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Showing posts with label fake meat. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fake meat. Show all posts

Friday, November 12, 2021

Trader Joe's Vegan Stuffed Roast


A couple weeks ago a weird article about a human meat flavored product was going viral around the interwebs. Yep. Vegan peopleburgers from Sweden. A quick read of the article certainly raises more questions than it answers, at least in my mind. Like: how do they know what peopleburgers taste like? Also: what market are we targeting here? Native cannibal tribes who are running out of victims? Luciferian elites that consume children but are becoming wary of being exposed? Even meatatarians and carnivores should be able to get behind a cause that encourages people to eat fewer people, right? 

Okay, okay. Sorry. That subject is macabre and kinda gross for Friday fare on a food blog. But it got me thinking: if I eat something like Turkey-Less Turkey and I like the taste on the whole, but I don't think it tastes anything like real turkey, it's kind of a flop, right? But on the other hand if they don't tell me it's supposed to taste like turkey and I still generally like the taste, then it's a thumbs up, no? Likewise if a vegannibal eats a peopleburger and his reaction is "Delicious! But it tastes nothing like REAL people meat," then wouldn't it have been smarter to just leave it up in the air as a "meatless plant-based sandwich" that may or may not taste just like real dead human?

Again, sorry for the dark subject matter. If you're anything like me, you find it mildly amusing. Also, I just made up the word "vegannibal."

This product isn't necessarily supposed to taste like turkey or people or any other particular animal. It's just a "meatless plant-based roast with savory vegetable stuffing." I like that. It is what it is. Nothing less. Nothing more.


Although, now having said that, the finished product looks a bit like a baked ham, complete with scoring lines. Perhaps this product is scored for the same purpose: so the baste will penetrate a little deeper into the "meat." I basted ours with avocado oil. Tasty.

The texture was just a tad more rubbery than any type of roasted meat I've had. Maybe rubbery isn't the right word...perhaps "chewy" would be more accurate and a little less insulting to the roast. I suppose a few more minutes in the oven might have remedied the chewiness to some degree, but I was concerned about having it dry out. I used the "heat from frozen" directions and had it in the oven for a total of 85 minutes, basting twice during the process.

There's a nice blend of seasoning in the roast, including onion, garlic, lemon, and paprika. It's not particularly potent, though, so you might want to throw on some extra spices from the rack to suit your taste. The overall flavor is savory and pleasant, and honestly it's not a far cry from that of ham.

Unlike the aforementioned Turkey-Less Roast, this product doesn't have any kind of gravy. I'm not really into gravy that much, but I found myself wanting some here. The roast isn't dry per se, but the uniformity of the dense texture just begs for some kind of liquid condiment. The vegetarian gravy included with the Turkey-Less product was surprisingly good and would have worked with this offering, too.

I liked the central stuffing part of the product more than the outer portions. The stuffing is a little more interesting, texture-wise, and there are some veggie elements you can see and taste like kale and cauliflower.

$5.99 for 5 servings. Pairing this roast up with other sides like mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce would work nearly as well as a traditional meat-based holiday meal. I'd happily eat this if I were giving thanks with vegans or vegetarians or just some other adventurous eaters. It's wheat-based, rather than soy, which is another plus in my book. I think we're looking at about 3.5 stars a piece from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Trader Joe's Vegan Meatless Meat Eater's Pizza

As you're likely more than well aware of by now, life is full of endless contradictions and redundacies. Who am I to depress you by pointing more out? We're diversion, not real life commentary, for the most part. 

Still, the name "Trader Joe's Vegan Meatless Meat Eater's Pizza" is a bit of a headache. It's both vegan (one definition) and meatless (another definition), which I understand the nuances betweenn't those words. It's like a square and rectangle thing. A square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is necessarily a square. Duh. Thanks, sixth grade geometry. But...why use both? Then use the phrase "meat eater"? Is the phrase "meat lover" trademarked or taboo? Is the meat eater the vegan meatless entity here, really, and not the pizza? But then how can one be a meatless meat eater, unless you're referring to one's body as being composed of meat, and being a person who has to eat, which while technically true is unecessarily complicated and creepy for a food product name for it to point out? This whole thing makes me go for the Excedrin. 

Good thing this is actually a surprisingly good pizza.

Not gonna lie: I had somewhat low expectations for this pizza, based on nothing but a whim. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised. Usually I can taste the difference between vegan meat substitutes and the real deal, but here, whether the pepperoni, the sausage, or the "chorizo style crumbles" it tasted 100% real. Everything was properly spiced, and had a little pseudo gristle which passed off as close enough to real deal, and dare I say, was even a little meaty. To be sure, each of the not-meats were a touch softer than the real deal, but man, it could have fooled me if I weren't paying close attention. Exceptionally well done here, TJ's.

If anything here is the vegan tell, it's the cheese. And that's not a knock. Don't let the pic fool you - while not looking overly melty like a good mozzarella, it has a shockingly creamy mouthfeel. A little too creamy. But it's a plus and not a minus - maybe some of that is a diversion away from the textural differences of the meat subsitutes. Can't say I've had a mozzarella quite like that - soft, mild, creamy - and while not true to the real thing, it works pretty well on this particular pie.  

