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Author Archives: mrsnikkiv

Vegan at El Torito

This year, my bosses chose El Torito as the location for our company Christmas party.  I was a little wary about what my options would be because sometimes company parties are set menus and it can be difficult to order anything else.  In advance, I called and asked if there was a set menu.  The woman who answered the phone couldn’t answer many of my questions, but told me that she thought we could just order from the regular menu and she thought that the rice had chicken stock in it and the beans possibly had lard or cheese.  It wasn’t very helpful at all, so I started searching the internet for any information about what vegan options there may be.  I found out that she was correct, the beans and rice were not vegan.

The vegan options I found through online research are as follows:

Spinach Enchiladas, no cheese or rice or beans:  Sauteed fresh spinach, pasilla chiles, onions, pico de gallo, and fire-roasted tomatillo sauce.

Veggie Fajitas, no chile relleno:  Fresh zucchini, spinach, potatoes, peppers, carrots, squash, green beans, onions, fresh rosemary and mint leaves.

Supposedly there is a Veggie Burrito full of tasty veggies, but I couldn’t find that on the menu.

The guacamole is also vegan-safe.

I went with the Veggie Fajitas.  I didn’t take a picture because no one at work knows about my blog.  Most of them don’t understand the concept of vegan (my boss once told me about a whole, organic chicken she saw and thought I might be interested in, thinking it was vegan) and I tend to get teased in a way that your grandpa or an uncle might tease you about being vegan.

The fajitas came out on one of their sizzling skillets with the tortillas in a warm container.  I assembled them myself with generous heaps of guacamole on top.  The vegetables were julienned and the perfect size, plus they were cooked perfectly.  The rosemary and mint really added an interesting flavor dimension, too.

I surprisingly really enjoyed the meal and would be happy to return.  I just wouldn’t schedule another group meal at the El Torito in Woodland Hills because our waitress was horrendous.  She forgot to put the order in for my food, so myself and a few considerate people sitting around me had to wait a full 15 minutes after everyone was served.  She was also pretty pushy, telling me that I couldn’t get a blended margarita and bringing me one on the rocks, when people around me were able to order blended.  She even patronizingly told another diner that next time she needs to say “tostada” when she wants her salad in a taco shell.  The girl, shocked, mumbled, “but I did say tostada.”  I will definitely avoid her section if I ever go back.

Native Foods, Palm Springs

The day after Christmas this year, Eric and I went to Palm Springs for a few days to stay at a timeshare that my bosses have.  They said they know that I have been working really hard and they appreciated it.  They almost never come in anymore… I run the office and email them everything.  I know it’s really important for them to have someone they trust in the office and for me, it’s important to have bosses who appreciate me.

Before going, I hadn’t done any research into places I could eat.  The timeshare complex that we stayed at had a kitchen in each apartment along with a barbeque, so we planned to cook for ourselves a lot of the time.  One night, he barbequed and I put some vegan frozen burger patties wrapped in foil on the grill.  I topped the “chicken” patty with sriracha, guacamole, and a slice of tomato for a supremely yummy burger.

One day, we decided to go dutch for lunch, thinking that we could each get something at different nearby restaurants (we often do that when we find ourselves hungry in food courts and such), so I googled vegan restaurants in the area.  To my surprise, Native Foods popped up and was less than 2 miles from where we were staying.

Native Foods, like Veggie Grill, is a popular, pretty inexpensive vegan restaurant.  I’ve heard about it since I went vegan, but never had the chance to try it.  They have a few locations that aren’t too far away from where we live (about 25 minutes), but I’m not really one to fight the 405 freeway for some quick dinner.  So, I was thrilled to get a chance to try it while in Palm Springs!  I later found out that this was their original location, tucked away in a courtyard of shops and restaurants.

