Soyatoo! Whipped Rice Topping

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You all know I’ve been on the lookout for a dairy-free whipped cream, especially after I found out that Reddi-Wip makes one. But I haven’t seen it anywhere except online, where you have to order a whole case of it. Most of the dairy-free whipped creams I’ve seen are soy-based, but Soyatoo! Rice Whip is made from — you guessed it: rice.

I was skeptical because I abhor rice milk, which, to me, tastes like dirty dish water. Of all the non-dairy milks, it’s my least favorite. But I was curious because, quite frankly, I’m fascinated by food that you spray out of a can.

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Well, after trying Soyatoo! Rice Whip, my opinion about rice-based non-dairy products still stands. It is truly awful. In fact, it’s so foul that I couldn’t even bring myself to taste it for a second time in order to write about its repulsive flavor for this review. Fortunately, I had enough forethought to taste-test it before putting it on the Christmas Jell-O. It would’ve ruined Christmas.

By the way, if you want to impress people, make Jell-O in layers. They think it’s the most complicated thing in the world, and it is so easy. It’s not so easy, however, to stack them atop each other to create this Jell-O Tower of Terror. (My husband did it.)

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I’ve never tried making whipped cream from coconut milk, but it’s supposed to be quite simple and I suspect tastes way better than anything in a can. Even though I have a nostalgic fondness for processed foods like Reddi-Wip and Kraft Easy Cheese (another dairy product you shoot out of a can), the mature eater in me knows that the more natural, the better. That goes for dairy-free alternatives as well.

More about that in my New Year’s post next week. Stay tuned!

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Trader Joe’s Vegan Cream Cheese

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Looks good, doesn’t it? I haven’t been able to have a classic New York breakfast like this since I stopped eating dairy almost three years ago. Why? Because most dairy-free cream cheese alternatives, like Tofutti, are soy-based and I can’t eat soy protein.

So when I saw Trader Joe’s Vegan Cream Cheese, I got excited because it’s made from coconut oil. What I failed to realize is that this product is not soy-free. In fact, “soy protein concentrate” is the fourth ingredient listed, after “filtered water,” “coconut oil,” and “mid-oleic sunflower oil.”

I was so eager to try it that I ignored the fact that it’s essentially the same as Tofutti. I’ve tried one dairy-free cream cheese that did not contain soy (Daiya) and it tasted horrible; the texture was also all wrong. (Turns out “pea protein isolate” doesn’t do the trick.) My theory is that, thus far, food scientists haven’t been able to simulate the flavor and texture of cream cheese without using tofu.

This is bad news for me because tofu makes my guts very unhappy. About two hours after I finished my New York breakfast, I had one of the worst stomach aches of my life. I resorted to taking Pepto-Bismol and still felt awful. My stomach has been a mess all week.

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That said, Trader Joe’s Vegan Cream Cheese is wonderfully smooth and tastes a lot like real cream cheese, although not quite as sharp. It was so tasty that I almost decided to give it another shot. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. (I’m not a masochist like L.A. Beast.) After all, I gave up dairy because it made my body feel bad… so I’m not going to eat a dairy-free alternative that has the same effect. I’ve learned my lesson: When a product contains soy protein, I need to not eat it.

If you don’t have a problem with soy, try it — at your own risk, of course.

Dairy-Free Hot Chocolate

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As the weather gets chilly (even in Southern California) and Christmas approaches, I start wanting hot chocolate. One of my fondest winter memories is of a blizzard we had in upstate New York, when my college friends and I played in the snow, then made hot chocolate by simmering whole milk and Hershey’s cocoa powder on the stove.

If you order hot chocolate in a restaurant or coffee shop, it’s most likely made with cow’s milk. But I just found and tested a simple and outrageously delicious hot chocolate recipe that uses coconut milk instead, so I can now make dairy-free hot chocolate at home. Hallelujah!

Here’s what I love about this hot chocolate:

  • It’s thick and creamy, not watery like instant hot chocolate.
  • The chocolate flavor is intense enough to balance the coconut flavor of the milk. (Even my husband liked it, and he hates coconut.)
  • It’s not too sweet, and just the right amount of bitter.

The recipe, which I found on the New York Times website, originally called for a meringue topping, but I omitted that part because I’m lazy. Besides, this hot chocolate is so decadent, you really don’t need to gild the lily. Although I am thinking about adding some Frangelico or Kahlua to it next time…

For this recipe, I used Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa Powder, Kara Coconut Milk, and Ghirardelli Bittersweet Chocolate Chips.

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Dairy-Free Hot Chocolate Recipe

Adapted from a recipe by Melissa Clark.

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
13 to 15 ounces full-fat coconut milk
¼ cup brown sugar
Pinch salt
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate chips (about 1/4 cup)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pour 1/3 cup boiling water into a heat-proof measuring cup. Stir in cocoa powder until it dissolves.

In a saucepan, combine coconut milk, brown sugar, and salt. Simmer, stirring, until sugar is dissolved, about 2 minutes. Whisk in hot cocoa and chocolate chips until smooth. Stir in vanilla. Makes 2 to 4 servings.

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Pieology Pizzeria

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After falling in love with Blaze Fast Fire’d Pizza in West Covina, my husband and I eagerly tried a similar “custom wood-fired pizza” restaurant called Pieology, located in an Azusa strip mall near my mother’s hospital. I was excited about it because they, too, have dairy-free cheese, a trend I heartily endorse.

Unfortunately, everything about Pieology’s pizzas is just a little lacking compared to Blaze. They offer fewer toppings, and their ingredients — particularly their meats — are not very flavorful. Part of the problem is that they don’t leave the pizza in the oven long enough to properly cook the veggies and sear the meat. Who wants to eat a pizza with almost-raw green peppers on it?

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Note the undercooked veggies, not-quite-melted vegan cheese, and pale crust.

The crust is also woefully thin. I’m a fan of New York-style pizza crusts, but this crust is so thin, it’s more like a flatbread. It also tastes rather bland, unlike Blaze’s crust which has a nice doughy flavor. Cooking it longer might help, but probably not much.

As for the ambience of the joint, it screams “chain restaurant.” The air conditioning was turned up way too high, and they were already playing Christmas music two weeks before Thanksgiving when the weather was in the high 80s. This troubles me.

I’m all for pizzerias that have vegan cheese, but Pieology misses the mark.

PIEOLOGY PIZZERIA, 962 E. Alosta Ave., Azusa, CA 91702