December 25, 2009

Lighlife Smart Sausages Italian Style

After the dismal failure of the Smart Dogs (both the first attempt and the second attempt), I was pretty apprehensive about anything resembling a hot dog. But, I bravely forged ahead. I picked up a package of Lightlife's Italian Style Smart Sausages.

I cooked these up in a generous quantity of oil in a skillet. They stuck mightily to the pan anyway. I blame the pan. It's really not a great pan. Despite this, the sausages browned up nicely, and smelled really delicious while they were cooking. We served them up in regular hot dog buns, mine with ketchup, my wife's with every condiment she could find in the fridge, as usual.

First bite impressions: surprisingly little resistance. I'm used to sausages with a natural casing, the kind you sort of have to work at a little to bite through. Once I got past the no-skin situation, the sausage had a fairly chewy texture, similar to other real-meat sausages I've eaten. The flavor was also pretty pleasant, without too much fennel flavor, which I'm not a fan of. Honestly, I don't have too much more to say about these. Overall, a nice sausage. I recommend these.

The experience:
Texture - nicely chewy, once you get past the lack of resistance
Flavor - very nice Italian sausage flavor

Final grade for this attempt: A

December 18, 2009

Morningstar Fake Bacon Strips

Okay, readers. I finally gave in and tried the Morningstar Farms Veggie Bacon Strips. I was very afraid of this product, due to its play-doh-like appearance. I thought - there's no possible way this could be anything like real bacon. How could it? But, for you, I tried it anyway.

I heated up a couple strips in a skillet - no additional oil or anything, as directed. The directions said to fry over low to medium heat, turning occasionally, until crisp. First of all, the culinary student in me wants to point out that you're not actually frying these unless you actually use some oil, but I'm not actually sure what to call this cooking method, aside from "heating" so I'll just let it slide. My impressions during the cooking process: it looked like fake food. You know, like that plastic food you see sometimes (at least, when I was a kid) where you can pretend you're eating breakfast with that lump of "scrambled eggs" and "bacon" and maybe some fake plastic toast? Anyway, that's what I was thinking of when I looked at it. This image was complicated by the fact that while it was cooking, this stuff smelled AWESOME. It honestly smelled just like bacon. I don't know how they managed it.

Eventually, it got to the point where I decided it was done, plus my pancakes were ready, so I sat down and stared apprehensively at the fake bacon for a few seconds, then put it in my mouth. It was crispy, alright. Just like a cracker. The craziest part, though, was that it tasted just like bacon. But it didn't feel like bacon. The experience was that of a realistically-bacon-flavored cracker. Not terribly unpleasant, but definitely not a substitute for bacon.

The other thing I feel like I need to mention is that as it cooled (which didn't take long, due to it being incredibly wafer-thin) the texture went from crispy and cracker-like to more chewy - not like bacon-chewy... more like wet cardboard-chewy. So if you're going to eat this stuff, don't dawdle - toss it in your mouth while it's hot, and make sure you consume it all right away.

The experience:
Texture - Cracker-like when hot, wet-cardboard-like as it cooled. No resemblance to meat in any of its stages, but the crispy stage wasn't entirely unpleasant
Flavor - Seriously - the bacon flavor was totally there

Now I just need to figure out what to do with the other dozen or so strips of bacon in the package. Maybe fake-BLTs?

Final grade for this attempt: C

December 11, 2009

Lightlife Smart Deli Pepperoni

This week, we're delving into the pizza toppings realm. I saw Lightlife's Smart Deli Pepperoni when I was at the co-op picking up fake turkey ingredients, and was eager to try them out. I'm a fairly moderate pepperoni fan, to begin with. My wife, however, doesn't like it. She says it's too greasy, and was really looking forward to a (hopefully) better version. Both of us figured it'd be pretty easy to simulate pepperoni flavor, since it's mostly spices. Let's see how it turned out.

