An Incentive to Stop Eating Cheese

I read in the paper today that the cost of cheese is skyrocketing. People have apparently been stockpiling cheese during the pandemic, in addition to Oreo cookies. God knows I’ve done my share of stress-eating over the past three months, and my waistline shows it. But the quarantine has also given me the opportunity to cook more homemade meals and not all of them have been regretful. I recently recommitted to eating more healthfully — and that includes my ongoing quest to eat dairy-free.

So when I saw the headline about expensive cheese, I thought, “What a great incentive to stop eating cheese.” Quarantine cooking doesn’t have to mean cheesy casseroles. Comfort food can be cheeseless. For those of you who are considering going dairy-free but can’t imagine life without cheese, I assure you it can be done.

Instant ramen, jazzed up with soft-cooked egg, bok choy, scallions, and leftover pork.

Of course, there are some comfort foods that don’t make sense without cheese — for instance, pizza, mac-n-cheese, or grilled cheese sandwiches. For those cravings, I’d encourage you to try the many dairy-free cheese alternatives out there. I personally like Daiya shreds for things like pizza. You can read my review of Daiya shreds here.

But other foods, like burgers and most sandwiches and salads, are just fine without cheese. It may take a little while to shift your thinking on this if you’re a diehard cheeseburger fan. But the truth is, most burgers already have enough flavor — there’s the beef, ideally flame-broiled, which is delicious in itself. Then there are a multitude of toppings. I just ate a takeout burger the other day that had bacon, grilled onions, arugula, and garlic aioli on it. Believe me, I did not miss the cheese.

Here are some other cheese-free foods I’ve made during quarantine. I hope they inspire you.

Grilled hot links, spicy collard greens, and potato salad.
The bougie breakfast: avocado toast.
The British breakfast: toad in the hole.
I now have a daily espresso habit.
OK, so this coffeecake isn’t dairy-free, but I just had to show it off!

Another Blog Bites the Dust

Just before the holidays, I decided to take a break from writing this blog. During the break, I had a chance to do some careful reflection about both my eating habits and the blog itself. What I realized is that, after nearly four years of weekly posts, the time has come to put Dairy-Free To Be You and Me to rest. Here’s why.

First, let me be honest: It’s been hard to find material. Although new dairy-free alternatives are showing up all the time, many of them are similar, and I’ve started to feel like a broken record. The last thing I want to do is “jump the shark,” like Fonzie did on those water skis. Better to admit I’ve run out of ideas.

Second, at the risk of being a cliché, I have embarked on a New Year’s resolution to eat more healthfully. For me, this means cutting back on carbohydrates and sugar. What I’ve noticed is that most dairy-free alternatives are paired with foods I shouldn’t be eating anyway — like pizza, grilled cheese, bagels, ice cream and other desserts. In my attempt to find material for the blog, I have actually brought more of these foods into my life.

Some of the sugary gifts we received this Christmas.

Giving up the blog will free up more of my time for healthy pursuits. I remember hearing an interview with Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, in which he said that if people stopped watching cooking shows and spent that time actually cooking instead, they’d be eating a lot better. What will I do with the time I used to spend researching and writing this blog? Perhaps cooking that extra vegetable dish or prepping stuff for salads. Because the only thing keeping me from eating more salads is all that damn chopping.

Before I go, I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite dairy-free items, the ones I have come back to again and again. Consider it a “greatest hits” list.

Daiya “Cutting Board Collection” Dairy-Free Cheese Shreds
Ben & Jerry’s Non-Dairy Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
Magnum Non-Dairy Chocolate-Dipped Ice Cream Bars
Peet’s Almond Milk Latte
Nutella Latte at Republic of Pie
Lebanese Rose Milk Tea at Labobatory
Dole Whip

Thank you to all my faithful readers. I’ve enjoyed sharing this space with you, and I wish you the best of luck in your dairy-free adventures.

Halloween 2019
Me as Freddie Mercury, singing “Another Blog Bites the Dust.”

