Oat Milk Chocolate Pudding

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I used to clip recipes all the time, back when I was an ambitious young cook. But these days, I don’t have the patience for complicated, time-consuming recipes. If I don’t already have most of the ingredients on hand, forget it.

This oat milk chocolate pudding recipe from The New York Times caught my eye not just because it’s dairy-free, but because it’s so easy to make. The whole process took less than fifteen minutes. I didn’t have to buy anything, since all the ingredients were already in my kitchen, including the carton of Oatly oat milk that I’ve been grooving on the past couple of weeks.

This pudding was better than other dairy-free puddings I’ve tried, like Zen Chocolate Almond Pudding or the vegan pudding from Kreation Organics. Zen was fine but tasted like the Snack Packs you put in a kid’s lunch box. Kreation’s tasted fresher but was cloyingly sweet. This New York Times pudding put them both to shame.

My husband shared some with his vegan co-workers. One sent him this text:

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I urge you to try the swill for yourself!

OAT MILK CHOCOLATE PUDDING RECIPE
Adapted from The New York Times

1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/3 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups non-dairy milk, preferably oat
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (at least 66% cacao)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, use a silicone spatula to stir together the sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, and salt. Slowly stir in the milk and keep stirring until smooth and combined.

Stir the mixture constantly over medium-low heat until the pudding thickens, begins to bubble, and coats the spatula, 5 to 10 minutes. (If the pudding is coating the bottom of the pan too quickly, reduce the heat.)

Add the chocolate chips and stir vigorously until they melt and the pudding is thick and smooth. (It will thicken much more after it’s chilled.)

Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Spoon the pudding into a serving bowl or individual cups or ramekins. After it has cooled slightly, press plastic wrap onto the surface of the pudding to prevent a “skin” from forming on top. Refrigerate until cold. The pudding will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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Cocobella Creamery

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Cocobella Creamery is one of the few ice cream parlors in Los Angeles that serve vegan ice cream exclusively. Having thoroughly disliked another one—Kippy’s in Venice—I was skeptical about Cocobella, until I found out they use oat milk as the base in half their flavors. Since I’m currently on an oat milk kick, I decided to give it a try.

I sampled four oat milk flavors: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Forbidden Horchata, Hong Kong Milk Tea, and Moose Tracks. The first three were so-so—not bad, but not great. They all lacked a strong flavor. I was especially disappointed that the Hong Kong Milk Tea was so “subtle,” as the woman behind the counter put it. I would kill for a dairy-free ice cream that tastes like boba tea. Alas, this one did not deliver.

But I did like Moose Tracks, a vanilla base with chunks of chocolate and sunflower butter cups (which taste like peanut butter cups). It wasn’t as rich and smooth as real ice cream, but it wasn’t grainy like Kippy’s. And it didn’t have a weird aftertaste as so many non-dairy ice creams do. (I didn’t bother with their coconut milk flavors for his very reason; the taste of coconut tends to dominate.)

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A kid’s scoop of Moose Tracks.

The biggest draw of Cocobella is the sheer variety of flavors. If you eat a lot of vegan ice cream, you will appreciate this. And I like that they’re diving into oat milk territory. But here are the problems with Cocobella:

(1) It’s expensive—$4.25 for a kid’s scoop, the smallest and cheapest thing on the menu.

(2) The parking can be a hassle. Before 5 p.m., the lot is free. But when I came on a Saturday night, the lot was valet-only and cost $12. (Blame the bar and Cuban supper club next door). Apparently, Cocobella customers get ten minutes free, but I didn’t know this so I took my chances and parked illegally on the street.

Am I going to run back to Cocobella anytime soon? No. I’d rather go to Ralphs and get a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Non-Dairy Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, which kicks Cocobella’s ass. But if I’m in the neighborhood on a hot day, I might stop by to check out their flavors… as long as I can find free parking.

