January 29, 2010

Trader Joe's Soy Chorizo

This week, I gave Trader Joe's brand of fake meats a chance to redeem itself with their Soy Chorizo. I had planned to do another head-to-head competition with some chorizo a friend of mine made when we were making sausages in school last week, but it wasn't going to be a fair fight. The homemade chorizo was in a natural casing, and I was going to cook it and slice it up. The soy chorizo came in a sausage-looking form, but the casing had to be removed before cooking, since it was just a plastic tube. I took a picture of what the fake meat looked like once I squeezed it all out of the tube, but honestly, you don't want to know what it looked like. It was not a flattering picture. It had no structure, and would have had to be used in a ground-meat form, which I deemed too different from the sausage form of the real-meat version, so I saved the soy chorizo for this afternoon.

I didn't get things in order in time to eat it for breakfast, so we had our breakfast burritos for lunch. I think it still works. I was a little worried about the spiciness factor. Chorizo is supposed to be spicy, but the super-red color and the fact that my nostrils were tingling warned me that this might be a little too spicy. I did pop a little bit into my mouth to test it out, and at first it wasn't too bad, but the heat built up over time. I knew I was going to have to temper it with other ingredients, hence the breakfast burrito. I used some frozen hash browns I had in my freezer, I chopped up an onion, mixed in the fake chorizo, threw in a few eggs and a handful of cheese, then stirred it all together until the egg was cooked and the cheese was all melty. Then I heated up a couple tortillas, spooned in the mega-breakfast mixture, topped it with some sour cream, folded up the tortilla, and dug in.

Turns out, adding all that other stuff (likely mostly due to the sour cream) managed to mellow out the spice enough for me to be able to eat it. Now, this is only the second time I've eaten chorizo, so I can't really speak to the authenticity of the flavor, but it was pretty tasty. The texture was your pretty standard soy-crumble texture, which is not unpleasant, but also isn't super meaty. I think the breakfast burrito is a pretty good application of this product. So there you go, Trader Joe's - I gave you a second chance, and it paid off. I'd eat this again.

The experience:
Texture - chewy, but in an odd yet not unpleasant way
Flavor - pretty tasty - no weird fake-meat over- or undertones

Final grade for this attempt: B+

January 22, 2010

Trader Joe's Chicken-less Strips

I'd been having pretty good luck recently with the fake meat products I've been testing out, so it figures I was due for a disappointment. This came in the form of Trader Joe's Chicken-less Strips. I've never eaten anything from Trader Joe's before, but I'd heard good things. My wife recently took a trip there, and brought back all sorts of fake meat goodies, so keep an eye out for upcoming reviews of other stuff from there. In the meantime, let's talk about these strips.

First of all, these got put in the freezer, even though the box says keep refrigerated. This made them stick together like nobody's business, but I doubt it had any effect on the eating experience. My plan for these was a stir-fry, so I threw the frozen block of strips into a pan with some rice bran oil (very neutral flavor, and a high smoke point - check this out if you get a chance) and tried to get them to unstick from each other. This took a while. Finally, they were all separated. They looked great. I'd say they looked just like chicken.

While I waited for them to thaw out, I read some of the copy on the box. Wow - whoever wrote that stuff probably had never eaten chicken, and was definitely in love with these things. A few memorable quotes: "And they're tasty. Oh, they are," "they are as pleasing to the palate as their partial namesake," "Everything about these strips stirs up excitement." I knew right away that these strips could never live up to the hype the box was trying to whip up. I charged ahead anyway.

So, my rice was finally done cooking, my chicken-less strips were all nice and warm, the frozen asparagus stir-fry veggie mix was all toasty as well, and the sweet and sour sauce left over from a different day was mixed in, and I was ready to try these super-exciting chicken-less strips from Trader Joe's. I dug in, and was immediately slapped in the face with a truly horrifying flavor. I don't really know how to describe it. The sauce couldn't disguise it - the vegetables couldn't mask it - the rice couldn't even mellow it out. It was the flavor of disappointment.