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…

Simple Truth Organic Vegan Pizza Crust


This time, a pizza crust that is truly dairy-free! The Boboli crust I used the last time turned out to contain milk and cheese, so I went on a mission to find a vegan crust that tastes just as good.

I found one made by Simple Truth Organic, a Kroger house brand. It’s super-thin, more like a flatbread than a pizza — but it still has more of a doughy quality than the gluten-free crusts I’ve tried, which were as hard and dry as a cracker.


This time I used Classico Traditional Pizza Sauce.  It has a nice tanginess and a not-too-watery consistency. Then I piled on the toppings I had on hand: prosciutto, sliced mushrooms, chopped red onion and, of course, Daiya Mozzarella Style Shreds.

Unfortunately, I didn’t heed the instructions on the pizza crust package to bake at 400 degrees. Instead, because I like my pizza crispy, I cooked it at a blazing 500 degrees and ended up burning the edges.


It was still good, though!

As a former New Yorker, I’ve always liked my pizza on the thin side, so this crust works for me. If you’re more of a Chicago pizza kind of person, this isn’t the crust for you. But if you’re looking for a dairy-free, vegan crust that doesn’t have the texture of matzo, you might want to give this one a try.

Homemade Dairy-Free Pizza

Half of a pizza made with mini Boboli crust.

I used to think making a pizza would be a pain. Sure, it’s a lot easier to pick up the phone and order one from Domino’s. But if you don’t eat dairy, ordering a pizza becomes more complicated, because most of the pizzerias that offer dairy-free cheese — like Blaze or Pieology — aren’t that convenient.

So that’s why I decided to make my own pizza, using a pre-made Boboli crust (*see update below), generic pizza sauce in a jar, and Daiya Mozzarella Style Shreds. Guess what? It was a cinch. No driving to the pizzeria, standing in line, and hoping the person who constructed my pizza got the toppings right. I made my own pizza in about five minutes and ate it while it was piping hot.

Boboli makes mini crusts, too, which is what you see in the picture above. These are great for personal-size pizzas — handy when not everyone in the house wants dairy-free cheese. The Daiya shreds don’t melt quite the same as real cheese, but they taste pretty good. So far they’re the best approximation of mozzarella I’ve tried.


I made a dairy-free version of my favorite pizza: sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers, and red onions. But I can foresee more adventurous pizzas in my future — perhaps prosciutto, cherry tomatoes, and fresh basil? A Mexican-inspired pizza topped with carnitas and Daiya Pepperjack Style Shreds? A “Joe’s omelet” pizza with ground beef and spinach? A while ago I even made a chicken curry pizza using naan for the crust. The possibilities are endless.

Best of all, this is a fun weeknight meal that yields easy-to-reheat leftovers. There’s no recipe to follow — just pile the toppings on your crust and bake in a very hot oven (preferably 500 degrees F) until the cheese melts and the crust is browned.

The rule of thumb is to layer the toppings so the ones that need the most cooking (like raw vegetables) are nearest the top. Feel free to go nuts with seasonings, too; a generous sprinkling of garlic powder, crushed red pepper, dried basil and oregano, and coarse sea salt will bring your pizza to a new level.

UPDATE: One of my readers pointed out that Boboli crusts do, in fact, contain milk and cheese. As I’m not allergic to dairy (only lactose-intolerant), I failed to notice this — there isn’t enough lactose in Boboli crusts to cause any issues for me. But if you are allergic, there are dairy-free pizza crusts available. Many are also gluten-free, and unfortunately, I’ve never had a gluten-free pizza that I actually liked. If I find a good crust that is suitable for dairy-allergic folks, I will let you know.

Joe’s Pizza, Now with Vegan Cheese


If this pizza doesn’t look quite right, that’s because it’s got vegan cheese on it. Despite its uninspiring appearance, this pizza got me excited — Joe’s Pizza was my favorite when I lived in New York. They opened a chain in Los Angeles years ago, but only recently have they started offering vegan cheese.

One of my fondest New York memories is of ducking into Joe’s on a rainy afternoon and eating a piping-hot slice while I gazed out the window and watched people running around, getting soaked. The taste of Joe’s reminds me of that cozy feeling.