The one thing, though, is this: the crust. It's a pretty standard frozen pizza crust. While that's not a demerit all by itself, the first ingredient, out of all things, is wheat flour. Listen: TJ's went thru all the trouble of making passable pepperonis, salient sausages, choice chorizos and melty mozzarellas out of things like soy and peas and mushrooms and coconuts and whatever else...but not a decent gluten free crust to really seal the deal and drive this baby home? Jeez Louise. The mind boggles. Check all the boxes next time, TJ's. 

Also: an ingredient is listed as rice brain oil in both the sausagey subs. Not rice bran. Rice brain. I don't want to eat rice with a brain, and does that make it an animal and therefore a meat? More Excedrin STAT. 

At least the tomatoes are most likely vegan, even if beefstakes.

Anyways, my lovely bride and I were most happy with this purchase for $5ish for an easy dinner for the two of us, and we'd likely do again. No headache about that, it's an easy choice. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Vegan Meatless Meat Eater's Pizza: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

 

 
 

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Trader Joe's Protein Patties

Disclaimer: Self-proclaimed meatatarian here. I used to feel shy and squeamish about wanting to eat something called, say, a Meat Lover's Pizza. Just sounds odd, doesn't it? Whatever, though, it's tasty and, even better, is piled with multiple kinds of meat, so I'm just gonna get over it. Mmmmmmmmmmeeeeaaaaaatttttt. Yum.

Not to say that I can't enjoy a good meat substitute. Don't believe me, newbie? It was Trader Joe's Soy Chorizo that helped inspire my love for TJ's and helped inspire me to get on board with this blog way back in its fledgling stages. The world had to know.

So now it's 2020 and there's the Beyond Burgers and Impossible Whoppers and everything everywhere. How is this happening? I don't know...I didn't know there was such a demand that different places had to be tripping over themselves to bring their interpretation of veggie burgers to the masses. I mean, there were plenty of adequate if not downright good veggie burgers out there...is it a conspiracy for world domination? I don't know about that, but there are some interesting tin foil hat conspiracies out there that make for fun reading at the very least. It does seem to me that all these bogus beefless burgers rushing to the market are a supply trying to create a demand, and not a demand building it's own supply and market. I'm not sure if down the road the outcome will be so rosy or not for them.

Anyways, enough banter. Trader Joe's Protein Patties. Motto: "All the other good names were taken and we were stuck with this." Another plant based burger. No s and p, flip twice, down the hatch...any good?

Nope. Not gonna lie - both my lovely bride, who is usually even more open than I to these kinda things, and I did not enjoy this pea protein patty puck at all. First of all...look at it in cooked form. The whole thing doesn't brown at all, it just turns a little less pink and gets burned and dry outside. It doesn't look appetizing. The whole shebang looks more like, well, scrapple, which is actually delicious by the way. And like a good ol' slab of East Coast haggis, it got all crispy on the outside while still mushy in the middle. Acceptable, even preferable, for scrapple. Not so much for something purporting to be a burger.

I will admit there is almost a beef like taste to it. I mean, no amount of veggie voodoo and laboratory testing can fully replicate the gristle and sizzle of real actual red meat. Honorable try here. But this TJ's take just has nothing really truly screaming "burger" about it. It's more a toasted pea protein patty plop, and between stating which one out loud I'd like to eat, get me that Meat Lovers!

Quick aside: If one of the goals of products like these is methane reduction, let's just say it wasn't successful on this particular end product user's side of the equation.

If we had to give up meat, there's a chance that Sandy and I would react more favorably to these guys. And you know what? If you like them, don't let us poo-poo your pea protein patty puck plop parade. All that being said, and definitely at the price point of $4.49 for two quarter pound sized chunks, these will not be a repeat buy. That's the meat of the matter right there.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Protein Patties: 3 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Trader Joe's Vegan Jackfruit Cakes


Jackfruit. Where do I start? 

My history with jackfruit involves reading about it a couple times on the interwebs—including this insightful piece from a Trader Joe's review blog you might have heard of. I considered buying that curry dish myself after reading Mr. Shelly's post, but wound up going with something else that wanted reviewing. 

In the same way it resembles pulled pork in the last offering, visually, it greatly resembles the crab in a classic crab cake. Even the cutting open of these cakes approximates that of a crab cake. However, flavor-wise, it's much more "planty" than crabby. And the texture is a bit stringier and stiffer than crab meat. It's not unpleasant. It's just not a crab cake. Not by a long shot. No amount of crab seasonings would make me mistake this dish for an actual crab cake.


There's a moderate paprika-driven warming sensation at the back of the throat after consuming a few bites of these plant pucks, but honestly, even the spices here don't approximate the spice mix of true crab cakes. I've had potato chips that taste more like crab cakes than these things.

My initial instinct was to slap these puppies in between a couple slices of bread, top them with cheese, ketchup, and mustard, and treat them as jackfruit veggie burger patties. We were lacking pretty much all of those other elements at the time I prepared these, so I simply finished my serving in the manner of a vegan crab cake, but I still think the veggie burger route would work way better than pretending they're a substitute for crab cakes in this or any other parallel reality.

By themselves, they're not particularly flavorful, but they're not an abomination, either. There's a unique subtleness to the taste. For a vegan, these might be a viable choice to add to your regular meal rotation. I might still be an omnivore technically, but I'm always happy to find meatless products that are also free of soy.

I tried the cakes both oven-baked (preferred method) and in the skillet. I liked the skillet better because olive oil helps the taste a bit, but the oven method might yield a slightly more authentic texture.