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The line was a little long when I walked in, but that’s okay because having a full menu to choose from makes it tough to decide!  I was torn between the Scorpion Burger, the Mambo Italiano Wrap, and the Twister Wrap, but I decided on the Scorpion Burger because it was the daily special and came with a free side.  I chose fries as my free side. I also ordered the Sicilian Caponata Crostini.  Then I signed up for their rewards program and got a free drink.  There were a few house-made cold drinks: Lavender Lemonade, Watermelon Fresca, and Iced Tea.  I went with the Lavender Lemonade, which was delicious and refreshing.

Native Foods, Palm Springs - Sicilian Caponata Crostini | A Vegan in Progress

The Sicilian Caponata Crostini is a starter, described as, “savory roasted eggplant, tomatoes, caramelized onions and red peppers in a balsamic reduction with fresh basil, capers and currants on garlic crostini.  It was a great start to the meal.  Although, at $6.95, it was more than $1 per piece, so I wouldn’t likely order them again.

Native Foods, Palm Springs - Scorpion Burger | A Vegan in Progress

The Scorpion Burger is described as, “our original Native Tempeh burger! Homemade blackened Tempeh, chipotle sauce, romaine, carrots, avocado and onions.”  The Tempeh was very good blackened, but in comparison to store bought tempeh (which I am most used to), the tempeh seemed to be made of much smaller pieces of soybeans.  This wasn’t good or bad, just something I noticed.  I liked the mound of carrots and avocado on top.  The chipotle sauce was great.  The only thing I didn’t like was the fries.  They were cooked fine, but I hate shoestring fries.

Native Foods, Palm Springs - Scorpion Burger | A Vegan in Progress

My first visit to Native Foods was great.  The staff was very friendly and helpful and the restaurant was cute.  I really loved how their menu described each of the Native Meats and their Native Cheese (made with cashews and sunflower seeds) so that, if you’re unfamiliar with things like tempeh or seitan or even how a vegan cheese is made, you get a little description of each.  The weather in Palm Springs was perfect, so it was nice that they had a lot of outdoor seating.  My only complaint was that I waited 30 minutes to get my food, while people seated around me who had ordered after me were being served.  I was really impatient and hungry by the time they finally brought me my dish.  This is the only reason we didn’t go back to Native Foods one more time before leaving town – I didn’t want to wait.  I’m sure I will be back, though, to other locations.  There’s still a lot of potentially delicious items on their menu waiting for me to try them!

Vegan Recipe – Buffalo Hummus

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I love buffalo sauce.  A lot.  The problem is, a lot of it contains milk/butter.  Sriracha is a pretty awesome substitute, but sometimes you want that uniquely buffalo flavor.

I also love hummus.  It’s great with veggies, pita, spread on wraps, whatever.  The problem with store bought is that the flavors are very limited.  You’re lucky if you find a selection of original, garlic, red pepper, and artichoke in one place.  It’s also pretty pricy for something that’s easy to make at home.

So, I decided to try my hand at making Buffalo hummus using this recipe provided by No Meat Athlete (shared on Oh She Glows).

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I like things really spicy, so when I finished, I felt like it was just vaguely buffalo flavored, so I increased the amount of hot sauce.  In fact, I doubled it.  Unfortunately, this made it too spicy for most of the people who tried it.  I loved it, but could only really eat it with pita bread to absorb some of the heat.  I think somewhere around 1 1/2 tablespoons of hot sauce would work.  It was delicious and so easy to make with a good food processor.  If you don’t have one, I’m sure you could use a good blender, but get yourself a food processor – it’s so useful!

Vegan at Zia Valentina Cupcakes, Los Angeles Farmers Market

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My husband and my dad have a great relationship and often go to events without me.  They were early for a small entertainment industry event, so they stopped at the Los Angeles Farmers Market to pick up some grub.  Eric noticed a new cupcake stand and saw that they offered vegan cupcakes, so he very thoughtfully stopped and bought me one.  Eric mentioned more than once how friendly and approachable the employees/proprietors were.

