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?

National Eat Your Noodles Day

Another gem from Steff Dechenes’ Eat the Year is today’s holiday. When I saw this on the calendar, I knew I had to do a post about noodles. Noodles are one of my favorite foods. Mushrooms will always take the cake on that, followed closely by garlic. Noodles are up there, though. Pasta with marinara, buttered noodles, Chinese lo mein, Thai pad thai noodles, it’s all good. Also, ramen! Which brings me to what I wanted to share most for today’s holiday.

On one of my recent trips to Whole Foods, I came across Annie Chun’s Spring Vegetable Ramen. It’s a packet of soup base and soft-dry noodles that you can customize yourself with protein and veggies.

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The first time I made it, I had just made my snow pea and mushroom concoction the night before and had some left overs. I added those after I tried the ramen on its own. The ramen and broth are really flavorful. Without any veg or protein, it definitely doesn’t feel like a meal, so that’s something to consider when you make it. Adding the snow peas and mushrooms, plus the bit of their sauce/juice they created was a very nice addition.

I’ve made it a second time now and ventured to add a protein. I had some leftover rotisserie chicken, so I hand shredded one of the legs and added it in with yet again leftover snow peas and mushrooms (they really are good!). All in all, a really good meal. I’ve seen the ramen at my local Fred Meyer (Kroger group grocery) in the natural foods section. If I remember correctly it also comes in two other flavors, but I don’t remember what they are. I’d say they’re worth a try.

Review: Annas Ginger Swedish Thins

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One night, I was at the grocery store, sort of cruising the aisles. I was on a mission for chocolate. Sometimes you just get those cravings, so you slip on whatever shoes are handy and head out. It was one of those nights. On my way towards the checkout, I passed the coffee aisle and decided to check out what syrups and things they had. Nothing struck my fancy, but tucked away under the dispensaries were two stacks of these cookie boxes.

Now, I may or may not have mentioned that I am a writer (and not just of this lovely blog–you can check out my author page at rebeccalallen.wordpress.com). You may be asking yourself, what does my being a writer have anything to do with these cookies? I’m coming to that very quickly. One other thing I probably have not mentioned is that I am not a fancy person. I occasionally pretend I am, what with elaborate menus and the odd well put together outfit. But make no mistake, I am a highly unfancy person. It so happens, though, that one of the ways I let myself pretend to be fancy is when I drink coffee. I don’t know why, but drinking coffee has always seemed a very sophisticated, adult thing to do. (Being an adult is also something I occasionally let myself pretend I am, also. Ha!) It’s probably pop culture and watching my dad at work that has led to me to think of coffee this way. Here’s where the cookies come in. As I was standing looking at the boxes, it occurred to me that having something a little dainty, but still flavorful, to have alongside my coffee would be the epitome of sophisticated adultness. So I picked up a box of the ginger flavor (they also make an almond flavor, which I’ll talk about in another post) and headed home.

The mug features Shakespearean insults! A gift from my undergrad thesis advisor.

The mug features Shakespearean insults! A gift from my undergrad thesis advisor.

The next day, while I worked on my novel, I made myself up a hazelnut latte to pair with my new find. The cookies are very thin, light, and crispy. The ginger isn’t overwhelming at all, which is nice. They’re actually much more like graham crackers than ginger snaps (which is what I was expecting). They worked well with my latte, and even the cherry tea I made the next day. I would recommend trying them if you like spice cookies. Plus they come with a little desert recipe that I’ll write about in a separate post.

Dumplings!

Dumpling platter

Lately, dumplings have been my thing. I love a good food pouch of deliciousness. Also, I’m crazy for good Asian food, as they collectively use very little dairy, so it’s mostly worry-free eating. The other night, looking for some kind of easy dinner to make, I remembered that we had several packages of various dumplings, so I made myself a little platter. On the bottom, the larger dumplings are Ling Ling chicken and vegetable, boiled and then lightly fried in the accompanying sauce; the middle row are:

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And while, yes, they are not strictly dumplings, who cares? They are amazing. The wrapping is really good, and the cilantro isn’t overpowering. The top row are:

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They weren’t my favorite, but they did the job. I won’t be getting them for myself, but my parents both liked them.

