The creamy taste test

I am on a quest to find the perfect hazelnut latte recipe to make at home. Like many, I really like a good latte from Starbucks, but it’s just too expensive to enjoy regularly. So I developed my own taste test to try out what seems to be the most important variable in the latte: the creamer/milk.

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My three contenders: Silk original creamer, So Delicious original coconut milk creamer, Silk soy milk

I brewed myself a mug of decaf coffee (can’t do caffeine, unfortunately), and poured a bit into three glasses. In turn, I added each creamer to their respective glass.

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When I started making coffee at home in the fall, I began using the So Delicious hazelnut. But when I order my latte from Starbucks, it’s made with soy milk (I don’t know which brand they use). I was prepared for anything to work. What surprised me was that neither of those won the taste test. The Silk original creamer came out on top with the best flavor and mouth feel. It’s smooth and lends itself well to adding in spices and other flavors. Overall, best of the three. Now it’s on to perfecting the rest of the recipe. I bought some Sugar in the Raw, a hazelnut syrup, and a new brew of hazelnut coffee. I will report back!

Review: Dairy free cheeses

As many of you know, I am lactose intolerant. I’ve written about it here before. I’m constantly on the hunt for dairy alternatives that taste good. On one of my last trips to Whole Foods, I decided I’d grab a bunch of the different offerings and try them out. I was tired of going without just because of my intolerance.

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Starting in the lower left and going clockwise: Treeline treenut cheese in the scallion flavor, Parma! vegan Parmesan, Lisanatti Ricecheeze cheese alternative sticks, Tesse mozzarella log.

Treeline: Made from cashews, this was a nice soft cheese style, very spreadable. I tried this on some pita chips and the scallion flavor was a bit overpowering to start. I let it sit in the fridge a few days before trying it again, which mellowed it out considerably. It wasn’t a favorite, but I’d consider getting it again. With that in mind, I also tried the garlic and herb flavor. That was amazing! It goes really well on chips like a dip. It also mellowed after a few days, but it wasn’t so overpowering to start like the scallion was. The downside, though, is that it’s a bit of a spendy item.

Parma: Holy dairy-free cow, Batman! This is made with walnuts and nutritional yeast, but it hits all the notes of a good hard Parmesan. I add it to basically any noodle dish and it’s instantly tastier. It happens to be really good on EarthBalance’s dairy free mac and cheese. Like crazy good. I’m on my second bottle, and even my mom has started using it (she notoriously dislikes the faux cheese products I have). I cannot say enough good things about this. I works well in red sauce, as any good parm would, as well as on just plain buttered noodles. I can’t believe I’ve gone without this for so long!

Lisanatti Ricecheeze: This rice based string cheese style cheese stick fooled my mom. She couldn’t tell the difference between it and real string cheese. I have to say that it is hands down the best alternative cheese taste I’ve ever had. And it’s such a handy snack! Highly recommend trying this.

Tesse: I always feel a bit bad giving a negative review, but I have to with this one. I don’t remember what this is made out of, but whatever it is tasted horrible. I bought it hoping to grate it for a pizza, especially since it mentions on the packaging that it melts and stretches. It does melt pretty well, and there’s a decent stretch to it, but it’s got the consistency of some kind of chemical putty. Almost like softened silly putty. Very rubbery, and an awful smell to it. I tried it both fridge fresh and heated, both equally bad.

Overall, it was a good taste test. The Parma and Ricecheeze were resounding successes, and the Treeline, while needing a few tweaks, worked out well too. Has anyone found a good dairy alternative cheese that works well to make pizza?

Embrace the vegan

I don’t live a vegan life, but I do embrace the vegan cooking I’ve come across. Mostly it’s good because it’s dairy free and whoever’s made it has found a tasty alternative to dairy. Such as this chocolate mousse parfait I picked up from Whole Foods.

vegan chocolate parfait WF

When you think of vegan food, is that what you imagine? You should. This is entirely vegan. It’s chocolate cake, layered first with vanilla cream, then topped with chocolate mousse. There was also a raspberry on top, but I snapped that up before remembering I wanted to share this with you. I picked this up at my local Whole Foods (life savers, they are).

