October 5, 2012

Sophie's Kitchen Vegan Prawns

Oh goodie - more vegan seafood! This time, it's Sophie's Kitchen Vegan Prawns. After the rather mediocre experience of the last Sophie's Kitchen item, I'll admit I was not looking forward to eating these. The things I do for you people…

Okay, so the box gave a couple suggestions for how to cook these - an oven method and a stovetop method. I opted for the stovetop, as it was a little faster. I did not thaw the prawns ahead of time, as I was a little unsure of whether it was strictly necessary. I just tossed it into the pan with some oil and flipped the block of stuck-together prawns until they came apart, then cooked them separately until they browned ever so slightly. One thing I would like to note - these things stuck to the pan a lot! I had a nice thin layer of oil, as directed, but it did not stop these from sticking to the pan stubbornly. They came up without any unsightly shredding or anything - they were very strong - but still - every time I went to flip them, I had to pry them off the pan.

I would like to say something about the appearance. These were attractively striped, even down to the little pink tail-portion, and my friend Dan and I kept joking about how much they look like plastic shrimp. Like, giant Barbie shrimp or something. I figured if they tasted even half as good as they looked, we might have something.


Once they came out of the pan, I cut a little chunk out of one of them, and bravely put it into my mouth. My teeth closed on it, managed to make their way through the rubbery texture to split the piece mostly in half, and at that point, the most horrible flavor invaded my senses, and everything stopped. I couldn't even manage to give it a second chew - I excused myself from the kitchen, made my way to the nearest trash can, and spit this out. I just was not able to keep this in my mouth for even one more second. It was chemically and plastic-tasting, and just plain horrible. There were undertones of nail polish flavor (at least, how I imagine it would taste based on the smell). "This is not food!", my brain was screaming. I rinsed out my mouth with some water, and luckily, the flavor did not linger, but the memory remained etched in my brain for quite some time.

Dan, to his credit, having witnessed this, took a tiny bite anyway. He managed to chew it several times, and I thought he might be able to actually swallow it, but nope - he couldn't do it either.

I don't know if we got a bad batch or what but these were not even close to what I would consider food. I cannot recommend that anyone buy these, ever. Except maybe as a visual aid, or some sort of prop where nobody was actually going to put them in their mouths. Do not eat these!

The experience:
Texture - very rubbery and chewy
Flavor - plastic mixed with nail polish and sadness

Final grade for this attempt: F

September 21, 2012

Tofurky Chorizo Style Grounds

This week, it's another chorizo! Everyone likes chorizo, right? Let's give this one a whirl: Tofurky Chorizo Style Grounds.

The Tofurky people recommended a wide variety of ideas for this product, but I went my own direction with it. And honestly, it was probably the best meal I had all week. Unfortunately I un-did both the vegan and gluten-free qualities of this fake meat in the process, but you could modify it to your own diet. Check below the review for my recipe!

I cooked this up with some bell pepper, onion, and zucchini, all from our local farmer's market. Then, and here's where we get crazy, served it up in some tortillas with Mexican rice, cheddar cheese, egg (scrambled for me, over easy for my wife), salsa, and sour cream. I'll be honest, when I was throwing this together, the zucchini was totally an afterthought - I had some, cut up, in the fridge, and I thought, hey - I'll just chuck this in too. But seriously, it added a great dimension to the entire meal that I think really made it great instead of simply good.

I imagine it would be just as good without the dairy and eggs, but we're not vegans here, so I'll leave the experimenting up to you fine folks. If you're going the gluten-free route, you could use corn tortillas instead of the flour tortillas we had on hand, and I'm confident that would work very well. When I ate this as leftovers the next morning, I had the rice, the veggie/chorizo mixture, a little bit of sour cream, some salsa, and a couple eggs cooked on top (no cheese, no tortilla), but my former exchange student from Japan who is now back in the state as a college student had just the veggies and rice for her lunch, and she liked it as well. So really, you could have this in a multitude of ways. Just don't skip the zucchini!

Quick note on the chorizo on its own - I heated it up and tasted it plain before adding it to the veggie mixture, just to make sure it was going to be okay, and I was pleasantly surprised to note that it was actually pretty good on its own. Nicely chewy, like a ground meat should be, and a good flavor without being overly spicy. People who like a lot of spice may want to add something like, I don't know, Tabasco, or a hot salsa or something. Whatever spice-lovers eat. You'd know better than I would.

