Product Review: Vege USA

It’s been a tremendously long time since I’ve done a product review. I simply don’t have the time or interest for them very much, and very few offers legitimately pique my interest. This is my space, and it’s not a grocery aisle. I mean, as a vegan blogger, there are only so many times you can open up another raw bar, let alone an email about one.

But hey, here I am, live-blogging from IFBC and back in the game with a duo of frozen entrees from Vege USA: who piqued that interest being just that, a duo of fake meaty entrees with an Asian influence. These items don’t exactly fit into my 100 Days Homemade mode, so they were paired with a from-scratch fried rice – something easy to toss together with my hodge podge of fresh farmers market haul with leftover rice while the entrees warmed in the oven.

Typically, there are three food items I’ll willingly consume on any sort of even semi-regular basis from my freezer: brand-new containers of vegan ice cream (which are then forgotten for epic periods), Gardein/Trader Joe’s breaded chickenless tenders – one of my saving graces during busy times, and most importantly, and influentially, tator tots. And it’s usually the same arrangement – frozen product + steamed kale with nooch (and who doesn’t usually have a few leaves of kale in their fridge?)

I decided to accept Vege USA’s offer to try their product because it was both something I would likely never buy in stores, yet something I would order at a vegetarian Chinese restaurant. That being said, the truth is that the coupons sat in my purse for months — but the intrigue was floating.

Drumroll, please – PRODUCT REVIEW TIME IS HERE.

What is it? Vegetarian Plus Vegan Black Pepper Beef and Vegan Ginger Chicken

Company/Brand: Vege USA

Available from? Whole Foods, Food Fight! (in Portland), Loving Hut, Supreme Master and other vegetarian Asian restaurants, and other natural foods stores

How do you make it? See those freezer packs above? Cut ‘em open, dump the filling onto a lightly greased baking pan or bundle it in foil and bake. I did the latter because I wanted to keep as much sauce as possible, opening up the packets towards the last 10 minutes of cooking. Definitely make a side of rice if you can. With most frozen foods, I do tend to bake longer than instructed and I’m really glad I did that here to really warm the pieces completely.

Like So.

How about describing the finished product in one word?

For this part, I asked Julia Legume to join in, since she shared in on the experience.

Julia found the Black Pepper Beef, and I quote, “Scary”, while she found the Ginger Chicken flat-out “Gingerlicious”. Caps used for importance.

Me? I thought the Beef, texture-wise, was definitely “tender” in that way only seitan can be, while one word for the Ginger Chicken really is just that – “GINGAH”.

So, there.

Plated over fresh chard leaves with Thai Basil fried rice

How about actual thoughts?

From Julia…”Comparing them, I thought that the chicken was much more accessible for people who aren’t in love with the idea of ‘fake meat’. I thought the steak was perfect for the harcore ‘fake meat’ lovers. When I question if something is ‘real’ or not, it worries me, but these people love that”.

I’ve got a soft spot for greasy, vegetarian Chinese food, and these meals were right up that alley – without those greasy feelings. We served them with a side of Thai basil fried rice, but had this been a few years ago, I would have broke out the frozen broccoli and instant white rice (okay, brown rice, and I wouldn’t have cooked it completely, either) and been just as content. I decided to cook both on the same evening for that family-style dining variety.

Let me break it down some more. Both dishes were ….

  • surprisingly saucy for frozen meals
  • quite…flavorful, with noticeable touches of authentic flavors of ginger, star anise, lemongrass and soy in both the sauce and protein
  • easy to prepare
  • straight outta Loving Hut!
  • and really made me pencil in a kale bowl for the next day…

Memories….The Black Pepper Beef somewhat took me back to gluten I’ve had tucked into tasty nests of fried noodles at vegetarian restaurants, while the Ginger Chicken was more reminiscent of grilled skewers I’ve had over many-a-bún, especially at Loving Huts and vegetarian restaurants in Thailand. The sauces were unlike anything I’d typically make, no mater how much ginger I have at my disposal.

Would I buy some more?

Overall, the Ginger Chicken was a much bigger hit on my dining room table than the Beef, so it would be the pick of the two. Sure, both entrees are healthier and less oily that restaurant equivalents, but….I’m just much more likely to order them out for a treat – and I totally will.

But…should you buy it?!

Do you like fake meaty things? Do you miss Chinese food? Go for it.