Unfortunately, you can’t get Joe’s with vegan cheese by the slice. You have to order a whole pie. With a base price of $22 per pie, that’s a far cry from the $2 slice I used to get in New York. Still, this pizza made me happy.


The best thing about Joe’s is the crust. It’s crunchy, not too thick and not too thin. It has nicely browned edges and a satisfying bready flavor. This is the crust that New Yorkers love. Does it taste better with real cheese? Yes. But Daiya vegan cheese isn’t bad.

My go-to dairy-free pizza has been Blaze, which also uses Daiya. What I like about Blaze is that you can get as many toppings as you want for no extra charge. The reason I ordered only one topping (sausage) on my Joe’s pizza is that they’re $3 each. The bill can quickly become astronomical.

But the pie was huge and I had plenty of leftovers to take home. So the next day I added my own toppings: mushrooms, spinach, red onion, red pepper flakes, oregano. In a way this is even better, because I can vary the toppings on my leftover slices and not get sick of eating the same thing over and over.


Keep in mind that not all Joe’s Pizza locations in L.A. offer vegan cheese. I visited the one in Santa Monica and they didn’t have it. But if you’re on Hollywood Boulevard and you’re  craving a New York pizza that’s dairy-free, duck into Joe’s. It probably won’t be raining, though.

JOE’S PIZZA, 6504 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90028


More Dairy-Free Pizza, Please

I’ve been dairy-free for over five years, and most of the time I don’t really miss “the deadly poison.” There are so many dairy-free alternatives now that there’s no reason to feel deprived. But every so often, I do. And usually it involves pizza.

You can get pizza with vegan cheese at “build your own” pizza restaurants like Blaze, Pieology, and MOD. But while those pizzas aren’t bad, they’re not the same as an old-school New York pizza, the kind with a thin but flavorful crust that leaves a powdery film on your hands after you fold a slice in half and sink your teeth into it.

To be honest, I haven’t had any true New York pizza in L.A. They say it’s something in the New York water that makes the pizza crusts (and bagels) so special, and that’s why you can’t get good pizza and bagels here. The closest you can get is at Mulberry Street Pizza, owned by Cathy Moriarty (the actress from Raging Bull), and Joe’s Pizza, a branch of the New York pizzeria on Bleecker and 6th Avenue that I used to live a block away from.


In researching this blog post, I discovered that Joe’s Pizza in L.A. now offers Daiya vegan mozzarella on their whole pies. Finally! This is a recent development, and one that I hope more pizzerias follow suit on. (Mulberry Street, I’m talking to you.) It would be great if you could get these by the slice as well.

When I get a hankering for pizza, sometimes I don’t want to go to a “build your own” pizzeria and deal with the assembly line. Sometimes I want to go to an old-fashioned Italian restaurant with red-and-white checkered tablecloths and candles in chianti bottles. And sometimes I want to just pick up the phone and order a pie from the closest Domino’s.

I dream of a day when every pizzeria, from Domino’s to the fanciest Italian restaurant, offers dairy-free cheese as a matter of course. It’s really not that hard.

The Stalking Horse Vegan Caesar Salad


One of the dishes I’ve missed most since giving up dairy is Caesar salad. It’s one of those foods that is really hard to do without dairy because it relies heavily on cheese — Parmesan cheese, to be exact. You just don’t see a lot of dairy-free imitations of Parmesan. Who knows why? Maybe it’s a flavor that’s difficult to capture. This is why so much Italian food is now, sadly, off limits to me. I feel like crying every time I see spaghetti carbonara on a menu.

But The Stalking Horse, my favorite neighborhood pub, has a lot of vegan options, and one of them is a dairy-free Caesar salad. Most of the vegan dishes I’ve had there have been excellent. The Caesar salad, not so much.