The experience:
Texture - chewy in the good way
Flavor - flavorful without being overwhelmingly spicy

Final grade for this attempt: A

Veggie-Chorizo mixture for breakfast burritos or huevos rancheros or whatever

1 red bell pepper (or whatever color floats your boat), diced
1 red onion (again - yellow or white would also be fine), diced
1 medium-size zucchini, cut into bite-size chunks
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 package Tofurky Chorizo Style Grounds

Add any or all of the following to customize:
    sour cream
    whatever else you like on this sort of thing - I can't do everything for you!

For the veggies - just heat the oil and veggies in a large skillet over medium-high heat until they reach the desired texture. I think I cooked mine for 7-8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in the chorizo grounds, and stir until the mixture is completely combined, and heated through. Serve with whatever other stuff your heart desires. Enjoy!

September 14, 2012

Lean Cuisine Veggie Cuisine Enchilada Rojo

It's been a while since I've reviewed a frozen entrée, and I had a coupon for this product (one dollar off two… stay tuned for the second variety), so I decided to try out Lean Cuisine Veggie Cuisine Enchilada Rojo with Mexican Rice.

Naturally the actual meal in the plastic container looks nowhere near as attractive as the picture on the box, but I won't bother downgrading it for that. I'm used to that sort of thing with frozen meals. Someone gets paid the big bucks to make the picture look good - nobody cares if the inside doesn't match. I'm sure if you tried hard enough, you could take the cooked food and make it look sort of like the picture, but nobody cares enough. Including me. Moving on.

So I heated it up in the microwave, as directed, and got ready to eat. I tried a bite of the rice first, and immediately noticed a strong cilantro and jalapeño kick. Like, really strong. I got a little worried about my ability to actually eat this, but after adding a dollop of sour cream, it was totally edible. Just be forewarned that if you're one of those cilantro-tastes-like-soap people, this is very cilantro-y. The enchilada itself was, let's go with underwhelming. The tortilla part was fine, and I assume the fake chicken strips were wrapped up in there, as the picture shows, but I didn't see or taste them. It didn't really matter too much, as the flavor of the sauce on top (also pretty spicy, but again, handled with the sour cream) kind of drowned everything out. It was good, just strong. I could have been eating a cheese enchilada for all I knew. Unfortunately it didn't occur to me until just now to dissect it to see how much fake meat was tucked in there, so I can't speak to that, but I'll just go ahead and assume that there was not enough of it.

Overall, however, the meal was pretty good, once I dulled the heat a little, to match my tolerance. More heat-loving people might enjoy it as packaged.

The experience:
Texture - tortilla a little dry, but eaten all together, it worked
Flavor - spicy with a strong cilantro presence - overall pretty good

Final grade for this attempt: B+

September 7, 2012

Sophie's Kitchen Breaded Vegan Fish Fillets

This week, it's time to explore some more fake seafood. Not so sure about this, but here we go. Let's take a look at Sophie's Kitchen Breaded Vegan Fish Fillets.

First of all, the box claims that these are "perfect for…everyone who just loves scrumptious food" - well, as I'm a fan of scrumptious food, I was led to believe this was going to be good. So I popped these into the oven, cooked them for the suggested amount of time, and then about 10 minutes more, hoping they'd crisp up, even a little. They look like they were going to get nice and crunchy, but they never got much crunch to them. Just a tiny bit on the edges, and I waited until they had some good color to them. Maybe I'm supposed to burn them to get them crunchy?

Alright, looking past the exterior, how was it? Well, the inside was mushy and stringy-looking. There were some weird white speckles all over the fillets, and after checking the ingredient list, I decided it was related to the "multigrain blend" listed - the white bits were probably oats or something. But how was the flavor? Well, not even the slightest bit fishy-tasting. It's hard to describe exactly what it DID taste like, but it wasn't awesome.

I decided to cast aside the vegan label and put some tartar sauce on these, to see if I could trick my brain into thinking it was more fishy-tasting. It did improve the eating experience slightly, but only because I could taste the fillet less. I tried a bite with lots of sauce and the very crispiest edge bit, and thought REALLY hard about fish sticks, but I was not able to trick my tongue.

These could easily be marketed as chicken patties rather than fish fillets, and it would be more accurate. I didn't hate them, but there was really nothing to recommend them either.

The experience:
Texture - not as crunchy as I was expecting on the outside; mushy and weird on the inside
Flavor - not the slightest bit fishy-tasting, just a little weird

Final grade for this attempt: C

August 24, 2012

Three year anniversary post

Wow, you guys! I can't believe I've been writing this thing for three years as of today! One hundred and thirty reviews. That's a lot of fake meat consumed.

