Kite Hill Plain Almond Milk Cream Cheese


I’ve been unable to find an acceptable dairy-free cream cheese. This one, made by Kite Hill, uses almond milk, and although I wouldn’t call it inedible, it’s not good. A long time ago I tried their chive cream cheese and gave it a somewhat positive review. So it’s surprising how much I disliked the plain version.


First I tasted it straight up — the best test for any dairy-free alternative. There was nothing to mask its pasty texture and odd, artificial aftertaste. Thankfully, it has no detectable almond flavor, but it also lacks the sharpness that is the hallmark of cream cheese. Overall, epic fail.


Spread on a toasted poppy seed bagel, Kite Hill Almond Milk Cream Cheese was slightly more tolerable. Still, I could only stomach a few bites before deciding it wasn’t worth the calories.

Now, re-reading my review of their chive cream cheese, I realize that even though I didn’t hate it at the time, I never bought it again. So there you go.

The search for a decent dairy-free cream cheese continues…


Dairy-Free Passionfruit Mango Smoothie


I’ve loved passionfruit ever since I was ten years old and went on a family trip to Taiwan. It was a hot summer and everywhere we went, we were given fresh passionfruit juice served over crushed ice. It’s not easy to find passionfruit in L.A., but passionfruit juice in a can is a decent substitute.


Now that summer is here, treat yourself to a taste of the tropics with this easy dairy-free smoothie. You can use plain Non-Dairy Chobani yogurt, the best non-dairy yogurt I’ve tried — or if you prefer a less sweet smoothie, Green Valley Lactose-Free yogurt (okay for lactose-intolerant people, but not suitable for those with dairy allergies).



1 cup frozen mango chunks
1/2 cup plain non-dairy yogurt, such as Chobani
1 cup passionfruit juice

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

Chobani Non-Dairy Coconut-Based Yogurt


I’ve tried a lot of non-dairy yogurts, and most of them have been terrible. Some, inedible. But this new coconut-based yogurt from Chobani exceeded my expectations. I used to like the coconut-based Coyo — which was better than any of the almond milk-based yogurts — but its texture can be grainy, and when cold it tends to solidify. Not appealing.

Chobani’s coconut-based yogurt, on the other hand, has a smooth consistency and a nice white color. The only problem I noticed upon opening it was how little product there was in the cup. It looked only about two thirds full. But I suppose this would be convenient if you were throwing some fruit or nuts in there.


The flavor of Chobani’s non-dairy yogurt is similar to Coyo, but a little less strong on the coconut. This is a good thing, in my book. You can still taste the coconut, however, and after eating an entire container, I was kind of over it. But I’d still buy this yogurt again. It’s perfectly fine when consumed with berries and granola, and would probably work great in smoothies or a mango lassi.


Keep in mind that this yogurt is pre-sweetened with cane sugar. I don’t usually like pre-sweetened yogurt, preferring to adjust the sweetness on my own with honey, but it wasn’t cloyingly sweet. It has a nice tartness to it, as yogurt should.

Finally, a dairy-free yogurt that doesn’t suck! To read my reviews of other dairy-free yogurts, click on the “yogurt” tag below.

Go Veggie Vegan Cream Cheese


In my perpetual search for the perfect dairy-free (and soy-free) cream cheese, I picked up a tub of Go Veggie Vegan Cream Cheese Alternative. I liked Go Veggie’s American cheese slices, so I thought their cream cheese might be decent, and its main ingredient is coconut, which I have no trouble digesting.

I spread it on a freshly toasted everything bagel from Bagel Factory, a bagel shop on National and Sepulveda that makes a pretty convincing approximation of a New York bagel.


The texture of Go Veggie’s cream cheese is quite good: smooth and dense, as a cream cheese should be. The taste is unoffensive: not too sour like Miyoko’s, not reminiscent of bleu cheese like Daiya’s. I was halfway through my dairy-free bagel and the Calendar section of the Sunday paper when I thought, This may be the One.

Then I reached over to my husband’s plate and took a bite of his bagel, spread with actual cream cheese, the classic Philadelphia stuff with onions and chives. And my dreams were shattered. My vegan cream cheese tasted nothing like the real thing. In comparison, it was bland, lacking that essential tanginess. Eating my Go Veggie was like the first fifteen minutes of The Wizard of Oz that’s in black-and-white, and tasting his Philadelphia cream cheese was like when Dorothy steps into Oz and everything is in Technicolor.