COCOBELLA CREAMERY, 1253 Vine St., Suite 12, Los Angeles, CA 90038

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Oatly Dairy-Free Oat Milk

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Scanning the dairy shelves at Ralphs, I ask myself, “Do I really need to try another dairy-free milk?” I’ve already had soy, almond, coconut, almond-coconut, cashew, macadamia nut, hazelnut… How many more things can you make fake milk out of?

But oat milk is the big new player on the market, supposedly the most environmentally friendly milk there is. And the oat milk latte I had at Balconi Coffee Company was pretty good. So I give in and buy a carton of Oatly.

First of all, you’ve got to give them points for creative packaging. My favorite part of the carton is not the hippie font or the wacky artwork, but the part that says, “You are one of us now.” It sounds so sinister that it cracks me up. This is the kind of carton that will entertain you while you’re eating cereal.

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When I drank it straight up, it did actually taste like the milk at the bottom of a bowl of cereal. It’s slightly sweet, and the oat flavor is reminiscent of Cheerios.

But in coffee, Oatly loses its cereal-ness and has a smooth, inoffensive flavor. It’s thicker than almond milk, which is my usual go-to in coffee. I added it to iced coffee, and its lack of a distinctive flavor allowed the coffee to really shine.

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I also made a latte by foaming Oatly in a manual milk frother. Because of its thickness, this was far more successful than trying to get almond milk to foam. Coconut milk is even thicker, but it tastes like coconuts — not what everyone wants in a latte.

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My next mission is to make a dairy-free chocolate pudding using Oatly. Stay tuned!

The Curious Palate

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As a dairy-free eater, I have a hard time with sandwiches because they so often have cheese, or they seem pointless without it. But the bahn mi is a cheeseless sandwich that bursts with flavor. I think it’s one of the few successful Asian fusions out there. It’s got the lemongrass-marinated meat and pickled vegetables of Vietnam, paired with the baguette and paté of France.

The Curious Palate in Santa Monica serves a fantastic bahn mi. Is it authentic Vietnamese food? No. But it’s really, really good. The baguette is crusty and fresh, hollowed out to make room for the generous fillings. I chose the braised pork belly for my protein, and it was juicy and flavorful without being too fatty. The pickled carrots, cucumbers, and cabbage were crunchy and tangy — and there was a lot of them. There was no paté, but the chipotle aioli was a nice condiment. And of course, there was plenty of fresh cilantro.

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For $17, this isn’t a cheap lunch. But considering the quality of the ingredients and the obvious care that goes into the food, it’s not outrageous. One of the things I appreciated most was that the side salad wasn’t perfunctory — it was good enough that I would even order it as a main.

So if you’re looking for a great dairy-free sandwich, head to the top floor of Santa Monica Place, the mall at the end of the 3rd Street Promenade, and try the bahn mi at the Curious Palate. You won’t even think about missing cheese.

THE CURIOUS PALATE, 395 Santa Monica Place, Suite 321, Santa Monica, CA 90401

Xing Fu Tang Taiwanese Boba

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There’s boba everywhere in Taiwan. For a boba tea lover like me, it was both heavenly and overwhelming. When there’s a boba shop on every block, how do you decide which ones to try? Taiwanese establishments don’t have a big presence on Yelp, so I had to rely mostly on instinct.

Shopping in Ximendeng, a touristy neighborhood in Taipei, I picked the boba shop with the longest line, figuring the locals knew. Xing Fu Tang, I would later find out, is a hugely popular boba chain with at least 60 locations in Taiwan. During my trip, I would see many people carrying those pill-shaped cups.

I waited in line for 20 minutes under the scorching sun, but it was worth it. Xing Fu Tang’s signature drink, the brown sugar milk tea, was unlike any milk tea I’ve had in the United States. It had a strong tea flavor, it was creamy as hell, and the boba balls were as fresh as they come. The only reason I wouldn’t drink this more often if I lived in Taipei is because it would make me seriously fat.

