June 25, 2010

Lightlife Tofu Pups, this time, on a stick!

I mentioned in my first review of Lightlife's Tofu Pups that these hot dogs might perform better in a more traditional hot dog setting. The other day, for lunch, I got ambitious and decided to transform my leftover Tofu Pups into corn dogs! Who doesn't like hot dogs wrapped in corn bread on a stick? I'm a little afraid of frying things at my house, since I don't have an actual deep fryer, so I went with the wimpier-yet-healthier route of a baked corn dog. I hunted around on the internet for a good recipe, and found one here that looked promising.

I got the corn bread portion of the recipe ready to go, stuck the tofu pups on skewers (all I had at the time) and wrapped the corn bread dough around the dogs. They looked fairly edible, so I went ahead and baked them.

The results: well, right away, the skewer was a failure. It pulled right out of the hot dog. I sort of knew it would, but hoped it maybe wouldn't. So I just picked it up with my hands and dipped it into the ketchup that way. It wasn't a big deal to do that, because, since it wasn't fried, it wasn't totally greasy. Disregarding the total dryness of the corn bread portion, the flavor of the corn bread melded very well with the flavor of the Tofu Pup. This is a very good application of this product. It still smelled terrible once you broke through the corn bread armor, but it tasted pretty okay all together. I would recommend (and may try for myself one day) a more standard batter and actually frying it. If you do this (or have done it in the past), let me know how it goes.

The experience:
Texture - the corn bread part was very dry, but the Tofu Pup itself still had that pleasing cheap-hot-dog texture that I like from time to time
Flavor - better than it smells, for sure

Final grade for this attempt: B for the dog, C for the corn bread recipe

June 18, 2010

Lightlife Smart BBQ

As many of you may have noticed, it's summer. And what's a good thing to eat in the summer? Barbecue! So this week, we're going to take a gander at Lightlife's Smart BBQ.

Just to compare, I also tossed some pork shoulder into my slow cooker in the morning, but ended up choosing not to make this a head-to-head post, which I'll explain in a bit. I decided to flesh out the meal with some traditional sides: corn on the cob and coleslaw, with an awesome strawberry-rhubarb crumble for dessert. I was going to do this right!

Once the real meat and the sides were just about ready, I put the package of Smart BBQ into the microwave, as directed. Right in the package and everything - just slightly tear the top to vent. Just a couple minutes later, everything was done! We loaded up our plates with both real meat and fake meat and got ready for some awesome barbecue.

First thing I noticed - the fake meat barbecue did not have even remotely the same texture as the pulled pork I made. The pork was melt-in-your-mouth tender, while the fake meat was super chewy. I decided that the fake meat was not meant to imitate a pulled pork recipe, but maybe some beef brisket, which is much chewier. With that comparison in mind, I took another bite. I would go ahead and say it is pretty faithful to the chewiness of beef. As for the flavor, well, barbecue sauce covers most flaws, and this was no exception. The sauce was nicely tangy and and smoky, as promised.

Unfortunately for the Smart BBQ, it was up against some very tough competition, so not too much of it got eaten, but the stuff that did was surprisingly good.

The experience:
Texture - Once we decided it was imitating beef, not pork, I totally got behind the (initially excessive-seeming) chewiness
Flavor - Can't really go wrong with a good barbecue sauce

Final grade for this attempt: A

June 11, 2010

Tofurky Kielbasa

Before typing up this review, I did some research on kielbasa, just to make sure I didn't say anything incorrect about polish sausages only to be told that there are different types and I am wrong and stupid. Turns out, there are different varieties of polish sausages (as I'd expected). With that in mind, I'll try not to make any sausage-ignorant comments about this Tofurky Kielbasa.

First of all, the picture on the package is grossly misleading. They are bright red in the picture. The reality is that these are sort of grayish beige. The picture had led me to expect a product I was pretty familiar with that I eat from time to time also called kielbasa (or polish sausage, or smoked sausage, depending on the brand that is cheapest at the time of purchase) that is more U-shaped and has a delightful spicy flavor. These were definitely not U-shaped, but that was okay, since I was really hoping they had the same flavor profile as the other sausage. Once I saw that they were gray instead of red, I lost some enthusiasm for the experience.

The package said they were "outdoor grill approved" whatever that means, but I didn't feel like firing up my little mini charcoal grill just for these sausages, so I tossed them on my foreman grill. Same basic idea, I reasoned.

