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

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Trader Joe's Korean Beefless Bulgogi

Small minds discuss people. Average minds discuss events. Great minds discuss ideas.

I've always found that quote to be mostly accurate. I mean, none of us are immune from chatting about our fellow humans once in a while, but some folks are just absolutely fixated on gossip. I'm far from perfect and have my fair share of faults, but if you're focused on other people all the time, doesn't that imply that you lack purpose? If you're a man (or woman) on a mission, then you've got far better things to do with your time than wonder what others are doing with theirs. I digress.

One line I'd add to that brilliant quote in the opening paragraph: hungry minds discuss food. So let's do just that.

It's a fascinating idea: vegan meat being eaten by non-vegans. Why do it? Because once in a while the fake meat is as good or better than the real thing. I've only heard high praise about this product so I figured it was worth a whirl. Thanks for the rec, Alek.

The flavor of this meatless meat is savory and succulent. There's an interesting array of essences including soy, garlic, pear, apple, and onion. It's very similar to the traditional bulgogi in terms of flavor, but I don't think I like this offering quite as much.

Texture-wise, it's the opposite, surprisingly. I like the feel of this bulgogi just slightly more than the sometimes-gristly dead cow version. This bulgogi is moderately chewy and imitates the mouthfeel of fatty meat. Fatty meat isn't my favorite, but it's better than gristle.

Each piece is a uniform size, which I like. Real bulgogi usually includes big long stringy pieces and tiny pieces and everything in between. Also these are quite thin. Considering their chewiness, any thicker would have made the mastication process overly difficult. Both Sonia and I wish there was a bit more sauce. Most bulgogi is significantly wetter and saucier than this offering, which might be attributable in part to the fact that we heated these in the air fryer.

$4.99 for a decent amount of vegan bulgogi. Sonia and I both give the same score on this one, and in the end, it'll get the exact same score we gave to the beef-ful bulgogi. Seven out of ten stars for Trader Joe's Beefless Bulgogi.

What do you think of this product? Have you tried both the regular bulgogi and the vegan bulgogi from Trader Joe's? Are you vegan and really love or really hate this product? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Battered Plant-Based Fish Fillets

As a lover of real fish, I'm coming into this one shaking my head, bracing myself for disappointment. A glance at the ingredients reveals this product is jackfruit-based. How can one fruit mimic barbecue pulled pork and fish fillets? It just doesn't seem possible.

There's air fryer heating instructions on the box. We'll go with that one. The air fryer seems to make everything taste better. 10 minutes at 400°F and we're in business.

The smell? Surprisingly, my nose doesn't detect much of anything after heating, in stark contrast to real fish fillets from the air fryer. I guess there's a hint of something akin to hot cooking oil, but that's about it.

Despite my instincts to slather Trader Joe's Plant-Based Fish Fillets with tartar sauce and slap them in between slices of bread and cheese, I think I'll just try them plain first to play it safe. First impressions? Surprisingly edible.

Using a fork to cut the fillets apart, the texture is somewhere between a normal fish fillet and a fried banana. The crispy coating is really nice. It's not very thick, but it does the job. Sonia likes that part the best.

Flavor-wise, they're not fishy at all, and I mean that in a good way. But at the same time, if you had to guess what meat they were trying to imitate, you'd all understand they were going for fish. Sonia said they vaguely reminded her of chicken empanadas. I can see that, too. You can faintly taste the king oyster mushrooms mentioned in the ingredients, and there's a nice savory blend of subtle spices.

I was really worried we had another meatless ground type situation on our hands, but that's not the case here. Not saying there aren't some folks out there who might find this product a little off-putting, but Sonia and I will easily polish off this box.

If you're vegan, gluten-free, or just looking to try something new, these aren't a bad option. $4.99 for three fake fish fillets. Three and a half stars from the beautiful wifey. Four stars from me for Trader Joe's Gluten Free Battered Plant-Based Fish Fillets.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, March 3, 2023

Trader Joe's Meatless Ground

I wasn't particularly excited to try this product. I felt like it had a higher-than-average potential to be weird or gross. I have mixed feelings about all these newfangled fake meat products like Beyond and Impossible, etc. My experiences have ranged from being delighted by Del Taco's Beyond Tacos to spewing from both ends for about 18 hours straight after consuming an undercooked Booger King Impossible Whopper. Trader Joe's even offered their own Protein Patties a few years back. Not sure if they're around anymore.

What do all those bogus burger brands have in common? They're all real meat. This stuff is dry and shelf stable at room temperature with a best by date about a year in the future. You reconstitute it yourself with hot water and oil. So...that just ups the potential nasty-factor exponentially if you ask me.

And yeah. It's weird. It's kinda gross. I suppose if you love the flavor of pea protein, you might like this. That's key for me: meatless meat can have pea protein in the ingredients all day long, but it can't actually taste like pea protein. 
In my humble opinion, this stuff tastes quite a bit like good, old fashioned pea protein and doesn't even come close to any meats I've ever had. They say it's like ground turkey or chicken. And while I'll admit it smelled and looked a bit like chicken while cooking, it definitely doesn't taste that way.

The texture is like wads of soggy paper. Not a fan. I tried cooking it and browning it a bit longer, but to no avail. Charred wads of soggy paper don't taste much better than undercooked wads of soggy paper.

There's a recipe for Meatless Macaroni on TJ's website. Lacking a few of the key ingredients, we whipped up a makeshift version of it, and it was...edible, thanks to the generous amounts of cheese and pasta we used.

$3.99 for the four serving resealable bag. I like the idea of having shelf stable "meat" ready in the back of the pantry for the day when real meat is unavailable for whatever reason, but this just isn't good enough for a repurchase. I've enjoyed fake meat and vegan burgers many, many times, but I can't say I'm an admirer of this product. Definitely wouldn't buy again. Two stars from me. Sonia will be even less lenient and throw out only one star for Trader Joe's Meatless Ground Plant-Based Crumbles.

Bottom line: 3 out of 10.

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 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 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 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 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.

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