This has been a Get Sconed! product review. The entrees were furnished by Vege USA for sample.

Inspired Vegan Dining

Meyerly Sipping Gingerly Cocktail, garnished with Thai kefir lime leaves and fresh lemon peel.

It takes a lot for a cookbook to truly hold my attention, and the stories and recipes, in addition to the soundtrack, of Bryant Terry’s Vegan Soul Kitchen did just that. This past January, his latest, The Inspired Vegan was released, and I’ve been captivated.  The words, the quotes, the instructions and meal components, were just that, inspired. I immediately placed a hold at my library upon its release, and after two weeks and multiple recipes on my table, I purchased my own copy.

Bryant Terry is simultaneously an activist for food justice within the culinary world – and beyond, as he is an author, chef, and parent, taking a lot of inspiration for his books from his daughter’s birth.

The human connection and understanding of what we put into our mouths, and how, and with whom, is fascinating. I may not have a space to garden of my own, but I’m anxiously awaiting my first Portland farmers market visit of the season this weekend, and returning home with a notion of that evening’s dinner unfolding in my head.

Sunday night’s dinner from The Inspired Vegan brought the following to the table:

*I subbed fresh pinto beans

Tofu in Roasted Chili Oil with Peanuts

Roasted chili oil, cooling.

Plates being set for Sunday night's dinner: tofu in roasted chili sauce with peanuts, garlic braised gai lan, pinto beans in a thick gravy with roasted garlic, short grain brown rice and tagerine & orange mimosas.

I was stoked to find so many fresh greens at the Eugene farmers market, including gai lan, which was specifically called for in a recipe.

A couple of weeks ago, I took my first leap into the book for a dinner party. My guests, some dear friends, have a variety of dining habits, and every dish included was eaten by all.

The Inspired Vegan spread with accompaniments.

On the table for this dinner:

  • Wet jollof rice with garlic parsley paste – a vibrant, perfect accompaniment
  • Funmilayo fritters [baked with coconut oil spray] with harissa – I find myself starting to praise another accompaniment, so, you get my drift. It wouldn’t stop.
  • Bright-black fingerling* potatoes
  • Chipotle & blood orange ketchup [adapted from the plum ketchup]
  • Gingered sesame brittle [I couldn't find my candy thermometer and over-caramelized, but the final product remained intriguing]
  • fresh thyme
  • Moskarella #1  & rice crackers, a bonus from Isa’s test kitchen
  • in addition: cherry vanilla sodas with fresh blood orange and local Burnside Bourbon

*I subbed Yukon Gold potatoes

Funmilayo white bean & peanut fritters and the Wet jollof rice stew.

Bright black potatoes, etc.

In short, if you’re appreciate of creative, plant-based cuisine, pick this up.

Veggie Grill Weekend: Day One

Veggie Grill: Day One. Everyone's ready to sample 4 different vegan burgers, right?

While I could sit here for hours and slowly being to photo document my December-long travels in Southeast Asia, deciding the next day’s destination on a whim, sleeping in a bamboo hut alongside a river, attempting to rock a saree at a Sindhi wedding, watching the sunset from the steps of ancient ruins, or the young coconut curry that changed my life, and so on…well, I’m almost ready. First,  however, comes the story of my satisfying weekend in Los Angeles.

No holds barred, here’s the gist: mere days ago, I was one of a few lucky-ass Portland bloggers flown down to LA (what!) for lunch tastings at Veggie Grill. I’ve been twice before, in West Hollywood and Irvine, and was a fan, and frankly, I thought the email I half-read while waking up in Thailand sounded too good to be true: Meet & Greets with founders? Cocktail hour with the CEO? Special lunch tastings and previews of upcoming menu items? Traveling with friends? Were they taking vegan bloggers seriously? Would we take ourselves too seriously?

The departure for the overnight whirlwind was less than a week after my arrival back home, and my jet lag was only just fading, but I was in. 

Again, the day was incredibly satisfying. It began with an early morning flight and quickly moved onto an extensive lunch tasting of the classic Veggie Grill menu items, while meeting with the co-founders, a visit to The Getty, haute cocktails with the CEO at The Bazaar, and later on, our off-site dinner at Mao’s before collapsing in bed watching Chelsea Lately.

I’ll be sharing more from our second day, including new menu items, and any news about the Portland area locations that comes my way soon, as well as  in-depth thoughts on the food itself over at Stumptown Vegans with Webly.

