Friday, August 14, 2009

Product Review Time

I feel like apologizing for the lack of recipes, but I just haven't been cooking much lately . To be fair, I was out of town for a while, but mostly, I've just been lazy. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I've been eating a lot of veggie burgers in tortillas, and while I COULD do a run-down of the eight or so brands of burgers I've tried this summer, I think we've all sort of "been there, done that." I've tried lots of other things this summer, though - more interesting and unusual things - so I thought I'd share my thoughts on those products instead.

Field Roast Grain Meat Sausages. I tried my first Field Roast product two years ago when Christmas arrived and I was still too burned out from Thanksgiving to attempt anything fancy. It was one of their celebration roasts which always sat so cute and savory in its little package but was obviously far too expensive for everyday eating. Man, did that roast get me HOOKED, so I was pretty stoked to discover their sausages. The thing I like about Field Roast products is that they're really toothsome without really trying to mimic meat, so I eagerly committed to trying all three flavors: smoked apple, Italian, and Mexican chipotle. My favorite was the smoked apple because I love blending sweet and savory. It burst with a smoke-y sage flavor punctuated by little apple bits that was perfect for an autumn influenced pasta. I was also impressed by the Italian sausage, which I think has a more authentically Italian-sausage flavor than any other vegan Italian sausage I've tried. I don't really remember Italian sausage that well, but these immediately took me to my grandma's kitchen, summer afternoons, and marinara simmering on the stove. (And others, well, don't.) I think Field Roast owes some of this to using fennel. Go Field Roast! The Mexican Chipotle tasted as spicy as it looked, but I was kind of indifferent to it. While I love spice, I'm not big on Mexican-infleunced cuisine, and this screamed: "Use me in Tex-Mex!" I'd still eat it again, though - especially since it actually DID have a little kick to it. Field Roast Grain Meat Sausages get a serious thumbs up from the xvx party.

So Delicious Coconut Milk. So far, I've been really pleased with So Delicious' coconut line of products. By far, their coconut ice cream is the richest, creamiest commercial vegan ice cream - high praise because I'm a pretty big fan of their Purely Decadent line. I'm also pleased with how luscious and full-bodied their yogurts are. (I still prefer Whole Soy's yogurts, though.) The only thing that turns me off to these So Delicious products is that they're significantly more expensive than their already-price-y soy counterparts. Inevitably, when I found So Delicious' coconut milk on sale, I lept at the chance to try it. I got the unsweetened kind, which I think was a good move because coconut milk is pretty sweet in and of itself, but I didn't like it as an all-purpose milk. Even though it's not as rich and decadent as a can of coconut milk, it's still pretty cream-y, and while I think the ice cream and yogurt have very subtle coconut flavors, the milk's flavor is still pretty distinct. I thought it'd go perfectly with cereal, but its coconut-y creaminess turned out to be a distraction. I didn't even like the way it made hot cocoa, and I certainly couldn't use it in savory dishes. I was torn about how I felt about it nutritionally: it has fewer calories than soymilk (fifty for the unsweetened coconut compared to eighty in the unsweetened soymilk) but almost all its calories come from saturated fat. Plus, it's not QUITE as vitamin packed as my beloved Silk Light. I think it'd be really good for baking, and I'd be interested to see if you could cut back on the oil in recipes while keeping the "milk" content the same. That said, I can't see any other use for it. If someone offered it to me at their house, I'd drink it, but I don't think I'll buy this again.

Rice-Brand Vegan Cheese. Like most vegans, I'm always eager to try new "cheeses." When defending their omni/vegetarian lifestyles, cheese is the one thing everyone agrees they can't give up, and hey, sometimes I miss it, too. I'd already read Vegan Dad's review, but when the pepper jack flavor popped up at my grocery store, I wanted to try it for myself. Admittedly, I was more interested in the American or even the cheddar flavors: one, because I've never been much for pepper jack, and two, because pepper jack got the worst review from Vegan Dad. The other flavors where nowhere, though, so pepper jack it was! Let me just say right now, Vegan Dad was spot on in describing it as "grain-y yet paste-y." I don't know what to compare the flavor to but it definitely didn't remind me of pepper jack. Vegan Dad was lucky, though; he got his to melt, but I couldn't even get mine to do that. I tried to use it as a pizza topping, and instead of melting down against the sauce and crust, the corners of the little cheese squares started to turn upwards and crisp. STARTED TO TURN UPWARDS AND CRISP. Easily the worst vegan cheese experience I've had. Don't waste your money! There are already passable solutions to grilled cheese (Toffutti cheddar), mozzarella pizza (FYH Vegan Gourmet), finger-food cheese (Sheese please!), and the like, so don't even bother trying this.