I spent some time trying to think of something that would be worthy of a third-anniversary post, and I'm going to take the suggestion of my lovely wife - she thought it would be good to give you all a list of the fake meats that I (still a staunch omnivore) have eaten, even after writing the review. I decided, after thinking about it, to break it down into a few categories.

First category: foods that I buy and eat regularly (usually when they're on sale). These are two items that are actually in our freezer at the moment, and one that would be, if my local store didn't stop carrying them. But when they were available, I ate a bunch of them.

The first item is something that I have had for breakfast multiple times this past week: Morningstar Veggie Sausage, Egg, and Cheese Biscuits. Man, these are still so good. I've got the cooking of these down to less than 4 minutes, but with oven-quality results. How, you ask? Well, 30 seconds in the microwave, and then 3 minutes in my toaster oven. Piping hot with a nice crunchy biscuit. Hard to go wrong with this breakfast.

The other one currently in my freezer is Morningstar Italian Herb Chik Patties. Once again, rather than sacrifice quality by cooking it in the microwave, or take lots of extra time by baking in the oven, I do a combination - about 30 seconds in the microwave, just to get it started, and then about 3 minutes in the toaster oven to crisp it up. I do usually just eat this on a plate with a fork, but the last time I ate it (last week) I melted some mozzarella on it and ate it with some leftover linguine and tomato sauce. Yum!

My other would-be regular, if my local Target still carried it, is Yves Veggie Corn Dogs. I ate a lot of these back when I could get them, and I still pine for them. I saw them during our last fake meat stock-up trip, but we were already getting more than a dozen fake meat items, so my wife said we shouldn't get them. But at least if a major corn dog craving hits, I know where to find these.

The second category would be foods that we have eaten again, but that we don't pick up very often.

The first thing in this category would be Lightlife Smart Deli Pepperoni. We make a lot of pizza at our house - usually about once a week. On the rare occasion I get a hankering for pepperoni, this is what I generally use. Now, just to clarify - my own personal preference is for real-meat pepperoni. There's something about how the pepperoni curls up, with crisp edges, and that little puddle of grease in the center of it that appeals to me on a very weird level, as long as I don't think too much about it. My wife, however, does not have that weird grease-appreciation level, so we don't get to eat a lot of pepperoni. But with this fake pepperoni, we get to enjoy the pepperoni flavor but without the grease puddles that if I'm honest with myself, I shouldn't be eating anyway.

Next up in this category would be Morningstar Hickory BBQ Riblets. This could have potentially fit into the first category, as we do have a box of these in our freezer, but they've been there a very long time, so I decided to put them here instead. I'm not the biggest fan of the whole barbecue experience, so we mostly have these for my wife. She LOVES them, when she actually remembers to eat them.

The other two things I'd put in this category sort of go together, as far as explaining why they're here. These are sort of the best-in-show items for their respective categories, at least so far. When I want a hamburger-like veggie burger, I go to Boca All-American Flame Grilled Burger and when I'm looking for a fake meat crumble, I pick up Morningstar Crumbles. It's not terribly often that I choose a veggie burger for myself over a real-meat burger, or fake ground beef over real ground beef, unless I'm testing a product for review purposes, but when I'm feeding vegetarians, these are what I go for.

The final category I decided on is items that I would (or should) eat again.

First up would be a couple items by the same brand: Vegetarian Plus Vegan Black Pepper Steaks and Vegetarian Plus Vegetarian Chicken Drumsticks.

Let's cover the steaks first. I genuinely enjoyed eating these - I didn't eat them all in one sitting, so for a few days they sat in the fridge with the mashed potatoes. Once I finally got back to them, I didn't have terribly high hopes for them. However, they were still quite tasty, and I think I enjoyed them even more the second time. And when I think back on it, I kind of wish I had more. If I could remember where I saw these, I'd definitely go buy more and eat them.

For the drumsticks, I gave them a crappy score. I was informed in the comments (and I honestly don't know why this didn't seem hugely obvious to me at the time) that the microwave is the worst way to eat these. I did say in my review that once the rubbery texture faded from my memory (which it has) I'd be willing to try them again, but with another cooking method. So once I find the black pepper steaks, these will probably be nearby, and I'll pick up another box.

The next product that I'd definitely eat again, if I made it to a Trader Joe's more often, would be Trader Joe's Vegetable Masala Burger. I savored the heck out of each one of the patties from the original box, and whenever I think about them, my mouth waters. I really want more of these. It's just a special trip to TJ's away…

And finally, I wanted to specifically mention this homemade seitan pepperoni. This was not only a tasty recipe, but it helped clarify the entire purpose of fake meat for me, so it has a special place in my memory. I'd definitely make this again, but probably only if I couldn't find the Lightlife Pepperoni, or if I were really trying to impress someone. I mean… making your own pepperoni is really something special.