Sonia and I are on the same page here. They're not bad, but they're no substitute for a good crab cake. As a pescatarian, even Sonia will enjoy one of those every so often. 3.5 stars x 2.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Trader Joe's Hi-Protein Veggie Burger


Maybe it's because of my 9th grade biology teacher, but whenever I hear the word "protein," I can't help but think of science. "Protein" was so frequently the answer to her on-the-spot quiz questions, that if you'd answer one incorrectly with "protein," she'd politely say, "No, but thanks for playing." And just about 50% of the time, "protein" was indeed the correct answer. Any other incorrect answer would be met with a gruff "NO!" along with a personalized insult of some sort, generally along the lines of, "You're out to lunch, Mr. Rodgers!" 

And heaven help those poor students who answered something other than "protein" when it was the correct response. Louise Grove's biology class was more than 20 years ago, but I'm still traumatized. To this day, "protein" just doesn't sound appetizing to me in any context.

But hey, at least the packaging doesn't read "Now infused with delicious structural components of body tissues!" I'm not sure if it would be accurate at all, but you'll never see them even attempt to advertise the presence of any other macromolecules. "Trader Joe's Hi-Lipid Veggie Burgers!" "Trader Joe's Hi-Carbohydrate Veggie Burgers!" "Trader Joe's Hi-Nucleic Acid Veggie Burgers!" None of those work even a little.


So protein it is.

I've gotten pretty good at putting personal bias on the shelf when trying new things from Trader Joe's over the years. I'm not 100% sure my aversion to the word "protein" isn't affecting me here, but there's a good chance it's minimal, at least. These just aren't the best veggie burgers we've seen from TJ's. The Vegetable Masala Burgers and Quinoa Cowboy Burgers would be at the top of my recommendations list.

There are two big, heavy veggie patties, individually wrapped in cellophane. They only give you microwave and conventional oven heating instructions. No stove-top method is listed. We heated ours in the oven. After baking, the exterior of the burgers was slightly crisp and dry, while the inside was a bit soft and mushy.


The main ingredient here is peas—or rather "pea protein blend," (YUM!) but the flavor isn't entirely pea-esque. There's something nutty about the taste, but you can also taste the black beans and a hint of garlic. The overall effect isn't particularly taste-tacular. It's a subtle flavor—some might even say "bland."

On the other hand, it's versatile enough, going well with cheese, lettuce, ketchup, and mustard—pretty much all the usual burger condiments and toppings, but in the end, I think this tastes too much like the veggie burger that red meat eaters are desperately trying to avoid. It tastes a bit like "health food" to me, and for that reason, I'll never buy it again. I do want to reiterate, though, that there are countless meatless options at TJ's that I'd happily consume on a regular basis.

Although she agrees this isn't the best veggie burger option at Trader Joe's, Sonia liked this product significantly more than I did. She liked that they were very filling and easy to prepare. Three and a half stars from her. Two and a half from me.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Trader Joe's Quinoa Cowboy Veggie Burgers

Thanks to the Hawaiian-themed grocery store called Trader Joe's, vegetarian cowboys are now a thing. What vegetarianism and cowboys have to do with the overall tropical island theme of the store, I'm not quite certain. But we've seen at least one other vegetarian cowboy-themed product, not to mention candy fit for cowboys and cowgirls, too. 

I guess there's something earthy about cowboys—and there's something earthy about vegetarians and vegans as well. TJ's is just tying that all together for us. Or maybe they're aiming to challenge that stereotype of vegetarians being weaker than meat-eaters (I don't subscribe to that notion, by the way) by uniting it with the rugged machismo of the old western frontier. Regardless of all that, I'm fairly certain that more urban-dwelling hipsters will wind up eating this product than actual cattle-ropin' cowboys, if only because there aren't many TJ's in the middle of cattle country.

Yet still, it's an amazing product. It's like a spicy black bean burger with chunky salsa cooked right into the "meat." It's not really one of those fake meat burgers that's desperately trying to taste like beef, so if it's a true burger you're craving, I say look elsewhere. But if you're adventurous and wanting something new, I'd encourage you to check this out. It takes the whole veggie burger thing one step further in terms of taste and texture. Not only is there quinoa mixed in with the black bean base, but there are chunks of peppers, corn, and whole black beans in the mix. It's a complex, hearty flavor with a slightly spicy southwestern vibe. I ate mine with a slice of asiago cheese and it blended perfectly. I mused about which condiments, if any, to throw on, and decided to eat it plain in the end. I'm a big fan of ketchup and mustard on almost anything that calls itself a burger, but in this case, I'd add a bit of extra hot salsa, if anything—but that's just my opinion.

We cooked ours on the stovetop in a tiny pool of olive oil. It came out firmer and crispier on the outside than on the inside, and overall, the product was a bit soft. If not held together by a bun, it might have fallen apart very easily. There's more substance in the peppers, corn, and beans than in the base of the burger itself—but still, I can't complain, since the aforementioned chunky ingredients were plentiful throughout.

All in all, it's not a great approximation of an actual beef hamburger, particularly in the texture department, but a delicious vegetarian lunch or dinner nonetheless. At $3.69 for four patties, it's a good value also. I'm always on the lookout for something unique and new, and this burger didn't disappoint. All you rugged vegetarian cowboys, saddle up!

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Trader Joe's Soy Chorizo 2.0

You just don't mess with some classics.

