May 28, 2010

Lightlife Organic Smoky Tempeh Strips

We finally made it to the co-op, so there should be a whole bunch of new reviews heading your way over the next couple months. Hooray! First from the new bunch, Lightlife Organic Smoky Tempeh Strips. On the package, it also says "Fakin' Bacon" so I went ahead and planned on using it like bacon.

I was making some twice-baked potatoes for dinner that evening, and thought some fake bacon crumbled on top would make a lovely addition. While baking the potatoes, I started frying up the tempeh strips. The directions say to fry the strips in a moderate amount of oil until edges are crispy. No indication of how long that might take, so I had to wing it. No problem. I fried them for a while, flipping them over occasionally. Eventually, the edges started to get a little darker (maybe 8-10 minutes?) but didn't seem crispy. I thought maybe it would be like bacon where it doesn't get crispy until you drain off some of the fat, so I laid out most of the strips on a couple layers of paper towel.

I kept the rest of the strips in the pan to see if they would ever get crispy. I think they were on the heat for an additional 10-15 minutes, and finally started to blacken a bit. I pulled them out and laid them on the paper towel where they crisped up nicely.

I broke (tore, really) off a piece of the non-crispy strip and tasted it. It definitely had a smoky flavor, but it was nothing like bacon. The texture was kind of… wet-cardboard-y? Not terribly pleasant. Then I broke off a piece of the burned-yet-crispy strips and tried that. Still smoky-tasting, of course, but the texture was much improved. The crispiness is really important for this product. Be sure to be patient with it, if you plan on trying this out yourself. I'm not sure burning it is the answer - there was probably a point between the first batch and the second batch where it would still crisp up without being burnt.

I crumbled up the crispy pieces and scattered them on my cheesy, creamy, twice-baked potatoes. Man, I make good potatoes. Anyway - the smokiness and crunchiness were a nice addition to the potato. I would not say it was like using bacon, however. I kind of wish that Lightlife hadn't printed "Fakin' Bacon" on the package. It really sets the consumer up for disappointment. If they had stopped at "Organic Smoky Tempeh Strips" I think I could have given it a better grade. But no, they had to play the bacon card.

The experience:
Texture - soggy if undercooked; crunchy, almost crumbly when burned - probably a happy medium in there. I'll have to try these again sometime to see if I can find it.
Flavor - smoky, yes. bacon? no way.

Final grade for this attempt: C

May 24, 2010

More news!

Check out the link in the upper-right of the page that says "Grading Chart" - that's a nice compilation of all the reviews I've done, whether the products were vegan or not, and what grade they received, so you can quickly see what I've reviewed. This will also come in handy as a nice printable list we can take to the store to make sure we don't buy things we've already tested.

Thanks so much to my lovely wife who designed that for me! Now I just need to keep it updated...

May 22, 2010

Vegan tag! Please read this!

I added a new tag this morning. It occurred to me that some people might want a vegan tag, to quickly sort out things that have milk or egg in them. The way I figured out whether something was vegan or not was to look at the product website and check out their product info.

My method: I first looked at the allergen information. If an item said it contained milk or egg, obviously it's not vegan, and it didn't get the tag. However, if it did not say either of these, I quickly scanned the ingredients for anything obvious. I do not know all the "vegan pitfall" ingredients (as I'm now calling them), but if there wasn't anything obvious, I marked it vegan. I was kind of excited to find several items with a little badge saying "certified vegan" and went ahead and labeled all of those as vegan, even though I have no idea who goes around certifying things as vegan.

If you have other information about any of the products I've tagged, let me know and I'll remove the tag for anything incorrectly labeled vegan.

I cannot promise that the company will not ever change their ingredients to make something not vegan. If they change things and I don't notice (which I likely won't), let me know, and I'll fix my labels.

Basically, what I'm saying is that I am not a vegan - make sure to do your own research before diving into anything.

May 21, 2010

Morningstar Meal Starters Chik'n Strips

Oh man… where did this week go? I remember it being Wednesday, and thinking, "Hey - I should type up this post and schedule it, so I don't have to remember when Friday hits," which was then followed up with, "Nah - I'll take care of that later." And now I look at my calendar, and it's Friday already! Yikes! Side note, it's also my wife's and my fifth wedding anniversary! Hooray for us!

Okay, down to business. This week, I tested out the last product available at my local grocery store. It's definitely time to hit up the co-ops for some additional fake meat. I'd had these Chik'n Strips from Morningstar sitting in my freezer for a long time. Ever since the ill-fated Trader Joe's Chicken-less Strips experience, I've been really wary of fake chicken strips. But, since I hadn't gone co-op shopping yet, it was time.

I was already planning on having a stir-fry for dinner, with real-meat chicken, so I threw the fake meat chicken into a separate pan to heat it up. I figured I could have both, just in case the fake meat was terrible. I used a little bit of oil in the pan, to help keep it from sticking, but ended up using significantly more, because it stuck anyway. Man, did this stuff stick.