It was incredibly rich, so I spread it out over a few days. It felt a bit like eating an adult-sanctioned mud cup. (If you’re unfamiliar, they are cups filled with chocolate pudding, topped with crushed oreos and a gummy worm or two.) Always a fun way to end the day and satisfy a chocolate craving.

Exciting new find!

There’s a reason I love bookstores: you can walk in without a book in mind and leave with exactly what you need.

One of the biggest pluses of living outside Portland is easy access to Powell’s City of Books. If you’ve never been, it’s a building that takes up a whole city block, filled to bursting with used and new books. Nirvana.

Yesterday, I spent a few hours there with my friend Jason and found this amazing book:

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The Cheesy Vegan, by John Schlimm.

It has recipes for how to make fifteen different cheeses! Plus recipes for using the cheeses you make. I may be on a budget, but after checking out some of the recipes, it became a must-buy.

Now, since it’s a brand new book for me, I haven’t tried out any of its contents. I have faith, though, that things will work out.

Anybody had any success whipping up their own dairy free/vegan cheeses? Any tips you know? Any would be much appreciated.

Experiment: Dairy free cheesecake

I think I’ve written previously that the one food I’ve missed most since going dairy free is cheesecake. That topped with fruit is the perfect dessert. In fact, it was a contender to replace traditional cake when I get married. But that is not to be.

In my quest to find substitutes for dairy, I came across this recipe from Daiya.

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I used an organic graham cracker crust, 9 inches, from Whole Foods instead of rummaging around for my spring form pan. Aside from that minor alteration, I followed the recipe to the tee.

After letting it set for five hours, I cut in. The texture was spot on. As expected, the crust was great. But the taste of the filling…I don’t really know what to think. The recipe uses Daiya’s dairy free cream cheese style spread, which I’ve used on bagels before and like well enough. In the cheesecake, the predominant flavor is of the spread. I expected that, but I was hoping that the lemon juice, vanilla, and sugar would mellow it. They didn’t.

I read through the comments on the site of the recipe and a few people suggest adding sugar to help cut the spread taste. I haven’t decided whether I want to go through all of the work again to make it if it doesn’t make it significantly better. Mixing it all wasn’t hard, but getting the coconut butter the right consistency was frustrating. Perhaps it not being in the right state affected the taste, but I can’t imagine it would be too strong a factor.

Has anybody else made a dairy free cheesecake? Any tips?

My first time at Red Lobster

Yesterday was my dad’s birthday, and as usual we went out to dinner. The past few years we’ve gone to McCormick and Schmick’s. A birthday is always our excuse for going a little bigger than we would otherwise, especially when it comes to dad.

This year, we changed things up a bit. Our last visit to M&S’s was disappointing for some, so dad decided on Red Lobster. I was a little hesitant, as I am most times I visit a new restaurant, until I checked out the menu online. Not only do I have my dairy restrictions to consider, but I’m also not big on seafood. I love shrimp, unsure of crab and most fish, and I’d never had lobster before. But I found a few things I could go with and thought I’d enjoy myself eating out for once.

I was more than right. First off, while I’m hardly a drinker, I do love a good daiquiri and they make a great Mango Berry Daiquiri.

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I ended up with two of these over the course of dinner. They were so good! The mango took over most of the flavor profile, but I happen to love mango, so it wasn’t overpowering to me. What was best about the drink was that there wasn’t even a hint of the rum it contained. Part of why I don’t drink very often is I can’t stand the taste of alcohol (and it’s really flipping expensive). So to find a drink like the daiquiri is nice.

What also made for a good meal was what I ordered. I got a plate of the garlic-grilled shrimp and the peppercorn sirloin, with a side of wild rice pilaf. All of it was so tasty. The shrimp wasn’t overly buttery, my medium-rare sirloin was tender and flavorful (and not terribly peppery as I feared it would be), and the rice pilaf was a nice twist on what I usually get in a rice dish.