Oh, and because they use real milk and I’m lactose-intolerant. But hey, I was on vacation. (Read my blog post, “When Cheating on Your Diet Is Worth It.”)

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The big wok where they keep the boba balls warm.

As outstanding as that milk tea was, the grapefruit green tea I had at the Xing Fu Tang in Jioufen was even better — and dairy-free! Jioufen is another tourist area, a mountain town filled with narrow, winding cobblestone streets lined with street-food vendors and souvenir shops.

This grapefruit green tea was the best I’ve ever had, surpassing even my favorite from Tea Bar in Azusa. It wasn’t bitter like some grapefruit drinks can be, but it wasn’t too sweet, either. It had bits of pulp (but not an annoying amount) and it tasted super-fresh. Even without boba pearls, this drink was something to remember.

The location — at the end of the long main street in Jioufen, overlooking the lush green landscape — is a huge plus. You couldn’t ask for a more picturesque spot to enjoy a refreshing beverage.

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If you find yourself in Taiwan, jonesing for boba, Xing Fu Tang is the spot. Just beware of other Xing Fu Tang locations, though. They’re not all equal. I tried a small offshoot in Ximendeng (with a much shorter line) and another in Danshui Harbor, and they were both disappointing.

XING FU TANG (Ximendeng)No. 29, Chengdu Road
成都路29號
萬華區, 台北市 108
Taiwan

XING FU TANG (Jioufen)No. 175, Jishan Street
基山街175號
瑞芳區, 新北市 224
Taiwan

Magnum Non-Dairy Chocolate-Dipped Ice Cream Bars

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I’ve been searching for a non-dairy substitute for Häagen-Dazs ice cream bars for as long as I’ve been dairy-free. Here’s what I wrote about them years ago, in my review of the disappointing Coconut Bliss Ice Cream Bars:

“I really wanted to like these because they look just like Häagen-Dazs Vanilla Milk Chocolate Almond Bars, one of my favorite treats from my dairy-eating days. The Häagen-Dazs bars contain the richest, creamiest vanilla ice cream coated in thick, high-quality chocolate studded with crunchy roasted almonds. They’re ridiculously good.”

That’s the gold standard I’ve been holding that, until now, nothing has met.

But now there are Magnum Non-Dairy Almond frozen dessert bars.

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If you can get past the name — which always makes me think of condoms — this thing is awesome. The ice cream is smooth and not too sweet, “made from an expert blend of coconut oil and pea protein.” (It tastes better than it sounds.) It’s described on their website as “velvety and fragrant Madagascan vanilla.” A little over-the-top, but what else would you expect from a company called Magnum?

The vegan milk chocolate shell is a high-quality Belgian chocolate, embedded with chopped, roasted almonds. Both the chocolate and the nuts are excellent. The only problem is that the chocolate shell tends to crack and fall apart when you bite into it — but that’s the case with any chocolate-dipped frozen treat. Keep a plate handy.

This is truly the best imitation of Häagen-Dazs, the holy grail of ice cream bars, that I’ve ever tasted. Just don’t confuse them with these.

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Cado Non-Dairy Ice Cream

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It seemed too weird not to try: ice cream made from avocados. I’ve had non-dairy ice creams made from almonds, cashews, coconuts… even peas and rice. Why not avocados?

When it comes to dairy-free ice cream, the flavor that’s hardest to do well is vanilla. It’s so basic you can’t fake it. So I went for the vanilla bean Cado, as a sort of litmus test.

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It looked good. It had the right color and I could see the vanilla bean specks. Upon the first spoonful, I was impressed. I could taste the vanilla, and though a bit thin in texture and not very creamy, it was fairly smooth.

In retrospect, my initial positive reaction was probably due to the fact that I was picturing avocados in my mind, and this ice cream had no detectable resemblance to avocados. So, points for the food science.

But after a few more bites, I grew sick of Cado. The taste of vanilla wears off quickly, leaving you with the overwhelming taste of sugar. Halfway through this sundae, I had to stop. It felt like eating cotton candy.

