Improved Daiya Dairy-Free Cheddar Style Slices

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As someone who is lactose-intolerant, I’ve tried a lot of Daiya dairy-free cheese products, and this improved version of their cheddar cheese is by far the best. Not sure what they did to improve it, but here’s what I like about it:

(1) Melts better.
(2) Sharper flavor.
(3) Doesn’t give me gas.

In fact, the third reason is why I stopped eating Daiya cheese, other than the vegan mozzarella shreds they put on the pizzas at Blaze Fast Fire’d Pizza. The mozzarella gives me gas, too, but it’s a sacrifice I make in order to be able to enjoy pizza.

But this improved Daiya has so far not given me that problem. Yay!

Here are the cons about it:

(1) Round slices work great for burgers, not so much for grilled cheese.
(2) Tastes more like American cheese than cheddar.

So without further ado, I’ll let these pictures tell the rest of the story.

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Melts pretty well, even without heat from above. This was cooked on the grill. (That’s real cheese in the background.)
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Burger with Daiya cheese, sautéed mushrooms, onions and arugula on a pretzel bun.
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Quesadilla made with Daiya cheese.

Do you have a favorite Daiya product? Or know of a great dairy-free cheese? Let me know in the comments!

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Homemade Dairy-Free Lebanese Rose Milk Tea

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In honor of the roses we all want to get on Valentine’s Day this week, I’m making a copycat version of the Lebanese Rose Milk Tea from Labobatory, a boba tea shop that I always visit when I’m in San Gabriel. Mine doesn’t contain boba, but that’s better for me anyway, as those starchy tapioca balls are bad news for my waistline.

I love copycat recipes because every time I make one of these, I think, “I’m saving five dollars!” Not to mention, a long drive out to San Gabriel.

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All you need is Zhena’s Gypsy Rose Organic Black Tea (available at Whole Foods or online), rose water, ice, and a non-dairy creamer such as Coffeemate. The rose water is really the key — it’s what gives Labobatory’s rose milk tea that Middle Eastern flavor. You can find it at Persian or Indian grocery stores.

Labobatory uses non-dairy creamer, but you can substitute almond milk or coconut milk instead. You can also add sugar or another sweetener if you wish.

DAIRY-FREE LEBANESE ROSE MILK TEA

1 cup boiling water
1 tea bag of Zhena’s Gypsy Rose Organic Black Tea
1/2 teaspoon rose water
1 cup ice
non-dairy creamer, to taste

Steep the tea bag in boiling water for 5 minutes. Remove the tea bag, and let the tea cool for 20 to 30 minutes. If you like your tea strong, do this step a few hours before you plan to drink it, then refrigerate it (otherwise the warm tea will melt some of the ice and dilute your drink).

Add rose water to the tea and stir to combine. Fill a glass with the ice. Pour the tea over the ice, and add non-dairy creamer to taste. Stir and enjoy. Makes one serving.

Vromage Artisan Vegan Cheese

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When I heard that a veteran cheesemaker opened up a shop selling dairy-free cheese in West Hollywood, I couldn’t wait to try it. The reviews for Vromage were fantastic. I pictured a cozy little spot like the Artisan Cheese Gallery in Studio City, where you can get beautiful sandwiches and salads — but without dairy!

Well, when I walked into Vromage, located in a tiny strip mall on Sunset Boulevard, I was worried. There was no one behind the counter and no menu posted on the wall or printed on paper. After several stressful minutes, a man finally emerged from the kitchen and greeted me. He didn’t introduce himself, but I deduced that he was Youssef Fakhouri, the founder and inventor of Vromage.

“Where’s the menu?” I asked him.

“Right here,” he said, pointing to himself. “What would you like?”

I didn’t even know where to begin. I’m the kind of person who likes to order my food off an iPad so I don’t have to talk to anyone. “Do you make sandwiches?” I asked. Youssef said yes. “What kind?” I asked. This was way too loosey-goosey for me. I was starting to wonder if this Youssef guy was like Willy Wonka and I was going to end up getting turned into a giant blueberry.

At last, Youssef gestured to a chalkboard behind me.

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I was confused. What exactly is on this sandwich besides mozzarella or taleggio, and does it really cost $1250? ‘Cause that’s a bit overpriced, if you ask me. (Turns out there was a decimal point missing.) And why is there a paté sandwich on the menu if everything here is vegan?

I had questions. But at this point, I was feeling stupid and hungry. I asked if I could sample some cheeses. First I picked the goat, since I used to love goat cheese and I’d never had dairy-free goat before. Youssef handed me a generous slice on a slip of parchment. It was pure white and had dried herbs around the edges. I tried it. Unbelievable. It had that sharp, tart flavor I’d missed for so long, and the texture was smooth and fluffy. Not as dense as real cheese, almost mousse-like.

