October 5, 2012

Sophie's Kitchen Vegan Prawns

Oh goodie - more vegan seafood! This time, it's Sophie's Kitchen Vegan Prawns. After the rather mediocre experience of the last Sophie's Kitchen item, I'll admit I was not looking forward to eating these. The things I do for you people…

Okay, so the box gave a couple suggestions for how to cook these - an oven method and a stovetop method. I opted for the stovetop, as it was a little faster. I did not thaw the prawns ahead of time, as I was a little unsure of whether it was strictly necessary. I just tossed it into the pan with some oil and flipped the block of stuck-together prawns until they came apart, then cooked them separately until they browned ever so slightly. One thing I would like to note - these things stuck to the pan a lot! I had a nice thin layer of oil, as directed, but it did not stop these from sticking to the pan stubbornly. They came up without any unsightly shredding or anything - they were very strong - but still - every time I went to flip them, I had to pry them off the pan.

I would like to say something about the appearance. These were attractively striped, even down to the little pink tail-portion, and my friend Dan and I kept joking about how much they look like plastic shrimp. Like, giant Barbie shrimp or something. I figured if they tasted even half as good as they looked, we might have something.

However…

Once they came out of the pan, I cut a little chunk out of one of them, and bravely put it into my mouth. My teeth closed on it, managed to make their way through the rubbery texture to split the piece mostly in half, and at that point, the most horrible flavor invaded my senses, and everything stopped. I couldn't even manage to give it a second chew - I excused myself from the kitchen, made my way to the nearest trash can, and spit this out. I just was not able to keep this in my mouth for even one more second. It was chemically and plastic-tasting, and just plain horrible. There were undertones of nail polish flavor (at least, how I imagine it would taste based on the smell). "This is not food!", my brain was screaming. I rinsed out my mouth with some water, and luckily, the flavor did not linger, but the memory remained etched in my brain for quite some time.

Dan, to his credit, having witnessed this, took a tiny bite anyway. He managed to chew it several times, and I thought he might be able to actually swallow it, but nope - he couldn't do it either.

I don't know if we got a bad batch or what but these were not even close to what I would consider food. I cannot recommend that anyone buy these, ever. Except maybe as a visual aid, or some sort of prop where nobody was actually going to put them in their mouths. Do not eat these!

The experience:
Texture - very rubbery and chewy
Flavor - plastic mixed with nail polish and sadness

Final grade for this attempt: F

September 21, 2012

Tofurky Chorizo Style Grounds

This week, it's another chorizo! Everyone likes chorizo, right? Let's give this one a whirl: Tofurky Chorizo Style Grounds.

The Tofurky people recommended a wide variety of ideas for this product, but I went my own direction with it. And honestly, it was probably the best meal I had all week. Unfortunately I un-did both the vegan and gluten-free qualities of this fake meat in the process, but you could modify it to your own diet. Check below the review for my recipe!

I cooked this up with some bell pepper, onion, and zucchini, all from our local farmer's market. Then, and here's where we get crazy, served it up in some tortillas with Mexican rice, cheddar cheese, egg (scrambled for me, over easy for my wife), salsa, and sour cream. I'll be honest, when I was throwing this together, the zucchini was totally an afterthought - I had some, cut up, in the fridge, and I thought, hey - I'll just chuck this in too. But seriously, it added a great dimension to the entire meal that I think really made it great instead of simply good.

I imagine it would be just as good without the dairy and eggs, but we're not vegans here, so I'll leave the experimenting up to you fine folks. If you're going the gluten-free route, you could use corn tortillas instead of the flour tortillas we had on hand, and I'm confident that would work very well. When I ate this as leftovers the next morning, I had the rice, the veggie/chorizo mixture, a little bit of sour cream, some salsa, and a couple eggs cooked on top (no cheese, no tortilla), but my former exchange student from Japan who is now back in the state as a college student had just the veggies and rice for her lunch, and she liked it as well. So really, you could have this in a multitude of ways. Just don't skip the zucchini!

Quick note on the chorizo on its own - I heated it up and tasted it plain before adding it to the veggie mixture, just to make sure it was going to be okay, and I was pleasantly surprised to note that it was actually pretty good on its own. Nicely chewy, like a ground meat should be, and a good flavor without being overly spicy. People who like a lot of spice may want to add something like, I don't know, Tabasco, or a hot salsa or something. Whatever spice-lovers eat. You'd know better than I would.

The experience:
Texture - chewy in the good way
Flavor - flavorful without being overwhelmingly spicy

Final grade for this attempt: A

Veggie-Chorizo mixture for breakfast burritos or huevos rancheros or whatever

1 red bell pepper (or whatever color floats your boat), diced
1 red onion (again - yellow or white would also be fine), diced
1 medium-size zucchini, cut into bite-size chunks
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 package Tofurky Chorizo Style Grounds

Add any or all of the following to customize:
    tortillas
    cheese
    eggs
    sour cream
    salsa
    rice
    whatever else you like on this sort of thing - I can't do everything for you!