Like, seriously, no, don't.

Like Jennifer Gray's nose. Like Charlie and Chocolate Factory, despite your fancy squirrels. Like about 2/3rds of the songs on this list (beware, some NSFW language). Seriously, not like I was ever a Madonna fan, but when she ripped off "American Pie"....there are no words.

I guess if any of those can be messed with, though, so can Trader Joe's Soy Chorizo.

Listen: I'm a guy who, despite dabbling in pseudo-vegeterian ways about a year ago, keeps a spreadsheet of every type of animal I've ever eaten (up to 23!), and yet, I love, love, love TJ's soy chorizo. Loved it enough for it to be my first review for this site back in the day. Loved it enough for it to be a continual staple for tasty, healthy, easy dinners - chorizo, black beans, rice, salsa and cheese all mixed together (as pictured) - for years to follow. Darn good stuff.

And then...it got taken away.

The official word I heard: Needed to change supplier, pricing changed, TJ's wanted to keep quality product at low price. Alright, well, I get that. Bizness is bizness. Huzzah. Still, it's a popular enough product that a) Seems like there should be no shortage of suppliers willing to make a deal 2) A small price increase (let's say 50 cents) wouldn't dampen sales too much (wouldn't stop me) and d) Discontinuation of a popular product should be foreseeable enough to start making alternate plans to avoid months of a product not being in stock. Of course, we're talking about the same place that still can't figure out how to bring back the best peanut butter ever, so maybe this shouldn't have been a total surprise.

So now, finally, it's back in stock, after something like six long months of it being gone. If you're familiar with the old version, this is just about a spittin' image, with just a few discernible changes. First, it seems a little spicier, with a little more bite to it. That part is good.

The other change: It's no longer vegan. There's "milk powder for freshness." Some one please explain how that works.  

And someone please explain how someone thought that was a good idea. I'm not vegan, but I can see such a change being pretty upsetting for those who are. It's alienating a segment of the customer base. It's not right.

And apparently I'm not alone in thinking this. This is not official word, but I heard this from two separate store employees in person: It's being discontinued...again...to be reformulated back to being vegan based on the outcry from customers about the switch from vegan to vegetarian. Heard nothing about time frame. Maybe one of you reading this is more in the know than I am. This complete lack of foresight is pretty frustrating.

Anyways, to help hold us over, I picked up three packs the other night. Still $1.99 each, which is a darn good price. Since we ate one already, that means I have two left in the freezer (these freeze great!), and after we eat the second package, we'll have an interesting dilemma for third: eat it or keep it? I mean, within a few years, as the world's last Trader Joe's Soy Chorizo vegetarian version, it might be worth enough to send my kids through college. One can hope.

Sorry for the "more rant than review." Just irritating. And I'm taking it on our score, marking it down a couple full spoons off of the original. You just don't mess with the classics.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Soy Chorizo: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Trader Joe's Meatless Italian Style Sausage & Cheese Flatbread

So, I'm not exactly a trendsetter kinda guy, if you haven't noticed. But, I'd like to be one. Sort of. For instance, one of my very covert goals for this blog has been to try and enter the phrase "chocolate gum theory" into the parlance of our times. I mean, it makes sense, to me, at least. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, go click that link, it'll explain it. Just...think about dropping into a conversation every once in a while, will ya?

But one way I just might have been a key force in bringing in some new trend: flatbread pizza, or just flatbreads, or Flatizzas, or whatever silly (or in the case of Flatizza, absolutely stupid) name you want to slap on them. You see, a few years back I reviewed Trader Joe's Lavash, and specifically mentioned how delicious they were to use as a pizza crust. I feel like I stumbled across that idea by happenstance, by some remnant shred of bachelor laziness that laid dormant until that fateful purchase.

Okay, perhaps you're still not convinced. That's fine. But I am, thanks to Trader Joe's Meatless Italian Style Sausage & Cheese Flatbread. I mean, is it absolutely crazy idea that "Big Joe" read that same lavash post, knew about my outspoken displeasure of the discontinuation of the soy chorizo (bring that back already!), knew about my appreciation of most TJ fake meat products, and came up with this particular item to try and get me off his back? Is it?

Well...if all that is true, he'll need to do a little better next time. I mean, this isn't a horrible pizza/flatbread/flapizza/piflatbrezzad/whatever at all. The "sausage" is a convincing enough knockoff of the real deal to fool both our toddler, who hates meat, and the teenaged Chinese exchange student who lives with us, who loves meat. It's got the right bite and texture and overall flavor, and to TJ's credit, there's a lot of it. The little roasted red peppers and tomatoes make a nice addition, though I wish there more of them. And even though we could've baked it longer, the flatbread crust got reasonably crispy enough, while the cheese was plenty stringy and gooey, much to our toddler's delight.

It's just...the end result tasted too much like an average thin crust freezer pizza. It just lacked something, anything, to go to the next level, like even a little red pepper flakeage, or whatever made another one of their pizzas so darn good. If I weren't so bent on preserving the last few drops of the world's best hot sauce I have readily on hand, I would've slathered that all over the place, just so my dinner would have a little flavor. It's just fairly nondescript as is, and I know TJ's is capable of better.  C'mon, TJ's, can't you just...TJ it up a little? Please?