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Cado says it’s the first avocado-based, non-dairy ice cream. So perhaps the science will improve and produce better results in the future. For now, I’ll eat my avocados in guacamole and on toast — and stick with almonds and coconuts for ice cream.

Smoothie House Shave Ice in Taiwan

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Although most of my food reviews are about Southern California, I have to tell you about something I ate while traveling in Taiwan: shave ice. I didn’t expect to find any desserts I liked, since many Taiwanese sweets I’ve tried in the U.S. contain red bean or taro, or are heavy on the peanuts and sesame seeds — unappealing to my American tastes.

I’ve never cared for shave ice, because the ones I had were like snowballs drizzled with syrup. But Taiwanese shave ice is totally different. For one thing, the ice is fluffier. It’s like the difference between skiing in New Hampshire and skiing in Colorado — ice versus powder. In fact, Taiwanese shave ice is often called “snow” or “snowflake” ice.

The second big difference is that Taiwanese ice is flavorful. It’s flavored even before it’s shaved — usually with fruit, but I also had a chocolate one that tasted just like ice cream.

And the third difference is that Taiwanese shave ice is piled with fresh fruit, not just syrup. Mango was the most popular choice, since it’s in season right now. But my favorite was the lychee snowflake ice with strawberry and raspberry at Smoothie House.

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Right now, $250 NT is equal to about $8 US.

I’m usually a minimalist when it comes to food, easily overwhelmed when there’s a lot going on in a dish. But this shave ice was complicated and it all worked. The lychee base was already delicious on its own. The fresh strawberries and blueberries were a classic combo. Then there was raspberry-flavored jelly (which is like Jell-O) and a bowl of raspberry purée on the side.

Why on the side? So that as you eat down the layers of your shave ice, you can drizzle on additional purée. This is important because the shave ice in Taiwan is typically enormous, a good five or six inches in height.

Finally, just for decoration and delight, it was sprinkled with rose petals and gold leaf flakes, then topped with a pink macaron.

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If you’re ever in Taipei, a shave ice at Smoothie House is a must. It was surprisingly hard to find dairy-free options in Taiwan; most boba shops use real milk, and coffee shops don’t usually offer almond, coconut, or soy milk. I found no dairy-free ice cream. But this shave ice is dairy-free and delicious. It’s meant to be shared, like a Vermonster at Ben & Jerry’s. It’s not just a dessert — it’s an event.

There are several Smoothie House locations in Taiwan. The one I went to was in the Da’an District of Taipei, a hip, upscale neighborhood that reminded me of Soho in New York. Despite the weather — 90 degrees and muggy, even at night — we enjoyed our shave ice at an outdoor table, people-watching and planning our next adventure.

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When you get to the nearest metro station, you will see huge ads for Smoothie House plastered everywhere, including ones that claim “recommended by CNN.” Believe the hype.

SMOOTHIE HOUSE, No. 15 Yongkang St., Da’an District, Taipei City 10650, Taiwan

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Bacio di Latte Gelato

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This blog is about dairy-free eating, but every so often I come across a dairy-full food that’s so good it’s worth cheating on my diet for — like the peanut butter pie at Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab in Las Vegas. This time it’s the vanilla & rose gelato at Bacio di Latte in the Century City mall.

I first wandered in looking for dairy-free sorbets. They do have quite a few, and they’re good. But when I saw the vanilla & rose gelato, I had to try it. The rosewater ice cream I once ate at Mashti Malone’s — a Persian ice cream shop in Hollywood — left a sweet memory.

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Bacio di Latte is a clean, bright, inviting, and well-run ice cream parlor. My only pet peeve is their ordering system. You’re supposed to pay for your order before trying samples. Personally, I want to try flavors before deciding whether I want a cone or cup, how many scoops, etc. I did it my way and pissed off the staff.