For the veggies - just heat the oil and veggies in a large skillet over medium-high heat until they reach the desired texture. I think I cooked mine for 7-8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in the chorizo grounds, and stir until the mixture is completely combined, and heated through. Serve with whatever other stuff your heart desires. Enjoy!

September 14, 2012

Lean Cuisine Veggie Cuisine Enchilada Rojo

It's been a while since I've reviewed a frozen entrée, and I had a coupon for this product (one dollar off two… stay tuned for the second variety), so I decided to try out Lean Cuisine Veggie Cuisine Enchilada Rojo with Mexican Rice.

Naturally the actual meal in the plastic container looks nowhere near as attractive as the picture on the box, but I won't bother downgrading it for that. I'm used to that sort of thing with frozen meals. Someone gets paid the big bucks to make the picture look good - nobody cares if the inside doesn't match. I'm sure if you tried hard enough, you could take the cooked food and make it look sort of like the picture, but nobody cares enough. Including me. Moving on.

So I heated it up in the microwave, as directed, and got ready to eat. I tried a bite of the rice first, and immediately noticed a strong cilantro and jalapeño kick. Like, really strong. I got a little worried about my ability to actually eat this, but after adding a dollop of sour cream, it was totally edible. Just be forewarned that if you're one of those cilantro-tastes-like-soap people, this is very cilantro-y. The enchilada itself was, let's go with underwhelming. The tortilla part was fine, and I assume the fake chicken strips were wrapped up in there, as the picture shows, but I didn't see or taste them. It didn't really matter too much, as the flavor of the sauce on top (also pretty spicy, but again, handled with the sour cream) kind of drowned everything out. It was good, just strong. I could have been eating a cheese enchilada for all I knew. Unfortunately it didn't occur to me until just now to dissect it to see how much fake meat was tucked in there, so I can't speak to that, but I'll just go ahead and assume that there was not enough of it.

Overall, however, the meal was pretty good, once I dulled the heat a little, to match my tolerance. More heat-loving people might enjoy it as packaged.

The experience:
Texture - tortilla a little dry, but eaten all together, it worked
Flavor - spicy with a strong cilantro presence - overall pretty good

Final grade for this attempt: B+

September 7, 2012

Sophie's Kitchen Breaded Vegan Fish Fillets

This week, it's time to explore some more fake seafood. Not so sure about this, but here we go. Let's take a look at Sophie's Kitchen Breaded Vegan Fish Fillets.

First of all, the box claims that these are "perfect for…everyone who just loves scrumptious food" - well, as I'm a fan of scrumptious food, I was led to believe this was going to be good. So I popped these into the oven, cooked them for the suggested amount of time, and then about 10 minutes more, hoping they'd crisp up, even a little. They look like they were going to get nice and crunchy, but they never got much crunch to them. Just a tiny bit on the edges, and I waited until they had some good color to them. Maybe I'm supposed to burn them to get them crunchy?

Alright, looking past the exterior, how was it? Well, the inside was mushy and stringy-looking. There were some weird white speckles all over the fillets, and after checking the ingredient list, I decided it was related to the "multigrain blend" listed - the white bits were probably oats or something. But how was the flavor? Well, not even the slightest bit fishy-tasting. It's hard to describe exactly what it DID taste like, but it wasn't awesome.

I decided to cast aside the vegan label and put some tartar sauce on these, to see if I could trick my brain into thinking it was more fishy-tasting. It did improve the eating experience slightly, but only because I could taste the fillet less. I tried a bite with lots of sauce and the very crispiest edge bit, and thought REALLY hard about fish sticks, but I was not able to trick my tongue.

These could easily be marketed as chicken patties rather than fish fillets, and it would be more accurate. I didn't hate them, but there was really nothing to recommend them either.

The experience:
Texture - not as crunchy as I was expecting on the outside; mushy and weird on the inside
Flavor - not the slightest bit fishy-tasting, just a little weird

Final grade for this attempt: C

August 24, 2012

Three year anniversary post

Wow, you guys! I can't believe I've been writing this thing for three years as of today! One hundred and thirty reviews. That's a lot of fake meat consumed.

I spent some time trying to think of something that would be worthy of a third-anniversary post, and I'm going to take the suggestion of my lovely wife - she thought it would be good to give you all a list of the fake meats that I (still a staunch omnivore) have eaten, even after writing the review. I decided, after thinking about it, to break it down into a few categories.


First category: foods that I buy and eat regularly (usually when they're on sale). These are two items that are actually in our freezer at the moment, and one that would be, if my local store didn't stop carrying them. But when they were available, I ate a bunch of them.

The first item is something that I have had for breakfast multiple times this past week: Morningstar Veggie Sausage, Egg, and Cheese Biscuits. Man, these are still so good. I've got the cooking of these down to less than 4 minutes, but with oven-quality results. How, you ask? Well, 30 seconds in the microwave, and then 3 minutes in my toaster oven. Piping hot with a nice crunchy biscuit. Hard to go wrong with this breakfast.

