The “Lin Special” Sandwich

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In honor of my mother, who passed away last month, I’d like to share one of her recipes, a sandwich she called “The Lin Special.” Unlike most of her culinary masterpieces, this sandwich was a humble creation, thrown together with stuff she had on hand. Some of the greatest sandwiches are deceptively simple (think grilled cheese, BLT, tuna melt). This one contains only five ingredients: white bread, ham, mozzarella cheese, tomato, and onion.

Of course, the mozzarella poses a problem for us lactose-intolerant folks. Which is why I haven’t had a “Lin Special” in years. Fortunately, there are now lactose-free (and dairy-free) cheese alternatives that approximate the mild flavor and stretchy texture of mozzarella.

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The one I chose for this sandwich was Go Veggie Lactose-Free Mozzarella Style Shreds. Because it contains casein (milk protein), it’s not suitable for people with dairy allergies, but works fine if you’re just lactose-intolerant.

The flavor of this “cheese” is nothing to write home about, but then, mozzarella is kind of bland by nature. It’s more of a backdrop than a star player. Go Veggie, like most fake cheeses, looks strange when it melts (see photo below), but has the proper mouth-feel and stretchiness. It would do nicely on a pizza.

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There’s no wrong way to make this sandwich. I prefer it with lots of onion and heavily toasted bread, but you can make it to your liking. If you’re not into white bread, sourdough is a good alternative.

When I used to work at the Letterman show in New York, I would go downstairs to the Hello Deli, run by the now-famous Rupert Jee, and ask him to make this sandwich for me. I kept hoping he’d add the “Lin Special” to the menu, as several of my co-workers had sandwiches named after them. Alas, it never happened.

Well, for those of you who never got a chance to try the “Lin Special,” here is my mom’s recipe. Enjoy. She would want you to.

The “Lin Special” Sandwich Recipe

2 slices white bread
4 slices ham
4 slices tomato
handful of thinly sliced red onion
handful of lactose-free (or dairy-free) shredded mozzarella

Layer the bread slices with ham, tomato, onion, and mozzarella. Place both slices, face up, on the middle rack of a toaster oven. Toast until the “cheese” is melted and the bread is lightly browned. Remove from the toaster oven and put the slices together. Cut the sandwich into triangles, if desired.

Homemade Dairy-Free Chai Tea

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I’ve always loved chai tea, the kind that you get in Indian restaurants, not the kind from Starbucks or the pre-made chai tea that almost every tea brand now sells. At worst, those chai teas taste like candy, and at best, they’re too intensely spicy. Once I asked an Indian friend how to make real chai tea and she gave me a masala mix, but it still didn’t taste like the chai tea I got in restaurants.

Then I went dairy-free and couldn’t drink chai tea at Indian restaurants anymore because they always make it with cow’s milk. After years of deprivation, I became determined to figure out how to make my own chai. I did some research and was able to put together this recipe using just three key spices easily obtained in most grocery stores.

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Cinnamon sticks, star anise, and cardamom pods.

Instead of cow’s milk, I used coconut milk. (I thought the coconut would work better in chai tea than almond milk.) For desserts and coffee, I like to use Kara coconut milk because it’s thick and creamy. But for this tea, I wanted a milk that was thinner, so I used Silk Unsweetened Coconut Milk.

You can brew your chai with just about any unflavored black tea. I used my usual breakfast tea, Zhena’s Gypsy Tea. I’ve tried almost all the organic breakfast teas available at my neighborhood Ralphs, and this one is the most flavorful and affordable.

Keep calm and chai on!

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Dairy-Free Chai Tea Recipe

2 cardamom pods
1 cup water
2 bags black tea
1 whole star anise
1 stick cinnamon
1 cup coconut milk

Crack the cardamom pods by tapping them with a mallet or other heavy object. Put the water, tea, star anise, cinnamon stick, and cardamom pods in a small pot and bring to a boil. Boil for 4 minutes.

Pour the tea through a strainer to remove the solids. Pour the strained tea back into the pot and add the coconut milk (and sugar or other sweetener, if desired). Warm over medium heat, stirring, until hot. Makes 2 servings.

Non-Alcoholic Pineapple Mint Mojito

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Next Sunday is Father’s Day, and to many of us that means one thing: barbecue. This year, consider making a special beverage that everyone can drink, adults and kids alike. It’s dairy-free, non-alcoholic, and super-healthy — that’s right, it contains kale!

As you can see in the photo above, it has a nice frothy head and looks great in a fun glass, like this midcentury highball that makes me think of Palm Springs. One day I had mine in a Star Wars tiki mug. What Star Wars fan wouldn’t want to drink a smoothie from a Jawa?

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Star Wars Geeki Tiki mugs available at ThinkGeek.com
But no matter the style of presentation, you’ll find this drink refreshingly tart and just the right amount of sweet. I adapted this recipe from the NutriBullet app, but you can make it in a regular blender, too.