Eric got a card from them, so I did a little research and checked out the Zia Valentina website, which is not yet complete.  They boast “fresh and natural ingredients, with no preservatives, no sugar,” which is always good.  The website lists the following vegan options: espresso drinks with non-dairy milks, chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal coconut cookies, vegan cupcakes, and a vegan oatmeal coconut chai frosting sandwich.  They actually list 6 different types of vegan cupcakes – take that Sprinkles!  There’s red velvet, s’mores, chocolate coconut, chocolate banana, vanilla chai, and carrot.  However, there’s one major issue.  While kindly telling Eric all about the vegan options, it came out that the red velvet cupcake is vegan except for the frosting.  Apparently, the frosting for this particular cupcake has egg in it.

Eric was assured that the vegan s’mores cupcake was actually vegan, so he brought it home at the end of the night.  After hearing about the problem with the red velvet cupcake, I was a little concerned about the s’mores cupcake, but I took them at their word and tried it out.  It was hands down better than Sprinkles’ yucky red velvet cupcake (found in the same place).  The cake wasn’t dry at all, despite sitting in the car for a few hours until Eric got home and the frosting was thick and creamy.  My only complaint was that the “s’mores” flavor was very faint.  Had I not known that it was supposed to be s’mores, I don’t think I would have realized what flavor it was.

Zia Valentina | A Vegan in Progress

I would definitely stop by the Zia Valentina cupcake stand on a future visit, but I have a few concerns that I hope they address in the meantime.  I applaud their effort to provide healthier cupcakes and other treats, especially vegan ones.  I would just encourage them to do a little more research into the restrictions involved in the vegan diet so that they can truly offer legitimately vegan desserts.  I’m worried that, if the vegan red velvet cupcake has egg in the frosting, the s’mores cupcake may have gelatin in the marshmallow frosting or honey in the graham cracker crumble.  Once they get a good understanding of the vegan diet, I’m sure they will be great competitors to the nearby Sprinkles booth.

On a side note, I still prefer No Udder Desserts and I’m glad that they are the closest to my home.

Tofurky Italian Sausage & Fire-Roasted Veggie Pizza

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Contrary to how it appears, the Tofurky Italian Sausage & Fire-Roasted Veggie Pizza is in fact, vegan.  The frozen pizza is topped with Tofurky meats and Daiya cheese.  I picked this one up at Viva La Vegan market in Santa Monica on our recent visit.  Viva La Vegan is pretty darn awesome – the have an entire vegan pizza section for goodness’ sake.  Without knowing where to begin, I chose a familiar brand and picked out the Tofurky Italian Sausage & Fire-Roasted Veggie Pizza.  It’s got three servings, so it’s about enough for three not too hungry people.

Tofurky Pizza | A Vegan in Progress

I never paid a whole lot of attention to Tofurky packaging before, but I happened to notice that the box says “if you reduce your meat consumption by only 20% (six meatless days a month) the energy saved will be equivalent to switching from driving a sedan car to a hybrid vehicle.”  I love that they include that information for veg-curious buyers.

Tofurky Pizza | A Vegan in Progress

Here’s the bad news: it tasted like any other mediocre frozen pizza.  It was also pretty small for the price.

The good news: it is really nice to have a convenient frozen pizza for when everyone else is chowing down on the cheesy kind.  It’s also great that you don’t have to go meatless and cheeseless or made from scratch to get a vegan pizza at home.

I’m likely to try a different brand next time, though because this tasted utterly machine made and boxed (especially with the very evenly diced vegetables topping it.

Tofurky Pizza | A Vegan in Progress

 

 

Doomie’s Home Cookin’, Hollywood – Post 3

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I have already talked about Doomie’s, but I am doing multiple reviews of restaurants as I make subsequent visits.  Click here to see previous posts about Doomie’s Home Cookin’.