Sandy kinda agreed, while noting that she enjoyed the salchicha falsa, she wishes the pizza was a little bigger, so it'd be more servings for the four bucks or so for the pizza. It was kinda small overall, but piled reasonably high with toppings, so perhaps it was a bit of a trade-off. "Kinda average at best," she said. Agreed. She defines average as a 3, while I say average means a 2.5.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Meatless Italian Style Sausage & Cheese Flatbread: 5.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons    

Friday, June 14, 2013

Trader Joe's Chicken-less Strips

A few months back, the wife and I decided to become more or less vegetarian, or perhaps more accurately, pescetarians who don't dabble too much with other types of meat. That's not to say we're perfect, like the other night when we were in such a rush to get down to PNC Park for the MLB debut of the next great Pittsburgh Pirates savior AKA Gerrit Cole that we kinda forgot about the whole "we should eat dinner" thing, were dissuaded by obscene concession lines and even more obscene prices ($9 for fries?)   and so were left with Wendy's late night drive thru afterwards. But we're working on it, and our efforts have paid off. I've personally dropped about 30 pounds and 20 points worth of systolic blood pressure (from high normal to perfectly normal) at least in part to our new diet. It's fantastic.

The kinda funny thing is, since beginning this a few months back, I swear we've eaten more fake meat options than we ever ate actual meat before. Maybe it's just how we try to placate our inner carnivore. From old stand-bys to new favorites, TJ's sure has a few worth checking out, and with most if not all being absolutely tasty (even veggie corn dogs, for crying out loud), we bought Trader Joe's Chicken-Less Strips on a recent trip.

And hate to say it, but these poultry fake-outs are the worst we've had from TJ's. It doesn't make them flat-out awful, but they're certainly a disappointment. Sandy and I decided to try them in more or less their purest of forms, which meant sauteed then served in a mixed greens/strawberry/almond salad. Every other bit of our dinner was delectable, but any bite with chicken....ugh. It wasn't quite the flavor, because they tasted like chicken, and indeed lightly seasoned, although I wouldn't label them as "delicious" or "tasty" or "pleasing." It may have been more the texture - it lacked the fleshy goodness of real, authentic chicken and was certainly fake and a little rubbery. Whatever it was that turned these guys, it wasn't good. Actual chicken strips would have made our salad an absolute killer. With these fakers instead, our dinner was much more ho-hum. Sandy even left a small pile on her plate and said "No mas", and instead of helping myself to them, I wasn't too bothered by throwing them away.

We'll be gracious, though. It's entirely conceivable our opinion would have been different if we have chosen to make fajitas or fried rice or some other type of dish that would help hide the flavor and texture deficiencies a little better. So there's some potential there, and while we're not completely enamored, both Sandy and I haven't completely written off the possibility of a repeat purchase. Based on that, and that alone, a score that hovers between "meh" and "not so great" seems fair at this point.


Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chicken-less Strips: 4 out of 10 Golden Spoons    

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Trader Joe's Meatless Meatballs

Alright, alright, let's get the obvious joke out of the way here. "If Trader Joe's makes a Meatless Meatball, can't you just call them balls? Does that mean they taste like...?" Hahaha, so on and so forth. Discretion is the better part of valor, so much like Nathan a few weeks ago when given the opportunity, I'll be strategically avoiding all that the rest of this post. I'm not saying I haven't made that joke (and others fairly similar to it) at pretty much chance here at home while eating these said balls, and probably even a few in the frozen aisle while purchasing these (poor Sandy, who chuckles and blushes each time), but yeah...my mom reads this blog. And lots of other moms, too, I'm sure. Let's keep the moms happy. That's important.

Anyways, we got ourselves bag of frozen soy spheres on one of our last trips. Sandy and I have been on meat-free experiment the past few weeks (except for the Friday night fish fry, can't miss those), and feeling a little encouraged by how it's going, we're considering becoming full-time "gracious vegetarians." We really don't miss meat all that much, and we've both been losing some weight and feeling better, and I've gotten some encouragement and ideas from my sister's blog as she's been adapting to a similar lifestyle. We don't have all the "rules" set up for this, and I think meat will be still be an occasional part of our diet, especially if we're invited somewhere or if the very occasional hamburger hankerin' hits. But anyways...

Trader Joe's Meatless Meatballs. I'll be honest. Out of all the fake meat options we've sampled from TJ's, these are my least favorite. I think that more speaks to Trader Joe's particular strength in fake meat as opposed to being a strong indictment. They taste fine enough, in fact I'd even say pretty close to the actual-meat meat balls we've had (and believe me, we've eaten lots of those). It's more the texture.They're just too soft and crumbly, like there's nothing hold them together. Even time I tried to spear one with my fork, it just broke in half. And you don't have to chew these - I literally smashed one up against the roof of my mouth with my tongue, and it was ready to go down the hatch almost immediately. If I am eating a meat (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) I want to be able to use my canines and molars as God intended. There is no such opportunity here.