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Non-Alcoholic Pineapple Mint Mojito Recipe

1 cup kale or spinach
1 cup frozen pineapple
1/2 cup fresh mint
juice of 1 lime
honey or other sweetener to taste
1 1/2 cup chilled coconut water

Add all ingredients to your NutriBullet cup or blender. Blend for 30 seconds or until smooth. Makes 2 servings.

Dairy-Free Mango Lassi

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Less than a week after I swore off dairy-free yogurts because all the ones I tried were horrible, I bought another one. Go ahead and laugh. But I finally found a good one! Hooray!

It’s called Coyo Coconut Milk Yogurt Alternative and I found it at Bristol Farms, an overpriced gourmet supermarket in LA that you should never shop at unless you have money to burn. This 5.3-ounce cup cost $3.69. But you know… research.

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I was willing to give this one a shot because it only has four ingredients and they all sounded reasonable: coconut cream, tapioca, pectin and probiotic cultures. It’s dairy-free, soy-free, gluten-free, and GMO-free.

And I’m happy to report that it tastes great!

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It tastes mostly like coconut, with a good dose of yogurt-y sour. Unlike the other dairy-free yogurts I’ve tried, it’s actually white, rather than an unappetizing beige.

It’s also super thick and creamy. In fact, you can even use it in place of whipped cream, which I did with the leftovers after I made my mango lassi. Just add some honey to take the edge off the tartness and you’ve got a healthy dessert topping.

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This yogurt was perfect as the base for my mango lassi. Just as I was resigning myself to a life without lassi, along comes Coyo! At $3.69 a cup, it’s a “sometimes treat,” but I encourage all you lassi lovers to try it at least once.

Here’s the recipe. The rose water is optional, but adds a lovely flavor. You can find it in most Persian markets.

Dairy-Free Mango Lassi

3/4 cup frozen mango chunks
1/2 cup Coyo Coconut Milk Yogurt Alternative (Natural)
1/4 cup almond milk
1 teaspoon honey
1 pinch cardamom
1/2 teaspoon rose water

Combine all the ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth. Makes one serving.

Homemade Dairy-Free Smoothies

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I’ll admit that when I first heard about the NutriBullet blender, I thought it was one of those cheesy “As Seen On TV” fads. I couldn’t imagine this gadget was any better than our old-fashioned blender. But oh, it is!

Let me back up. Back in my dairy-eating days, I used to make smoothies all the time using yogurt and milk as the base. After giving up dairy, I stopped making smoothies. I never thought of using a liquid like coconut water. Not only is this possible, it’s way healthier. Coconut water, often called “nature’s sports drink,” has lots of nutrients and electrolytes. The flavor can be hard to get used to when you drink it straight up, but in a smoothie you can barely taste it.

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One of the reasons I have a love-hate relationship with Costco.

So, back to the NutriBullet. This thing has some key advantages over a traditional blender:

  • It’s more powerful and can blend ingredients faster and more thoroughly.
  • It’s smaller and easier to store.
  • The plastic cup that you blend the ingredients in can also be used to drink from, saving you extra dishes to wash.
  • The cup comes with a to-go lid that snaps open and closed easily.
  • Every part of the NutriBullet is easy to clean, including the blade attachment. (Our traditional blender is a heavy beast that we despise washing.)

I could go on and on giving the NutriBullet free advertising, but suffice to say that since my husband and I got one, we’ve been drinking at least one smoothie every day. And because the NutriBullet app lists tons of recipes, I haven’t gotten bored yet.

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Not a single smoothie I’ve made contained dairy products. So, what can you use instead of milk? In addition to coconut water, I’ve also used almond milk and coconut milk. And some recipes, like one of my favorites, the “Super Beauty Blast” (pictured below), uses chilled green tea as the base.

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You’ll notice there’s a fair amount of greenery in this smoothie, and that is the case for most of the smoothies I make now. Ever since we got the NutriBullet, we’ve doubled our consumption of green vegetables. The recipes are so tasty, you really can’t tell you’re drinking a handful of spinach or kale.

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Toxin Cleansing Blast, with boba straw for extra-fast slurping

Sometimes when I’m feeling creative, I’ll wing it and do an “Improv Blast.” The basic formula is you fill half the cup with greens (e.g., spinach, kale, chard, spring mix) and half with fruit (e.g., apple, orange, banana, pineapple, mango, berries).

I like to use some frozen fruit in every smoothie because (a) it’s convenient and (b) it makes the smoothie cold without having to add ice. (This is also a great use of overly ripe bananas, if you don’t have the time or inclination to make banana bread. Just peel, slice, and freeze the bananas in individual Ziploc bags for future use.)

After adding fruit, you can throw in a tablespoon of chia seeds or flax seeds for added protein and omega-3s. And finally, you pour in the liquid of your choice up to the MAX line on the cup. Blend for 30 seconds and you’re done.

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I like to think about how many fruits and veggies are in my smoothie and how long it would take to eat all of that if it weren’t blended up. A long-ass time, folks. If you’ve ever gotten tired of chewing a salad, you know what I mean.

So if you’re lazy and thinking it’s too much work to make a smoothie, especially first thing in the morning, just remember that smoothies are the ultimate boon for lazy people. It is far less work than chopping up a bunch of vegetables and stir-frying them — and then of course, the chewing. As my husband likes to say, “In the future, all food will be in tubes.” And that includes straws through which you drink your smoothies.