The other one currently in my freezer is Morningstar Italian Herb Chik Patties. Once again, rather than sacrifice quality by cooking it in the microwave, or take lots of extra time by baking in the oven, I do a combination - about 30 seconds in the microwave, just to get it started, and then about 3 minutes in the toaster oven to crisp it up. I do usually just eat this on a plate with a fork, but the last time I ate it (last week) I melted some mozzarella on it and ate it with some leftover linguine and tomato sauce. Yum!

My other would-be regular, if my local Target still carried it, is Yves Veggie Corn Dogs. I ate a lot of these back when I could get them, and I still pine for them. I saw them during our last fake meat stock-up trip, but we were already getting more than a dozen fake meat items, so my wife said we shouldn't get them. But at least if a major corn dog craving hits, I know where to find these.


The second category would be foods that we have eaten again, but that we don't pick up very often.

The first thing in this category would be Lightlife Smart Deli Pepperoni. We make a lot of pizza at our house - usually about once a week. On the rare occasion I get a hankering for pepperoni, this is what I generally use. Now, just to clarify - my own personal preference is for real-meat pepperoni. There's something about how the pepperoni curls up, with crisp edges, and that little puddle of grease in the center of it that appeals to me on a very weird level, as long as I don't think too much about it. My wife, however, does not have that weird grease-appreciation level, so we don't get to eat a lot of pepperoni. But with this fake pepperoni, we get to enjoy the pepperoni flavor but without the grease puddles that if I'm honest with myself, I shouldn't be eating anyway.

Next up in this category would be Morningstar Hickory BBQ Riblets. This could have potentially fit into the first category, as we do have a box of these in our freezer, but they've been there a very long time, so I decided to put them here instead. I'm not the biggest fan of the whole barbecue experience, so we mostly have these for my wife. She LOVES them, when she actually remembers to eat them.

The other two things I'd put in this category sort of go together, as far as explaining why they're here. These are sort of the best-in-show items for their respective categories, at least so far. When I want a hamburger-like veggie burger, I go to Boca All-American Flame Grilled Burger and when I'm looking for a fake meat crumble, I pick up Morningstar Crumbles. It's not terribly often that I choose a veggie burger for myself over a real-meat burger, or fake ground beef over real ground beef, unless I'm testing a product for review purposes, but when I'm feeding vegetarians, these are what I go for.


The final category I decided on is items that I would (or should) eat again.

First up would be a couple items by the same brand: Vegetarian Plus Vegan Black Pepper Steaks and Vegetarian Plus Vegetarian Chicken Drumsticks.

Let's cover the steaks first. I genuinely enjoyed eating these - I didn't eat them all in one sitting, so for a few days they sat in the fridge with the mashed potatoes. Once I finally got back to them, I didn't have terribly high hopes for them. However, they were still quite tasty, and I think I enjoyed them even more the second time. And when I think back on it, I kind of wish I had more. If I could remember where I saw these, I'd definitely go buy more and eat them.

For the drumsticks, I gave them a crappy score. I was informed in the comments (and I honestly don't know why this didn't seem hugely obvious to me at the time) that the microwave is the worst way to eat these. I did say in my review that once the rubbery texture faded from my memory (which it has) I'd be willing to try them again, but with another cooking method. So once I find the black pepper steaks, these will probably be nearby, and I'll pick up another box.

The next product that I'd definitely eat again, if I made it to a Trader Joe's more often, would be Trader Joe's Vegetable Masala Burger. I savored the heck out of each one of the patties from the original box, and whenever I think about them, my mouth waters. I really want more of these. It's just a special trip to TJ's away…

And finally, I wanted to specifically mention this homemade seitan pepperoni. This was not only a tasty recipe, but it helped clarify the entire purpose of fake meat for me, so it has a special place in my memory. I'd definitely make this again, but probably only if I couldn't find the Lightlife Pepperoni, or if I were really trying to impress someone. I mean… making your own pepperoni is really something special.


So those are my favorite products I've encountered over the past three years of writing this blog. It's been a long and crazy ride, with lots of disasters along the way, but some delicious highlights as well. I can't promise I'll be able to keep doing weekly reviews, what with this baby on the way (due in October!), but I'll do my best for you all, and keep putting my taste buds on the line for science!

August 17, 2012

Quorn Spaghetti and Meatless Meatballs

This week, another Quorn entree: this time Quorn Spaghetti and Meatless Meatballs.

Now, I'm a big fan of Italian food. My grandmother was Italian, and so I've got garlic and tomatoes running through my veins. Needless to say, I've got some pretty high standards when it comes to spaghetti. With that in mind, let's take a look at what they've put up here.

Once again, few minutes in the microwave, and we're ready to begin. Once the meal was out, I stirred the pasta and the sauce together and immediately noticed a huge problem (for me, anyway). The noodles were only about two or three inches long! Now, I don't know why I have such strong feelings about this, but it feels like they don't trust me to twirl my pasta around a fork, and have decided to cut it up for me, like I'm a child. In the picture on the box, you can't see any noodle-ends, making it look like the strands are all full-size (you know, for grown-ups), but in the box, little kid-size bits. Ugh. Whatever - moving on.

