Vegan Pumpkin Pie Frozen Yogurt

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You know it’s fall because the Pumpkin Spice Latte is back in full force. But it’s not just the PSL… everything seems to be pumpkin-flavored right now. Even frozen yogurt.

The Yogurt Shoppe in Brentwood had four vegan flavors the day I went there. Not a bad selection. I sampled three of them, and though they were all good, the best was the pumpkin pie. Imagine pumpkin pie filling in ice cream form. I only wish they had crumbled pie crust to sprinkle on top.

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They do have a huge selection of toppings, including fresh fruit, candy, cookies, syrups and more. Everything is self-serve, even the frozen yogurt itself. You simply create your sugary monstrosity and then bring it to the cashier, who charges you by weight. If you can guess the price of your monstrosity — to the exact penny — you get it for free. If you’re not good at math, bring someone who is.

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Overall, I’d say The Yogurt Shoppe beats The Bigg Chill, that super-popular froyo joint on Westwood Boulevard. It’s got a lot more non-dairy options, for one thing. And a bigger selection of toppings. I also like that they charge by weight, because if you want a small portion you’re not stuck with a giant cup that costs $5.

The vegan pumpkin pie froyo is a seasonal flavor only available for a limited time, so if you’re a pumpkin fanatic, put down the PSL and get over to The Yogurt Shoppe, pronto.

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THE YOGURT SHOPPE, 11726 Barrington Ct., Los Angeles, CA 90049

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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.

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!

Jasmine Lime Tea Cooler

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My favorite beverage at Peet’s Coffee & Tea used to be the jasmine lime tea cooler, a refreshingly sweet and tart iced tea they offered during the summer. Unfortunately, they took it off the menu years ago, which left me and many other fans of this drink bereft.

A friend of mine used to work as a barista at Peet’s and told me the recipe: iced jasmine green tea mixed with Lime Odwalla. Alas, the Lime Odwalla has also mysteriously disappeared from shelves.

So I decided to make my own jasmine lime tea cooler, using fresh lime juice in place of the Lime Odwalla. I use honey as a sweetener. The key is to sweeten the tea while it’s hot (so that the honey dissolves more easily), rather than trying to sweeten the lime juice.

If you find the drink is still too tart for your taste, you can add more honey or sugar later, but make sure you stir it really well. Better yet, use simple syrup.

A pitcher of this iced tea will get you through the hottest days of late summer. Enjoy!

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I use Numi organic tea, but any jasmine tea will do.

JASMINE LIME TEA COOLER RECIPE

3 1/2 cups water
3 jasmine green tea bags
2 tablespoons honey, or more to taste
1/2 cup fresh lime juice (about 2 or 3 limes)

Place tea bags in a 1-quart glass pitcher. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Pour over tea bags and let steep for 4 minutes.

Remove tea bags. Add honey to the tea; stir until it dissolves. Refrigerate the tea for a few hours until chilled.

Add lime juice and 1 1/2 cups cold water; stir well. Serve over ice. Makes 4 cups.

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Horchata… Dairy-Free, as It Should Be

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I always thought horchata was safe for a lactose-intolerant person like me, since it’s traditionally made with rice milk. But more and more often, when I encounter horchata in L.A. and ask to make sure it’s dairy-free, the answer is no. In many cases, it contains evaporated milk, making it more like a shake than an aqua fresca.

A few days ago I read an article in the Food section of the Los Angeles Times that explains why: Even though real horchata doesn’t have dairy, “it’s easier, cheaper and involves less labor to use cow milk because you get that creamy texture without all the work of soaking, blending, then straining out the rice.”

Having just made my own horchata using a recipe printed in the article, I can say that it’s not that much work. The hardest part is remembering to make it a day ahead so it has time to soak. Straining the horchata isn’t a big deal if you have a good mesh strainer and some cheesecloth handy.

I’m grateful to live in an area where I can find things like Morelos rice and canela (Mexican cinnamon) in the international section of my supermarket. But if you can’t, just use long-grain white rice and regular cinnamon.

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A popular variation in L.A. is the “dirty horchata,” a combination of horchata and espresso. I made my own version using half horchata and half Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, because that’s what I had on hand. It was delicious.

MORELOS RICE HORCHATA RECIPE (DAIRY-FREE)
Adapted from the Los Angeles Times

2 cups uncooked Morelos rice
1 stick canela (Mexican cinnamon)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup dark brown sugar or honey
4 cups filtered water
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Combine all the ingredients in a blender and purée on high for 30 seconds to break up the rice. Turn off the blender and refrigerate the mixture in the blender overnight, or at least 8 hours.

When ready to serve, re-blend the mixture. Pour it through a fine mesh strainer, then pour it through a layer of cheesecloth to remove any remaining sediment. Taste and add more sugar, if you like. Serve the horchata over ice and sprinkle with ground cinnamon to garnish. Makes 4 servings.

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Homemade dirty horchata

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