Finally, everything was finished, and I assembled my plate - stir fried vegetables and chicken, on brown rice, with two different sauces (I was feeling experimental), and some fake chicken. Before I mixed the fake chicken with either of the sauces or the vegetables, I popped a piece into my mouth. Not bad, actually. Very slight gluten-y flavor, but nowhere as strong as I'd expected, considering the fact that gluten was one of the first ingredients. Even better were the extra-crispy bits that stuck to the bottom of the pan. Granted, those had absorbed a lot of oil, and were practically deep-fried - it's hard to go wrong, there. But they had a nice, crispy texture, and an almost-burned flavor that was very appealing. The strips themselves were not as awesome but still good, especially with the sauce and vegetables. I was pleasantly surprised.

The experience:
Texture - nicely chewy (with the bonus of the crispy bits)
Flavor - not really chicken-y, but not a bad flavor - like chicken it blends well with other flavors

Final grade for this attempt: A-

May 14, 2010

Gimme Lean Ground Sausage Crumbles

This week, I test out another Lightlife product: Gimme Lean Ground Sausage Style crumbles. I decided to throw in a bonus recipe for you as well. Here goes…

I had seen a lovely-looking soup recipe on the internet that called for Italian sausage, so I figured this would be perfect, even though it wasn't specifically labeled "Italian" - I knew the nice spiciness would meld with the rest of the ingredients. I heated the oil, and threw in the sausage crumbles, letting them brown a little in the pot so I'd get some nice bits stuck to the bottom (that's called fond by the way, and it's magical) to mix in with the rest of the soup.

Then the recipe said to remove the meat while doing the next parts, so I did. This also gave me a chance to try the cooked crumbles before mixing them with everything else. They were pretty tasty. A little spicy, a little sweet, nicely chewy. I was feeling very confident about the rest of this meal.

One side note, the package suggests forming the fake sausage into patties and frying them up for a breakfast sausage application. Not sure whether I was just in dinner mode or not, but the flavor didn't exactly scream breakfast food. Maybe I'll try it again sometime as a breakfast protein and see if it works.

Back to dinner - I finished up the soup, making sure the flavors had time to meld beautifully and the kale was done cooking, seasoned to taste (gotta have enough salt, or it just tastes blah), and dug in. I had hoped to have some nice crunchy bread to go with it, but the bread was taking too long because I didn't start it soon enough. Oops. This would have been awesome with bread. Keep that in mind if you try it yourself. Even without that, it was truly delicious. The fake meat sausage played very well with the rest of the ingredients. I'd eat this again.

The experience:
Texture - Nicely chewy
Flavor - Deliciously seasoned, slightly spicy, slightly sweet.

Final grade for this attempt: A+ (at least for this application)

Here's the recipe:

White Bean & Roasted Garlic Soup with Kale, Tomatoes & Italian Sausage
Serves 4 as a main course

2 heads garlic
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for the garlic
Kosher salt
4 cups vegetable broth
2 15-ounce cans white beans, drained and rinsed
1 package fake sausage crumbles (or for a real-meat version, 12 oz bulk Italian sausage)
¼ cup white wine (you can just use water, if you don't want to use wine)
1 12-ounce bunch kale, stems cut off and leaves torn or cut into bite-sized chunks
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes, drained
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Cut the top off the heads of garlic to expose the cloves within. Place the garlic in the center of a piece of aluminum foil, drizzle with the olive oil (probably just a teaspoon or so on each head, but you want to cover the surface) and seal the foil tightly. Roast for 40 to 45 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool to room temperature, then peel.

In a food processor (or blender), combine a cup of the broth (two or three cups if using a blender), all of the white beans, and the roasted garlic, and process until smooth, adding additional broth if it is too thick to process. Once smooth, set aside.

Add 2 tablespoons of oil to a large, heavy pot and swirl to coat the bottom. Heat over medium-high heat until hot and shimmery. Add the sausage and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, tossing about 3 times, until brown in spots. Using a slotted spoon, remove the sausage to a plate and set aside.

Add the wine (or water) to the pot and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan with a heat-proof spatula. Add in the white bean mixture with any broth not currently in the white bean mixture, return to the heat and bring to a boil. Return the sausage to the pot, add the kale and tomatoes, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the kale is tender and flavors have melded. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls and serve immediately.

May 7, 2010

Another week off...

Sorry, no new review this week... my brother just graduated from college, so I've been busy driving all over Minnesota and haven't had time to eat any fake meat. I'm done with culinary school now (yesterday was my last day!), so at least for a while I should have lots of free time. I've got my next review all planned out - got a recipe picked out to go with it and everything. It's going to be awesome! I hope.

See you next week!