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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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

Trader Joe’s Non-Dairy Coconut Whipped Topping

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FINALLY! A non-dairy whipped topping that tastes like real whipped cream!

For years I’ve been searching for non-dairy whipped topping that approximates Reddi Wip. (Yeah, I know it’s low-brow, but sometimes you just want to shoot whipped cream out of a can.) Last Christmas I tried a rice-based one called Soyatoo! that was awful. But I’d never seen a coconut-based one until I found this all-new offering from Trader Joe’s.

You may have noticed that Trader Joe’s is hit-or-miss. Some of their products are keepers, like their Oreo Cookie knock-off, Joe-Joe’s. Some, not so much — like their Indian papadum in a Pringles-like can. (Not surprisingly, that one went away years ago.)

But this one is a hit. It tastes just like whipped cream, except a little more coconutty. And although making whipped coconut cream isn’t that hard, you can’t beat the convenience of the nitrous-propelled stuff. The hissing sound it makes when you squirt it reminds me of old-fashioned ice cream parlors. In fact, I put some on a sundae topped with chopped nuts and a cherry, and it was a sight to behold.

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Under the topping: Ben & Jerry’s Non-Dairy Chocolate Fudge Brownie.

If you want a midcentury throwback dessert that will delight people of all ages, make Jell-O and decorate it with this whipped topping. This stuff is perfect for Jell-O!

And you can always squirt some whipped topping on a mug of hot chocolate or coffee. Add a light dusting of cinnamon or cocoa powder, and you’ve got an Instagrammable beverage that puts Starbucks to shame.

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Daiya New York Cheezecake

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The best thing about writing a food blog is it gives me an excuse to try stuff I’d otherwise feel guilty about eating. Like cheesecake! Excuse me, I mean “cheezecake,” which is the cutesy way of saying it contains no real cheese.

Daiya Foods is a brand that makes a lot of dairy-free products — some good, some not so good. Daiya Mozzarella, for instance, is the vegan cheese that Blaze Pizza uses, and I love it. But Daiya Cream Cheeze is awful. Which is why I was skeptical about the New York Cheezecake. Add to that a gluten-free crust, and I was ready to hate it.

But I didn’t. In fact, I liked Daiya New York Cheezecake so much that I ate two servings of it. (The servings are small; don’t judge.)

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Its texture is smooth and creamy. It’s tangy like cream cheese. And the crust, although nothing to write home about, is pretty decent. Actually, considering it was frozen and defrosted, the crust is pretty damn good.

Now, I haven’t eaten real cheesecake in about five years, and sometimes I wonder how much my tastebuds have skewed since I started eating fake dairy products. So just to be sure I wasn’t crazy, I made my husband — an inveterate dairy-eater — try some of this cheezecake. Even he liked it!

It also helps when you make your cheezecake look like a Pac-Man.

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Here’s some good news: Daiya makes a Pumpkin Spice Cheezecake. I won’t be getting that one because after taking a stand against the Pumpkin Spice Latte (read rant here), it would seem hypocritical to embrace the Pumpkin Spice Cheezecake.

But for those of you who enjoy pumpkin-flavored things, the Daiya PSC would be a super-easy dessert to serve at your Thanksgiving gathering this year. Just keep in mind you have to defrost it a day in advance. It’s also quite small; a whole cake is only four servings. So if you’re serving a big brood, get a few.

To all my American readers, have a lovely Thanksgiving. Thanks for being you!

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Progresso Tomato Basil Soup

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It’s that time of year when I start eating a lot of soup. Of course, homemade is the best, but I like to keep a few canned soups on hand for those days when I don’t have the energy to cook.

I love a smooth, tangy tomato soup. Many have dairy in them, so I’m always on the lookout for ones that don’t. Progresso Tomato Basil is dairy-free and I was excited to try it, since their Chickarina soup is one of my favorites.

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Unfortunately, this tomato basil soup was a huge disappointment. It’s a beautiful red color, but has a thin, watery consistency. And it’s way too sweet. I don’t understand why any soup should have sugar in it; soup should be strictly savory, in my opinion. This one tastes like ketchup.

To quote my favorite movie, Goodfellas, “I ordered some spaghetti with marinara sauce, and I got egg noodles and ketchup.” Nothing should ever taste like ketchup — except ketchup. And even that’s questionable.

So where can you find a good dairy-free tomato soup? They serve a fantastic freshly-made one at Tender Greens, a healthy California chain that focuses on sustainable ingredients and will soon be opening locations in New York and Boston. Their roasted tomato soup is vegan, and it’s delicious and easy on the eyes with a drizzle of basil oil floating on top.

In the meantime, stay away from Progresso’s tomato soup and always check the label on canned soups to see if there’s sugar added. If it’s the second or third ingredient listed, you can bet it’s going to be too sweet.

Know of any great canned dairy-free soups? Please share in the comments!

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