So those are my favorite products I've encountered over the past three years of writing this blog. It's been a long and crazy ride, with lots of disasters along the way, but some delicious highlights as well. I can't promise I'll be able to keep doing weekly reviews, what with this baby on the way (due in October!), but I'll do my best for you all, and keep putting my taste buds on the line for science!

August 17, 2012

Quorn Spaghetti and Meatless Meatballs

This week, another Quorn entree: this time Quorn Spaghetti and Meatless Meatballs.

Now, I'm a big fan of Italian food. My grandmother was Italian, and so I've got garlic and tomatoes running through my veins. Needless to say, I've got some pretty high standards when it comes to spaghetti. With that in mind, let's take a look at what they've put up here.

Once again, few minutes in the microwave, and we're ready to begin. Once the meal was out, I stirred the pasta and the sauce together and immediately noticed a huge problem (for me, anyway). The noodles were only about two or three inches long! Now, I don't know why I have such strong feelings about this, but it feels like they don't trust me to twirl my pasta around a fork, and have decided to cut it up for me, like I'm a child. In the picture on the box, you can't see any noodle-ends, making it look like the strands are all full-size (you know, for grown-ups), but in the box, little kid-size bits. Ugh. Whatever - moving on.

So how does it all taste? Well, bland, to be honest. I tried adding some parmesan cheese (because it is awesome), and then when that didn't work, some straight-up salt. The salt helped a little, but it was still just a boring tomato sauce. More herbs! More garlic! More flavor please! Oh, and the meatless meatballs were okay - not great. Also bland. On the plus side, the noodles weren't mushy - nicely al dente.

The experience:
Texture - meatballs were pretty standard meatball-texture, noodles were nicely firm, if short
Flavor - bland bland bland - nothing offensive, just boring

Final grade for this attempt: B-

August 10, 2012

Tofurky Pepperoni Pizza

This week, another frozen pizza: Tofurky Pepperoni Pizza. I was reasonably pleased last time I had one of these, so I was pretty optimistic.

So let's get started! First, I baked the pizza as directed. This went smoothly, although the smells coming from the oven were not terribly delicious. I started getting nervous once I pulled the pizza out. The sheer amount of pepperoni covering nearly the entire surface of this pizza was a little overwhelming. That was where the funky smell was coming from. In the picture on the box, there are little visible patches of cheese, but not so on the actual pizza. Crust-to-crust pepperoni. Yikes.

But how did it taste? Well, like eating a big mouthful of vegan pepperoni, and not much else. I knocked about 30% of it off, so that it looked like the picture on the box, and tried it again. This time it tasted like pepperoni pizza. Not a great pepperoni pizza, I'll admit, but I could actually discern other textures and flavors, so that was better. When toned down a bit, the pepperoni had a pretty good flavor - nicely spicy. The cheese was, once again, just sort of gooey, or creamy - not quite what I look for in a cheese. And the crust was extremely thin and crispy. Like, paper-thin. Just barely enough structure to hold up the mounds of pepperoni. The combination of the super-thin crust and the gooey cheese layer made it seem like the crust was just underbaked on top, but it was just the cheese. Not a horrible experience, but a little weird.

My friend Dan (if you missed his guest post, click here!) was unfortunate enough to eat this with me, and had a slightly less favorable opinion of it. He boldly declared it "the worst pepperoni pizza I will eat" and that "it kinda makes me wanna die". So, not a complete success in my house. And again with the three meager servings - Dan and I split it, and then made some tater tots to finish filling us up. This is a tiny pizza. I'm not even kidding. Be forewarned.

The experience:
Texture - super crispy, cracker-like crust, gooey-creamy cheese, meaty-chewy pepperoni
Flavor - as packaged, big mouthful of gluten-y pepperoni; with a reasonable amount of pepperoni, tasted pretty much like a pepperoni pizza should

Final grade for this attempt: B+

August 3, 2012

Yves Meatless Ground Round Original

It's been a while since I reviewed an Yves product, so here one comes! It's not a new product, so I'll actually be able to give you a proper link this time. Take a gander at Yves Veggie Meatless Ground Round Original.

I haven't had great experiences in the past with Yves products (except for their corn dogs…mmm) so I was a little nervous. I decided to go a fairly safe route (no, not tacos) and make a shepherd's pie. I pulled out my favorite don't-feel-like-spending-hours-in-the-kitchen-cookbook, The Best 30-Minute Recipe and dug out their skillet shepherd's pie recipe. Quick swap out the lamb for the Yves crumbles, and ta da! Dinner! Okay, I did use beef broth, and worcestershire sauce, so the meal wasn't technically vegetarian, but neither am I. Feel free to use your own recipe without those things.