I made myself eat a second piece, just to see if it was something I could get used to, but the second piece was even worse. Then I realized that I hadn't gotten a good read on the texture of it, so I had to put a third piece into my mouth just to chew it, trying not to let it touch my tongue (failed!) and then swallowing it as fast as I could, washing it down with some homemade hard cider. This product is gross. There's just no way around it. Maybe if I hadn't eaten meat in at least a decade and had forgotten what chicken was supposed to taste like, I could accept this. But that's not on my agenda. So there you go - it looked great, the texture actually was fairly chicken-y, but the flavor… oh, the flavor!

The experience:
Texture - actually not too bad - had a nice chewiness to it
Flavor - so terrible

Maybe some day I'll try these again with a more aggressively flavored sauce - like a BBQ sauce, or some taco seasoning, but don't hold your breath.

Final grade for this attempt: D-

January 15, 2010

Boca All American Flame Grilled Burger

Culinary school started up again this week. The first class we take this semester is Basic Meat, Fish, and Poultry Principles, colloquially known as "the butchery class". This has, understandably, distracted me from my fake meat experimentation. So today, for lunch, I am currently eating a Boca All American Flame Grilled Burger. Here we go!

To start with, a brief rant. I was looking at some stuff on the internet yesterday, that reminded me of why I started this website in the first place. It was a recipe for some veggie sausages (homemade… stay tuned) and the person who had written it said it had been a very long time since she'd eaten a real-meat sausage, but this veggie sausage was very similar to how she remembered it. Now, I haven't yet made this veggie sausage, and maybe it is very similar to real-meat sausages. But the fact that she completely discredited herself as a person able to describe an item's similarity to meat frustrated me. So that said, I want you all to know that for dinner last night, I ate a real-meat cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, and ketchup. I also had the leftovers for breakfast. (I'm hard core like that) So the experience of eating a hamburger is very fresh in my mind.

I took the box of burgers out of the freezer, removed one of the individually-packaged patties, and tossed it into my nonstick skillet with about a teaspoon of olive oil. I flipped it a couple times, then topped it with a slice of my favorite processed cheese. I'm not sorry about this. Some things just melt better, and since I was eating fake meat, I might as well eat fake cheese. I also grabbed a slice of tomato and a nice crisp leaf of lettuce. I was going to do this right or not at all. The final touch: a nice big dollop of ketchup.

My first-bite impression was that this burger definitely has a "flame-grilled" flavor. It also comes with little painted-on grill marks, which is cute. I'm not entirely sure what chemicals give it that flavor, but they got it dead-on. This thing tasted undeniably flame-grilled. It also did not taste like beef, but I could convince myself that it did, thanks to the artificial flame-grilled flavor. I honestly believe a meat-eater could be satisfied with this. Possibly not without all the accoutrements, but why would you bother otherwise? This was very tasty, and I quickly devoured the entire thing, and am currently contemplating a second burger.

The experience:
Texture - nice and crispy on the outside from cooking it in oil - highly recommend this method
Flavor - flame-grilled goodness, with no weirdness to compete

I can definitely see this going spectacularly with some potato chips and some corn on the cob. Oh man…I wish I had some corn on the cob right now.

Final grade for this attempt: A+

January 8, 2010

Morningstar Hickory BBQ Riblets

This week, I finally get to try the Morningstar Hickory BBQ Riblets that I've had in our freezer for a very long time. I had planned to eat them at the same time as the buffalo wings but we decided that was too much food. Finally, I got the chance to try these out.

Right out of the box, these didn't look like much. The oven directions said to remove the riblets from the plastic pouch, and wrap them in foil. This was a particularly messy procedure, as at least one of the pouches had leaked at some point and so the outsides of both pouches were sticky with barbecue sauce. This wasn't entirely bad, as the sauce itself was delicious! The riblets weren't too pretty, and the sauce was unevenly distributed, but I wrapped them up anyway, and hoped that things would work themselves out.

The biggest mistake I made through this whole procedure was starting to cook them when my wife and I were already hungry, as they take 30 minutes in the oven. Meanwhile, the cooking made the whole house smell like delicious barbecue, only intensifying our hunger. It was at this point when I finally noticed the microwave directions, which said the cooking would actually only take about 4 minutes. I kicked myself for not fully reading the box before starting, and then just continued to drool while I waited, hoping that these actually managed to live up to their delicious aroma.

