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

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

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Trader Joe's Veggie Sausage Patties

So a few posts ago I shared a little about giving up meat for Lent, and Trader Joe's has already really pleasantly surprised me with their soy meat products, so when they had their Veggie Sausage Patties at the sample station a week or so ago, it made for a natural pick up. It also led Sandy to think a little, like "Okay, we like Trader Joe's goods overall, but how do they compare against rival brands?" So this post, I'm going to do something a little different than the usual.

< insert Michael Buffer >

Ladies and gentlemen, today you are about to witness history, the first head-to-head heavyweight championship of frozen vegetable sausage patties. The Soysage Showdown. One brand, known throughout the land, the undisputed champion. The challenger, an underdog, with a devoted following, its quality known to its devotees. Only one can prevail. Are ... you ... ready?

I said .... are .... you .... ready ....

LLLLLLLLLLLLet's get ready to crrrrrrrrrrrrrrumble!!

< /end Michael Buffer >

Ringside Introductions: In the left corner, the defending world champion, in the green box, from Battle Creek, Michigan, weighing in at 228 grams, costing $3.39, it's MorningStar Farms' Original Sausage Patties! (applause)

On the right, the plucky underdog challenger, in the white and light blue box, from Monrovia, California, weighing in at 227 grams, costing $3.29, it's Trader Joe's Veggie Sausage Patties! (mild smattering of hand claps)

Round One: First Impressions: The picture on the Morningstar box shows a serving suggestion of just tossing them on a plate. Also, one singular serving is clearly and consistently referred to as a "pattie." Hrmm. Trader Joe's shows them on top of some awesome looking openfaced sandwich with tomatoes and spinach and some sort of cheese/dressing. I get hungry just looking at it. And they call it a patty. I like the fonts they use better, too. Judges' decision: Trader Joe's

Round Two: Nutrition: M'star has less fat and more protein. That's good. TJ's has less calories and sodium. Also good. But in wondering what all has to be done to a scoopful of beans to make them meat-like, I began to look at the ingredients. TJ's has something called carboxymethycellulose in it, and carrageenan in it. Don't know what those do, and don't want to. I can pronounce everything else in it though. M'star though has tasty stuff like tripolyphosphate, hexametaphosphate, disodium inosinate, and loads of other stuff the spell check underlines in a red squiggly. So, this could be wrong but, my thoughts ... Judges' decision: Trader Joe's

Round Three: Appearance and Preparation: The patties of both brands are roughly the same size (M'star maybe a little thicker, TJ's maybe a little larger circumference). Both are strangely fairly not-that-cold when taken out of the freezer. The M'star patties look browned and ready to eat, except frozen, whereas TJ's has more of an icy sheen that quickly cooks off. M'star looks a little "meatier" where as TJ's looks a little ... I don't know ... indistinct? I'll go with that. Preparation of both is pretty identical, and sizzle up within a couple minutes, smelling sausage-y enough in the process. Judges' decision: MorningStar Farms

Round Four: Texture: Okay, for both, not bad, but not nearly as good as the real thing. I think I may have slightly overcooked them (not necessarily a bad thing) so the outsides of both got a little browned and crisped up. The insides ... eh. M'star is definitely meatier in texture, but it strikes me as akin to a well-done burger made of slighty chunky firm mush. Which is more or less what it was. TJ's didn't have as much of a meaty bite (definitely more towards the mush end of the spectrum, this makes it sound worse than it was, but don't know how else to describe it) and was more greasy, though not over-abundantly so. Both were decent enough in their own way. Judges' decision: MorningStar Farms

Final Round: Taste: This is always what it comes down to, isn't it? For me, at least, it is. M'star definitely decided to go the well-done burger route and make a meaty, kinda smokey, solid, but kinda plain tasting patty, er, "pattie." TJ's starts off tasting roughly the same, but mid-bite there's like this savory inflection that introduces itself to the flavor that makes it taste more authentically sausage-like. Mind you, it doesn't taste just like it, but a reasonable facsimile for a bunch of beans. I think it's the extra 1.5 gram of fat that the TJ's has to give it just a little more greasy breakfast meat essence. First time we chomped down, Sandy and I made "Soysage Egg McMuffins" and thought the TJ's was the winner, hands-down. I resampled both tonight with my dinner, and realized the taste was closer than originally thought. They're both good, but in their own distinct way. Depends what you like more. For Sandy and I, the choice was still simple. Judges' decision: Trader Joe's

Winner, and new world champion, by judges' decision .... Trader Joe's!!!

Post-Fight Wrap Up: Again, I was pretty surprised with the quality of a soy-meat Trader Joe product. Maybe it was the lack of real meat playing with my mind, but while enjoying the sausage patties, it wasn't as easy to recall I wasn't chomping my way through the real deal. MorningStar, while decent, was too unsausage-like despite its meatier appearance and texture to have the same effect. I think even if I sampled both in a blindfolded taste test, I'd choose the Trader Joe's. Sandy usually isn't too big of a sausage fan, but she legitimately liked the TJ's more than the MorningStar as well. "It just tastes better," she said. "If you told me we'd make some muffin sandwiches with the MorningStar patties, I wouldn't be like 'Bllllllllaaaaaahhhhhherrrrrrggggggahhhhhhhhhh' but I'd be happier with the TJ's." I wish I took a picture of the face she made while making that noise I cannot hope to ever replicate. She said if she were grading both brands, she'd give MorningStar a three ("solid, okay, but not great") but give the Trader Joe's a whopping five out of five. "Savory. Mmmm." Well, I wouldn't quite give it a five, but I recognize its goodness and understand it cannot ever be as good as the real thing. I can appreciate it for it is, though. It's the closest I've tasted, and definitely closer than MorningStar. I'm only grading the TJ's ...