“Yum,” I said. “That’s really good.”

“You like it?” said Youssef. “I’ll make you a sandwich.”

And before I could try any other samples or ask him just what he was planning to put on this sandwich, Youssef disappeared into the kitchen again and I was left standing there, hoping he wouldn’t come out with a pumpernickel roll with olives and yellow mustard (all foods I do not enjoy). He didn’t even ask me if I was allergic to anything. The only way to describe how I felt at that moment is… helpless.

But when Youssef came back out a few minutes later with his mystery concoction, it looked delicious.

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The sandwich contained nothing but vegan goat cheese, arugula, and sliced heirloom tomatoes on a crusty French baguette (luckily, all foods I do enjoy). An inveterate meat eater, I feared that the lack of protein would leave me hungry and reaching for a snack in an hour. But I was committed at this point, so I took my plate over to the teeny counter by the window and took a bite.

It was fantastic. Everything tasted super-fresh and the goat cheese packed enough flavor to carry that sandwich. Would I have liked some prosciutto or wine-soaked sopressata in there? Hell, yeah. But if you’re a vegan, this is as good as it gets.

And by the way, I wasn’t hungry an hour later. Perhaps the nuts that the cheese was made of provided me with more protein than I’d expected. All of the cheeses at Vromage are nut-based. They don’t contain soy.

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Later I tried samples of the spicy cheddar and the brie, but neither were as good as the goat. The spicy cheddar in particular was disappointing because its texture was grainy. I also sampled the vegan “paté,” which tasted odd and nothing like real paté. Apparently, Youssef hasn’t yet perfected the art of imitating liver.

But I liked the goat cheese so much that I bought a chunk of it to take home. Vromage sells all its cheeses by weight, and most of the customers I saw that day came in to take some cheese home for their vegan cocktail parties in Laurel Canyon.

It’s not much of a sit-down restaurant — only a handful of seats and zero atmosphere. But as far as vegan cheese goes, Youssef Fakhouri is on the cutting edge. If you’re willing to hand over the controls to this eccentric cheesemonger, go for it.

VROMAGE ARTISAN CHEESE, 7988 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90046

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Ben & Jerry’s Non-Dairy Coffee Caramel Fudge

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For anyone who thinks it’s too cold to eat ice cream in winter, I present to you Exhibit A: the pint of Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Caramel Fudge Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert that my awesome friend Jill got me before I came to visit her in snowy, 29-degree Delaware the week before Christmas. We had some every night I was there. This is why I love Jill.

I’ve never liked coffee ice cream — until now. Some of Ben & Jerry’s non-dairy ice creams have a weird flavor from the almond milk base (like Caramel Almond Brittle, for example). But in this one, the intensity of the coffee flavor masks any weirdness. It tastes just like regular ice cream. Smooth, creamy, with a hint of caramel and good-quality chocolate chunks. What’s not to like?

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I’ve been periodically reviewing Ben & Jerry’s non-dairy ice creams ever since they hit the market. Here are the ones I’ve tried, listed in order of my preference (click on the links to read my reviews):

I haven’t bought Coconut Seven Layer Bar because I don’t like coconut-flavored ice cream. But if they offer that one at a Ben & Jerry’s scoop shop, I’ll taste a sample and let you know how it is.

Every so often I cruise by the frozen dessert case at the supermarket to see if there’s anything new. Well, I just found out Ben & Jerry’s has two new flavors, Peanut Butter Half Baked and Cinnamon Buns. I don’t care for cinnamon buns, so I’m not going to get that one, but peanut butter cookie dough and fudge brownies? Sign me up!

Of course, I’ll have to hold off until I lose my “holiday weight.” Stay tuned.

The Stalking Horse Brewery & Freehouse

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If you’re looking for a traditional English pub with heavy, fatty food that will send you to the toilet for a couple of hours, this place is not for you. The Stalking Horse, on Pico Boulevard in West Los Angeles, is the first pub I’ve been to that actually has vegan versions of traditional pub fare! Half the menu is vegan! I’m not a vegan, but because I don’t eat dairy, I appreciate this.

Whether you’re dairy-free, vegan, vegetarian, or just a curious eater, you must try the cottage pie at The Stalking Horse. It’s like a shepherd’s pie (ground beef, carrots and peas topped with mashed potatoes) but this one is vegan — no dairy, no meat. They use that new-fangled “Impossible Burger” vegan stuff, and I have to say, it’s delicious. Food science scored big with this one. This “meat” actually browns, so you get nice little charred flavor bombs. And I really did feel less bogged down after eating it.

