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?

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!

I don’t eat pasta sauce from a jar anymore

Because my home-made is waaaay better. There is a key ingredient in mine that is not in store-bought sauce that shames them into the shadows. It’s…well, I’ll get to that in a minute. It’s not a secret or anything.

pasta sauce base

My sauce recipe is as follows:

  • 2 cans tomato sauce
  • 1 can petite diced tomato
  • 2 jars sliced mushrooms, rinsed well of brine
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • spices: Italian herb seasoning, granulated garlic (I also add garlic paste at the beginning sometimes, then scale back the powder), sea salt, and pepper.
  • butter and olive oil (for sauteing the onions and mushrooms)
  • Woodbridge Cabernet Sauvignon

That last ingredient is what I think sets mine apart, and makes the most heavenly aroma I think there is on this earth. I start by melting some butter at med-high to high heat in a medium sauce pan with a dash of oil. I got this tip from a cooking show that the butter gives it flavor, and the oil raises the smoke point, which allows for higher heat cooking. Once the butter is melted, I add the onion with a little s&p, sauteing until lightly browned and starting to turn translucent. Then I add the mushrooms and some more spices, and continue cooking for about 2 minutes. I then add roughly a quarter–a third of a cup of the wine. I let this simmer for a few minutes, stirring until the wine has been mostly absorbed by the mushrooms and onion. I tell you, if a man walked by me smelling like the aroma created at that moment….well, I probably can’t tell you! Ha!

After the wine’s been absorbed, I add the can of diced tomatoes, juice and all. I stir that for a minute or two, then add the two other cans of sauce. I then season liberally (really, you think you’re adding too much, but you’re not) with the spices. I’m guessing I add about two tablespoons of the spices, all together. I stir the mixture together and bring it to a low boil. Turn the heat down to medium or med-low, and let it go for at least 20 minutes, the longer the better, but no more than 40-45 minutes. Stirring throughout, of course.

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When it’s done, I usually add it to browned ground beef, meatballs, or sliced sausage. It is excellent with Caramelized Onion flavor chicken sausage meatballs. Pour it over pasta, or use it to top sliced and toasted bread.  Happy eating!

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.

My favorite smothie

Being lactose intolerant, finding the work around for dairy has become a part-time job. Thankfully, there are companies like Earth Balance, Whole Soy Co., So Delicious, Daiya, and many others, that have created great products that taste pretty damn close to the real thing. In most cases, you can’t tell it’s not dairy. That makes living dairy free a lot easier and not quite so limiting as when I first figured out that it was dairy making me sick.

One of the things that I love making now that I can is a fruit smoothie. I take two 6 oz vanilla (or one of the berry flavors), about 1.5-2 cups of frozen mixed berries, and about .5 cup frozen mango chunks, and blend them together with some honey to taste. When I started doing these, I realized that my parent’s 15+ year old blender wasn’t cutting it–figuratively and literally, I was getting huge chunks, no blending, and there was a burning smell whenever I used the blender. So we bought a new one. Again, I started having problems. With this one, the blades had a hard time thoroughly mixing my ingredients and pureeing all of the fruit. In fact, it would blend the bottom section, but a full 1 inch layer sat on top of it, immobile. So I took to sticking in a rubber spatula (mostly carefully, we do have a rather mangled and misshapen spatula now that I’m told I will be taking with me when I move out) and gently guiding the rest of the mix into stream. Finally, the last time I made a smoothie, I got so fed up I vowed the next time I wanted one I was going to try using the food processor.

smoothie

Well, this time I used the processor and it was beautiful. And delicious. And way more than I expected! Oh well. In this case, there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing. Spread out over a couple of days, it’s filled in the time between my trips to Whole Foods to stock up on yogurt.