Easy Vegan Banana Bread

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Do you always end up with a couple of bananas that are too ripe? Spotted and maybe even completely brown? Don’t throw them out — use them to make this easy vegan banana bread. Here’s what I love about this banana bread:

  • It’s dairy-free (doesn’t even contain eggs).
  • It’s super moist.
  • It only requires two bananas, so you can use those ones you have lying around that would otherwise end up in the compost.
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The darker the bananas, the sweeter they taste.

I adapted this recipe from a banana cake recipe in The Peaceful Palate, a classic vegetarian cookbook. I halved the original recipe because I only had two bananas on hand, omitted the walnuts, and used a loaf pan instead of a 9-inch square pan. The result was a very short loaf of banana bread that was the perfect size for a household with only one banana bread eater (me).

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I also substituted the oil with melted Earth Balance, an oil-based butter alternative. The Earth Balance worked beautifully, giving the banana bread a nice buttery flavor without the dairy. I only had the kind of Earth Balance that comes in a tub, but you can get it in stick form that’s easier to measure out for baking.

I baked this banana bread in a toaster oven and it came out way better than anything I’ve ever baked in my full-size oven. First of all, the toaster oven heats up faster so you don’t have a long preheating time. Second, it doesn’t make the house hot. And third, electric ovens produce a more even heat and better browning than gas ovens. So use a toaster oven if you’ve got it.

Now go on and put those spotty bananas to good use!

Easy Vegan Banana Bread Recipe

1 cup unbleached or whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup loosely packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons Earth Balance, melted and cooled
2 ripe bananas, mashed (about 1  cup)
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9″x5″ loaf pan. In a small bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, and salt together.

In a large bowl, beat the brown sugar and melted Earth Balance together. Add the mashed bananas, water, and vanilla extract; mix thoroughly. Add the flour mixture and stir to combine, just until moistened.

Spread batter evenly into greased loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then invert pan and continue cooling loaf on wire rack.

After banana bread is completely cool, store in plastic wrap at room temperature.

Dairy-Free Scrambled Eggs

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I always thought you needed milk to make fluffy scrambled eggs. In fact, after I went dairy-free, I pretty much stopped making scrambled eggs because every time I did it without adding milk, they came out tough and heavy.

Well, here’s a secret for you: You don’t need milk to make great scrambled eggs. You just need the right technique. Here are some tips.

Beat It

Crack your eggs into a small bowl or a measuring cup and beat them vigorously with a fork. Really put some speed into it and try to whip as much air into the eggs as possible. This will break up the proteins which cause the eggs to be tough and stringy.

Add Salt Before Cooking

I used to think it didn’t matter whether you added salt before cooking or after. But it does. The salt, like the vigorous beating, helps break down the proteins. So add it early and don’t be afraid to let the beaten eggs sit for a few minutes before you cook them.

Use a Nonstick Pan

A few years ago I got paranoid about nonstick pans leaching toxic chemicals into my food. So I switched to stainless steel pans. Which are great — except when making scrambled eggs. No matter how much you lubricate the pan, once you start scrambling those eggs, they’ll stick like glue. You’ll lose half your eggs to the bottom of the pan, and you’ll spend half your morning scrubbing that pan. No fun.

Do yourself a favor and use a nonstick pan for scrambling eggs. I use a brand called Scanpan that’s supposed to be eco-friendly and nontoxic. Just make sure you don’t use metal utensils on it or you might scratch the coating. I find that a rubber spatula works best.

Never Use High Heat

Unlike fried eggs, scrambled eggs should never be cooked over high heat. Start warming your pan over medium heat. Once it’s hot, lube the pan. Butter gives the best flavor, but if you’re lactose-intolerant or vegan, you can use a butter substitute like Earth Balance. Don’t use olive oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil, or coconut oil. All of those will impart a flavor that just isn’t right.

Keep ‘Em Moving

Once the butter is melted, tilt the pan to make sure it coats the bottom. Give your eggs another good whipping and then pour them into the pan. Immediately turn the heat down to low. Start scrambling the eggs with a spatula and don’t stop. Seriously, you can’t leave those eggs alone for a second or they’ll end up clumpy.

The eggs should be done almost instantly. When they’re mostly solid but still look a little wet, take the pan off the heat and scoop the eggs onto your plate — they’ll continue cooking on their own. Trust me, there’s nothing that can ruin breakfast like dry scrambled eggs.

Eat While Hot

This is probably the hardest part: timing your breakfast so that as soon as your eggs are done, you can sit down and enjoy them. Once they get cold, they’ll be far less appealing. So fix your coffee, make the bacon, toast your pastries, blend your smoothie, get your fork and napkin set up — then scramble your eggs. Do not attempt to multi-task while scrambling eggs. It’s a lightning-fast procedure that requires your full attention.

But when you give it that attention, you will be rewarded with fluffy, moist, beautiful scrambled eggs that contain no milk whatsoever.