Bottom line: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Trader Joe's Soy Chorizo

Hey everybody! What's Good at Trader Joe's has a new contributor! So it's been a while since this blog has been updated ... my old college buddy Nathan's been busy moving across the country or something ... and my wife Sandy and I (Russ) happen to pretty big TJ's fans ... so hopefully you'll be seeing at somewhat regular posts by me. We're hoping this blog, while a work in progress, will be a fun way to share about the good, mediocre, and nausea-worthy stuff we find on the shelves at TJ's. Nathan made this sound better up top.

Anyways, enough about that. Let's talk about fake meat product.

If you know anything about me, you know that I like food. And I like my food to taste like what it actually is - a steak to taste like a steak, coffee to taste like coffee, beer to taste like beer, etc. Sandy, on the other hand, is a little different. She likes her coffee to taste like caramel apples (this is what her choice of creamer tells me) and she loves to use black beans to make brownies (which I don't really get ... I just pretend they're actual brownies and go with it). She also loves fake meat. No, not like Spam. Like Morningstar Farms soy chicken products and "chicken" at Whole Foods and stuff like that. She's not vegetarian (she doesn't like vegetables enough to be), but she just loves the fake meat. I've tried it, and honestly, for me, if you want something that tastes like a piece of chicken, have it be the actual bird. It's nasty enough what they do to a chicken to turn it into a box of McNuggets, and I don't want to think of the additional steps of nastiness required to turn a handful of tasty-in-their-own-right beans into that.
Anyways, I guess it was her affinity for all things soy that led us to the original purchase of Trader Joe's Soy Chorizo. It sounded interesting to her, and I guess for the $1.99 and her happiness, w
e put it in the cart. We got home, put it in the freezer (it does freeze well) and a few nights later, decided it was time to try. I did not have high hopes. First off, the very name is a lie if you know any Spanish. Soy Chorizo = "I am sausage".* No, you're beans, not delectably ground up little piggies. Then the way it is packaged is somewhat of a lie. It's tubular shaped, and comes in plastic casing, which originally lead me to believe this was a grillable-type of chorizo. So I go out, put it in on the grill (anything is better grilled), and once it gets even somewhat hot, it starts crumbling into a mess. Not good. I take the pieces I can salvage and not knowing what else to do, come back inside, put in a frying pan, and start cooking it. I explain this to Sandy, we re-figure out our dinner plans, and decide to make a go of it. Not knowing what else to do, I think we ended up tossing in some black beans and rice once the chorizo was crumbled completely and beginning to brown. We also had some salsa to stir in along with some cheese, and either tortillas or tortilla chips. Finally, it was time to take the first bite ...

Freaking. Awesome.

For a soy-based meat product, it's really good. Scratch that. It's just really good, period. It's spicy, but not overly. The chorizo when cooked also has just a little of the requisite gristle so it's hard to remember that it's not actual meat. When made with rice, beans, and other stuff (our favorite way to have it), it really seems to hold it all together without dominating the other tastes. I think it'd be a pretty good meat substitute for anything ground meat would be needed for in a spicier dish, like chili, tacos, or hotter pasta sauces. It's not anything you can shape or form into a patty or loaf, so burgers and the like are out, but it tastes better mixed into things as opposed to standing on its own anyways.

This has become a "must buy" nearly every time we shop at TJ's - Sandy and I always ask each other how much milk we have left, how many eggs, and if we still have any soy chorizo in the freezer. It's almost become that much of a staple - I'd say we eat it probably at least every other week. We heartily recommend trying it out just as described above - with black beans, rice, your favorite salsa, cheese, and tortillas. Sandy calls it our "everything we love in a bowl meal", which I think sums it up pretty well.

I think Nathan did the star rating thing. I'll use the same methodology, except instead of stars I'll use golden spoons. I give it a rock solid 4.5 golden spoons (it's tough to get 5), Sandy's busy so I can't ask her but I think she'd give it a 5, 

so 9.5 golden spoons out of 10.


*It occurred to me after writing this sentence that it might not have been a lie after all. If TJ's wanted me to read into the Spanish meaning of the product name, they probably would have marketed it under Trader Jose's, not Trader Joe's. We call it "I am sausage" anyways because it sounds funnier, and it's so good, I'm not going to argue with it.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Trader Joe's Meatless Corn Dogs

One day, I was particularly in the mood for corn dogs as I roamed the crowded aisles of my local Trader Joe's, when I spotted these frozen puppies. I didn't see any other varieties nearby, and I was crestfallen upon noticing the "meatless" seal on the cover of this box. I wanted meatful corn dogs. Who ever heard of a vegetarian corn dog?

Well, my friends, I was brave that fateful day (not to mention really desperate for a corn dog) and I went ahead and bought these corn dogs, devoid of life-sustaining meat. And wouldn't you know it, but the evil genius that decided it was a good idea to make vegetarian corn dogs also decided it would be a good idea to make them taste good. Now, I'm not going to lie to you -- if I had a meaty corn dog in one hand and these Trader Joe's Meatless Corn Dogs in the other, I could probably tell which was which. But, without having the meatful corn dog for reference, the average consumer probably wouldn't detect the absence of meat in these amazing TJ's Corn Dogs. I really like them. Easy to microwave, relatively healthy; look there, "4g of Soy Protein."

I've got to hand it to these vegetarians; not liking the taste of veggie foods is an increasingly invalid excuse for eating meat with every meal. Trader Joe's Meatless Corn Dogs are healthy and tasty, and you can enjoy them without wondering if there are pig snouts or hooves in the food. Always a plus.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

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