Sandy, the more texture-sensitive of the two of us, agreed. "If we were to become vegetarian, I'd eat these occasionally and be fine with them, but these don't make me want to give up meat by themselves," she says. I pretty much agree. They're not horrible, but these albóndigas dementiras could be much better with a little more bite to them. Compared to the virtual fake meat cornucopia that Trader Joe's typically offers, we can't afford to muster much more than a mediocre "meh" for them.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Meatless Meatballs: 5.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 




Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Trader Joe's Italian Sausage-Less Sausage

Well, it's been a hot minute or two since our last fake meat review. Nathan tackled the challenging turkey-less turkey back before Thanksgiving, while my last review on the matter was chicken-less chicken tenders....almost a year ago? What!?! That's crazy to me, especially because on the whole, fake meat is one of TJ's biggest strengths, even matching up well to the more famous competition. Don't get wrong, I like nice meat-full meat just as much as any other red-blooded red-headed 'merican, but when there's a healthier, almost-as-delectable option available, I can be inclined to take it. I guess that I've been so busy enjoying the lying-if-read-in-Spanish soy chorizo whenever the fake meat mood hits I've been neglecting other TJ options. Seriously: soy chorizo + black beans + rice + salsa/hot sauce + cheese + chips or tortillas = AMAZING. It's the meal that got me hooked on TJ's. Highly, highly recommended. We're considering stockpiling the soyrizo in case it ever gets discontinued. I thought it did maybe a year ago, and nearly cried tears of sweet, sweet relief when I discovered it was just moved to a different shelf.

Anyways, here's Trader Joe's Italian Sausage-Less Sausage. I'll say this upfront: at a cookout, it'd have a puncher's chance of passing as the real deal. That's a compliment in my book. I think I'd be able to pick it out, but only if someone grilled me about it (ha!). On an unsuspecting consumer, it'd have a 50/50 chance.

It's not the taste that would tip someone off. Think of a typical Italian sausage link, and it'd be pretty close in that regard. And it's not exactly the texture either...sort of. We pan-fried up a pair of links then sliced them to serve in some pasta. They were a little softer then most, and kinda crumbly, but kept mainly intact. Sandy said something to the effect that they weren't as "floppy" as other fake sausage product she's had. They certainly brown and sizzled up in a way pretty close to actual links. I guess, what it boils down to is, whenever Sandy and I have had sausage links over the past year (which has been kinda often), we've been picking up the farmer's market/local meat farm variety, which are big and juicy and very meaty, much more so than the typical grocery store variety. These are decidedly a small step or two below that comparison benchmark. That's not really a knock, and it's not even a fair point in some ways. There's a certain gristliness and juiciness and "essence" that real meat has that soy can never duplicate. That being said, if I had to give up meat completely for whatever reason, these would be a more-than-adequate solution whenever the grill-time hankerin' came.

Regardless of all that, we like them. Sandy's a bit more enthusiastic than me. I think that's at least  partially because the last time we broke out the bulk sausage we have on hand, she trembled a little bit after doing the Weight Watchers calculation (as I should have, too). These lil' fakers tip the scale at about 4 points a link, which is extremely manageable. She went ahead and gave them a four, making slight note of the texture. There's part of me that wonders what the allure is of fake meat - is there a class of vegetarians out there who want the most meat-like non-meat they can find? Is it for people who love actual meat but can't eat it for health reasons? Why do I keep buying it?- I'll never know.  Regardless, this is another win for TJ's if you're into this kinda thing. And $3.49 for a pack of 4 isn't a terrible deal either. I'll go with a 3.5.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Italian Sausage-less Sausage: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Trader Joe's Turkey-Less Stuffed Roast with Gravy

I've eaten plenty of veggie burgers in my day. I've had delicious meatless chicken nuggets. And I love plenty of vegetarian dishes. But I've never had tofurkey, and I've certainly never had a vegetarian Thanksgiving before. So, like many of you, I was thoroughly skeptical about this Turkey-less Roast. Especially with a price tag of approximately $10 per package, it's a bit of an investment just to find out whether it's edible or not. That's why Sonia and I took the risk. So you don't have to. You may thank us in the comments below.

This past week, we had a bit of a pre-Thanksgiving, just the two of us. And we decided to take one for the team and feast on this forgery of a fowl from TJ's. We grazed on this goofy gobbler. We bit down on a bogus bird. We tasted a tricky turkey. But honestly, it wasn't bad at all. I think it's worth the cost. I think most vegetarians can go ahead and dive right in. My guess is that you'll love it. Does it taste exactly like turkey? No. So you red-blooded, meat-lovin' Archie Bunker types might want to have some dead bird on stand-by just in case. But really, overall, I'm diggin' it. The stuffing was great, the gravy was delicious. The soy-based fake turkey wasn't bad, but I'll be honest: the imitation beef and chicken dishes I've had would fool me way before this stuff would. It's hearty enough to fool your tummy into thinking that you've eaten something meatful, but not quite succulent enough to trick the taste buds. Texture-wise, it's a tad firmer than turkey meat, and there's a sort of crust that forms on the outside of the roast that fails to emulate real turkey. Taste-wise, it's a bit more beany. All in all, it's a decent approximation of traditional turkey, but it's not a dead ringer for the real thing.

Sonia pointed out that the product was a bit too rich with rosemary. The herb was over-represented in the roast for sure, but it didn't bother me quite as much as Sonia. However, she raved about the stuffing and gravy even more than I did, but agreed that the turkey-less turkey was the weakest element of the meal. She thought the texture was reminiscent of firmer-than-usual pâté, and added that when reheated, it got very dry on the sides.

Despite a few weaknesses, our final verdict is a thumbs-up. The price tag is hefty, but there're at least 4 good servings in there. (The label says 6, but you know how they exaggerate). It's not going to replace a real turkey at my family's Thanksgiving dinner this year, but I wouldn't be completely heartbroken if it did. 4 stars from Sonia. 3.5 from me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.



