February 26, 2010

Quorn Naked Chik'n Cutlets, first attempt

This week I am going to give Trader Joe's a break from trying to impress me with its fake meat offerings, and try out another Quorn product. So far, I've rejected their turkey, and enjoyed their nuggets. Now it's time to see how Quorn's Naked Chik'n Cutlets hold up to my expectations.

These little guys were already at a major disadvantage, since I'd spent all week on my feet at school, cooking up a storm, so my enthusiasm for cooking was diminished. I decided to give them the naked experience, and just bake them in the oven with my typical chicken breast spicing. (that's salt, pepper, garlic powder, and thyme) I thought about making some kind of sauce for them but, honestly, the motivation just wasn't there. There were four cutlets in the box, so I used two for this first attempt, reserving two for when I could be more creative. I lightly coated each of them in olive oil, as directed, and then sprinkled my awesome seasoning blend on top, then baked them.

Less than the suggested time later, they were done! They certainly smelled good, and looked like something I wouldn't mind eating. I sort of knew how this was going to turn out, but went for it anyway. I cut off a piece and ate it. Yep - just as I had suspected. Nice flavor, good meaty texture, but so, so dry. It was in desperate need of a sauce of some sort. I would compare eating a Naked Chik'n Cutlet to eating an overcooked boneless, skinless chicken breast. I ate it anyway, because it wasn't a horrible experience, and I was too lazy to get up and make a sauce. I have some ideas for what to do with the remaining two cutlets - I'm planning on cooking those up this weekend and writing about the dressed naked cutlet experience next Friday.

The experience:
Texture - very similar to overcooked chicken breasts
Flavor - pretty good - again, very close to dry chicken

Now the important decision… what sauce should I use? I'm leaning toward a chicken parmesan meal. Any ideas from my readers would be appreciated.

Final grade for this attempt: C

February 19, 2010

Trader Joe's Italian Sausageless Sausage

This week I tested out another Trader Joe's product - the Italian Sausageless Sausage. This was my second fake meat Italian sausage, which is weird because I tend to avoid the Italian sausage experience, due to the usual abundance of fennel and/or anise, and sometimes a level of spiciness I cannot abide. Why someone would want to make a sausage spicy is beyond me.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand. Trader Joe's has been somewhat disappointing, as far as the fake meat experiences I have had from there. But these were in my fridge and had to be eaten sometime, so this was the week. I had a friend over who is also not a vegetarian, but he sometimes eats fake meat just for fun, so I had him try one of these too.

I cooked all four of the sausages up in my nice nonstick skillet in about a tablespoon of olive oil. I've learned from past sausages that a little bit of oil is pretty much necessary, both to form a nice crispy exterior and to prevent sticking. The pan was a little small for all four sausages, but I still got some nice browning. It only took a few minutes, and it was sausage time! Put them in some buns, and laid out a bunch of condiments.

Okay - time for the actual eating. I found the texture of these to be quite nice, actually. Unlike the other Smart Sausage Italian sausages I tried, I didn't notice the no-skin lack of resistance. It was nice and chewy. The flavor was a little bland. If I'm remembering correctly, the Smart Sausages had a better flavor than these. I'd have to try them side-by-side to know for sure, though. On their own merits, the Trader Joe's Italian sausages were pretty inoffensive, and fairly tasty, although bland. My friend who was eating these with me commented that, "they don't taste like meat, but they don't taste like not-meat either." I'd like to add that they also don't taste like fennel/anise, and they don't taste spicy. It's more about texture and whatever condiments you add to it.

The experience:
Texture - I liked the texture a lot - nice and chewy without that noticeable lack of resistance I've experienced in other fake meat sausages
Flavor - pretty mild… ok, bland. But inoffensive!

Final grade for this attempt: A-

February 12, 2010

Head to Head, #3 - Meatballs!

The poll I posted actually came out a three-way tie, so I'll be reviewing the three winners over the next few weeks. I cast the tie-breaking vote, because I was in the mood for meatballs. In any case, here comes the next head-to-head review!


This week, I'm pitting Trader Joe's Meatless Meatballs up against No Name Original Meatballs. I figured it would be more fair to compare two brands of frozen meatballs than for me to make homemade meatballs. I dumped both packages into a pan, and compared. They both looked pretty good.

I fried the meatballs in a little olive oil first, as directed, then poured spaghetti sauce over both of them to heat up. The Trader Joe's meatless balls said they'd take about 10 minutes, but I think that was the time estimate for putting the meatless balls into already-hot sauce. Those things took forever to heat up! But that was just as well, because the spaghetti squash I was going to eat them with was taking extra time as well.

Side note, if you've never had spaghetti squash before, you should definitely check it out. I usually cut them in half, scoop out the seeds, cover them with a light coat of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper (and usually garlic powder), and bake at 350 degrees for roughly 45 minutes. Sometimes it takes a little longer - just scrape the flesh lightly with a fork to check - if it's done, it'll come off in little spaghetti-looking strands without too much effort. Then just scrape it all out onto your plate and top with whatever you like on your spaghetti. Delicious!

Okay - now that the meatballs were all hot and yummy looking, it was time to eat them. I put a few of each type onto my plate, and took a bite of the meatless ball first. (sorry - no blind taste test for me) It had that distinctly gluten-y flavor I've come to recognize in many fake meat products. It's not a flavor I really enjoy. I ate the rest of the meatless balls, and they did get better after the first bite, as I grew accustomed to the flavor. The texture, however, merits a special comment. The texture of these meatless balls is very similar to homemade meatballs. At least the ones I make, anyway. Very nice texture, although a little bit fragile. They started to fall apart a bit in the sauce as I was stirring them, even though I was trying to be gentle with them.

Now let's talk No Name's real meatballs. I've had these before, and they were pretty good at the time. After eating a bunch of meatless balls, though, I admit they tasted a little weird at first. Not like, "I forgot what meat tastes like" weird. Just a little weird. Probably the frozen pre-made meatball factor. In any case, After the first bite, things normalized, and they were the tasty meatballs I remembered. Oddly, though, after the homemade texture of the meatless balls, I found myself kind of let down by the texture of the real meat meatballs. They were pretty tough and chewy. Without the direct comparison with the meatless balls, I'm sure it wouldn't have been as big a deal, but it was kind of a bummer.

Meatless meatballs:
Texture - great texture - just like my grandma's meatballs
Flavor - at first, that kind of gross gluten flavor - not too bad once I got used to it

Real meat meatballs:
Texture - tough and chewy - not too bad after I got over the disappointment
Flavor - pretty tasty, although not as good as the ones I make from scratch

Both of these had good points and bad points. Honestly, if I could combine the flavor of the real meat meatballs with the texture of the meatless meatballs, we'd really have something. Oh wait - that's my meatballs from scratch. Man, I make some good meatballs.

Meatless meatballs final grade: B+
Real meat meatballs final grade: B+

February 8, 2010

Apologies

I've been really sick the past week and a half, and haven't gotten to testing any new fake meats. To help make up for abandoning you last Friday, I'm letting you, the readers, pick what I test next. I put a poll in the sidebar to the right, so be sure to let me know what you want to see on here.