So how does it all taste? Well, bland, to be honest. I tried adding some parmesan cheese (because it is awesome), and then when that didn't work, some straight-up salt. The salt helped a little, but it was still just a boring tomato sauce. More herbs! More garlic! More flavor please! Oh, and the meatless meatballs were okay - not great. Also bland. On the plus side, the noodles weren't mushy - nicely al dente.

The experience:
Texture - meatballs were pretty standard meatball-texture, noodles were nicely firm, if short
Flavor - bland bland bland - nothing offensive, just boring

Final grade for this attempt: B-

August 10, 2012

Tofurky Pepperoni Pizza

This week, another frozen pizza: Tofurky Pepperoni Pizza. I was reasonably pleased last time I had one of these, so I was pretty optimistic.

So let's get started! First, I baked the pizza as directed. This went smoothly, although the smells coming from the oven were not terribly delicious. I started getting nervous once I pulled the pizza out. The sheer amount of pepperoni covering nearly the entire surface of this pizza was a little overwhelming. That was where the funky smell was coming from. In the picture on the box, there are little visible patches of cheese, but not so on the actual pizza. Crust-to-crust pepperoni. Yikes.

But how did it taste? Well, like eating a big mouthful of vegan pepperoni, and not much else. I knocked about 30% of it off, so that it looked like the picture on the box, and tried it again. This time it tasted like pepperoni pizza. Not a great pepperoni pizza, I'll admit, but I could actually discern other textures and flavors, so that was better. When toned down a bit, the pepperoni had a pretty good flavor - nicely spicy. The cheese was, once again, just sort of gooey, or creamy - not quite what I look for in a cheese. And the crust was extremely thin and crispy. Like, paper-thin. Just barely enough structure to hold up the mounds of pepperoni. The combination of the super-thin crust and the gooey cheese layer made it seem like the crust was just underbaked on top, but it was just the cheese. Not a horrible experience, but a little weird.

My friend Dan (if you missed his guest post, click here!) was unfortunate enough to eat this with me, and had a slightly less favorable opinion of it. He boldly declared it "the worst pepperoni pizza I will eat" and that "it kinda makes me wanna die". So, not a complete success in my house. And again with the three meager servings - Dan and I split it, and then made some tater tots to finish filling us up. This is a tiny pizza. I'm not even kidding. Be forewarned.

The experience:
Texture - super crispy, cracker-like crust, gooey-creamy cheese, meaty-chewy pepperoni
Flavor - as packaged, big mouthful of gluten-y pepperoni; with a reasonable amount of pepperoni, tasted pretty much like a pepperoni pizza should

Final grade for this attempt: B+

August 3, 2012

Yves Meatless Ground Round Original

It's been a while since I reviewed an Yves product, so here one comes! It's not a new product, so I'll actually be able to give you a proper link this time. Take a gander at Yves Veggie Meatless Ground Round Original.

I haven't had great experiences in the past with Yves products (except for their corn dogs…mmm) so I was a little nervous. I decided to go a fairly safe route (no, not tacos) and make a shepherd's pie. I pulled out my favorite don't-feel-like-spending-hours-in-the-kitchen-cookbook, The Best 30-Minute Recipe and dug out their skillet shepherd's pie recipe. Quick swap out the lamb for the Yves crumbles, and ta da! Dinner! Okay, I did use beef broth, and worcestershire sauce, so the meal wasn't technically vegetarian, but neither am I. Feel free to use your own recipe without those things.

Anyway, that's how I prepared this fake meat. How was it, you must be wondering by now? Well, it was actually pretty darned tasty. Plain, the crumbles had a vaguely savory flavor, with that gluten-y undertone present in so many fake meats, but it was pretty mild, so I figured it'd play nicely with other flavors. Texturally, it wasn't perfect, but it certainly wasn't mushy. There was a definite ground-beef-y chew to it, and the more of it I ate, the less I noticed the oddness of it. Overall, a good result!

I wouldn't suggest trying to bind these crumbles into a burger patty or meatballs, but mixed into a spaghetti sauce or cooked with a nice taco seasoning of your choice, it'd likely be a winner.

The experience:
Texture - soft but chewy - pretty close to actual ground beef
Flavor - little odd plain, but just don't eat it that way and you'll be fine

Final grade for this attempt: A

July 27, 2012

Quorn Kung Pao Chik'n

This week, something new from Quorn: Quorn Kung Pao Chik'n.

I saw this entree on a recent stocking up trip at the local hippie health food store, and figured I'd give it a shot. I usually steer clear of Kung Pao items, as they are often too spicy for me, but what the heck - if it ended up being too spicy, I'd pass it off to my wife, who can handle much more heat than I can .