For me, it’s not a worthwhile tradeoff to eat vegan cream cheese when its flavor is so inferior to the real thing. I would rather forego bagels altogether.

Here’s a recap of the dairy-free cream cheeses I’ve reviewed so far. I’m listing them in order of good to bad. Technically the first one is not dairy-free, only lactose-free, but if you’re just lactose-intolerant this is your best bet.

  1. Green Valley Organics Lactose-Free
  2. Kite Hill Vegan
  3. Trader Joe’s Vegan (contains soy)
  4. Miyoko’s Vegan
  5. Daiya Vegan

If there’s a dairy-free cream cheese you love, please let me know in the comments!

Daiya Vegan Cream Cheese


Searching for a dairy-free cream cheese that tastes like the real thing? Me too.

Unfortunately, Daiya Cream Cheeze Style Spread isn’t it. After trying it a long time ago and hating it, I was hoodwinked into trying it again because the label claimed this recipe was “new and improved.”

Here’s what it’s made of: Filtered water, coconut oil, tapioca starch, coconut cream, vegan natural flavors, pea protein isolate, sea salt, chives, white onion, xanthan gum, potato protein isolate, lactic acid (vegan), vegan enzyme, lemon juice concentrate, guar gum, locust bean gum.

Here’s what it looks like on a bagel.


Its texture isn’t bad. Less creamy than real cream cheese, but not too grainy.

The problem is the flavor. Simply put, it tastes like bleu cheese. This is the same problem that Daiya Caesar Salad Dressing has. Bleu cheese is fine in certain contexts, but on a bagel? Uh, no.

So I’m going to make this short. Daiya vegan cream cheese: Don’t do it.

For more of my reviews of dairy-free cream cheese products, click on the “cream cheese” tag below. The search continues…

Steampunk Coffeebar & Kitchen


This gorgeous breakfast was from Steampunk Coffeebar & Kitchen in North Hollywood, a little café that’s easy to miss but hard to forget. When I lived in Burbank, I always had a hard time finding good breakfast joints. Now it seems like they’re popping up all over that part of the Valley.

Here’s what I love about Steampunk:

  • Delicious dairy-free options
  • Really good coffee
  • Three words: breakfast all day

I got the meal in the photo above at 2 p.m. on a Thursday. It’s their Egg In The Hole (a dish traditionally called “toad in the hole”), a slice of grilled sourdough bread with a fried egg cooked into a hole in the middle. It came with bacon and home fries on the side.

Everything about this dish was perfect. The egg was neither under- nor overcooked. The bread was hefty enough to support the egg and had just the right amount of sourness. The bacon was crispy, salty, and fatty — everything bacon should be. And the home fries were crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside; the bits of onion and bell pepper mixed in added a nice dimension.

And the almond milk latte I had was also excellent.


Nowadays, I’m seeing almond milk as a dairy alternative at a lot more coffee shops. This is progress. But not all lattes are created equal. You have to start with good coffee, and Steampunk does.

What’s interesting about Steampunk is that they have plenty of vegetarian, vegan and dairy-free options, but they’re not strictly a “health food” restaurant. For instance, their house specialty, The Stack, consists of buttermilk fried chicken, bacon, sunny-side-up egg, and Belgian waffles drizzled with cayenne maple aioli. That’s not what you would call a healthy dish, although it is served with sautéed kale and onions on the side.

But on the same menu as the chicken and waffles, you can also find healthy stuff like granola, a beet-and-carrot veggie burger, and a vegan porcini mushroom cutlet. Plus, ethnic foods like puri, an Armenian bread. It’s this eclectic menu that makes Steampunk rise above most coffee and breakfast joints.

They also have a nice inviting vibe. Don’t be scared off by the “steampunk” name. This small space feels warm and lived-in. The walls are adorned by eclectic art by local artists, most of which is for sale.


And they don’t care how long you linger at your table. It’s a great place to plug in your laptop and work, or hang out with friends and play a board game.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to play Smart Ass.

But I’d go back just for the Egg In The Hole and almond milk latte. For a lactose-intolerant breakfast enthusiast like myself, this place is a godsend.

STEAMPUNK COFFEEBAR & KITCHEN, 12526 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village, CA 91607

Avocado Toast: Why All the Fuss?


