic, there are dairy-free pizza crusts available. Many are also gluten-free, and unfortunately, I’ve never had a gluten-free pizza that I actually liked. If I find a good crust that is suitable for dairy-allergic folks, I will let you know.