When I get that U-shaped polish sausage, I like to eat it with some scalloped potatoes (although mashed is also good), so I whipped some of those up to go with these sausages, and some green beans, just to get a green vegetable in there.

I grilled them up, but not for too long! Side note, I'm intrigued by the paradox of directions on so many products that strictly warn you DO NOT OVERCOOK but then give you a time frame that is WAY too long. This package's grill directions only say, "Sausages only take a short time to heat up on the grill," carefully avoiding this paradox, but providing very little helpful information.

I was not terribly excited by the prospect of eating this sausage. It was still gray-beige, but now had grill marks. Still not the exciting bright red from the package. Anyway, I went ahead and tried it. It had sort of a peppery flavor, but not much else going on. The package claims the sausages have, "the perfect blend of fresh onion and garlic," but I would have to disagree. I tasted neither onion nor garlic. When combined with scalloped potatoes, whatever flavor was in there disappeared. It was just chewy potato flavor at that point, which was not terribly offensive, but not something I strive for in my meals.  The texture was pretty nice, however. Not mushy or too dry or anything like that. I just wish it had had an equally nice flavor to go with it.

The experience:
Texture - nicely chewy - a good "sausage" texture
Flavor - not much to speak of

Maybe, if I pick these up again, I'll try to cook it up in a soup or something, but the idea of enhancing a soup with the flavor of…not really anything…isn't terribly appealing.

Final grade for this attempt: C

June 4, 2010

Lightlife Tofu Pups

Oh man - it's time to delve back into the deep, dark world of imitation hot dogs. An old friend of mine recommended these way back when I first started this blog (Hi Leah!), so I hope she's still reading. Here we go! After the two-part Smart Dog debacle, I wasn't expecting much from Lightlife's other version of the hot dog: Tofu Pups. I was a little encouraged by the fact that it had no gluten - that's usually the major factor in things that taste gross. This dog is straight soy. With other stuff, of course, but no gluten.

Since I'd gotten yelled at by some random internet user for not following the package directions for cooking those gross things before, I decided to go by the metaphorical book. I cut the slits in the dogs and microwaved them for the prescribed amount of time. While that was happening, I was getting my macaroni and cheese ready. I was feeling optimistic on these.

Once the pups were ready to go, I cut off a chunk and checked it out. This was first accomplished by squeezing it between my index finger and thumb to assess the texture. Gotta say, hilariously squishy. The texture struck me as intensely amusing. It was very… springy. Yeah, let's go with that. Springy. I went ahead and put it in my mouth anyway. Oh wait - first I have to discuss the smell. The odor that emitted from the microwave when I took the dogs out was absolutely foul! I was not looking forward to tasting this item. Luckily, it did not taste like it smelled. It didn't really taste like anything, truth be told. And that's not because I was holding my breath or anything. It really tasted like nothing. I even tried it with a bite of my macaroni to see if it would disappear into the mac and cheese, leaving only a hilariously spongy texture. Oddly, it imparted a weird unpleasantness to the mac and cheese. Not a great combo.

Not ready to give up yet, I tried it in a more traditional hot dog setting. With ketchup! Now we're talking. It absorbed the ketchup flavor without competing. Very symbiotic. It lent a pleasantly squishy texture to the ketchup, and the ketchup provided a nice flavor to the flavorless hot dog. If I'd had any hot dog buns, I'd have tossed one on a bun and gone full hot dog on that bad boy. But that's for another review. I finished eating that whole pup, in chunks, with ketchup, next to my macaroni and cheese, and it wasn't too bad. One more note on the texture - I don't know how many of you out there have eaten those super cheap real-meat hot dogs. You probably know the ones I'm talking about - they cost about a buck for a package, and you just know that they can't be more than fifty percent meat? And certainly not from any recognizable cut. Well, the Tofu Pups had the texture of those down exactly. Nailed it!

The experience:
Texture - exactly the texture of cheap real-meat hot dogs
Flavor - not much flavor - seemed condiment-ready though - more experimentation may be necessary

Something occurred to me during the testing of this product. Many sausage-like products that fake meat producers attempt have a pretty strong flavor that is easy to impose on whatever fake meat element you're using. Breakfast sausage, Italian sausage, chorizo, kielbasa (stay tuned!), all have their own distinctive flavor profile. Hot dogs, though, are mainly about the meat (or "meat") contained within. They don't have a special "hot dog" flavor to try to imitate. This may make the job more difficult. That's all I'm sayin'.

Final grade for this attempt: B