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“I can’t believe it’s not meat!” (P.S. The burger in the back is meat.)

My husband and I also tried their weekend brunch. I was pleasantly surprised that their French toast is served with whipped coconut cream, which makes us dairy-free folks very excited. I also have to plug the traditional English breakfast plate. Delicious pork belly, amazing “chips” (fries)… If you’re a meat eater, just get it.

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Crispy French toast with whipped coconut cream.

I’m so happy to find a pub that puts as much care and craft into their food as they do in their drinks. The Stalking Horse makes English food do-able for healthy eaters. That’s a small miracle.

THE STALKING HORSE BREWERY & FREEHOUSE, 10543 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90064

My Go-To Dairy-Free Breakfast Smoothies

My Dairy-Free Breakfast Series wouldn’t be complete without a few of my favorite smoothie recipes. A year ago my husband and I got a NutriBullet blender, and ever since then we’ve been having fresh, homemade, dairy-free smoothies every morning. Trust me, that’s not as hard as it sounds!

Last summer we switched to a Vitamix blender (my dad had one he wasn’t using often, so we’re “borrowing” it from him). Although it takes up more counter space, its larger size allows for more flexibility in the quantity of ingredients. In other words, we don’t end up overfilling it and making a mess.

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A lot of folks just wing it when they make smoothies, throwing in whatever fruits and veggies they have on hand. I do this too sometimes, but I’ve noticed those smoothies tend to all taste the same, no matter what goes in them. Plus, they usually come out an unappetizing shade of brown. So I like to stick to the tried-and-true recipes most of the time.

Here are three of my go-to smoothie recipes — all free of dairy. For each recipe, you simply place all the ingredients into your blender, put the lid on tight, and blend until smooth.

ORANGE CARROT PEACH SMOOTHIE RECIPE

2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 orange, peeled and cut into 4 sections
1 cup frozen peaches
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 1/2 cups coconut water

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This one’s a crowd pleaser and good for your eyes!

PICKY EATER SMOOTHIE RECIPE

1 cup spinach
1 cup frozen mango
1/2 banana
1 teaspoon flaxseed meal (optional)
1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond or coconut milk

VITA-BERRY SMOOTHIE RECIPE

1 cup spinach
1/2 cup frozen blueberries
4 fresh or frozen strawberries
1/2 banana
1 1/2 cups coconut water

Ratatouille with Poached Egg

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The fourth installment of my Dairy-Free Breakfast Series is inspired by my favorite dish at a now-defunct café in New York’s Greenwich Village. The dish, named Oeufs Gamins, consisted of a poached egg atop a crispy potato pancake infused with goat cheese and surrounded by roasted ratatouille. This gorgeous concoction was the perfect hangover cure, served by French expat servers who acted like they couldn’t care less about you. So Français!

I’ve recreated this dish without the potato pancake (too much work) and the goat cheese (too much dairy). Although I will always treasure the memory of the starchy, cheesy Oeuf Gamins, the one I make now is healthier and just as tasty. It’s a great way to fill up on vegetables first thing in the morning. Because they’re caramelized, they taste wonderfully sweet. And don’t be afraid of poaching eggs — it’s easy once you get the hang of it.

RATATOUILLE WITH POACHED EGG RECIPE

1 yellow onion, cut into 1/4-inch half moons
1 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
8 ounces eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch slices
8 ounces zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch rounds
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
2 ripe tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch chunks, squeezed and drained
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
splash of white vinegar
1 egg
salt and pepper to taste

To make the ratatouille: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a large bowl, toss the onion, bell pepper, eggplant, zucchini, garlic, olive oil, rosemary, and salt until well mixed. Spread the vegetables evenly in a baking pan. (They will shrink as they cook.)

Roast the vegetables for 30 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Stir in the tomatoes and continue to roast for 30 more minutes, again stirring halfway through. When the vegetables are browned and caramelized, remove them from the oven and stir in the basil.

Store the ratatouille in an air-tight container in the fridge. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

To poach an egg: Fill a small pot with about an inch of water, add a splash of white vinegar, and bring it to a boil. Crack the egg into a small cup or ramekin. Turn the heat down to a simmer and gently pour the egg into the water. Let it cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the white is just set. (The yolk should still be runny.)

Meanwhile, heat up a serving of ratatouille in the microwave. When the egg is done, lift it out of the water with a slotted spoon and place it atop the ratatouille. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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