Anyway, that's how I prepared this fake meat. How was it, you must be wondering by now? Well, it was actually pretty darned tasty. Plain, the crumbles had a vaguely savory flavor, with that gluten-y undertone present in so many fake meats, but it was pretty mild, so I figured it'd play nicely with other flavors. Texturally, it wasn't perfect, but it certainly wasn't mushy. There was a definite ground-beef-y chew to it, and the more of it I ate, the less I noticed the oddness of it. Overall, a good result!

I wouldn't suggest trying to bind these crumbles into a burger patty or meatballs, but mixed into a spaghetti sauce or cooked with a nice taco seasoning of your choice, it'd likely be a winner.

The experience:
Texture - soft but chewy - pretty close to actual ground beef
Flavor - little odd plain, but just don't eat it that way and you'll be fine

Final grade for this attempt: A

July 27, 2012

Quorn Kung Pao Chik'n

This week, something new from Quorn: Quorn Kung Pao Chik'n.

I saw this entree on a recent stocking up trip at the local hippie health food store, and figured I'd give it a shot. I usually steer clear of Kung Pao items, as they are often too spicy for me, but what the heck - if it ended up being too spicy, I'd pass it off to my wife, who can handle much more heat than I can .

So I popped it into the microwave to heat it up, and then, well, it was hot. Not much to say about heating things up in the microwave. Right away I knew what the problem was going to be. Not the spiciness, as I'd feared, but the overwhelming ginger flavor! To be fair, the box does state that the sauce is a "sweet & spicy ginger and garlic sauce" so it was pretty true to its word. Not enough garlic for me, but I very rarely find something with "enough" garlic. As for its spice level, there was definitely some heat to it - the truly hardcore probably wouldn't notice it, but it's there. But the major player here is the ginger.

As for the rest of the elements, the noodles were surprisingly firm, in a good way. Often, with frozen meals, any pasta involved ends up mushy and gross, but not this time! And the fake chicken chunks had a decent chewiness to them as well.

So, if you like spicy ginger-flavored stuff, give this a whirl. If you don't like ginger (like me), I'd steer clear.

The experience:
Texture - good chewiness, both to the fake chicken and the noodles
Flavor - GINGER!

Final grade for this attempt: B (or maybe higher, if you like ginger)

July 20, 2012

Field Roast Mexican Chipotle Sausage

This week, a guest post! I made my best friend Dan try this sausage with me, and it's a good thing I did, since it ended up being too spicy for me. Here's what he had to say about Field Roast Mexican Chipotle Sausages:

To begin, these sausages were wrapped up in a plastic casing like real-meat sausage links. A word of warning: the casing did not entirely contain the bright red juice these sausages are infused with and it seems like it could stain if not dealt with in a timely fashion.

So, we cut open the casings, sliced up the sausages and fried em up in ye olde skillet. The instructions led us to believe that this product might be the crumbly type of sausage, but they held their shape through cooking and eating, so you can use them just like links. When served, we got them nicely crisped on the outside and warm and chewy on the inside. I'm a big fan of fake meat sausages and these were looking promising.

At this point we discovered that these bad boys ARE spicy. They were a bit beyond Tracy's spice tolerance and near the end of mine. Now, I'm not big into spicy foods so I'm only the relative expert. I'd say their spice level is pretty close to run-of-the-mill "Hot" salsa. So while Tracy declared this product dead to her, I had a few more bites and tried to formulate my opinion.

The initial bite went much better than some of the fake-meat adventures I've been on in Tracy's kitchen. The texture was natural and possibly even enjoyable, but not a meat-like texture. It was a little dry as well, but that is probably due in part to frying it up. The flavor is the problem. I won't count the spice level against it, but there was no feature to the spice other than "hot." It was not a pepper-spicy or a curry-spicy, it was just "hot." Completely boring. No other flavors managed to make it through the heat, either. None of the traditional sausage flavors survived, if they were there at all. These sausages are hot and bland at the same time.

My closing decree is that these sausages are just another bland attempt at fake meat, with a poor attempt to cover it up with spiciness. They are serviceable as sustenance if you can handle the heat, but since fake sausage has so many other better success stories, I don't see these surviving on many peoples' menus.

The experience:
Texture - definitely not unpleasant, but not even close to "meat"
Flavor - bland except for featureless "hotness"

Thanks, Dan, for providing more information than "OMG HOT!" which would be all I could produce.

Final grade for this attempt: C-