September 25, 2009

Lightlife Smart Dogs, second try

This week is the second attempt at Lightlife Smart Dogs. I didn't have high hopes for these, I'll be honest. They have been in my fridge since the first attempt, just waiting for me to give in to my journalistic integrity and give them a second shot. I promised you all I would, so here goes.

In preparation for this, I made up some homemade coleslaw, and cooked some corn on the cob. I was ready to have a real, American cookout experience. With my Foreman grill. Too lazy for charcoal, sorry guys. Maybe next time I get my hands on some fake hot dogs.

Since I microwaved these last time, I decided to try a couple different cooking techniques, keeping in mind that the goal is not to cook them, but merely to warm them. First, a pot of boiling water. Dropped a couple dogs in there to warm up. I also cooked a couple on the grill, next to some backup real-meat hot dogs (but not touching - the experiment is still valid!). I threw them all in buns and topped with ketchup (my only condiment of choice for hot dogs of any sort). Took a moment to center myself, while wondering what the hell I was doing, then took a big bite of the boiled dog.

When I tried it before, it was a completely naked dog, no bun, no ketchup, and it was foul. With both bun and ketchup, it was slightly better. It tasted a little like barbecue sauce, but with a background flavor of... something else. Probably soy sauce. It was not terribly pleasant. And the texture... oh the texture. Super mushy. My mouth was not pleased. I think it may have taken on some of the water it was boiled in.

So I abandoned that one, took a deep breath, and got ready to try the grilled dog. It had an ever-so-slightly better texture, but the flavor was identical. I'd like to say I was really let down by these, but I wasn't expecting much. At least I had some real hot dogs to accompany my (only so-so) coleslaw and (super awesome) corn, and I don't have to continue ignoring the package of Smart Dogs in my fridge. *phew*

The experience:
Texture - mushy
Flavor - sorta BBQ, sorta soy sauce, mostly ick

Final grade: D-

September 18, 2009

Morningstar Asian Veggie Patty

This week, I'm checking out Morningstar Farms Asian Veggie Patties. These are not technically attempting to replace meat, but I figured it should still count. Plus it looked tasty.

First off, the description on the box and website says, "A sweet and spicy veggie patty with hints of chilis, garlic, and ginger." My spice tolerance is very low, so that chili thing made me a teensy bit nervous, but the "hints of" part reassured me. I threw a couple patties on the ol' Foreman grill to heat them up and get them nice and crispy, tried to guess what sort of condiments would go with an Asian veggie patty, and ultimately decided to eat it naked. The patty was naked, I mean. I'm not here to talk about what I was wearing.

Anyway, there was not much to say about the patty's appearance or smell. It sort of smelled like general freezer-smell, frankly, which makes sense, given that it came out of a freezer. So I dug in. Gotta tell you - it was spicier than the box indicated it would be. Not so much that I couldn't eat it, but it did make it so that I couldn't really taste anything else. Maybe that was good. I don't know. The biggest problem I ran into, since I couldn't taste it, was the texture. The first ingredient is carrots; the second is water chestnuts. I could definitely tell when each bite contained one or both of these. Man, I hate water chestnuts. They have such a gross texture. Maybe other people like them, but I'd just rather avoid them, if I can. Aside from the random vegetables, the patty was pretty lame, texturally. It was almost mushy, except for the edges, which were nicely crisp from the grill. All in all, this was a fairly unpleasant experience. I don't know what I plan to do with the other two patties in the box. Maybe I'll try one of the recipes that use them. I'll let you know.

The experience:
Texture - Very inconsistent texture, and very fragile - falls apart easily
Flavor - So much spiciness that it drowned out any other potential flavors for me

Final grade for this attempt: C-

September 11, 2009

Morningstar Grillers Prime

This week, I'm going to talk about Morningstar Farms Grillers Prime Veggie Burgers. The description on the box (and on the website) promises "Savory grilled prime burger flavor, veggie-style." I was intrigued, as I really enjoy the flavor of beef.

There were a bunch of options for heating these bad boys up. Everything from the oven to the microwave, but, since we were aiming for a grilled flavor, I fired up my Foreman grill. Just too lazy for charcoal, sorry. I got all my accoutrements ready, which, at my house, includes cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, and mustard. The cheese we got was a nice apple-smoked cheddar, and the tomato was fresh out of my garden, just so you know.