Eric and I were generously given free tickets to Universal Studios as well as front of the line passes by a friend of his.  I hadn’t been to Universal Studios in over ten years, so I was interested in seeing what had changed.  It was fun to see the changes and the front of the line passes really helped, but it was otherwise unimpressive.  It really hasn’t aged well and the “newer” rides are just re-dressings of the old rides.  I mean, seriously, the Simpsons ride is literally the same ride as Back to the Future but with different decor and a different video playing on the screen.  I wouldn’t recommend it over any other theme park.

Anyway, since we were in the area, we popped down to Doomie’s Home Cookin’ for dinner.  We ordered the vegan chicken fingers (which are always super tasty) and Eric got the vegan chili cheese fries.  The fries were cooked well and the chili tasted great, but the cheese sauce was a little runny.

I ordered the Chicken Parm Sandwich, which was delicious, but very messy.  I can deal with the messy, but my only complaint is that the “mozzarella” was very thin and sauce-like, almost foamy.  That was a little weird, but the flavor was there and it all mixed together fine, so it was ignorable.

Doomie's - Vegan parm sandwich | A Vegan in Progress

Eric ordered the Western Burger, which came with onion rings, cheese sauce, and some kind of vegan bacon (not made with tempeh).  He liked it very much and said that he would order it again.

Doomie's - Western Burger | A Vegan in Progress

As a last minute impulse buy, I got a “chocolate truffle” from the dessert case.  It didn’t taste bad, but it clearly wasn’t a truffle.  It was obviously a cake ball.  I don’t know if they were purposefully trying to pass it off as a truffle or if there was some sort of mix up, but I wouldn’t buy it again.

Doomie’s has been hit or miss on our previous visits, but this time it was mostly great.  Just a few small complaints, but we will definitely be back when we need an unhealthy vegan fix.

So Good Miso Mayo Spicy Red Pepper Spread

While at the Viva La Vegan market in Santa Monica, I picked up a bottle of So Good Spicy Red Pepper Miso Mayo “Drizzle/Spread/Dip.”  It ended up being one of my favorite purchases from the trip.

So Good Spicy Red Pepper Miso Mayo | A Vegan in Progress

It’s great on burgers, wraps, and salads.  My favorite use so far was as a spread on a wrap with Tofurky slices, tomato, lettuce, and avocado.  I was never a fan of mayonnaise in my pre-vegan days, which is why I don’t buy Vegenaise.  However, this doesn’t taste like a mayo at all.  The spicy red pepper is a great, interesting addition to something that can otherwise get boring lunch after lunch.

I will definitely be buying it again, probably from Whole Foods since their website says that it’s available in their stores nationwide.  I go into Whole Foods about once a month because they are way overpriced, so a spread is the perfect product for me to buy there.  I understand that they carry items that you can’t really get elsewhere, but I don’t like having to stop at three or four different stores on one shopping trip, so when I go to Whole Foods, I am usually tricked into buying things that I could get elsewhere to avoid additional stops.  Their specialty items I am willing to pay more for, but produce and other basics, no way.

The good news is, for those of you who live in a veritable food desert, Miso Mayo can be ordered on their website.  It’s $4.95 per bottle plus shipping at a whopping $8.95, but it’s worth having on hand.

Vegan at Farmer Boys

In past years, Eric and I often stopped at Farmer Boys for breakfast before the Renaissance Faire.  Even though we don’t participate much anymore, when I read that their veggie burger was vegan, I made a mental note in case we were ever in the area.  On our way back from an event way out in Riverside recently, we stopped at Farmer Boys in Irwindale.  According to the Insufferable Vegan page, there are actually two vegan options at Farmer Boys, which is pretty remarkable for a fast food place.  You can either get the veggie burger with no dressing or the veggie sandwich with no cheese and on either rye or sourdough bread since the wheat bread has honey.

Farmer Boys Veggie Burger | A Vegan in Progress

I ordered the veggie burger sans dressing.  The patty was remarkably similar to the Don Lee Farms frozen veggie burger patty.  It was one of those veggie burger patties that didn’t seem all microwaved and dry.  There were distinct veggies in it as well as some sunflower seeds.