Trader Joe's Fat Free Caramel Corn. Okay, so this doesn't need much of a product review because, you know, it's caramel corn. Caramel corn is pretty universal in its quality. I really wanted to say something about it, though, because this is the first time I've ever encountered commercial-brand caramel corn that's vegan. Plus, there's tons of recipes out there for making your own, and they almost always involve a lot of fat. This popcorn is fat-free, but it taste like it came from a tin with some cheddar popcorn on one side and butter popcorn on the other. I actually couldn't care less about caramel corn, but the novelty of finding it ready-made and vegan was enough to get me to buy it. If you're into that sort of thing, I urge you to stock up because I think this is a seasonal TJ's item.

Five Star Foodies Artichoke Burgers. Now, I know I said I wasn't going to do a run-down of the burgers I've tried this summer, but this one does warrant special mention. I mean, veggie burgers usually come in two varieties: mashed-vegetable patties we call burgers and varying attempts at passing for meat. These burgers are so beyond that. Largely a blend of cashews, brown rice, and artichokes, they're completely gluten-free and PACKED with flavor. The richness of the cashews shines, making the experience almost decadent, and it really complements the artichoke flavor. I loved the texture because it wasn't crumble-y or uniform, and it makes me happy when I know I'm eating something high in fiber and phytonutrients. (These are also high in iron.) The burgers didn't even last a week. My only complaint about them is the packaging: while it's not unusual to over-package veggie burgers by putting each one in its own cellophane sleeve, these went a step beyond by putting each burger in its own zip-loc baggie. There might have been a bag within the bag of burgers, too, but I might be making that up. Either way, not only did it feel really wasteful, but I'm pretty sure these silly baggies partially accounted for the high price of these burgers, which is such a shame because the price means I'll probably only eat these once a summer. If you're totally loaded with $$$ or looking for a good food splurge, these babies are it.

Food for Life Cluckphrey Nuggets. When I first went vegetarian, I was way into those Morning Star nuggets and buffalo wings, but that probably lasted about a year while I adjusted before I moved on. Fast forward eight or nine years and I'm still not really about that stuff. But hey, I usually sample one price-y vegan novelty product every few grocery trips, so why not? Maybe it's because chicken nuggets have never been my bag (even as an omni), but these babies were a resounding, "Eh." I really liked the convenience of having something I could pop in the microwave or oven and enjoy shortly thereafter, and they're definitely a notch up from whatever the popular brand of vegan chik'n nuggets is that makes a borderline identical box for its real chicken nuggets (which usually aren't located much further away). But seriously, these were just "eh." (And so were their burgers!) If you miss those Morning Star nuggets, you should definitely get them, but I will likely not be a repeat customer on Food for Life's faux meats.

What new products have you tried? Discovered any great and secretly vegan foods lately?


  1. Hi Micco! Thanks for the tip on the artichoke burgers. I really want to try them!

    I love the new So Delicious coconut milk beverages in everything from chai to cereal. But I really prefer the original flavor, as opposed to the unsweetened, so I'd encourage you to try it. I think you might like it a lot. The saturated fat found in coconuts is actually good for you, so I feel good about the nutritional benefits in this coconut milk, too.

  2. Thanks for the feedback on So Delicious, Helen! I'm so pleased with the other products that I really WANT to like the milk. (Chai also sounds like an amazing way to enjoy it...) When it's on sale again, I will try the regular flavor.

    As for the saturated fat, I know we need a little in our diets and that coconuts are one of the best sources for it, but there's something shocking when you realize that you're drinking liquid saturated fat... and that's it. (Maybe it's just me?) Granted, it's not like I have many other sources for it in my diet, so you are correct. I think it's something to consider for anyone struggling to eliminate saturated fat, though (which probably aren't many of my readers - but could be!).

  3. Hi Micco, I'm pretty new at the vegetarian thing (6 months) and as you know, not vegan. I've found most of the fake meat products I've tried to be pretty gross, but I really like buffalo sauce on things and I think every once in a while something like a fake buffalo wing would be tasty. In your experience, are the Morningstar products the best?

  4. Well, Matt, the "best" meat analogues depend on which meats you're trying to mimic (for instance, Morning Star's sausage is gross, but even my omni friends enjoy eating Gimme Lean's sausage). When I was vegetarian, I think I considered Quorn the best "chicken," but Morning Star's buffalo wings, while not as meaty, had enough balance of flavor and texture that they appeased me in those early days. If you want, I can email you a run down of all kinds of meat analogues, especially ones omni friends have enjoyed.