If you’ve been wondering, “What’s the big deal with this avocado toast thing?” you are not alone. Avocado toast is everywhere these days, and this hot trend, like jumpsuits, can be a bit confounding. What is it, other than mashed-up avocado on a piece of toast?

The short answer is: nothing. Avocado toast is exactly that. And there is no reason why you should pay $8 or more for this simple dish. Especially in Southern California, where avocados are plentiful and relatively cheap, the raw ingredients of avocado toast would probably total no more than $1 a serving.

Is it the labor, you may ask? Is avocado toast hard to master, like a soufflé? I couldn’t imagine that it would be. Just to test my theory, I made avocado toast this morning. Here’s how:

(1) I cut a slice of sourdough bread and popped it in the toaster oven.

(2) I sliced an avocado in two, then scraped its contents into a bowl. Then I mashed it up using my (clean) hand. One avocado will usually yield enough for two slices of toast.

(3) I added a little lemon juice, salt and pepper, and a dash of garlic powder (the garlic powder is optional).

(4) I stirred up the avocado mixture (which is now essentially guacamole), spread it on the toast, and topped it with chopped cilantro. You can also use parsley or chives.

Done. Actually, I also fried an egg to put on top of it, but that’s optional, too. Here’s a photo of my avocado toast with egg.


Really, that’s all there is to it. Don’t get me wrong, avocado toast is tasty, and certainly more nutritious than plain toast or toast with butter and jam. And it’s dairy-free, which is a plus for those of us who are lactose-intolerant. But rest assured, you’re not crazy for thinking this avocado toast trend is much ado about nothing.

Honestly, it probably all started when a restaurant had some leftover guacamole and one of the line cooks put it on a piece of toast and said, “Hm, this is pretty good. I bet we could charge people a lot of money for this.”

The one time I actually ordered avocado toast was at my favorite boba tea shop in downtown L.A., Toastea. I only did it because I was starving and needed some protein along with my tea. At $6.25, it was still overpriced, but it was good.

Avocado toast from Toastea.

Given how basic avocado toast is, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll never have one that is so amazing it changes your life. That said, if you do, I would love to hear about it. Let me know in the comments below!


Tocaya Organica Mexican Restaurant


Let’s get this out of the way: Tocaya Organica is not authentic Mexican food. But it’s tasty, healthy and fresh. Mexican food can be a challenge for us lactose-intolerant people because there’s cheese and sour cream on everything. But not at Tocaya. I love restaurants where you don’t have to work that hard to get a dairy-free meal, and Tocaya is one of those places.

The menu can be a little confusing at first because there are choices. Tocaya is all about choices. But actually, it’s quite simple. There are four main categories: (1) salads, (2) bowls, (3) tacos, and (4) burritos and wraps. For any of these, you choose one protein and one cheese — and these include vegetarian and vegan options. Most restaurants only offer one type of vegan cheese, but Tocaya has two. That’s progress!

There’s also an interesting assortment of sides and beverages, and so far, one dessert option that I have yet to try: a scoop of vegan vanilla ice cream sandwiched between two churro waffles and drizzled with chocolate sauce. OMG.

Cucumber mint limeade with an adorable paper straw

I know “bowls” are annoyingly trendy these days, but I happen to like them, as I’ve always had a soft spot for one-dish meals. The reason I love Tocaya’s bowls is that I don’t really care for tortillas. I mean, I’ll eat them if I have to, but if I can get a tortilla-less taco, I’m all for it.

Here’s a bowl called the Fajita Del Rey that hit the spot. It comes with sautéed poblano peppers and onions, spanish rice, black beans, vegan chipotle crema, guacamole and pico de gallo. For my protein, I chose carne asada; for my cheese, vegan chipotle jack.

Fajita Del Rey bowl

I loved this dish. The meat was tender and packed with flavor; even though I wasn’t allowed to order it medium rare, it wasn’t overcooked. Also, the poblano peppers were a nice change from the usual bell peppers, and they were de-seeded so not too mouth-searingly spicy. Finally, the toppings were super fresh — heavenly, creamy guac, and that chipotle crema! You’d never guess it was vegan.

The vegan chipotle jack didn’t rock my world, but it wasn’t bad either.

I was so excited to have leftovers because the next morning I did what I love to do: heat up a bowl of leftovers and put a poached egg on top of it. Threw in some of the leftover plantain chips from our guacamole side order, and I had a fabulous Mexican brunch.