The grilling instructions say to "lightly spray both sides of the pattie [sic]with cooking spray" which I totally missed when I made these (and isn't it spelled "patty"?). Odd note, in reading all the instructions now, to inform you, in all the other cooking methods, the food is referred to as a burger, not a "pattie". Anyway, I tossed them (all four!) onto my grill, and let them hang out there for a couple minutes. I then added cheese to only three of them, leaving one naked for testing purposes. Once they were nice and hot, and the cheese was all melty, I pulled them off and got them ready for eating. The naked burger got only ketchup and a bun. The other three got everything.

I tried the naked one first, just to see what I was in for. It had a nice, crispy exterior, which I appreciated. Here comes the catch: it tasted nothing like beef. It did, however, taste exactly like a frozen chicken patty. I used to eat those all the time in college at the dorm, and they have a pretty distinctive flavor. So, with the bun and the ketchup, it was pretty enjoyable, but nothing like a burger. With the lettuce, tomato, ketchup, and cheese, the chicken-patty flavor completely disappeared. It was like eating a slightly chewy lettuce and tomato sandwich with a weird smoky flavor from the cheese. Pretty unpleasant, actually. I tried removing components, one by one, to see what it would take to make it taste good. Once the lettuce and tomato came off, it was better. I'd have taken off the cheese, if I could have, but it was really melted in there. Big disappointment.

The experience:
Texture - nice crispy exterior, slightly stringy-looking interior, but a good mouthfeel
Flavor - tasted just like chicken!

My wife agreed with me on the chicken patty assessment. In fact, I'd tasted it, took some notes without saying anything out loud, then she said the exact same thing I'd written down. It was pretty funny. I think next time, I'll actually give the charcoal grill a chance to infuse these with some nice grilled flavor to see if it makes it any more beefy-tasting. Otherwise, they serve as pretty tasty chicken patties, when left naked.

Final grade for this attempt: C+

September 4, 2009

Morningstar Chik'n Tenders

This week, I'm reviewing Morningstar Farms Chik'n Tenders. This one is pretty straightforward. Frozen, breaded meat-like strips. What could go wrong?

My first impressions, after dumping the items out of the box onto the tray: These look and smell like frozen chicken tenders. So far, so good. My biggest problem at this point is that the box contains seven tenders. Seven!? What a weird number! They couldn't have thrown one more in to make a nice even number? I mean, the serving size was listed as 2 tenders, making the package contain 3.5 servings. Who thought that up?

I spent the next 15 minutes or so complaining about there being seven tenders in the box while I waited for them to bake. Also, while complaining (I'm a multitasker!), I whipped up some delicious honey mustard, which was about 2/3 Dijon mustard, 1/3 honey. I like my honey mustard to be sweet. I also dug out the ketchup and the barbecue sauce from the fridge. Even though I was only going to be eating 3.5 tenders (I was splitting them with my wife) I wanted to check out a variety of dipping sauces to see which provided the tastiest fake-meat experience.

So out of the oven, all sizzling and tasty-looking, they came. Nice and crisp exterior, just what I ask for in a frozen nugget. I took the first bite with no sauce, to get the full experience. Aside from the "I've been frozen!" flavor (which is very similar to actual chicken tenders from the freezer), I'd say these are very tasty! They were even better with the sauces, although my wife said they tasted more artificial when dipped in barbecue sauce. I couldn't really taste anything other than barbecue sauce, which I'm already not a huge fan of, so I'll take her word on that one. My favorite was the ketchup, but my favorite condiment is ketchup anyway, so no surprises there. The chik'n tenders did take extremely well to the honey mustard. If you're going to try them for yourselves, I'd recommend whipping some up.

The experience:
Texture - nice meat-like texture.
Flavor - basic frozen chicken tender experience - in other words, as good as expected

One odd note: the inside was kind of stringy-looking but, oddly, this did not affect the texture. It did look kind of creepy, so if you're trying to pass these off as real meat, you might want to keep that in mind.

Final grade for this attempt: A-