Thursday, March 15, 2012

Trader Joe's Chickenless Crispy Tenders

One thing I love/hate about the Internet is all the comments people leave at the end of articles. Like, I love all the ones you, our faithful readers, leave on ours, so keep 'em coming, we do read 'em! Conversely, see the comment section of pretty much any CNN article, and yeah...not a fan. I bring this up because occasionally over the past few months I've really enjoyed reading the comments people have left on the article written about this blog on The Daily Meal and Shine! from Yahoo (same article). Chances are, it's how you found our blog as it's gotten a lot of play since last summer. But man, the comments....some are kind, some like to rip on me because I admitted to not really liking sushi and so I *cannot* be a legitimate foodie reviewer (which I've made no claim to ever being), but one in particular got my attention, and gets me rolling on the floor. Whoever left it said, because we feature vegetarian and meatless options so much, and fake meat products in particular, Nathan and I must be undercover rogue vegetarians trying to brainwash society into giving up meat. Listen, you're talking about a guy who keeps thinking about keeping a spreadsheet of all the different kinds of animal he's eaten (I really should, I could think of a couple dozen if I tried, I'm sure, and all of them delicious) and loves bacon, meatloaf, medium raw steak, and even scrapple. Listen, you have to really like animally stuff to like scrapple. If you don't know what it is, a friend of mine best sums it up as "Eastern PA haggis," so use your imagination. And I remember hanging out with Nathan just enough back in college to more or less recall his diet, and let's just say there weren't too many veggie and quinoa nights.


But yeah...I do like a lot of Trader Joe's meatless/fake meat products. I've run through them enough times that I'm not going to do it again. I asked Sandy why we eat so much soy/grain based fake meat, when we both like the real thing just as much. Her answer: "Because we haven't had a bad experience yet." That's true enough, so when we saw a new shiny bag of Chickenless Crispy Tenders in the freezer aisle, we knew it was time again to give it the ol' college try.



It's not a bad product. For $2.99, you get about nine two-or-three bite sized tenders, so it's more than enough for a couple hungry adults for dinner. We baked them up alongside some tasty Trader Tots for a quick and easy meal. The "meat" is a little different from some other of their fake chicken products, where it tastes and feel like the intention is to assimilate an actual chicken chunk a little more closely. In these crispy tenders, it still tastes pretty darn and close to the real thing, but seems in texture and bite to be more like the stuff that goes inside a chicken patty or nugget. Does that make sense? Anyways, no real complaints there. The breading isn't bad either. I kinda like how they tried to do something a little different and put some oats and some crunchy bits of not-sure-what in. I don't like how a lot of it stuck to the baking sheet and by and large seemed to lack a little flavor. That's not awful if you view things like chicken strips as dipping sauce delivery devices (indeed, they went well with the sweet chili sauce and hot sauce we had on hand), but still, a little shake of black pepper or a little more paprika would've made a difference for them.

Regardless, both Sandy and I liked them. If there's anyone on the blog team that'd try to convince you to go vegetarian, it'd be her as she's talked about it once or twice. Whenever she does, I start sizzling up the bacon, and it's amazing how quickly that thought train derails. "Yeah, we'd get these again," she said. I think we would, too. They're not the best fake meat product that Trader Joe's offers, but they're not the worst (not like there's really bad ones we've stumbled across). Based primarily on breading issues, Sandy's going with a 3.5, whereas I see those concerns, quibble slightly about the price, and settle on a 3.5 as well.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chickenless Crispy Tenders: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Trader Joe's Chicken-Less Mandarin Orange Morsels

Look it up on here if ya want: Trader Joe's has a pretty good rep with us for fake meat products. Soy chorizo? Veggie sausage? Beefless ground beef? Meatless corn dogs? All winners with us. Another winner with us is the inaugural member of the WGaTJ pantheon: Trader Ming's Mandarin Orange Chicken. Nathan and Sonia gave it a 9.5 way back in the day, and Sandy and I would give it at least that many in Golden Spoonage. Not everyone feels that way, though. Just read the comments there...I won't repeat them here because some of them's are naughty words...but yeah, there's a couple complaints about the quality of chicken for those. My take is, if it's not unhealthy/bad for you type stuff, and you can overcompensate by making it extra tasty with some great flavoring, well, why not? Use what's usable. Not every clucker ought there is destined for Chick-Fila glory, for goodness sake, and sincerely doubt those or any other Trader Joe's product was made from whatever it is in the picture of pinkish glop that McNuggets are made out of (that's been mostly disproven, anyways). Anyways, let's do an experiment here...combine one of Trader Joe's strengths in fake meat technology, and replace the component most often criticized in one of their otherwise universally successful dishes, and what do you get? Trader Joe's Chicken-Less Mandarin Orange Morsels, of course. Sandy and I saw it, and we were immediately intrigued enough to purchase it ($2.99, I think) and make it that night for dinner.