So I popped it into the microwave to heat it up, and then, well, it was hot. Not much to say about heating things up in the microwave. Right away I knew what the problem was going to be. Not the spiciness, as I'd feared, but the overwhelming ginger flavor! To be fair, the box does state that the sauce is a "sweet & spicy ginger and garlic sauce" so it was pretty true to its word. Not enough garlic for me, but I very rarely find something with "enough" garlic. As for its spice level, there was definitely some heat to it - the truly hardcore probably wouldn't notice it, but it's there. But the major player here is the ginger.

As for the rest of the elements, the noodles were surprisingly firm, in a good way. Often, with frozen meals, any pasta involved ends up mushy and gross, but not this time! And the fake chicken chunks had a decent chewiness to them as well.

So, if you like spicy ginger-flavored stuff, give this a whirl. If you don't like ginger (like me), I'd steer clear.

The experience:
Texture - good chewiness, both to the fake chicken and the noodles
Flavor - GINGER!

Final grade for this attempt: B (or maybe higher, if you like ginger)

July 20, 2012

Field Roast Mexican Chipotle Sausage

This week, a guest post! I made my best friend Dan try this sausage with me, and it's a good thing I did, since it ended up being too spicy for me. Here's what he had to say about Field Roast Mexican Chipotle Sausages:

To begin, these sausages were wrapped up in a plastic casing like real-meat sausage links. A word of warning: the casing did not entirely contain the bright red juice these sausages are infused with and it seems like it could stain if not dealt with in a timely fashion.

So, we cut open the casings, sliced up the sausages and fried em up in ye olde skillet. The instructions led us to believe that this product might be the crumbly type of sausage, but they held their shape through cooking and eating, so you can use them just like links. When served, we got them nicely crisped on the outside and warm and chewy on the inside. I'm a big fan of fake meat sausages and these were looking promising.

At this point we discovered that these bad boys ARE spicy. They were a bit beyond Tracy's spice tolerance and near the end of mine. Now, I'm not big into spicy foods so I'm only the relative expert. I'd say their spice level is pretty close to run-of-the-mill "Hot" salsa. So while Tracy declared this product dead to her, I had a few more bites and tried to formulate my opinion.

The initial bite went much better than some of the fake-meat adventures I've been on in Tracy's kitchen. The texture was natural and possibly even enjoyable, but not a meat-like texture. It was a little dry as well, but that is probably due in part to frying it up. The flavor is the problem. I won't count the spice level against it, but there was no feature to the spice other than "hot." It was not a pepper-spicy or a curry-spicy, it was just "hot." Completely boring. No other flavors managed to make it through the heat, either. None of the traditional sausage flavors survived, if they were there at all. These sausages are hot and bland at the same time.

My closing decree is that these sausages are just another bland attempt at fake meat, with a poor attempt to cover it up with spiciness. They are serviceable as sustenance if you can handle the heat, but since fake sausage has so many other better success stories, I don't see these surviving on many peoples' menus.

The experience:
Texture - definitely not unpleasant, but not even close to "meat"
Flavor - bland except for featureless "hotness"

Thanks, Dan, for providing more information than "OMG HOT!" which would be all I  could produce.

Final grade for this attempt: C-

July 6, 2012

Tofurky Breakfast Links

This week, it's a new breakfast sausage: Tofurky Breakfast links.

I cooked these up in a skillet with a little oil to crisp them up on the outside, like a proper breakfast sausage, and served them up with some leftover strawberry pancakes. Exciting, yes? Well, not exactly.

The sausages had an okay texture. Not mushy or overly chewy - just the right amount of chew. But the flavor was a big disappointment for me. I'm used to a little spiciness, maybe, and some nice herby flavors, like sage. This tasted, to me, like someone dumped a large amount of black pepper into the mix and called it a day. The ingredients include things other than pepper, but I couldn't taste anything else. I tried a bite of sausage with a bite of pancake, but the peppery sausage flavor drowned out the delicious strawberry slices in the pancakes! This simply wouldn't do, so I ditched the sausage.

Sorry, Tofurky, this one is just not a winner. In fact, every Tofurky sausage variety I have tried has come out simply mediocre. Maybe this just isn't your thing?

The experience:
Texture - nicely chewy
Flavor - nothing but peppery flavor - where are my other spices?

Final grade for this attempt: C

June 22, 2012

Morningstar Grillers Chik'n

This week, another veggie burger. Let's take a gander at Morningstar Grillers Chik'n.

The website brags that these are "grillable, tender, juicy and delicious no matter how you dress them up." Big promises and very optimistic - just how I like it. But will it measure up?

Once again, regular veggie burger protocol: oil, pan, flip until hot. And again, I observed the grill marks only painted on one side. Where's the commitment, people? I know you only need to show one side on the box, but really - your customers are going to see both sides. These things make a difference. To me, anyway.

So let's get to the eating. I'm sure they are grillable, even though I pan-fried it, but they were certainly not tender and juicy. The burger I ate was dry and of a texture somewhere between flaky and crumbly. It fell apart in an unpleasant way in my mouth - let's put it that way.

