The Chairman’s Coconut Rice Pudding

Hip decor. Mediocre food.

If you happen to be in the Arts District of downtown L.A., you might be tempted to try The Chairman, an Asian fusion restaurant specializing in bao (steamed buns filled with meat). And if you’re lactose-intolerant, you might get excited about their dairy-free rice pudding.


First off, the bao is highly overrated. Almost every meat filling on the menu is too sweet, dry and bland. But the dessert was the biggest disappointment because it’s hard to find dairy-free rice pudding and this one looked so delicious. I mean, look at this beauty!


It’s made with coconut milk instead of dairy. I’ve eaten and made quite a few desserts that contain coconut milk, and many are great — for instance, the hot chocolate I made last Christmas that converted even my coconut-milk-hating husband.

But what I learned from The Chairman’s rice pudding is that dairy-free desserts must have a strong flavor (like chocolate) to mask the flavor of the coconut milk. This pudding tastes overwhelmingly of coconut. Maybe some people enjoy that. I’m not a fan. I want my rice pudding to taste like vanilla and cinnamon.

I have since tried making my own rice pudding using almond milk, with better results. However, almond milk isn’t as thick as dairy or coconut milk, so the pudding comes out on the thin side. And besides, most of us are too busy to make our own rice pudding; if we’re taking the time to cook, we’re making an actual meal.

So it would be nice to find an off-the-shelf dairy-free rice pudding that tastes as good as Kozy Shack. Unfortunately, you won’t find it at The Chairman.

THE CHAIRMAN, 1200 East 5th St., Los Angeles, CA 90013


Kreation Cacao Pudding


Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and for many people, that means one thing: chocolate. If you don’t eat dairy, this can be tricky. Luckily, these days there are dairy-free options that are delicious, decadent, and even healthy.

In the summer of 2015, Kreation Organic Juicery opened on West Third Street in Los Angeles, a few blocks east of the Beverly Center. Walking by during its grand opening party, I was intrigued by the open-air layout and grassy decor, but let’s be honest, mostly by the live sitar music and couples yoga demonstration in the middle of the dining area. Pretentious or awesome? I couldn’t decide.

It wasn’t until just a couple of weeks ago that I actually tried any of Kreation’s creations. They specialize in cold-pressed juices and smoothies, but they also make desserts, which they’ve given the cute category name “Saints & Sinners.” The saints are the healthy ones with no dairy or refined sugar. The sinners… well, let’s just say they probably taste great.


I went right for the Cacao Pudding, one of the saints. What makes it different from other dairy-free puddings? It doesn’t contain any milk substitutes. The ingredient list is short and a little surprising: dark chocolate, avocado, orange juice, cacao powder, cinnamon, vanilla, maple syrup, Himalayan salt, cacao nibs.

Avocado? Orange juice? Really?

But I love how natural everything is, and the result is excellent. You’d never know there’s avocado in it, but I assume that’s what gives the pudding its thick, creamy texture. Genius. The sweetness comes from the orange juice and maple syrup. I have to say it’s a little too sweet for my taste, but I’m willing to forgive that because it’s otherwise really good. This pudding is so rich, it took me almost a week to finish it; after a few spoonfuls I would be satisfied. That is the sign of a fabulous dessert.

So, if you and your sweetie want to indulge in something chocolatey and guilt-free this Valentine’s Day, swing by Kreation and pick one of these up. And then maybe do some couples yoga in front of the other diners.

Dairy-Free Hot Chocolate


As the weather gets chilly (even in Southern California) and Christmas approaches, I start wanting hot chocolate. One of my fondest winter memories is of a blizzard we had in upstate New York, when my college friends and I played in the snow, then made hot chocolate by simmering whole milk and Hershey’s cocoa powder on the stove.

If you order hot chocolate in a restaurant or coffee shop, it’s most likely made with cow’s milk. But I just found and tested a simple and outrageously delicious hot chocolate recipe that uses coconut milk instead, so I can now make dairy-free hot chocolate at home. Hallelujah!