First, when I removed the fake pepperoni from its package, my first impression was that this pepperoni had seen better days. It looked kind of limp, and had ragged edges. I popped one in my mouth, which is one of my favorite things to do with real pepperoni. It was... okay. Reasonably chewy texture, kind of an off flavor. The first thing I tasted was pepper, actually, which then mutated into a soy-ish flavor. It was as if someone at the fake pepperoni factory was asked to create a product they'd never tasted, based solely on the name and a picture. I'll be honest - I don't know what exactly goes into regular pepperoni, but it tastes like more than just pepper. I still held out hope that, with sauce and cheese, the experience would not disappoint.

I made my homemade, delicious pizza crust, slathered it with my special pizza sauce (lots of garlic!), and topped half of it with the fake pepperoni. I put a layer of pepperoni under the cheese, and a layer on top of the cheese, to see which was better. The other half of the pizza was reserved for pineapple and canadian bacon, my reasoning being that if the fake pepperoni turned out to be a total bust, we'd still have half of a good pizza. I baked it off, as usual. No surprises occurred during the baking process. But then it came time to eat it.

First observation - the pepperoni on top of the cheese was a dismal failure. The moisture (what little of it there was) all evaporated, leaving a sad, desiccated mess of fake meat. It was truly inedible - leathery and tough. Ew. I peeled those off, and hoped that the layer of cheese would have a protective effect on those beneath it. It did! They had a pretty nice texture, and the pepperiness blended nicely with the sauce and cheese, as I'd hoped. I still wish they had a more assertive flavor (aside from "peppery") but all in all, a satisfactory experience. My wife actually preferred them to standard pepperoni. So there you go - if your problem with pepperoni is the greasiness, or if you enjoy regular pepperoni, but want something a little healthier from time to time, give these a shot.

The experience:
Texture - nicely chewy, but dried out easily when exposed to the oven's high temperatures
Flavor - peppery, followed by soy-ish - wished for a more authentically-pepperoni flavor, whatever that means

Final grade for this attempt: A-

December 4, 2009

Morningstar Buffalo Wings

It's football season (as some of you may be aware...) and sometimes, in our household, we like to have wings while we're watching the Vikings kick butt. So this week I'm going to let you know how the Morningstar Farms Buffalo Wings fared.

First off, I baked these in the oven, as directed, turning them over halfway, because I wanted them to be crispy. My first impression of these is that the looked like chicken nuggets, all breaded and nugget-looking. While they were baking, they smelled super delicious! Also, in the grand tradition of Morningstar products, there were 17 "wings" in the box. *sigh* Morningstar, why do you do this to me?

Once they came out of the oven, we divided them up as well as we could between the three of us (me, my wife, and our roommate), and gave them a try. My first thought was, "pretty tasty - a little mushy, though. Hey... that's really starting to heat up..." The spiciness kept increasing as I finished my first one, and made the unfortunate decision to eat a second one, thinking the spiciness had plateaued. Nope - got spicier.

Now, I'll be the first to admit, my spice tolerance is very low. It's gotten better over the years, but I know I'm pretty sensitive. I had to stop eating these after my second one, because my mouth was on fire! I could find nothing that would dull the pain. I asked my wife and roommate how spicy these seemed to them, since they can handle much more spice than I can, especially my wife. She goes to Thai restaurants and boldly declares that she wants her food "four fireballs" worth of spiciness. They both declared these a 7 out of 10 based on their personal spice tolerance scales. I felt a bit better after hearing this.

As for flavor, I had no idea what they tasted like, other than hot, so I had to rely on their comments. Our roommate claimed they had a "slight fake-meat flavor" and gave them a C. My wife said they were basically just spicy chicken nuggets, and had a bad aftertaste, giving them a C+. She said she would just rather get plain chicken nuggets and add sauces from there. I agreed, since I could actually eat those.

The experience:
Texture - crispy on the outside, kinda mushy on the inside
Flavor - pain!

Final grade for this attempt: C, for people who can actually taste them; F from me