I can sometimes overlook a bad texture if the flavor is good, but in this case, the flavor was not good enough to overcome the texture problems. It's hard to explain - it wasn't an interesting flavor - it was boring and weird. I tried adding ketchup (to dress it up!) and it didn't help. I tried adding salsa, which covered the weird flavor but that's not necessarily an improvement. Overall, I would not recommend these burgers. I've had way better chicken patty-type things.

The experience:
Texture - dry and flaky
Flavor - blah and weird

Final grade for this attempt: D

June 15, 2012

Quorn Classic Burger

This week, another veggie burger. I've already tested the cheeseburger version of this, but this week, I'm testing out Quorn's Classic Burger.

I hit up my usual burger routine - little oil, flip a couple times, cook until hot. Then I dug in. First thing I notice was actually while cooking - these burgers painted the grill marks only on one side of the burger. I was oddly troubled by this - if you're going to pretend, why not go all the way? But anyway, how did it taste? Well, not awesome. It was mildly oniony, which changed to a more generically meaty flavor with some ketchup.

It had an oddly spicy effect - there was a sort of tingling in my mouth, despite not actually containing any spicy ingredients. I thought this was strange and a little disconcerting.

Texture-wise, it was fine - not mushy or overly chewy - right in the middle. It was a texture that could not possibly offend anybody. And that is all I have to say about that.

The experience:
Texture - just the right amount of chew
Flavor - a little oniony plain, but with ketchup, more like just a regular veggie burger

Final grade for this attempt: C

June 1, 2012

Morningstar Veggie Dogs

This week, I'm finally testing out Morningstar Veggie Dogs. They were very popular a long time ago but disappeared, and now they are back, apparently. Will they be able to beat the current best fake meat hot dog? Let's find out!

To start out, the directions on the box had two suggested cooking methods. I decided, for science, to try them both. So I started boiling a pot of water, and while I waited for that, I tossed a dog into the microwave. Fifty seconds later, I had a piping hot veggie dog. About fifteen seconds before it was done, I was pretty excited, because a legitimately tasty smell was emanating from the microwave, but only for a second, then it turned weird, and I started to get nervous. As part of the quirkiness of microwave cooking, the skin on the veggie dog kind of bubbled up in a couple spots, making it look less than appetizing, but I cut it some slack. I cut off a chunk and popped it into my mouth. Not great. Doused a second bite in lots of ketchup and ate that - much improved, until the ketchup dissipated, and then I was left with this really funky flavor. The flavor though… I even tried it with a bite of bun and a bunch of ketchup - even more improved, until the bun and ketchup disappeared, leaving only the veggie dog flavor.  I will say, though, that the texture was awesome. They nailed the texture of cheap real-meat hot dogs.

So by this point, my pot of water was boiling. I dropped a second veggie dog into it and noticed that I would have to keep waiting another seven minutes. What? This method is not for the super hungry or impatient. I was really hoping that it would be worth it.

Seven interminable minutes later, I fished my veggie dog out of the water and dropped it onto a plate. I will definitely say that it looked a lot better than the microwaved one. But did it taste better? Heck yes it did! It was still a little weird, but a much milder weird - one that was covered up more thoroughly with a hefty dose of ketchup, and less unpleasant once the ketchup disappeared. And after a couple bites, I kind of didn't mind it too much. It's not even close to a replacement for my favorite real-meat hot dog, but of all the gluten-based veggie dogs I've tried, this one was definitely the best.

The experience:
Texture - exactly like a real-meat (cheap) hot dog - nailed it!
Flavor - a little weird, but much better not from the microwave - use lots of condiments!

Final grade for this attempt: B-

May 25, 2012

Gardein Chipotle Lime Crispy Fingers

This week, I'm testing out another Gardein product: Gardein Chipotle Lime Crispy Fingers.

To cook these, I popped them into a super hot oven (450 degrees F!) for the suggested time. It did take the full 25 minutes to get crispy - after 20 minutes it was still pretty soggy. However, after 25, it was really very crispy. I may even go so far as to say crunchy. While they were baking, they tasted very strongly of chipotle, and I began to get a little worried that they end up being too spicy for me.

Something I'm going to highly recommend is to actually let it cool a couple minutes after taking it out of the oven. I was pretty impatient, and took a bite as soon as my mouth could handle it, and it tasted kind of blah. After a couple minutes, though, the chipotle flavors started to come through, and, to a lesser degree, a little citrus hint at the end. It turned out to be a good amount of spiciness (for me) - felt the burn a little, but didn't run crying for a glass of milk. (what do vegans drink when food is too spicy?) The spice increased as I ate more of the crispy finger, as chipotle tends to do, so be aware of that. I ended up dipping them into a little bit of ranch dressing, to help cool things down slightly.

I can see these being very good in the recommended applications printed on the bag - a wrap or a salad. They're not super exciting on their own, but I think that, with other ingredients, the flavors would complement each other nicely.