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(The shrimp had been skewered, but I was eager to eat and forgot about sharing the artful plate with you all until they had been freed of their wooden impalement.)

Lastly, to top off a nice meal, I finally tried lobster. I get it. I really do. It’s awesome! My mom was generous to share a couple bites of the tail she got, both with and without butter. Obviously it was better with, but I did enjoy it without. I didn’t ask to try anyone’s crab, but dad let me try my hand at cracking one of his claws. Not an experience I feel the need to repeat unless necessary.

Perhaps one day I will be brave and try my hand at making lobster myself. I have a feeling I will be much like Julie Powell in Julie and Julia (the film version, I haven’t read the book).

I want to end this with a shout out to our waitress Jen (at the Vancouver location). She was a great server and we had a great time chatting with her. She seemed to really enjoy her job, which is always nice to see. I know it’s not always easy to be warm and smiling in service jobs (having been in one myself years ago), so I appreciate those who make a point of going above the expectation like she did.

Another time I will share something about her and what it means for her job that I find fascinating.

Review: Aidells chicken meatballs

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First, let me stress that this isn’t a sponsored post. Much like my Daiya pizza post, I’m simply sharing something I’ve used that I really love.

I came across these chicken meatballs while I was shopping with my dad at Costco last week. Whenever I see something like these that look like they’ll be tasty, I first check ingredients for dairy. More and more premade meatballs are stuffed with a bit of cheese or whey for flavor. Obviously, that’s a big no-no for me. But these are different. No dairy, not even a whisper of it! Yay! Plus, they are made with all organic products, leaving out any weird additives and preservatives. Double yay!

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So to prepare these, I baked them in a 350 degree oven for about ten minutes, and then added them to my homemade pasta sauce to have over rigatoni. I tried one before I added them all to the sauce and wasn’t disappointed. Juicy and flavorful. The garlic wasn’t overpowering and the basil was just right. So good. Then in the sauce, they transformed. I don’t mean to pay myself on the back, but I make a great sauce. When the two combined, well, it was just perfect.

I would definitely recommend these if you’re looking for good, dairy-free (or not) chicken meatballs. They could be great, too, on a toothpick at a party.

The Mecca of GF, Diary-free bakeries

Back to Eden in Portland, OR, I bow to you.

Admittedly, I have only been to one dairy-free, GF bakery. But I may never have to go to another as long as I live within driving distance of Back to Eden. Holy nondairy cow.

I don’t know how many of you have to live dairy-free or GF, but let me tell you, walking into a place where you can get ANYTHING you want without worrying what’s in it…there are no words. It’s overwhelming really. Last week my friend Kelly took me for my first visit, warning me that it could be a bit shocking. I didn’t take her seriously, though, to my own detriment. Really, I thought, how mind-bending could it be? Very. If you don’t live with some kind of dietary restrictions, I don’t know that I can do it adequate justice, but imagine that you have not had some of your favorite foods for a very long time because every time (EVERY time) you do, they make you wish for a quick death just to end the pain in your gut. Now imagine some kind of magical, divine goddesses (i.e. the beautiful staff at Back to Eden) have made delicious, amazing, awesome in the literal sense recreations of your favorite foods that will not make you sick in the slightest (unless you eat ALL the chocolate coconut cream pies). You bow down to these people.

The only draw back, which is a totally foreseeable one, is that it’s a bit pricey, as is all dairy-free or GF food. But it’s soooo worth it. For my first trip I got:

  • pumpkin coconut cream pie
  • herb and garlic savory roll
  • cranberry cashew cheesecake (there was another flavor but my mind is drawing a blank)
  • mushroom and spinach cashew tart

And I mooched a little chocolate coconut cream pie off of Kelly.

