June 24, 2011

Lightlife Smart Strips, Chick'n

This week, another Lightlife review: Lightlife Smart Strips Chick'n. I did something really weird with these. I was in the mood to introduce our exchange student to something REALLY Minnesotan. People outside Minnesota probably won't understand this, but anyone living here will. I made hotdish.

People anywhere else in the world would probably look at this meal and say, "no wait - that's a casserole - what the heck is a hot dish?" to which a Minnesotan would point to the tater tots on top and say, "Definitely hotdish." Basically, hotdish is any combination of foods, usually including cream of mushroom soup, baked together, with tater tots on top. To be perfectly honest, I've never made one, and I've lived in Minnesota for 19 years. It was time.

I decided to fancy it up a bit - after all, I graduated from culinary school. So I started with some quinoa. If, somehow, you don't know what this is, look it up. I cooked up some quinoa while I was wilting some farmer's market spinach in some olive oil. Shredded some Swiss and Monterey Jack (I think…) cheeses, and stirred everything together with the obligatory can of cream of mushroom soup.

At this point, you might be wondering where the fake meat comes in. The answer is right now! I tore open that package of chick'n strips, sauteed very slightly with some onion and garlic, and tossed all that in as well. Finally, seasoned to taste with salt and pepper, dumped it all into a 2-qt casserole dish, topped with tater tots, and baked until the tots were reasonably crispy. Voila! My first hotdish!

So how did it go? Pretty well. The chick'n strips provided a reasonably chewy texture, but the flavor wasn't working very well with the rest of the team. It had a weird flavor of its own which I didn't really appreciate. I ended up picking out the chick'n bits and eating them all first, then diving into the rest of the meal.

The experience:
Texture - nothing to complain about here - reasonably chewy
Flavor - some kinda off-flavor - didn't jive well with the rest of the meal

Final grade for this attempt: C

June 17, 2011

Lightlife Smart Cutlets, Original Flavor

This week, I got a little creative with my fake meat. Not hugely creative, but a little. I decided to make a sandwich out of Lightlife Smart Cutlets, Original Flavor.

I was in the mood for a sandwich, which doesn't happen too often. As I'm sure I've written about before, I'm not enamored with the sandwich as a delivery system for food. I didn't make any regular sandwich though - I went with a Caesar chicken sandwich. I busted out some romaine lettuce, parmesan cheese, and my Caesar dressing. A quick note for vegetarians (who actually probably already know this): traditional Caesar dressing contains anchovies! As did mine, so technically my sandwich wasn't vegetarian, but neither am I so it all worked out.

I cooked up the cutlet in a skillet with a little olive oil and some garlic powder, oregano, and basil, to give it a head start on the Italian flavors. I even toasted my hamburger bun, just to give it a little crispiness. Then I shaved off a few slices of parmesan cheese, tore off a couple pieces of romaine, and built my sandwich, dousing the whole thing in Caesar dressing.

Now, to be fair, the dressing kind of overwhelmed any other flavors that may have been present, so my first impression of this sandwich was that it was very good. The texture of the cutlet wasn't mushy or chewy or any of the other things I usually use to describe fake chicken. It was nice and tender - not weird at all. I couldn't taste much of anything, so I broke off a piece and ate it separately from the sandwich. It wasn't a revelation on its own, but it wasn't awful either. Its purpose here was not to taste like chicken, but to provide a chewy counterpart to whatever else you were eating. In this case, it succeeded admirably. I enjoyed my sandwich very much, and highly recommend these cutlets for this application.

The experience:
Texture - not mushy, not chewy… just right
Flavor - not much to speak of, which is fine for adding flavors of your own

Final grade for this attempt: A

June 10, 2011

No review this week

Sorry to disappoint everybody, but I'm taking this week off to recharge. I'll be back next week with a brand spanking new review!

June 3, 2011

Homemade Seitan Pepperoni

This week, you get a bonus revelation with your standard Friday review. How exciting! I'm delving once again into the crazy world of homemade fake meat. I haven't had great luck with this in the past, but I'm bound to find something eventually that works out.

This time around, it's pepperoni! I found a recipe here that looked promising, picked up the one or two ingredients that I didn't already have on hand (my pantry is awesome!) and got to work. I cut the recipe in half, since I had no idea whether it would work or not. This recipe came together super easily. Took about 15 minutes to mix it up - mix the dry, mix the wet, mix the wet into the dry and knead. For once I didn't even mess with the ingredients. Everything went in as written. The instructions said to roll it into a log, but once I got it all together, there wasn't much shaping to be done - it was incredibly stiff. Plus, the mixture was so tough it started to reject the fennel and mustard seeds - they just kept popping out. I stuck them back in as well as I could, wrapped it in foil, and popped it into the oven.

During the hour it was in the oven, some delicious pepperoni-like smells started to come out of my oven. I started to get pretty optimistic that this might actually be good. I forgot to turn it over halfway, as instructed, but I don't think that mattered. One thing that I think is very important to mention: the recipe says to remove it from the oven and unwrap it - be very careful, because that thing is filled with super hot steam. I totally burned myself when I untwisted the end of the foil. Steam comes shooting out as soon as it has an opening. So wear oven mitts or something - maybe use tongs. Seriously. Be careful.

So, once it cooled down, I cut a slice of it to give it a taste. It was…interesting. It wasn't quite pepperoni, but it was a spicy, chewy thing with fennel. I was a bit underwhelmed, to be honest, considering how good it smelled. I stuck it in the fridge and went about my day.

The next day, I was making a mini pizza for my lunch, and I remembered this was in the fridge. I know I'm going to be in the minority here, but I am a big fan of pepperoni and pineapple pizza. I figured this would be an optimal time to test out the pepperoni in its natural habitat - pizza! So I cut a few thin slices, layered them on the crust with some tomato sauce, mozzarella, and pepperoni, and baked it in the oven until the crust was crispy and the cheese was gooey and slightly browned. Yum! Then I had a bite. It was pretty good! Again, not exactly pepperoni, but pretty tasty in its own right. I had a couple more of these pizzas over the next week or so, then over the weekend, a revelation hit.

I now understand the point of fake meat. It isn't meant to perfectly duplicate the experience of eating meat, but instead to evoke feelings of the experience of eating meat. When I was eating the pizza with the seitan pepperoni on it, while it wasn't exactly pepperoni, it was spicy and chewy, which is basically what one gets from eating pepperoni. The only thing missing was the grease factor, which I didn't really miss, personally. This revelation seemed very profound at the time. Maybe everyone else already knew this, but nobody told me, so I'm going to assume I'm first in line here.

I was tempted to end the blog on this note, but I still have a bunch of fake meat in my freezer, so I guess I'll just keep going. At least it all makes a bit more sense now.

The experience:
Texture - Chewy, but not weird-chewy. Pepperoni-chewy.
Flavor - Spicy and fennel-y. I could do without the fennel, personally, but that's just me.

Final grade for this attempt: A