The experience:
Texture - nicely crispy/crunchy on the outside, nicely chewy and not too dry on the inside
Flavor - not much in the way of flavor aside from the breading, but it's supposed to be like chicken, which is pretty mild anyway - the breading actually has a nice chipotle-lime flavor, as promised

Final grade for this attempt: A

May 18, 2012

Morningstar Veggie Meatballs

Hey everybody! Sorry for disappearing on you there for a bit! See, in case anyone was wondering, what happened is that I found out I am pregnant! (Yes, I'm a woman, for those of you not keeping track) And for a few weeks there, I wasn't up for experimenting with new foods, and then I just sort of got out of the habit, but I'm back now.

My first review upon my return will be for Morningstar Veggie Meatballs. I ate these a long time ago, and have had the box sitting on my desk to remind me to write up a review, so forgive me if the experience isn't totally fresh in my mind.

For the cooking method, I chose the oven, since that usually results in a better outcome. I heated them up as directed, then tossed them into the pasta sauce, to soak up some tomato-y goodness, before serving them with some spaghetti. Super classic.

How were they? you are undoubtedly asking. Well, they were pretty good. They had a fairly chewy texture, but not tough. The flavor was not perfectly meat-like, but wasn't bad. I may recommend that the veggie balls spend a little more time with the sauce, to improve the flavor a little. Maybe even partially cook them in the oven, and finish in the sauce.

Overall though, if I were not a regular eater of meat, I'd certainly eat these.

The experience:
Texture - chewy without being rubbery
Flavor - savory but not exactly meaty

Final grade for this attempt: B+

February 10, 2012

Quorn Cheeseburger

This will likely be a short one, because I don't have too much to say about Quorn Cheeseburgers.

I used the skillet method of cooking - teensy bit of oil, flip it a few times. Definitely make sure to cook over not too high a flame, otherwise it'll brown before the middle is hot, and that's no fun.

I tried this plain and on a bun with some ketchup. Plain it was a little weird, but the ketchup and bun masked the weirdness nicely. The texture was good - chewy without begin rubbery, tender without being mushy.

But wait, this is supposed to be a cheeseburger. There's cheese in the ingredients list, but no cheese flavor in the burger. That was kind of a letdown. If you're going to call something a cheeseburger, you should be able to taste it.

The experience:
Texture - nicely chewy but not too chewy
Flavor - not terrible, but better when masked with a bun and toppings

Final grade for this attempt: C

February 3, 2012

Gardein Chick'n Scallopini

This week, something a little different: Gardein Chick'n Scallopini.

I decided on a whim one evening to cook up a couple of these, dice them up, and bake them on a pizza. Then I fed it to my wife without telling her what it was, to see if she'd notice. I'll get to that in just a minute.

To cook them, I tossed them into a skillet with a little oil and flipped them a few times until they were browned and hot. Because I was making a Greek pizza, I sprinkled some Greek seasoning onto them while they were cooking. Even though the website says they are seasoned, and I added additional seasoning, these were pretty bland. Not much flavor. I think it wouldn't hurt them if I went more aggressive with the seasoning. There wasn't any bad flavor, just not much flavor at all.

The texture was a little weird. Very soft, but a little spongy, like a marshmallow. Not quite as soft as a marshmallow - maybe a stale marshmallow. But juicy. Anyway, it wasn't bad, just a little weird. I didn't really mind it, but it wasn't as chicken-y as other fake chicken products I've had.

Once it took a pass through the oven on top of the pizza, it blended well with the other ingredients. I thought it might firm up with additional heating and/or drying out, but it stayed pretty much the same. It sort of disappeared on the pizza, in fact. When I asked my wife what she thought of the pizza, she identified the ingredient as chicken, but she said it wasn't very good. I told her it was fake meat, and she said she had thought it was a little weird.

So there you go. If you try this product, I'd recommend a fairly aggressive flavor profile, because going light on the seasoning makes no difference.

The experience:
Texture - light and spongy
Flavor - not much to speak of, but nothing bad, so feel free to season at will

Final grade for this attempt: B

January 27, 2012

Morningstar Italian Herb Chik Patties

This week, something with fond associations in my mind. Can it live up to my expectations? Let's find out. I'm going to test out Morningstar Italian Herb Chik Patties.

Now, when I say fond associations, I have to go all the way back to living in the dorms at college. After the first, oh, couple weeks there, the exciting food choices weren't so exciting, and I settled into a routine of mostly breakfast cereal and chicken patties. Of course, hangover Sunday was greasy chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese, but that's a whole other story. The chicken patties at my dining hall were delightfully reliable. Not spectacular, by any means, but I could count on them being tasty and available when other choices didn't seem too tasty. So I ate a lot of them, back in the day. I hoped that these could live up to my memory of my dorm years.

I opted for the cooking option most likely to result in deliciousness - the oven. Yes, it takes a really long time, but when you want something with a crispy breaded exterior, there's really no other choice. After the designated time on the box, the patty was not quite hot enough, so I kept in in there a bit longer, until it was fully crispy. I ended up going about 7 minutes longer than the upper recommended time, but with chicken patties, the crunch is key. Finally it was ready to taste.