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Here’s a tip: Order a waffle cone rather than a cup. It costs the same, but you get more ice cream in the cone — a “cone scoop” is bigger than a “cup scoop.” Plus, the waffle cones are made fresh in-house and they’re delicious.

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As you can see, the single scoop in a waffle cone is enormous. I ate every last bite, taking two Lactaid pills to be safe. The gelato was smooth, creamy, and delightfully rosy. What surprised me most was how it didn’t make me feel over-sugared the way many desserts do. It wasn’t until the last few bites of cone that I thought, “I need to stop eating this.” (By then it was too late!) I think this speaks to the freshness and quality of the ingredients.

True to form, I went back a few days later to chase the dragon. This time I got a cup: half vanilla & rose gelato, and half strawberry sorbet. The sorbet was fantastic — bursting with fresh strawberries, and creamy in texture even though dairy-free. It paired beautifully with the vanilla & rose.

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Garnished with a rose petal.

There are many more flavors to choose from; the chocolate selection alone is mind-boggling. My husband is also a fan of the affogato — a scoop of gelato topped with a shot of espresso. Everything we’ve had there was top-notch. But the vanilla & rose is the stand-out. Try it and let me know what you think.

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BACIO DI LATTE, Westfield Century City, 10250 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90067

The Bigg Chill Frozen Yogurt

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As soon as my husband and I moved to West Los Angeles, we noticed a frozen yogurt shop in our neighborhood that was always busy — day and night, all year round. Even in the dead of winter (albeit L.A. winter), there was a line out the door. Adding to the mystery was that this shop, aptly named The Bigg Chill, seemed stuck in the ’80s — from the very fact of its serving froyo to its dated neon-and-pastel decor.

We went in a few times to check it out, but were deterred by the long wait and the dearth of dairy-free options. The Bigg Chill has only one dairy-free flavor at the time. I once sampled the honey cashew, made from almond milk, and it was just strange.

Then I tasted Wow Cow.

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Wow Cow is not dairy-free, but it is low-lactose. And since my issue is lactose intolerance, I have no problem digesting it. Wow Cow is also fat free, low calorie, and cholesterol free — hard to believe when you find out how good it tastes.

When I visited last week, the Wow Cow flavor was vanilla, my absolute favorite kind of soft serve. The Wow Cow had a strong vanilla taste and a super-smooth consistency. It wasn’t as rich and dense as ice cream, but neither is regular frozen yogurt. Wow Cow — or as my husband mistakenly called it, “Magic Moo” — is an excellent substitute for the lactose-laden fat bomb that is soft serve.

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So, after years of wondering what all the fuss was about, I finally get why The Bigg Chill is such a neighborhood favorite. They’ve got healthier versions of the ice cream we all love, a dizzying array of toppings (including nine kinds of vegan cookie dough), and a friendly, cozy vibe. The place is packed with regulars — moms and kids, high schoolers, sorority girls. Even if you don’t talk to anyone, you feel like you’re at a party.

As for the Miami Vice-like decor, it’s delightfully retro without trying to be — they just haven’t bothered to change it in twenty years. It’s like an ’80s time warp in there. When I walked in, they were playing Phil Collins. I don’t think it’s an accident that their logo looks like a Pac-Man.

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By day…
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By night…

Why do I have both daytime and nighttime pictures? Because after having a Wow Cow on Wednesday night, I went back the very next afternoon to get it again. (You know, for research.) I’m only half joking when I say that The Bigg Chill must be putting crack in their froyo. Which would be in keeping with the ’80s thing.

Their flavors change every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Check their website before going — and if they’ve got vanilla Wow Cow, hightail it over there.

UPDATE (10/22/19): I’m sad to report that the Bigg Chill no longer has Wow Cow. I’ve been checking their website periodically, and finally I stopped by and inquired about it. The guy behind the counter said, “They don’t make it anymore.” R.I.P. Wow Cow… I only had you twice, but I’ll miss you.

THE BIGG CHILL, 10850 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90064