Here’s what I love about this hot chocolate:

  • It’s thick and creamy, not watery like instant hot chocolate.
  • The chocolate flavor is intense enough to balance the coconut flavor of the milk. (Even my husband liked it, and he hates coconut.)
  • It’s not too sweet, and just the right amount of bitter.

The recipe, which I found on the New York Times website, originally called for a meringue topping, but I omitted that part because I’m lazy. Besides, this hot chocolate is so decadent, you really don’t need to gild the lily. Although I am thinking about adding some Frangelico or Kahlua to it next time…

For this recipe, I used Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa Powder, Kara Coconut Milk, and Ghirardelli Bittersweet Chocolate Chips.


Dairy-Free Hot Chocolate Recipe

Adapted from a recipe by Melissa Clark.

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
13 to 15 ounces full-fat coconut milk
¼ cup brown sugar
Pinch salt
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate chips (about 1/4 cup)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pour 1/3 cup boiling water into a heat-proof measuring cup. Stir in cocoa powder until it dissolves.

In a saucepan, combine coconut milk, brown sugar, and salt. Simmer, stirring, until sugar is dissolved, about 2 minutes. Whisk in hot cocoa and chocolate chips until smooth. Stir in vanilla. Makes 2 to 4 servings.


Go Veggie Lactose-Free Cheese Singles


I had called off the search for a dairy-free alternative to American cheese after I tried the one made by Follow Your Heart. But the other day when I was shopping at Ralphs — which doesn’t carry as many health foods as Whole Foods or Sprouts — I happened upon Go Veggie Lactose-Free Cheddar Style Singles. Although it says “cheddar” on the package, it’s more like American cheese — exactly like it, in fact. I have to say it’s as good as Follow Your Heart’s, even better in terms of how it melts.

The ultimate test for an American cheese is how it does in a grilled cheese sandwich. I’ll let these photos speak for themselves:


The cheese melts beautifully and has a smooth, gooey mouthfeel.

I also tried it mixed in with scrambled eggs. Again, the cheese melted perfectly.

Finally, I tried making nachos with it, the kind my brother and I used to make when we were kids. Every day after school, we’d spread a bunch of Doritos on a paper plate, lay a few slices of Kraft American cheese on top, and nuke it until the cheese bubbled. This time I used tortilla chips instead of Doritos, and Go Veggie slices instead of Kraft Singles. Voilá! Transported back to childhood — without the lactose.

After adding some salsa to this, it was a pretty rad snack.

The only downside to Go Veggie is that it contains a lot more ingredients than Follow Your Heart, some of which sound a little questionable. It also contains soy, which I usually avoid, but I was able to digest this cheese without a problem.


I also discovered upon researching Go Veggie that they make this cheese in a vegan version and a lactose- and soy-free version. The Ralphs I go to only had the lactose-free. But it’s encouraging to see mainstream grocery stores like Ralphs carrying any dairy-free alternatives.

Hey, in times like these, we’ve got to celebrate the little things.

The Joys of Jell-O

Lemon Jell-O

When was the last time you had Jell-O? Visiting my mom in the hospital, I went to the cafeteria for lunch and couldn’t pass up a little cup of lemon Jell-O in the refrigerator case. There’s something about cafeterias that makes me want Jell-O. I love Jell-O because it’s jewel-colored, jiggly, and dairy-free.

Unfortunately, vegans are out of luck since Jell-O contains gelatin, a protein produced from collagen extracted from boiled bones, connective tissue, and other animal products. My husband and I joke that it’s made from “horse hooves.” (This is a myth; it doesn’t contain hooves of any kind.) Gelatin is actually considered good for you, like in bone broth, which is all the rage right now.

Other than the gelatin, though, Jell-O is pretty much devoid of all nutrients. It’s basically just sugar and water. I ate tons of it recently while I was sick with the stomach flu because my digestive system couldn’t handle anything else — besides Saltines, apple juice, rice, bananas, and white bread. (The BRAT diet: it’s all sugar!) But when you’re nauseous, you gotta eat whatever you can keep down.