The other Tocaya bowl I’ve tried is the Venice Beach, containing roasted cauliflower, sweet potato bravas, lentils, pickled onions and cilantro-curry salsa. I chose chicken tinga as my protein and, again, the vegan chipotle jack. This was a filling, satisfying meal with a bit of an Indian flare, but it felt autumnal. I would get this again in the fall or winter, for sure.

Venice Beach bowl

One last note: The alcoholic drinks here are delicious and strong. My husband had a hibiscus margarita and was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t overly sweet or watered down. I love a restaurant that takes everything on their menu seriously — no throwaways!

Hibiscus margarita

Tocaya currently has several locations in the Los Angeles area, but the only one I’ve been to is at the newly renovated Century City mall. Tocaya has a prime piece of real estate there, on the top floor next to the AMC cineplex. The restaurant is indoor-outdoor, with a lovely sunny patio bordered by succulents, an atmosphere worthy of the fabulous food. If you eat dairy-free, it is a must-try.

TOCAYA ORGANICA, 10250 Santa Monica Blvd. #2300, Los Angeles, CA 90067

Kite Hill Artisan Almond Milk Yogurt


I’ve tried a few dairy-free yogurts, and almost all of them have been inedible. In fact, I swore off trying any more after getting burned so badly. But I made an exception for Kite Hill Artisan Almond Milk Yogurt because I liked Kite Hill Dairy-Free Cream Cheese and thought maybe these folks knew what they were doing.

Unfortunately, no.

The “yogurt” looked promising when I opened it. Unlike Almond Dream and the flaxseed-based Good Karma, this one was white, not beige, and it had a smooth (though thin) consistency.


But when I tasted it, I was very disappointed. It has a pasty mouthfeel, leaving an unpleasant coating on your tongue. It’s sour, but that’s the most it has in common with real yogurt. And there’s an artificial aftertaste that doesn’t belong in yogurt — or any food, for that matter.

This just adds more support to my theory that almond milk does not make a good base for yogurt; I haven’t had a decent one yet. Coconut milk seems to do better, as in Coyo Coconut Milk Yogurt Alternative. That’s still the only dairy-free yogurt I would recommend. But not all coconut milk yogurts are good, either. Stay away from So Delicious! No bueno!

I’ve learned my lesson: No more almond milk yogurts!

Shakshouka (Poached Eggs in Spicy Tomato & Pepper Stew)


Shakshouka is a dish of eggs poached in a stew of tomatoes, bell peppers, and onions, spiced with cumin and coriander. It originated in North Africa, but is also popular in the Middle East. I tried shakshouka for the first time a few months ago while having breakfast at a Mediterranean restaurant in New York. I was instantly hooked — I love breakfast, and I especially love a spicy breakfast.

Best of all, shakshouka contains no lactose. If you’re dairy-free or trying to go dairy-free, you can safely add this recipe to your breakfast repertoire. It’s also vegetarian, and if you eat it without pita bread, it’s Paleo, too.

I adapted this recipe from an old vegetarian cookbook. You can do your own variations, but for the heat I recommend using harissa, a Moroccan chile pepper paste that you can find at Middle Eastern grocery stores or Cost Plus World Market.


Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home

1 red bell pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon harissa (or hot sauce to taste)
2 cups diced tomatoes (canned is fine)
4 eggs
minced fresh parsley (optional)
4 slices pita bread (optional)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Roast the bell pepper for 15 to 20 minutes, or until it starts to soften and collapse. Transfer the bell pepper to a bowl and cover it with a towel, letting the pepper steam for 10 minutes. When it’s cool enough to handle, remove the peel and slice the pepper into thin strips, discarding the seeds.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and sauté the onions for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, coriander, and harissa; cook, stirring, for one minute. Stir in tomatoes, sliced bell pepper, and salt and pepper to taste. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for 5 minutes.

If serving right away: Make four evenly spaced indentations in the stew and crack one egg into each hollow. Cover the skillet and gently cook for several more minutes until the whites are set and yolks are soft-cooked. Transfer to shallow bowls. Sprinkle with parsley.

If making ahead of time: Let the stew cool, transfer it to an airtight container, and refrigerate until needed. In the morning, heat a portion of the stew in a small pan. Make an indentation in the center, crack an egg into it, cover the pan, and cook until the white is set and the yolk is soft-cooked. Transfer to a shallow bowl. Sprinkle with parsley.

Serve with warm pita bread. Makes 4 servings.