Making it is easy - it's the same process as the regular ol' chicken-full mandarin orange morsels. Dump the frozen bits out of the bag onto a cookie sheet and slide into the oven until they're done, then stir them up in a bowl with the orange sauce to get each piece coated. Serve over rice (at least that's what we do). Tastewise, I have absolutely no issue with the pollo dementira part - it's some combination of quinoa and grains and what not made up who-know-how into a fine tasting chunk of what would pass off as decent chicken - not the best, certainly, but really good. In fact, I'd say I wouldn't have thought it'd be fake unless I saw the bag. The problem I have is with the sauce - it's not nearly as good as what comes with the real mandarin chicken. It's thinner, runnier, and not nearly as strong flavored. I'm not sure what the difference is (maybe the vegan recipe lacks a key component) but it just doesn't work as well. What's left is this thin, vaguely sweet, watered-down orange soda-y type taste. Like other sauces that lack something, I was pretty tempted to try and add something to what TJ's had provided but...

...there was another issue. On the chicken-less orange morsel bag, it clearly says that there's two servings, approximately ten pieces each. That says to me that anything less than 18 fake chicken chunks would be a ripoff and any more than 21 would be a bonus. In our bag, there were only 15. That's unacceptable, even though all were fairly sized. That left us with the classic problem of "too much for one, too little for two" that some other TJ products suffer from. I also find it kinda disheartening that TJ's habit of meat skimping is making it's way towards the meat substitute product line, too. Anyways, I felt like I didn't have enough to really experiment with, so between that and being hobbled by tendonitis, I just stayed put.

Sandy loved it though, but not as much as the regular one, mostly because of the sauce-y lack factor. "The sauce kinda sucks for this one," she said. I agree. It does suck. So does the paucity of chickenless nuggets in the bag. Throw a few more in, and fix the sauce, and there's another pantheon contender out there. As is, Sandy gave it a four and I decided to go a tad low with a 2.5. To me, for having two major problems, it can't rank any higher than "not bad" no matter how good the rest of the dish is.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chicken-Less Mandarin Orange Morsels: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Trader Joe's Beef-less Ground Beef and Taco Seasoning Mix

Nathan sure was right a few posts back. We really do like our desserts, and probably from the looks of me, a little too much. I guess it's not that surprising that Trader Joe's, in my estimation, has a lot of tasty sweets. But tasty fake meats? I'll admit it, as an avid carnivore, that's a shocker. There's the soy chorizo, the first item I ever reviewed for this blog, and still an every-trip pick up. The veggie sausage turned out a winner, even over the more famous national brand. Heck, I don't even really like corn dogs all that much, but the Trader Joe's Meatless Corn Dogs? Sandy and I got them a couple weeks ago, and dang it...tasty. Good call, Nathan.

So...Trader Joe's Beef-less Ground Beef. Once we saw it, based on our good fake meat history, Sandy and I figured it'd make a worthwhile purchase, despite its problematic name a la the soy chorizo. This time, it's all English, no fun with Spanish. See, the "Beef-less" kinda cancels out the "Beef" part of the equation, leaving this as simply "Trader Joe's Ground," as in, like, dirt. So, buying something that kinda resembles dirt, and its label practically says it's as much, so as I began making it the other night I was sure hoping it'd be something more suited for my belly than our garden out front.

Tell ya what: I don't think it's as good as the other fake meats listed above, but still, it's pretty decent. It comes fully cooked and vacuum-packed so for some quick tacos after a babysitting night, it made an easy choice. Consistency-wise, it's not quite regular ol' ground chuck, but it crumbled up okay enough, and I suppose it's moist enough that one could attempt to make meatballs and burgers out of it. Still, it's kinda obvious that it's fake when you chomp in. Rubbery or chewy or smushy isn't the right word...just fake-ish. But, the beefless beef tastes alright. It definitely comes a little seasoned on its own, but not overly, so it's the kinda thing to do with what you will. I think Sandy and I would be up for trying it out in some lasagna or try to make meatballs or do whatever else we want to the next time we go on some crazy meat-free kick.

Anyways, if you're making tacos when it's late and you're hungry, you need an easy way to spice up your carne dementira. So why not some Trader Joe's Taco Seasoning Mix? I'm usually the type who likes to spice my own meat and chili and all however I see fit by grabbing whatever off the spice rack and going all Bobby Flay on it so I'm kinda anti pre-made spice packs. I picked up a pack a weekend or two ago for making some homemade white chicken chili, though, because I wanted to pay some more attention to the pierogi I was also making, and man, that was good chili (even Sandy liked it!). And somehow I found another packet in my pantry, so I figured, why not for our tacos. This is some good good spicy stuff. It's heavy on the cayenne and chili pepper, with a good dash of black pepper, too. In other words, my kinda mix, except I didn't make it. It's definitely spicy, although, naturally, a little too heavy on the seasoned salt and salt in general.

In all, our tacos were pretty good and hit the spot while we caught up on "Glee." Yes, I watch "Glee," with my wife, so she'll let me watch football every once in a while with minimal grumbling...sometimes. It's not like I kinda sorta like the show or anything...but some of those kids got talent...okay, back to fake spicy meat. Sandy gave the beefless beef a three, mostly for texture concerns, while she really didn't say anything much about the seasoning mix except to say "mmm...spicy." I guess that means a four from her. Let's see, for me, I'll go with a 3.5 for the fake beef, I think, and perhaps another 3.5 for the taco seasoning mix. I kinda liked them both but for the beef, it just wasn't quite all there enough somehow, and I just like my own random spice combos over some prepackaged deal, however good it may be. In all, not bad for a quick fix, but sometimes the real deal just has to win.

Bottom lines: Trader Joe's Beef-less Ground Beef: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Trader Joe's Taco Seasoning Mix: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons