Restaurant Review: Emeril’s Restaurant Orlando, Orlando, Florida

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Emeril’s Restaurant Orlando, Orlando, Florida

Restaurant: Emeril’s Restaurant Orlando, Orlando, Florida

I am a foodie.  Hard to believe with all my food allergies and intolerance…and the fact that I am a vegetarian…that this is a true statement.  But I LOVE food.  I love to eat food.  I love to enjoy food.  And I love to cook food.  I love to share food.  Food is love.  And, as an athlete, food is also fuel.

I am on a nice vacation at the moment, enjoying myself and my time away from the stresses of life.  And, as is the way me and my traveling compatriots do vacations…we work in one nice meal out.  And, as we were enjoying some time at Universal Studios today, we opted to eat on the Universal Studios Citywalk…at Emeril’s Restaurant Orlando.

Now, I have loved Emeril Lagasse for a long time.  He is, not only, one of the most recognizable and quotable chef’s (“BAM!”)…he is just awesome.  His food is simple, pure, cajun goodness!!  He is pure Louisiana.  And that’s what we went there for.

We were in for a treat.  White tablecloths.  Chairs were pulled out for us.  Napkins were dropped into our laps.  I sort of felt under dressed with my roller-coaster windblown hair and my Wonder Woman t-shirt.  But, none of the staff minded.  We were greeted soon after by our waiter for the night…which was actually going to be three people seeing to us.  Our waiters were amazing and funny and extremely helpful.  We were given the menu to look over and I mentioned that I was a gluten free vegetarian…and after some witty bantering…he pointed out the Chef’s Creative Vegetable Plate of the Day (which changes from day to day) and explained to me that it was a noodless lasagna…where the chef layers squash, zucchini, eggplant and roasted red peppers, all seasoned with amazing herbs, and makes them into the noodles.  They could even make it vegan for me.  They let us peruse the menu and I noticed the special as well being a Roasted Cauliflower in a tomato broth with crispy kale that sounded SO good.  I needed to ask about it being gluten free.  Cathy had settled on the Grilled Double Cut Pork Chop and Jenn said she was getting the Shrimp and Grits (I had a feeling all the veggies would be tossed aside…LOL!).  But then, after checking with the chef about the gluten-free status of the cauliflower special (it was), and answering Jenn’s question as to what an étouffée was (all the veggies)…he went on to say that the Shrimp and Grits was the best dish on the menu.  So…Jenn was sold.  He also went on to say that the other dishes he considers the best served there were the Scallops and the Short Rib.

So now Cathy was undecided.  And I still was torn between the special and the menu special.  Both were special.  LOL!  But…both were different enough that I knew that I couldn’t get them anywhere else.  So, once Cathy decided on the Scallops instead, I was still torn.  And my dinner buddies weren’t making the decision any easier.  Back to our waiter for his opinion…and with his help, I opted for the Vegan version of the Chef’s Creative Vegetable Plate of the Day.  This meant none of the cheese or alfredo would be added to the dish.  Gluten free and vegan vegetable goodness.

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Emeril’s Cast Iron Corn Bread with Honey Butter and Bacon Jam

As we were going to have a little wait while our food was prepared, Jenn and Cathy decided they were going to split an appetizer.  They ordered the Cast Iron Skillet Corn Bread with Honey Butter and Bacon Jam ($8.00).  The cornbread looked fantastic.  They said it was light and fluffy and just soft and amazing.  Cathy was a big, big, big fan of the Bacon Jam (pork belly cooked in butter with brown sugar and reduced).  Jenn said she could take it or leave it…but the honey butter at the bottom was just soaking into the bread.  I thought it was just…awesome looking.  But, alas, so not something I could eat.

Before too long, our entrees were being served.  They had Cathy and Jenn’s backwards, but that was easily fixed.  The plates were changed out and we were ready to dive in.

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Emeril’s Shrimp + Grits

Jenn ordered the Shrimp + Grits, which was Louisiana shrimp, étouffée, Anson Mills rice grits, and local cherry tomatoes ($30.00).  She said the shrimp was nailed to the perfect cook.  The grits were smooth and creamy.  I looked at them.  I thought it was rice at first…with all the cheese.  Much of the étouffée was cast aside, as she is not a cooked vegetable person, but the rest of it was devoured.  I really do think it was a 1/1 ratio of cheese to grits…but it looked awesome.  Her only qualm…the tails were left on the shrimp.  It’s kind of hard to be classy in a nice restaurant when you have to use your fingers to remove the tails.

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Emeril’s Blackened Diver Scallops

Cathy went with the Blackened Diver Scallops, which was served with a Creamy Corn Moque Choux, Wilted Greens, and Local Tomato Jam ($32.00).  It looked GORGEOUS!!  The corn sauce fascinated her.  She said it was almost like a corn chowder.  The greens were cooked perfectly.  They weren’t mushy or overly done.  She said the tomato jam was sweet and paired beautifully with everything.  But the star…the scallops.  They were tender and buttery and had a perfect sear.  She said they were the best scallops she ever had.

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Emeril’s Chef’s Creative Vegetable Plate of the Day – Noodleless Lasagna (tightly stacked slices of eggplant, zucchini, squash and roasted red pepper) with a marinara sauce and greens

So…my perfectly gluten-free and vegan dish is now up.  As I stated, I ordered the Chef’s Creative Vegetable Plate of the Day ($23.00).  This was a noodleless lasagna, where the noodles were stacked slices of eggplant, zucchini, squash, and roasted red pepper.  The seasonings were crazy good.  And all of this was topped off with an amazingly rich marinara and greens.  I could hardly make out the noodles, and I didn’t want to destroy the dish to get a picture.  So, trust me…there are tightly stacked veggies under there.  OMG.  The tomato sauce, for starters, was killer.  Just mouth watering, savory, amazing flavor.  The vegetables were cooked perfectly…not limp and wet, but perfect, with still a little crisp to them, but tender to bite into.  Almost like real noodles.  I didn’t miss the cheese or the heavy Alfredo.  This was pure perfection.  Why go back to noodles when you can do this to have lasagna?!  Seriously…so glad the waiter talked me into this one.  I was one happy girl.

And while we were all rather full from dinner…we decided we had to do dinner.  The waiter had tempted me with a Flourless (and Gluten Free) Chocolate Torte earlier that evening.  And I had been on the fence.  He did deliver dessert menus to us, to let the Cathy and Jenn choose what they might want to have…and then said the sorbets (strawberry lemonade, coconut, and passionfruit tonight) were another option for me.

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Emeril’s Flourless Decadent Chocolate Torte with Butter Pecan Sauce

In the end, we decided to split the Flourless Decadent Chocolate Torte with a Butter Pecan Sauce ($10.00) between the three of us.  I am so glad we did.  While the slice of torte isn’t as huge as say, a slice of Emeril’s famous Banana Cream Pie…it was rich.  Smooth, perfect, rich, creamy, amazing, sinful, decadent, chocolatey goodness.  Pure sinful goodness in each bite.  And that butter pecan sauce…oh yeah…that just tied it all together.  Cathy and Jenn split the whipped cream.  I ate the strawberry.  This…was a perfect end to a perfect meal.

I was beyond impressed with the service, setting, and food that we received at Emeril’s Restaurant Orlando.  They were so good at working with me and my dietary needs.  Didn’t even bat an eye.  Immediately knew what to ask about and explained to me what I could eat and what was delicious.  Our waiter was awesome.  He made me laugh, he made me feel so good about the food that was going to be made for me, and he even helped me make a decision on my dinner that night.

If only more restaurants turned out a meal and an experience like this one did.  Emeril is an amazing chef…and his restaurant didn’t let me down.  This was a meal I will be talking about for a very long time.

Product Review: Sophie’s Kitchen Breaded Vegan Coconut Shrimp

Sophie's Kitchen Breaded Vegan Coconut Shrimp
Sophie’s Kitchen Breaded Vegan Coconut Shrimp

Product: Sophie’s Kitchen Breaded Vegan Coconut Shrimp – $5.99+

Dear Sophie’s Kitchen:

I love you.  I love everything about you.  I love everything you develop and offer to the vegan and gluten free community.  Your products have gone from wowing me to astounding me.  Sometimes I go into something thinking that it will end up horribly wrong, but then…everything about it just seems right.

That was how I felt about the Sophie’s Kitchen Breaded Vegan Coconut Shrimp.

For the record, back when I used to eat seafood (and other meats)…shrimp was my favorite thing in life.  However, that being said, I never developed a taste for coconut shrimp.  I don’t know why…but that was the case.  It disgusted me.  So, why, then, was I ever tempted to even purchase a vegan version of a seafood I didn’t like?  I have no clue.  No answer.  Nothing except that I get really excited when I see new products from a beloved and trusted company, and that is the case with Sophie’s Kitchen.  I have loved everything from the Fish Filets to the Crab Cakes to the Calamari to the Shrimp and Prawns.  Love.  Just lots of vegan seafood love.  I went into it nervous and a little bit concerned and found out that sometimes, the vegan version from Sophie’s Kitchen is even better than I remember the original and actual seafood version being.

Talk about amazing, right?

So that…my dearest readers…has to be why I picked up a box of the Sophie’s Kitchen Breaded Vegan Coconut Shrimp.  I got new product happy.  I couldn’t help it.  It was in my freezer for awhile…just begging to be made.  And with a little determination to clear out items that I’ve been hoarding in my freezer/pantry/fridge…I made sure that this box of vegan seafood got used this weekend.  Enter…Sunday night.

My roommate was craving shrimp po’boys.  She told me so.  And she reminded me of the box of vegan coconut shrimp in the freezer.  I told her that I was a little bit nervous about those as I never liked coconut shrimp to begin with…but she insisted.  Po’boys.  Besides…one more item out of the freezer.  So, Saturday night, I pulled the shrimp out of the freezer and placed it in the fridge to thaw.  I finished up grocery shopping (and discovered my local store stopped carrying the gluten-free sandwich rolls…so I had to purchase gluten-free hotdog buns…which are SO not the same!) and came home to a fun afternoon of hanging out with my downstairs neighbors, eating gluten-free lemon chiffon birthday cake (I made it…as my roomie requested it for her birthday and that happened while we were in New York City), cleaning up the apartment, getting laundry done, and taking a nice walk in the beautiful weather.  We were both ready for dinner soon after 5 p.m.  And Sophie’s Kitchen makes it a breeze.

While my makeshift sandwich rolls (aka: hotdog buns) toasted in the oven, I prepared a sweet chili aoili to put on top of the sandwich itself.  I sliced up some grape tomatoes and washed a mixture of various super greens (kale, spinach, arugula).  Then, as the hotdog buns were finishing up in the oven, I put a spoonful of coconut oil into a hot pan and gave a quick pan fry to 12 of the Sophie’s Kitchen Breaded Vegan Coconut Shrimp.  I mean, coconut oil just seemed logical to me.  I allowed them to cook on one side for about 3 minutes, then flipped them over to find them a perfect golden brown on the side that had cooked through.  So, I did the same on that side, then removed them to a paper towel and began to assemble the po’boys.  A little Veganaise…the greens, the tomatoes, the vegan shrimp, then the aoili to top it all off.  It all came together so well…even if the bread was a bit of a challenge.

Okay…so I ate a bit of the shrimp on its own first.  Why?  Because I needed to taste it without my drizzle of aoili on it.  Guess what?  My tastebuds lit up.  And I was amazed with how much I loved this flavor.  Honestly…the texture was meaty and perfect…with the crispiness of the breading on the outside and the soft vegan shrimp on the inside.  There was this nice sweet kick in the breading that I absolutely adored.  And sort of wished I was eating these outside of the actual sandwich itself.  Both my roommate and I saved a shrimp to eat alone.  Sophie’s Kitchen definitely did it once more and let me know that I can, in fact, love coconut shrimp.  Either tastes change or, more likely, they just do it better than the real thing.  But, I devoured this faster than any other product I’ve tried from Sophie’s Kitchen.  Big, big love!!

So…what exactly is vegan seafood made from?  Well, the Sophie’s Kitchen Breaded Vegan Coconut Shrimp is made from water, konjac powder, pea protein, potato starch, coconut powder, rice flakes (from brown rice), canola oil, paprikia, fenugreek, organic agave nectar, sea salt, turmeric, white pepper, alginate (from seaweed), and calcium hydroxide.  Is it clean eating…nope.  Not even close.  But…it’s not too bad as processed, frozen products go.  Not at all.  These are soy-free, vegan (100% plant based), non-GMO, gluten-free, contain no artificial preservatives, no artificial colors, no MSG, they are free of trans fats, and they are cholesterol free.  These also contain no added sugar.  Nothing about them is artificial.  Nothing.

So, let’s talk nutrition.  A serving of Sophie’s Kitchen Breaded Vegan Coconut Shrimp is 4 pieces of shrimp.  This serving will provide you with 130 calories and 10 grams of fat.  This serving also gives you 150 mg sodium and 1 gram of sugar.  A serving will give you 12 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, and less than one gram of protein.  You’ll feel full, but mostly due to what you pair it with.  In this case…I made it into a sandwich…and that definitely gives it a dinner heft that kept me full until the next morning.

Once again, blown away by how much I am loving the products that come from Sophie’s Kitchen.  Seriously, if you turned vegan, vegetarian, or are gluten-free and want some breaded “seafood”…I encourage you to seek out Sophie’s Kitchen and try it.  Take it from me…you’ll fall in love with the products.  If Sophie’s Kitchen can make me fall in love with coconut shrimp…imagine what it can do for you.

I’m so glad to be dining on this once more tonight.  Beyond YUM!

Sophie's Kitchen Gluten Free Coconut Shrimp in a Gluten Free Vegan Coconut Shrimp Po'Boy
Sophie’s Kitchen Gluten Free Coconut Shrimp in a Gluten Free Vegan Coconut Shrimp Po’Boy

Restaurant Review: Papa Roux, Indianapolis, Indiana

Papa Roux, Indianapolis, Indiana
Papa Roux, Indianapolis, Indiana

Restaurant: Papa Roux, Indianapolis, Indiana

When it comes to food, there are certain cuisines that I absolutely love.  Seriously.  From Italian to Indian to Greek and more…there is something about the various tastes, seasonings, and textures of each different type of food that just awakens my palate every time.

One such cuisine that I love to eat, but haven’t had much of it in the past…oh…8 years…is Cajun!

YUM!

I love Cajun food, and not just because it famously is known to be spicy.  I mean, we all know that I like it hot and spicy…but there is something so comforting and simplistic, even when the dish is anything but easy.  As a vegetarian, a lot of Cajun food doesn’t fall into my diet.  As a Celiac…it makes it even harder.  We have a couple of small chain Cajun places around here, but they aren’t making the real deal.  I forgot just what I was missing up until Saturday afternoon, when Cathy and I followed up our Gluten Free Food Allergy Fest with a lunch date with our good friend, Greg.

As you guys know, Greg can be quite particular about the places and foods that he eats.  Well, for years now he has been raving about the food at a local Cajun place called Papa Roux.  And he always pointed out that this particular place had plenty of vegetarian options…as well as gluten-free.  While we are in Indianapolis quite often, we never seem to be there at a decent time to actually go to Papa Roux.  So, we default to a personal favorite – Cheeseburger in Paradise.

But…NOT. THIS. TIME.

I was excited to try out Papa Roux.  With all that Greg had talked it up to be, I was happy that he decided that would be our place to meet and eat that day.  Cathy and I arrived just as Greg had pulled in.  So we had good timing.  Papa Roux may not look like much from the outside, but don’t let the dive atmosphere turn you off or away. Go inside.  And you’re in for a treat.

Upon entering, you are greeted at the counter where you place your order.  I had to look at the options for me, and finally decided that I was going to get the Spicy Tomato Creole ($8.00).  I ordered an unsweetened iced tea with that (that’s free, by the way!) and then let Cathy get her order in.  Cathy opted for the Chicken Po-Boy ($9.00) with a handcrafted lemonade to drink ($2.00).  And Greg went for the Spicy Bean Chili ($8.00) with an unsweetened iced tea as well.  You pay there, put a name on the order, and go find a table.

At the table, you get to choose your sides.  This was exciting.  You can choose as many as you want and as often as you want.  When you dine-in at Papa Roux…the unlimited sides are free and unlimited.  Honestly.  I knew my creole was going to be spicy, so I went with something soothing and refreshing.  Applesauce.  Greg got the Coleslaw and something else, which I don’t recall.  And Cathy opted for the Red Beans and Rice.

Our drinks arrived and we were invited to sign the autograph wall.  Yes…the walls inside Papa Roux are covered in signatures.  It’s a really cool, very nice touch.  So, both Cathy and I added our signatures to the graffiti.  And, after a little bit of a wait (they cook to order!), our food was soon arriving.

The first thing I noticed…Cathy’s Chicken Po-Boy was bigger than her head.  She said she’d be lucky to make a dent in it.  But after she pulled it apart, ate the chicken with the spicy mustard and coleslaw mixed in and not much of the bread, she managed a bit more than expected.  The star was the stuff inside, not the giant, thick bread, for sure!  Greg let me try the chili that he ordered, as he had raved about it for as long as he’s raved about the restaurant itself.  He said it wasn’t as spicy as usual, and I had to agree…because my Spicy Tomato Creole was spicier than his chili.

So…how was the Spicy Tomato Creole?  Spicy!!  And that’s a good thing.  It had this nice, rich flavor…like an amazing marinara, with a kick.  The heat was perfect…for me.  Some might have said it was too much, but I didn’t find it to overwhelm or completely kill my palate.  Nope.  This was amazing.  Before I was a vegetarian, my mom would make a fantastic shrimp creole for Thanksgiving each year…so the creole definitely caught my attention.  I loved the chunks of tomato and onion that were throughout, lending a bit of texture.  And the spice definitely didn’t overwhelm but I wasn’t underwhelmed either.  It said “spicy” in the title, so I wanted spicy.  And it delivered, for sure.  I was impressed.  The stew, itself, came with small servings of rice that were dished on the side…just the right amount.  The applesauce was delicious too…not sure if they make it, but the cool, soothing nature of it was a nice compliment to the spicy creole stew I was devouring.

We were all quite happy with the food, the prices, and the experience overall.  I can see why Greg raves about Papa Roux all the time.  I already want to go back and try more of their gluten-free and vegetarian stews.  Really fell in love with the place.  The atmosphere is great.  The service is good.  And the food…beyond fantastic.  And any reservations I might have had about just how gluten-free the food was going to be was put to rest when the person who took our order at the counter asked if it was a dietary preference or an allergy.  YES!  A place that truly gets it.

Thank you, Greg…for finally getting us to Papa Roux to try the amazing food and take in the place in person…instead of through your mouthwatering stories of what you’ve had there.  Thank you, Papa Roux, for giving me a safe, delicious, and spicy meal that day.  It was just what I needed.

And soon…I’ll be back for more.  I can’t wait.

Papa Roux's Spicy Tomato Creole
Papa Roux’s Spicy Tomato Creole

Product Review: Sophie’s Kitchen Vegan Prawns

Sophie's Kitchen Vegan Prawns
Sophie’s Kitchen Vegan Prawns

Product Review: Sophie’s Kitchen Vegan Prawns – $5.99+

Vegan seafood.

Sounds impossible, right?  I would have doubted its existence myself, until a trip to Jungle Jim’s in Cincinnati, Ohio last year.  My eyes were opened to so much potential and awesomeness.  It’s…seafood…made from plant-based ingredients.

Seriously!

And while my journey into the vegan seafood began with Sophie’s Kitchen Breaded Vegan Fish Filets…which were…eh…okay…I have found other products by this company to be amazing.  Like…you wouldn’t even know it wasn’t seafood.  I’m not kidding.  Taste is sometimes even better.  Texture is spot on.  Yep…I’m in love with this company.  So much, in fact, that the Breaded Vegan Shrimp are always in my freezer.

Between the numerous natural food stores that I shop at each weekend, there is a variety of Sophie’s Kitchen options available.  My most trusted spot, however, is Whole Foods, as they seem to have more of the products than anywhere else.  And on a recent journey, these amazing products were…ON SALE!  So, my roommate and I grabbed one of each.

And…with Fat Tuesday’s arrival…I was in the mood for some Cajun food.  This meant I took the Vegan Prawns and rubbed them with a Cajun seasoning (a la Emeril Lagasse) and cooked them in the oven at 375°F for 6 minutes.  This really is that simple, I swear.

Why Cajun shrimp?  Well, when I was at Disney World this past January and was meeting Tiana (from The Princess and the Frog), I asked how her restaurant was going and explained that it was a dream of mine to open my own.  She said to make my signature dish an amazing Cajun Shrimp Alfredo.  So…here I took her advice…except I kept mine vegan and gluten-free.  Because…I want to be able to eat it, yes?  Yes!

Sophie's Kitchen Vegan Prawns (frozen)
Sophie’s Kitchen Vegan Prawns (frozen)

Well, being that this was the first time I was eating the Vegan Prawns from Sophie’s Kitchen, I didn’t stir them into the pasta, but rather laid them on tip.  And it worked.  The dish looked beautiful and the pasta came out perfect.  I made up a sauce using So Delicious Dairy Free Unsweetened Cultured Coconut Milk, almond milk, nutritional yeast, vegan butter, garlic, fire roasted tomatoes, and a bit more Cajun seasoning.

And I’ll get to the taste in a moment…

Because Fat Tuesday is tonight and I had another idea going in my head.

This time…a Cajun Shrimp Po’boy.  With my vegan slaw on a gluten-free sandwich roll.  This HAD to happen.  I mean…for real.  I once again rubbed the Vegan Prawns down with my Cajun seasoning, but this time I decided to cook them up in a pan.  I toasted the rolls in the oven, added some local lettuce, slathered them with some slaw and topped them off with the Vegan prawns.  My own, personal twist on a Po’boy.  Getting in the Mardi Gras spirit here!  I cooked the prawns in coconut oil and…OH MY GOODNESS…that was magic.  The Cajun seasoning blackened up perfectly.  And these were…winning!

So, now I can talk about what I thought about the Sophie’s Kitchen Vegan Prawns…

Oven baked or cooked in the skillet, I was beyond impressed with the flavor, texture, and overall taste of the Vegan Prawns.  They were fantastic cooked in the coconut oil in the pan though.  Reminded me of when I used to help my mom make her garlic lover’s shrimp (with real shrimp, mind you!).  And, I think next time I purchase these (and, yes, there will be a next time), that’s what I’m going to do with them.  YUMMY!!  I thought these meshed well with the other flavors I paired with it, in both dishes.  And while baking them in the oven was good…the pan cooking was beyond amazing.  I think I found my new favorite way to prepare them.  In fact, next time I get the Vegan Scallops…that’s how I’m cooking those as well.  Honestly, these are fantastic.

As far as ingredients go, the Sophie’s Kitchen Vegan Prawns are made from water, konjac powder, beta glucan, potato starch, paprika, organic agave nectar, sea salt, carageenan (seaweed based gelatin), alginate (from seaweed), and calcium hydroxide.  The Vegan Prawns are soy-free, gluten-free, 100% vegan and plant-based, non-GMO, contain no artificial colors, preservatives or MSG. These have no added sugars or artificial…anything.  Honestly!

Nutritionally speaking, each box contains 3.1 servings…or 10 of the Vegan Prawns.  A serving is 3 prawns, but being as I’m splitting this with two people over two days, we each had 2.5 Vegan Prawns.  That being said, a normal serving of the 3 prawns would give you 50 calories.  This product is fat free and cholesterol free.  A serving will also provide you with only 150 mg sodium and 1 gram of sugar.  Loving that.  And finally, three of the Vegan Prawns provide you with 3 grams of fiber and less than 1 gram of protein.

Discovering Sophie’s Kitchen products has been amazing for me.  I often keep one product stocked in my freezer at all times.  You never know when you might need it.  If you haven’t tried these yet…go to your local natural foods store and check their freezer section.  Serious yummy vegan seafood eats here!

Sophie's Kitchen Vegan Prawns (cooked 2 ways) - Left: Vegan Cajun Shrimp Alfredo (baked); Right: Vegan Shrimp Po'Boys (pan fried)
Sophie’s Kitchen Vegan Prawns (cooked 2 ways) – Left: Vegan Cajun Shrimp Alfredo (baked); Right: Vegan Shrimp Po’Boys (pan fried)