Cranberry cashew cheesecake and pumpkin pie after tasting

Cranberry cashew cheesecake and pumpkin pie after tasting

Mushroom spinach cashew tart

Mushroom spinach cashew tart

Pumpkin pie and savory roll

Pumpkin pie and savory roll

I ate the tart at the bakery while Kelly and I chatted. The roll was gone a little while after I got home. The pumpkin pie actually lasted four or five days with me painfully pacing myself. And I think I actually have some of the cheesecake still.

I think my favorite was the pumpkin pie. It’s something that I miss a lot around this time of year. It’s always been tied with cheesecake as my favorite dessert, so it’s been hard finding workarounds for the dairy in it. None of the other dairy-free versions I’ve tried up until now have been very good. This one made me want to eat the whole thing in one go.

The mushroom tart was a very close second. It tasted exactly like a mushroom spinach quiche, with cashew product (milk or cheese, I don’t know) as the dairy step-in. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

The cheesecake was really good, but cranberry isn’t one of my favorite flavors and it’s strong in this one. What’s a true testament to its great flavor is even my mom said it tasted like “real” cheesecake. The woman working the night we went was really nice and gave me a frozen one just before we left so it didn’t melt while we hung out. I’m looking forward to trying out their other flavors.

The roll was really good too. It’s a very dense pastry. I really shouldn’t have eaten it in one night, but it was just so tasty! I think if I get it again I will break it out over a couple of days.

It’s been a little over a week since we were there, and even though my bank account wouldn’t be too happy with me, I’m itching to go back.

It’s been 3 weeks

Since I last made pumpkin bread. I’ve got three bags of the mix just sitting in my cupboard. And since I can’t have pumpkin pie tomorrow, I think it’s high time I made another loaf, don’t you?

Now, there are dairy free pumpkin pies available (there’s a frozen one I’ve picked up at Whole Foods), but really, they just don’t compare. And frankly, I just don’t have the patience, what with all of the other prep and cooking I have to do to make a dairy free one from scratch. Also, grandma bought a pecan pie from a local bakery, so I won’t be completely pie-less tomorrow.

New dairy-free finds

This past week I made my trek out to Whole Foods, and boy, did I ever find some cool dairy-free foods. For whatever reason, desserts are sometimes the hardest foods for me to find. Unlike main courses, cheese is not my enemy here. Cream is. If I were to spontaneously be able to eat dairy again, cheesecake is the first thing I would go for. But in the unlikelihood of that happening, I’ve thankfully got some good options now.

The in-house bakery at the store makes a killer vegan chocolate mouse. It’s smooth, but also very rich. I can only handle a few bites at a time. What I really like about it is that it’s also made with raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries. They aren’t an overwhelming presence but they add nicely to the flavor profile. My mom, who shies away from most of my dairy alternative foods, even said it tasted great.

My other great find was a carrot cake with a dairy alternative cream cheese frosting. This time I enlisted my grandmother to try the frosting to confirm that I was not crazy to think the frosting was indistinguishable from the real, dairy-full thing. Again, a thumbs up. Yay!

I also got a small stock going to eggnog and mint chocolate milk. Yes, I know it’s not even Thanksgiving yet. Trust me when I say that I am the LAST person you need to remind of that. I regularly refuse to engage in any holiday related things until at least a couple of days after Thanksgiving. But this year I have run into a snag. Usually this time of year I stock up on So Delicious’s Pumpkin Spice Coconut Milk. It is hands down the most delicious drink (more so than even my beloved Pumpkin Spice Lattes). But for some reason, Whole Foods hasn’t ordered it! I know it’s still being made because it’s still listed on the company’s website. And I know other people are still interested in it because the checker I asked about it said that they had gotten a good number of calls from people looking for it. I have been checking the store every few weeks since mid-September when I make the trek to restock my usual things. There’s no space for it. There are other pumpkin drinks, but they are either dairy or have caffeine (which I can’t have), so I’m left out so far. In its absence, I have turned to the nog and the mint. Don’t judge.

But, dear readers, this may be an opportunity for you to lend a helping hand to a fellow foodie: do you know of any trusty recipe to make a Pumpkin Spice Coconut Milk drink? Or do you know of a way to order it online? I would be very, very grateful!