Saturday, May 28, 2011

Product Testing

I know a lot of people just don't have time to plan, prep and cook full meals every night.  So I've been testing some vegan products to help make life a little quicker.  Vegan products aren't always easy to find, but I've been most successful locally at Wheatsfield and then at Dahl's. I've found some products at Hy-Vee, and a few at Fareway.  It really just depends on what you want or need.

I have conflicting thoughts on "vegan alternatives" when cooking.  First, I think vegan cheeses, sour cream, mayo or creamers would be great for cooking.  But I have a hard time with meat alternatives.  The idea of it seems weird to me.  If I don't eat meat, why would I want a meat alternative?  But I'm keeping an open mind and trying some new things.

I have tried some of the tofu-based meat alternatives (try them at the May House in west Ames--great food, cash only).  We ordered the soya garlic chicken and the soya vegetable beef.  My family loved them both, but they also loved the veggie rice noodles that had no meat product.  The consensus is this: we all know it's not meat, so we really aren't expecting meat, but it's pretty good meat.  I asked Eli what he was eating and he answered, "chicken and beef."  It's a pretty good match in flavor, the texture is slightly different. When it's mixed with rice and sauce and veggies, you really can't tell the difference.  I don't know exactly what product/brand is used there, so I can't vouch it's truly vegan.  But it is vegetarian and a much healthier option than meat, and certainly a healthier option than the fried meat plates served at most Asian restaurants.  Many restaurants offer vegetarian/vegan options now, so just be sure to ask.

Shopping around at grocery stores, I've found a number of frozen foods that are vegetarian.  Few are vegan, but Amy's brand has may vegan options that really are good.  I love the roasted veggie pizza, and the family likes the tamale pies.  Amy's also has a number of Gluten-Free options and a recipe section on their web page.  I found a very good selection of these products at Dahl's.  Amys Kitchen: Natural and Organic Foods

Our family also tried the Smart Dogs and Field Roast Brats and Sausages.  They are vegan, find them at Wheatsfield.  The night we had them, the conversation between me and my 8-year-old went like this:

Me:  How are the hot dogs, Eli?
Eli:  I just ate a regular hot dog, I'll eat a vegan one next.
Me:  No, I didn't make any regular hot dogs, only vegan ones.
Eli:  No, I ate a regular hot dog and I'll eat a vegan one next.
Me:  No, I didn't make any regular hot dogs, only vegan ones.
Eli:  No, I ate a regular hot dog and I'll eat a vegan one next.
(This went on for a about 2 minutes, then...)
Eli: Oh, well, it tastes like a regular hot dog.

So, a Smart Dog tastes like a regular hot dog.  I don't know if that's good or bad considering how a "regular" hot dog tastes.  But my kids couldn't tell a difference.  And I had one smothered in pickle relish and spicy mustard and it was pretty good. 

The sausages were an applewood smoked potato sausage.  So I wasn't really expecting them to be "meat-like" at all.  In the past, I've purchased gourmet brats--sun dried tomato and basil, or chipotle chicken brats, etc.--and these reminded me of that.  They weren't a traditional brat, but they were definitely tasty on a garlic bun toasted on the grill.  I liked them and so did my hubby.  Definitely a good alternative to keep in the freezer for those times we're invited to grill out with friends.  We can just grab those and have a good vegan alternative.

As for the cheeses and sour cream products, I think they suck.  Honestly, they have a terrible after-taste of bitter soy and they smell funny too.  My kids really like the Veggie Shreds cheese.  I add a small sprinkle on pita pizzas or garlic bread, but I don't pile it on.  I really do like the Vegenaise mayo.  It tastes like mayo.  I've used it on potato salad and to make the spinach artichoke dip.  Got great reviews on the dip and lots of people asking for the recipe. It adds a good creaminess and a little zip to pasta sauce or casseroles if I want it a little creamy. 

I've already discussed soy milk in a previous post (March 11, 2011).  I like the plain soy milk for cooking.  I also use the rice milk (a little watery, but good flavor) and almond milk (great flavor-by far my favorite and my kids' favorite, too).  It takes a little experimenting when cooking with the different kinds of vegan milk since they have more water content than cow's milk.  But they have a long shelf-life in the frig, so buy a half-gallon of each and mess with them as you cook and eat.  Find out what works best for you. 

Tofu and soy products are very good and healthy, but certain brands are better than others.  Try not to judge all tofu if you've tried one and not liked it.  I don't have any in the house right now to check brands, but the brand sold at Fareway is not as good as the brand sold at Hy-Vee in the organic frig section.  Some soy products tend to have a bit of a smell or after-taste if not handled properly.  Call me if you're working with something and have questions.  Our family loves tofu in soup, and we all love crispy tofu (previous post) with most any kind of sauce or dish.  A number of my carnivorous friends have purchased and cooked crispy tofu at home after trying it here.  It's pretty darn good.  But plain tofu is a little mushy, so it's really a matter of cooking technique to make it fit your personal preference.  Don't be afraid to experiment.

As always, I'm here to help.  If there's something you've been itching to try, give it a test. Call me and I'll talk you through it.  Or give me a day or so and I'll make it for you.  I love cooking for friends!! 

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