Monday, March 9, 2009

Five Star Foodies Harvest Roast: a Review

Whenever I make a big trip to the grocery store, I always allow myself at least one splurge item; it keeps meals interesting and eating, a pleasure. At my last trip, I made my splurge item Five Star Foodies' Vegetarian Harvest Roast. Five Star Foodies is a local company that specializes in pre-packaged vegan cuisine, but until now I had never sampled any of their products. Certainly, the food nerd in me is drawn to any vegan novelties; I like to know my options, and trying new foods always inspires my cooking somehow. But there's also something to be said about hometown vegan pride. Cincinnati is a far cry from veggie hot spots like Portland or Philadelphia, so who would have expected us to produce a line of frozen vegan foods? While the price tag had always scared me, my life lately has been demanding some quick-fix meals, so this shopping trip, I finally went for it.

The Harvest Roast is basically crumbly stuffing rolled inside a hearty piece of seitan, wrapped in yuba. The seitan has a really nice texture to it: a little grainy but not too chewy or too dense. I read on Five Star's website that many of their products are Joy of Cooking recipes gone vegan, and the seitan certainly bursts with a familiar, comfort-food flavor. Wrapping the roast in yuba held the moisture in nicely and added a smooth, delicate contrast to the wholesome graininess of the seitan. It also conjured the experience of skin on meat without giving me omni flashbacks. Personally, I think there's something to be said about veg products that straddle the line between doing their own thing and trying to be something else, and while the Harvest Roast does have a distinctly "meat"-y quality to it, it doesn't remind me of any one meat in particular.

I only have two complaints about the Harvest Roast. My first complaint is the stuffing: it's like the savory equivalent of Oreo residue after drinking all your dunking "milk." I think it was appropriate to add another texture to complement the seitan, and I think a well executed stuffing would give the roast some complexity. However, this particular stuffing just wasn't doing it for me. The flavor was kind of lacking, and it felt really meal-y in my mouth. It was almost too soft to properly complement the seitan, and I'd be curious to try the roast without it. The other issue I had with the Harvest Roast is the same issue most (all?) meat analogues run into: sodium. One roast will give you 30% of your recommended daily allowance of sodium, and trust me, you taste it. I'm a sweets person, so I find salty things really jarring. This would have been so much better with less salt and a really full-bodied gravy, but neither problems were so problematic that I didn't enjoy the roast.

For the most part, vegan convenience items aren't something I make a habit of buying. Part of it is that they can only be remotely healthy for you in moderation, but the other part is that they're just so damn expensive. For $6.99, you get two Harvest Roasts - which isn't such a bad deal, except that I'm pretty sure I can make something similar but (let's face it) better for the same amount. However, this does beat Field Roast's Celebration Roast, which costs about the same for only one roast. Truth be told, though, I prefer the Celebration Roast. The Celebration Roast has a much richer flavor and a more variety of uses (squack like a bird if you love Celebration Roast sandwiches!), and I never eat a Celebration Roast all in one sitting. That all being said, I don't see why I can't be an avid appreciator of the Celebration Roast without holding the Harvest Roast as a good second. I really do like eating Celebration Roast just on celebratory occasions, whereas I feel like the Harvest Roast has more everyday potential. It really was convenient when I wanted something really filling without a lot of work, and the Harvest Roast lends itself so nicely to other comfort foods like mashed potatoes and a heaping pile of "butter"-y vegetables. I can see eating this on a cold winter night after being too ravaged by the weather to properly cook. This isn't something I'll be buying at the store often - maybe a small handful of times a year - but Five Star Foodies has certainly made a repeat customer out of me.

Oh, and P.S. Five Star Foodies has a line of juices, and they fucking rock. I think they're raw, but I'm not sure. Either way, they taste really fresh and come in awesome flavors, like ginger cider. I feel healthier just thinking about them. Fucking try one, you won't regret it.

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