Finally, after a barbecue-scented eternity, they were done! First thing I noticed, the foil-wrapped packets totally leaked a bunch of sauce. Luckily, I had put them on a tray with edges, otherwise I'd have had barbecue sauce all over my oven. The sauce had distributed across the entire riblet. Or is it "across all four riblets"? In any case, the sauce was evenly distributed. We decided to serve them on some buns, which took some careful planning, since there were four segments, and three fit nicely on a bun. For my wife's, I split them in half, then layered them on the bun, drizzling the extra sauce on top. For mine, I broke off one of the segments, then put the other three, still attached, on the bun, reserving the fourth piece for non-bun sampling purposes. The entire time, I could not stop licking the sauce off my fingers. I'm not kidding when I say this sauce was good!

After all this, I finally got a chance to put this delicious-smelling item into my mouth. And my goodness, it was awesome! It had a nice, meaty texture, and as I'm sure I've stated, the sauce was fantastic! It was equally delicious plain or on a bun. The only disappointing element was that there were only two 4-segment riblets in the box. We really wished there was more.

The experience:
Texture - obviously no bone to gnaw on (sorry, carnivores!) but the texture of the fake meat was nicely chewy and very satisfying
Flavor - OMG! The sauce was amazing! Just a teensy bit spicy, nicely smoky, a little sweet. I wouldn't change a thing.

I do worry that our intense hunger may have skewed the results, as we probably could have eaten the box these came in, with enough barbecue sauce, but I stand by my review. Next time, I'll eat them when I'm not so hungry and compare results.

Final grade for this attempt: A+

January 1, 2010

Quorn Chik'n Nuggets

Phew. It's been a busy couple weeks, what with Christmas, New Year's, and, as always, my birthday sandwiched in between. Didn't get to testing any new fake meat until lunch today. So here goes...

This week, we're checking out Quorn's Chik'n Nuggets. After the dismal performance of their Turk'y Roast I was a little hesitant, but I'd heard such good things about this brand, I wanted to give them another shot.

I baked them in the oven at 425 degrees, as indicated, for about 13 minutes, turning over halfway (because that's the secret to getting frozen nuggets crispy!), then pulled them out and laid them out attractively on a plate with a little dish of ketchup. I was feeling fancy today. They were marvelously crispy, which is an important selling factor for me. They looked like your average frozen chicken nugget, even down to the actual shapes people form nuggets into. Where do those shapes come from, anyway? It's not like any part of the chicken is shaped like that. Roughly a third were pretty circular, another third were more egg-shaped (hmm), and the final third I can only describe as vaguely boot-shaped. You know the ones I'm talking about, right? Well, if not, take a look next time you eat chicken nuggets. You'll see 'em.

Okay, but now to the important stuff. How do they taste? Well, that's hard to say. I tasted one plain, and although it was delightfully textured, it didn't have much in the way of flavor, aside from a very mild pepper flavor. I was kind of let down, actually. Then I tried one with ketchup. With the blandness of the nugget, there was nothing to interfere with the flavor of the ketchup. Basically, what we have here is a nicely textured sauce vehicle. I also wanted to comment on the appearance of the interior of the nugget. As you may or may not recall, a previous nugget review referred to a slightly stringy-looking interior. This nugget did not have the same problem. It actually looked like the inside of a standard chicken nugget, which, although not exactly appetizing, is, for me anyway, comfortably familiar. I'm pretty sure you could slip this product past a meat-eater, unless they were some sort of chicken nugget connoisseur or something. My only complaint is that they weren't really moist or anything - they were fairly dry, but that's what dipping sauces are for, right?

The experience:
Texture - slightly dry, but nicely crispy on the outside and reasonably meat-like (for chicken nuggets, anyway) on the inside.
Flavor - very bland on their own, but that only makes them more amenable to any kind of sauces you'd want to dip them in. No competition here.

Final grade for this attempt: A-