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Vegan at Hugo’s Restaurant, Post 2

I have already talked about Hugo’s Restaurant, but I thought that I could do multiple reviews of restaurants as I make subsequent visits.  Click here to see previous posts about Hugo’s Restaurant.

After my previous visit to Hugo’s Restaurant with my mom and my sister, I was really looking forward to taking Eric there.  It’s a place where we both have a bunch of options to choose from, which is a real pleasure.

After absolutely loving my mom’s order of Pasta Victor last time, I thought I would try a different pasta order.  I got the Penne Con Verdure, which is described as “Red lentil penne is organic, protein-rich, gluten-free and GMO-free. Served here with a marinara-pesto sauce, chopped tomatoes, Kalamata olives and blend of seasonal vegetables. Topped with fresh basil.”  It was very tasty and well-cooked, but was sort of disappointing because I felt I could have made it myself.  I guess it’s my bad for ordering it, but I guess I just thought I would be blown away like I was with the Pasta Victor sauce.  It was perfectly fine, but I won’t likely order it again.  Sorry for the terribly blurry photo.

Penne con Verdure, Hugo's Restaurant | A Vegan in Progress

Eric ordered their seasonal holiday meal.  It came with stuffing, hash brown cakes, mashed sweet potatoes, and chicken.  Everything but the chicken was vegan, so I tried a bite of each to report back.  The mashed potatoes and stuffing were fine, but they didn’t blow us away.  The little hash brown cakes, however, were somewhat burned as you can see in the photo.

Holiday meal, Hugo's Restaurant | A Vegan in Progress

Overall, this was a bit of a disappointing meal.  I’m sure to be back at Hugo’s again, but I’m not as impressed as I was on my previous visit.

Vegan Recipe – Spicy Eggplant Tofu

Eric and I recently tried a Thai restaurant that’s walking distance from our place.  I ordered a yellow curry with tofu entree the first time, which was your typical yummy curry.  The second time, though, I felt adventurous and ordered the Spicy Eggplant and Tofu dish.  I’m so glad I did because it was fantastic.  The crispy sides of the tofu cubes combined with the soft eggplant were perfect.  After ordering it a couple of times, I thought I might try my hand at making it.  I’ve already been successful in making the best Kung Pao ever, why not Spicy Eggplant Tofu?

Spicy Eggplant Tofu | A Vegan in Progress

I turned to my favorite recipe search engine, Pinterest, and found this blog post from Made Weekly.  I wouldn’t call it a recipe, it was more like a meal guideline.  I love the way she took the photo of the ingredients.  The photo and the simplicity of the meal over the other ones I found were what made me go with this particular one.

This was a complete hit.  Because I added a little extra cornstarch, the sauce was thicker and a little sticky.  It even looked sort of restaurant-quality.  It was super flavorful and filling and went perfectly with cauliflower rice.  Eric, my resident non-vegan loved it and looked really sad when I said there wasn’t much more.  When planning our dinners for next week, I asked if he would like it again and got an enthusiastic affirmative.

Below is my adapted version of the Made Weekly Eggplant Tofu Stir Fry.  There weren’t any measurements, and I threw it together without really measuring, so these are mostly estimates.  I was out of miso, basil, and ginger, so I went without and it was still great.  This made enough for two large servings, with a little bit left over.  Next time I would likely double it for more delicious, delicious leftovers.

Ingredients:

  • 1 package of firm tofu, pressed and cubed (My mom recommended popping it in the freezer for half an hour to an hour before slicing it and it really does hold its shape in the pan better that way.)
  • 1 eggplant, cubed (I had never cooked with eggplant before and didn’t know how to approach it.  I don’t know what I was worrying about, because I just cut the ends off, cut it in half, and cubed the rest with no problem.)
  • Approximately 1 Tablespoon of minced garlic
  • Approximately 2 tablespoons of cornstarch (Use only 1 Tablespoon if you want a thinner sauce.)
  • Approximately 1/3 cup sesame oil (This is totally optional and not mentioned in the Made Weekly post.  I just didn’t have any miso, which I knew was a major flavor contributor for this dish, so I used some sesame oil, but didn’t want to overpower the meal, so I also used grapeseed oil.)
  • Approximately 1/3 cup grapeseed oil (or any basic cooking oil)
  • Approximately 1/2 cup tamari or soy sauce
  • Approximately 1/2 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar
  • Some red pepper flakes if you like it spicy
  • Miso to your liking (I didn’t use it.)
  • Basil to your liking (I didn’t use it.)
  • Ginger to your liking (I didn’t use it.)
  • About 1/2 a head of cauliflower for cauliflower rice

Directions:

  • First, soak the eggplant in salt water for about an hour to reduce bitterness (a trick from my sister, Alli.
  • Drain, press, freeze, and cube tofu (see above for why I recommend freezing it for a bit).  Heat cooking oil with a little sesame oil for flavor.  Add tofu cubes to the oil and drizzle liquid smoke lightly over all of the tofu cubes.  This is my tofu trick.  It smells amazing and makes the tofu a really interesting addition to the meal, rather than a bland hunk of protein.  Stir it continuously so it doesn’t burn until the tofu is brown and crispy, then set aside.
  • Whisk together garlic, miso (if you’re using it), soy sauce or tamari, vinegar, a splash of water, and cornstarch.
  • Fry eggplant, ginger (if you’re using it), and garlic in oil (I used the same oil from cooking the tofu) until it begins to soften.  Add soy/tamari sauce mixture and stir until sauce thickens and eggplant is fully cooked (it will look yellowy-brown rather than white).
  • While the eggplant is cooking, chop your 1/2 head of cauliflower into floret-sized chunks so that the food processor will be able to handle it.  Pulse the food processor until the cauliflower bits are about rice or bulgar-sized.  Place cauliflower into a microwave safe container with a lid.  DO NOT ADD WATER.  Pop one corner of the container so that steam can escape.  Microwave for 2-3 minutes or until it’s all warm enough to eat.
  • Add tofu and toss it all together.  Mix in red pepper flakes (or allow each diner to add it at their discretion, as we have to do it in my house) and basil.
  • Eat your seriously delicious meal!

Vegan Recipe – Slow Cooker Quinoa Chili

As part of our non-traditional Christmas dinner this year, I offered to bring chili over to my parents’ house.  I found this recipe on Hangry Tales through Pinterest.  It was relatively easy to make and the extras froze well for satisfying lunches.  The chili was smoky and flavorful and absolutely awesome with some vegan scoop-shaped corn chips.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped (1 3/4 cup)
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 (14.5 ounce) cans diced, fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 (4 ounce) cans diced green chiles
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste (optional)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 (15 oz) cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen corn
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 cups cooked quinoa
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro

I know that seems like a lot, but hang in there!

Directions:

  1. In a large crockpot, add all ingredients except for the quinoa and cilantro.  Stir until very well combined.
  2. Turn it on at high heat for at least 5 hours, depending on the type of crockpot you have. I did 8 hours and then kept it on warm until it was eaten.
  3. Stir in the quinoa and cilantro at the very end, (and I topped it with a little quinoa for looks) and serve warm.
  4. It will keep well in sealed containers in the refrigerator for 4-5 days.

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.

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.