Farmer Boys Veggie Burger | A Vegan in Progress

It also came with lettuce, tomato, onions, and pickles (I removed those) and I added some ketchup.  It was really filling and pretty moist.  I would actually order this again without feeling like I was making a huge compromise, but I would likely ask for avocado to be added (FYI: Insufferable Vegan says that costs an extra $1.50).  Overall – Not bad!  I applaud the chain for offering two different vegan options.

Victoria Vegan Artichoke Alfredo Sauce

I really liked the Victoria Vegan Roasted Pepper Alfredo Sauce, so I picked up a jar of the Victoria Vegan Artichoke Alfredo Sauce while at Viva La Vegan Grocery in Santa Monica.

Victoria Vegan Artichoke Alfredo Sauce | A Vegan in Progress

I thought it was pretty plain when I first tried it (seen in the photo below), but I think that’s because all of the artichoke had settled at the bottom.  It surprised the heck out of me when I poured some more out onto leftover pasta for lunch and saw artichoke chunks fall into the bowl.  I thought it had gone bad at first!  It’s a pretty tasty alfredo sauce, although I prefer the Roasted Red Pepper version.  Just make sure you shake the jar first!

Victoria Vegan Artichoke Alfredo Sauce | A Vegan in Progress

Vegan at Ike’s Love & Sandwiches, Walnut Creek Bay Area

While up in the Bay Area for the Great Dickens Christmas Fair, we planned to spend some time with our close friends, Randi and Ethan.  I’ve known Randi since we were in preschool together, so it’s been over 25 years!  Visiting with her parents and siblings feels like spending time with aunts, uncles, and cousins.  We don’t see each other too often because of the distance, but it’s great catching up… it always feels like no time has passed at all.

Anyway, Randi was excited to take us to Ike’s Love & Sandwiches in Walnut Creek since they have a variety of both omnivore and vegan sandwiches.  In fact, the menu says “Most of our 100 veggie sandwiches can be made vegan, so just ask!!”  The menu only listed 12 veggie sandwiches, but their website describes many more.  It would probably be a good idea to check out the website in advance of you visit so that you have more to choose from.

Ike's Love & Sandwiches | A Vegan in Progress

I initially asked for the Meatless Mike: vegan meatballs, marinara, and (vegan) pepper jack, but the cashier told me that they didn’t have any vegan meatballs because their local Trader Joe’s stopped selling them.  Instead, I ordered the Pilgrim on sourdough: vegan turkey, cranberry sauce, sriracha, and Havarti.  I asked if they just left off the cheese to make it vegan or if they had a vegan cheese; the cashier said that they use vegan cheese.  I wasn’t clear on whether it was a vegan Havarti or just some all-purpose vegan mozzarella or something.  I wouldn’t know the difference by taste because I don’t believe I ever tried Havarti before going vegan.  I asked for lettuce and tomato and I detected a little vegenaise in the sandwich upon unwrapping it.

Ike's - Vegan Pilgrim | A Vegan in Progress

I never would have thought to combine cranberry sauce and sriracha, but they were delicious together.  It was the messiest sandwich ever and I went through a ton of napkins.  I thought it was a creative and yummy sandwich, I just feel conflicted about one thing.  I’m pretty sure the vegan turkey was Tofurky brand and they use Trader Joe’s meatless meatballs for other sandwiches.  I just hate paying for what I can make myself.  On the other hand, I am grateful that restaurants are starting to purchase store bought supplies so that they can easily offer vegan options.  I will gladly stop by whenever we are in the area and in the meantime, Eric pointed out that I can use their menu as inspiration for original vegan sandwiches at home!

Ike's Love & Sandwiches | A Vegan in Progress

On a side note, Randi’s mom is interested in making her diet a more plant-based one and she may read this -> Hi Pam!