I have to give it five stars for appearance, though. I mean, look at that thing! It appears to be the perfect, quintessential Caesar, dotted with fat croutons and heaped with a snowdrift of grated Parmesan… well, what looks like Parmesan. I ordered the optional white anchovy fillets, which were laid atop the salad in a criss-cross shape. I always say that how food looks is very important. If we eat with our eyes first, then my first taste of this salad was heavenly.

But my pleasure did not continue. This salad was like a guy who looks great on his Tinder profile but turns out to be boring as fuck IRL. The problem is that the fake Parm tastes nothing like Parm. There’s no sharpness, no cheesiness. It’s just… bland. If it weren’t for the toasty, crunchy croutons and the salty anchovies, this salad would’ve been a complete dud. A quarter of the way through, I started to feel like I was eating it for medicinal purposes only. You know, for the fiber.

I’d still recommend the Stalking Horse for many of their other offerings: juicy burgers (including the vegan Impossible Burger), meat pies with gorgeous flaky crusts, warm pretzels, dipping chips (thick-cut French fries) with vegan aioli. There are a surprising number of good things to eat there that are dairy-free. Just not the Caesar.

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


Daiya Dairy-Free Swiss Cheese Slices


Daiya makes a lot of dairy-free products and they’re not all created equal. I like to review as many of them as I can, so you’ll know which ones are worth eating and which aren’t.

When I saw Daiya’s Swiss Style Slices, I was optimistic. I love the Cheddar Style Slices in this same product line. Swiss was one of my favorite cheeses back in my dairy-eating days — it’s the only cheese I would want in a turkey, pastrami, or corned beef sandwich. I started having fantasies of being able to eat chicken cordon bleu and double-decker Reubens.


I tried not to be bothered by the appearance of this “cheeze.” Its uniform roundness and lack of distinctive holes that Swiss cheese is known for make this stuff look like it was manufactured on an assembly line. It reminds me of Oscar Mayer bologna, that round “mystery meat” cold cut that I loved as a child. I used to fold the circle into quarters and strategically take bites out of it so when I opened it back up, it would look like a snowflake. Ah, fun with processed foods.

But I digress. Daiya’s Swiss “cheeze” unfortunately tastes as artificial as it looks. It melts as nicely as Daiya’s cheddar slices, but it has a decidedly weird, chemical aftertaste. It was so unappealing I threw out the package after trying only one slice, in a ham-and-Swiss omelet.

So much for the dairy-free chicken cordon bleu. For now.

If you’d like to read my other reviews of Daiya products, click on the Daiya tag below.

Cassell’s Vegan Gluten-Free Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie


I consider myself a burger snob, and Cassell’s Hamburgers, an upscale lunch counter in Koreatown (downstairs from the Hotel Normandie), is one of the few burger restaurants that I actually get excited about. Not just because their beef patties are flavorful, juicy, and cooked to order, but because they have vegan cheese! That means I can get a dairy-free Patty Melt — a burger on rye bread with grilled onions and American cheese, a classic that I love not just because it’s got my name in it.

But Cassell’s is also known for its delicious homemade pies, and I was super-excited to try its vegan (and gluten-free) pie: the chocolate peanut butter pie. You can never go wrong with the chocolate and peanut butter combo. Even E.T. couldn’t resist it.


The chocolate filling in this pie is the best thing about it. It’s silky-smooth and rich. The server didn’t know what it was made of, but I assume it wasn’t soy-based because I had no trouble digesting it. The peanut butter frosting and chopped nuts were delish as well.

Really, the only fail was the gluten-free crust. It was hard, dense, and thin — almost like a cracker. Not flaky like a pie crust should be. The server told me it’s made from oats soaked in apple juice. There you go.


I get annoyed when restaurants offer only one “alternative” dessert, lumping all dietary restrictions together. For people like me who are lactose-intolerant but eat gluten, I would like a pie that’s dairy-free but has a regular crust made of flour.

That said, Cassell’s does have more dairy-free, vegan, and vegetarian options than most burger joints and diners like it. So I’ll keep going for those dairy-free cheeseburgers and hope they add more dairy-free desserts to their menu.

CASSELL’S HAMBURGERS, 3600 W. 6th St., Los Angeles, CA 90020