I have a special fondness for Jell-O because it was the first dish I ever made by myself. (I would say “cooked,” but it really doesn’t require any cooking except boiling water.) I was about ten years old, and I started by simply following the directions on the box. Pretty soon I was making Jell-O molds layered with different flavors, filled with fruit cocktail, and topped with various whipped creams. Just now I Googled and found out that a non-dairy version of Reddi-Wip exists. I need that for my next round of Jell-O!

When you’re lactose-intolerant, lots of desserts are off-limits, so I have a great appreciation for simple sweets like Jell-O. If you haven’t had it in a while, I encourage you to watch it wiggle… see it jiggle… and rediscover the joys of Jell-O.

Jamaica’s Cakes


The first time I heard of Jamaica’s Cakes was when the HBO show Curb Your Enthusiasm had a storyline about penis-shaped cakes, like the kind you see at bachelorette parties. This bakery doesn’t actually specialize in erotic cakes, but I read that Jamaica, the owner and head baker, made all the cakes that were used in that episode.

When my husband and I got married, I wanted our wedding cake to look like a giant Hostess cupcake. So we ordered exactly that from Jamaica’s. The proportions were a little off, but everyone knew what it was supposed to be — and it was absolutely delicious.

My husband and I added the Pez dispensers.

This week I finally tried one of the vegan cupcakes at Jamaica’s. The cake was moist and dense (in a good way), and the frosting was smooth, not gritty or oily. It had too much frosting for my taste — I prefer Big Sugar Bakeshop‘s frosting-to-cake ratio. But I did think that the rainbow sprinkles, along with its not quite uniform shape, gave the cupcake a fun homemade look and childlike appeal.

Jamaica’s vegan chocolate cupcake

Now for the bad news. When I asked what they used in place of butter, they told me margarine. Remember margarine, the imitation butter that was all the rage back when people thought butter was bad for you? It’s made mostly of vegetable oil, but after the oil is processed (what is known as hydrogenation), it can’t be recognized by the body. (You may remember the big ado when the no-fat “oleo” was causing “anal leakage.”)

Some margarines are now made to be more healthful, phasing out the use of hydrogenated oils. But I have to admit it still grosses me out. Even though I’m lactose-intolerant, I can handle small amounts of butter, and I would choose butter over margarine any day.

Given this, I probably won’t go back for a cupcake, but I might consider Jamaica’s if I need another custom cake. Just not a vegan one.

JAMAICA’S CAKES, 11511 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90064

Milk-Free Mashed Potatoes


I never thought about how much dairy is in mashed potatoes until one day when I ate some at a diner and felt so gut-bombed that I was curled up in a fetal position for the rest of the evening.

But it’s easy to make your own mashed potatoes without milk. I simply replace the milk with chicken broth. (If you’re a vegetarian, you can use vegetable broth instead.) The texture will be less creamy than traditional mashed potatoes, but it’ll still be smooth and tasty.

Those of you who follow my blog know that I’m a fan of butter, despite being lactose intolerant. This is a recipe that benefits greatly from the flavor of butter. Omit it at your own risk.

Milk-Free Mashed Potatoes Recipe

1 1/2 pounds potatoes (preferably Yukon Gold)
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup chicken broth
salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Peel potatoes and cut into quarters. Place them in a large stock pot and cover by two inches of water. Cover pot and bring water to a boil, cooking for 20 to 25 minutes until you can easily pierce potatoes with a fork. Drain potatoes in a colander.

Return pot to stove. Melt butter over medium-low heat. Add chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Add drained potatoes and mash with a ricer, mixing in butter and broth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir until smooth. Makes 4 side servings.

Zen Chocolate Almond Pudding


Seems like at least half the foods I loved as a kid are off-limits to me now that I don’t eat dairy. One of those is chocolate pudding. I’m not talking about fancy, gourmet pot de crème. I’m talking about those little plastic pudding cups that my mom used to put in my lunch box. What I loved about that pudding, besides its convenience, was how silky smooth it felt on my tongue. And, well… chocolate.

Shopping at Sprouts recently, I found Zen Chocolate Almond Pudding (Made with Almond Milk), a dairy-free, soy-free version of those little pudding cups. Now, let me just rant for a moment about the overuse of the word “zen” these days. It’s used on everything from massage parlors to energy drinks to medical marijuana dispensaries. Usually, when I see the word “zen” on a product, I avoid it on principle. But I had to try the dairy-free chocolate pudding, no matter what it’s called.