All in all, it was a pretty great dinner. It made me miss the dim sum place I visited with a travel writing course, the women coming up to the table with plates of all the different offerings. That day, the broccoli with oyster sauce was my favorite. I may just have to trek into Portland and find it again!

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.

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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.

Good eats

I spent part of last weekend in Seaside, OR to visit a writing program’s residency that I’ve interned with previously. Friday night I went out for drinks with friends to this place called Dundee’s. I have to say, as kind of sluggish as our service was, it was mostly made up for by the food.

Since it was pushing 11 pm, we just got drinks and fries to share. I ordered a Sex on the Beach (one of the few cocktails I know I can enjoy anywhere) that ended up being rather strong and got me a little buzzed.

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It’s such a pretty drink. To go along with the drinks, they brought out the best fries I have ever had. We got a basket of sweet potato fries and garlic fries. Oh man, the garlic fries! To die for! Especially with a little barbecue sauce. All the noms.

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My mouth is watering just looking at these. I want to go back!

sweet potato fries

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.

Review: Daiya Mushroom and Roasted Garlic Pizza (dairy & gluten & soy free)

I want to start this blog post off saying first, I am not being sponsored by Daiya to write this blog, and second, I don’t intend to fill my blog with product reviews. I will occasionally write about products I come across/use that I think might be helpful for others to know about . Alright, so yesterday I made my monthly trek to Whole Foods to stock up on my dairy free foods. I say trek because it’s a 20-25 minute drive each way, and I say stock up because I usually buy between 12-16 yogurts in one go, plus multiples of the other things that are only carried at WF. While I was shopping for some strawberry ice cream bars, I turned to see one of the greatest sights someone who is allergic to dairy can see: dairy-free pizza by a trusted brand. I’ve been using Daiya cheese products for a few months now (mostly the cream cheese spread–heaven!), but I had never seen the pizzas before. I grabbed the mushroom and roasted garlic flavor, as well as the fire-roasted vegetable flavor, without even looking to see how much they were. I had to try them.

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Before I get into the full review, I want to tell you if you’re going to look for these for yourself, they are likely going to be a bit spendy. I paid about $10 each for mine. If you’re used to buying specialty diet friendly food, you know that it’s common for them to be a bit pricier than the “conventional” items. That’s never sat well with me, being charged more for a condition that I had no say in, but I get that there is money that goes into product development and there’s a smaller consumer base for the products. It’s all good. I get to eat pizza and yogurt and milk and cream cheese without being doubled over in pain, wishing for death (if you’ve read my blog about food allergies, you know I’m not exaggerating).

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Last night, I decided I needed to try one of the pizzas. I set my oven to 475 degrees like the instructions said (my first thought was that I don’t think I’ve ever set my oven that high), and waited. It went in, and I waited again.

Frozen

Frozen

Baked

Baked

The range for baking times is 10 to 15 minutes. I took it out after 10, but I think I should have left it in for a bit more. Maybe 12 or 13 minutes. It wasn’t cold anywhere, but I think the crust could have used a bit more time. Besides that, I really enjoyed the pizza. The crust is gluten-free, which I don’t personally have to worry about, but it’s nice if I decide to share with my GF friend. It’s also a better GF taste than I’ve had before. It’s a thin crust (obviously because it’s GF), and I tend to like my crusts thicker and doughier, but it really was pretty good. The sauce was well spiced and not overbearing. The mushrooms and garlic were great. And the cheese, well it was pretty good too. It’s a blend of Daiya’s mozzarella and a bit of their cheddar, and I think I wouldn’t have added the cheddar. But then again, it may need the cheddar balance. It was good enough that I’m looking forward to the veggie pizza in the next week, probably.

I have to say, though, the best thing about this pizza was the lack of worry. It is so awesome to be able to bite into a piece of pizza without scraping off the cheese first or worrying that I didn’t get it all. I could just eat and enjoy. For that, the pizza was worth every penny.