First of all, it looked great, and it smelled great. I opted to just eat it plain, rather than on a bun, just to get the full effect. I was not disappointed. This patty had a nice herby flavor, as promised, and a mildly chicken-y flavor, which isn't too tough to do, since chicken doesn't have a terribly pronounced flavor to begin with. I was really pleased with this.

I think this patty would be great on a bun, or on top of some spaghetti with some mozzarella cheese and marinara sauce, or on a Caesar salad. Or, like I had it, just plain on a plate, like the old days.

The experience:
Texture - Nicely crispy, eventually, with a pleasing chewy middle
Flavor - Very much like a chicken patty with Italian flavors - no complaints here

Final grade for this attempt: A+

January 20, 2012

Morningstar Veggie Corn Dogs

Something weird I've noticed over the years of writing this blog is that fake meat hot dogs seem to be universally bad while fake meat corn dogs are actually pretty good. I'd heard some really good things about Morningstar Farms Veggie Corn Dogs but for a long time they were discontinued. Apparently they're back!

I cooked these up two different ways, just to be thorough. First up, the oven, which is the method they recommend. Also the slowest possible way to get a corn dog into your mouth. So, into the oven for 20 minutes they went. Much much later, they came out, all hot and crunchy. Also cracked all the way up one side. Not the prettiest corn dogs around, but whatever. Time to give them a taste! Unfortunately, these were not that great. The corn bread part was okay, but the dog inside was…unpleasant. I made it through about a half of this corn dog before I just didn't want to eat it anymore. It wasn't horrible, but if I'm going to eat something, I want to enjoy it, and I wasn't enjoying this. Just not worth it. My German exchange student ate one of these, and declared it fine, but he's never actually eaten a real-meat corn dog, so he doesn't know what he's missing out on.

Next cooking method - the microwave. This is so rarely a good idea - I just figured since I didn't want to actually eat another one, I should see if the microwave could, against all odds, improve the situation. And it turns out, it does not. It still cracked up one side, but now, instead of having a crispy exterior, it was tough and chewy, and still tasted not great. And now my microwave smelled super strongly of funky hot dog. Bad situation all around. The only up side was that it tasted slightly better from the microwave than it did from the oven, but the benefit was totally outweighed by the ruined texture. Don't microwave these, trust me. And while you're at it, don't buy these - there are better corn dogs out there.

The experience:
Texture - from the oven, crispy on the outside, cheap-hot-dog-y on the inside; from the microwave, tough and chewy all the way through
Flavor - the corn bread part wasn't bad, but the mediocre hot dog inside ruined it for me

Final grade for this attempt: C

January 13, 2012

Gardein Ultimate Beefless Burger

Here comes another veggie burger! This time, it's Gardein Ultimate Beefless Burger. Sounds exciting!

As usual, I cooked it up in a skillet with a touch of oil. Not much to say about this part. I flipped it a couple times, to evenly brown it. I don't remember it having those attractive grill marks they show on the package, though. Hmm.

Let's get to why you're here: the tasting! We eat first with our eyes - this looks like a very burger-y burger. I wouldn't feel terribly self-conscious if I were one of those people who bring veggie burgers to a barbecue with meat-eaters. Once on a bun, I gave it a thorough tasting. First bite was a little weird - sort of meat-like but with an off-flavor that I couldn't immediately identify. Then I placed it. When I was in Europe way back when, this is what fast-food burgers tasted like. Something about the beef they use (probably higher quality than we get here in the states) had a different flavor to it, and this veggie burger tasted like that. After I figured that out, I gave it another taste and decided that, if I were not a meat-eater, I could get behind this burger. It's pretty darn good.

The experience:
Texture - nicely chewy, like one would expect a burger to be
Flavor - like European fast food burgers

Final grade for this attempt: A

January 6, 2012

Trader Joe's Veggie Burger

Another year, another veggie burger. This time, Trader Joe's Veggie Burger. Man, I kind of can't wait until I finish testing all existing veggie burgers. Okay, enough whining, let's get to the reviewing.

The first problem I ran into was that, while cooking this, it totally started falling apart.  This did not bode well for a patty. Once I got it onto a bun, things did not improve. It was really mushy, which is not a texture I strive for in my burgers. The catch was that the flavor was actually pretty decent. I didn't mind scooping it up and eating it.

So I started wondering: what could this be marketed as, if not a burger? When I removed the patty-expectations from my mind, this wasn't too bad to eat - maybe served crumbled on a salad? Or in a casserole? I don't know, but I'll do some experimenting with my extra patties to see if I can render them more palatable, and get back to you.

The experience:
Texture - very mushy - bad as a patty, potentially good as… something else
Flavor - kind of a stuffing-y flavor - sort of generically veggie-ish, but pleasant

Final grade for this attempt: B- (for now)