I’m pleased to report that despite its unfortunate packaging (which also features an illustration of a panda), this pudding rocks. It’s nice and chocolatey and, once you stir it a few times with a spoon, smooth as silk. There’s no detectable almond flavor to it. And you can’t beat the convenience.

Just a note to vegans: Before you eat this pudding, you have to eat your meat. ‘Cause, as Pink Floyd taught us, “How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?”


Big Sugar Bakeshop


I never thought I would eat a vegan cupcake unless under duress. Then I met Big Sugar Bakeshop’s vegan chocolate vanilla bean cupcake. Holy moly, a vegan baked good that is just as good as the eggs-and-butter-laden kind? How is that possible?

First, let me say that Big Sugar Bakeshop is my favorite purveyor of cupcakes, not only in Los Angeles but anywhere. Here’s why I love Big Sugar:

  • Cake is always moist and fresh.
  • Frosting is light, smooth, and not too sweet.
  • They use a reasonable amount of frosting, not a gigantic mound that overpowers the cake.
  • Decorations are cute and minimalist.
  • Cupcakes are cupcake-sized, not mini or jumbo.

On a recent visit to Big Sugar, I became curious about their vegan cupcake. I asked what was in the frosting. The answer: Earth Balance, a butter substitute made from a blend of natural oils. I was skeptical, but the guy behind the counter insisted that their vegan cupcake was immensely popular, even amongst folks who are not vegan. So I gave it a shot.

This cupcake was as chocolatey and moist as could be. In fact, the cake tasted almost exactly like their non-vegan cupcakes. As for the vanilla bean frosting, it had a smooth texture and didn’t taste artificial at all. A little heavier and less fluffy than buttercream frosting, with just a touch of oiliness. But not a deal breaker. On the contrary, the next time I went to Big Sugar, I ordered the vegan cupcake again.

You might ask why I’d do such a thing, when I’m not a vegan and I do eat butter. I have to admit that my stomach likes the vegan cupcake a little better than the regular ones. There is zero fall-out — no stomach ache, no bloat, no gas. What more can you ask for?

Well, this: more flavors of vegan cupcakes from Big Sugar. Red velvet, please!

BIG SUGAR BAKESHOP, 12182 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, CA 91604

Big Sugar’s red velvet cupcake. Hope they make a vegan one soon.

Follow Your Heart American “Cheese”


That’s right, another blog post about dairy-free cheese… ’cause I found one that rocks! When I came across Follow Your Heart American Cheese at a Sprouts grocery store, I decided to give it a shot since I had a good experience at their health food restaurant in Canoga Park. The night we went there for dinner, I wanted coffee but didn’t want to have trouble sleeping. I asked our hippie waiter whether Teeccino, a caffeine-free coffee substitute, was any good. His answer was, “Well, some people like it. Personally, I like to drink real coffee, stay up all night, and have good conversations with people.”

But I digress. This blog post is about the cheese.

The first thing I love about it is that it doesn’t contain any weird ingredients. It’s not trying to make something (like nuts) into something it’s not (cheese). The main ingredient is coconut oil — simple and good for you.

I tasted the cheese straight up, right out of the fridge. Not so great. Definitely better melted, as I discovered when I cooked some up with scrambled eggs.


The flavor is mild like American cheese, and best of all, it has a nice smooth mouthfeel. No grainy or chalky texture. No artificial aftertaste. I was so excited that I started putting the stuff on everything.

My dairy-free alternative to the Egg McMuffin.
Image 4
Turkey nachos with square (but tasty) cheese.
Image 2
Grilled cheese and tomato soup make me feel like a kid again.

Note that when melting Follow Your Heart cheese, it doesn’t look melted the way a real cheese does. The little squares of cheese I put on the nachos never lost their square shape. The grilled cheese didn’t get that gooeyness like in a Kraft ad. I kept wondering if it needed more heat. But it was actually melted, and tasted so.

Big thumbs-up for Follow Your Heart American cheese. I’ll be getting this one again.