As for the first restaurant opening in the Northwest (which includes Beaverton, Portland and Seattle), expect the Beaverton Veggie Grill to open its doors the last week of January, followed by downtown Portland later this Spring.

The following are photos from the day, in order. You can download the current menu on their website.

It all started with our ride for the weekend, Lonnie, as joined by Janessa:

Cookies in the car for breakfast!

Get ready…

Get set…

Go! 

Uptown Nachos. We were treated to plates of these as lunch starters on both days, and I am not complaining.

Buffalo Wings [Gardein] and Ranch with celery

All  Hail Kale Salad with roasted corn salsa and agave-roasted walnuts

New favorite breakfast = leftover kale salad!

Refreshment break: Iced Pomegranate Green Tea 

The burgers begin…

Bayou Chickin’

El Dorado Style VG-Cheeseburger

Classic VG-Cheeseburger

Sweetheart Fries and my beloved Chipotle Ranch

Quinoa Mac-N-Cheese with Garlic  Breadcrumbs [Daiya-based]

You may think we were done sampling, but as the lovely Janessa showcases, we had more to come…

A few bites of dessert, perhaps?

Carrot Cake, Chocolate Tofu Pudding & Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookie

“That cookie is just asking to be dipped in pudding” – Julia

It’s rare that my photo will included, but you guys….Janessa took a pudding photo series, and I wanted to share my favorite. 

The end! Of Saturday’s lunch tasting, that is.

Smiling bloggers & The Veggie Grill Founders & CEO

Ordering is counter-style at all Veggie Grills

Even as co-founder, Kevin’s cravings are relentless….

After our first lunch tasting on Saturday, we headed off to The Getty for some wandering. 

Not to mention a lot of close calls on these extended steps -

Cruising down Rodeo Drive may not have been a dream come true, but I like to think we were filming the opening sequence for some awful reality show that will never make it on air. I am not signing a release.

Later on, we digested and went for a cocktail hour at The Bazaar at the SLS.

I ordered the “New Way” Dirty Martini with Belvedere, on the right. Naturally, I could not pass up the chance for a burst of olive spherification and foamy olive brine air. I mean, come on.

Our group also experienced two table-side liquid nitrogen creations, including Michele’s Caipirinha and Webly’s Shirley Temple, pictured below. This series simply reminds me that I’m back from vacation and a new camera is totally on my back-to-life for a bit wish list.

This may have been the least dramatic of the hotel bathrooms used over the weekend, and yet I wondered such things as…just where will the water go in these sinks? Can people see through these stalls?

Hours later, with cocktails (and mocktails) sipped, we headed to Mao’s Kitchen for dinner. When Michele recommends a restaurant in LA, let alone a vegan-friendly Chinese restaurant, I’m in.

Fried noodles and sweet dipping sauce

Janessa and I split an order of the People’s Potstickers to start, filled with black & woodear mushrooms, smoked tofu and minced bok choy.

Next up to our table was a Peasants’ Onion Pancake. Not my type of dish due to our enemy status, but the ladies seemed to enjoy it.

Our crispy Beijing Spring Roll was $1. Enough said.

Tofu Fried Rice

Long-life Beans with Tofu

Hong Kong Chow Mein

HOLY CRAP, ROAMING, COULD-BE-FAMOUS, CARTOONISH FOOD CART ALERT!!!!1!!11!!

Day Two is up next. Go fawn over the menu some more til then.

Disclaimer: All lunch dishes were provided for by Veggie Grill, of which I have no contractual affiliation. I simply really enjoyed this outrageously fun weekend.

Photo Essay: The Best & The Rest of NYC (of my winter vacation)

Vegan Ice Cream at Stogo

STOGO

Starting with the Ten Best NYC Vegan Experiences of my winter vacation, in no particular order:

  1. The entire Vegetarian Dim Sum House Experience
  2. Carrot Tahini spread and Terra Sana Syrah at Candle Café – nothing else I sampled there interested me.  It was underwhelming the more ‘upscale’ dining attempt (on a budget) of my vacation. Photos below.
  3. Earl Grey infused Vodka Cocktail at Angel’s Share
  4. Toasted Cinnamon Raisin Bagel with blueberry tofu cream cheese from Bagels on the Square – plus the half dozen I brought back with me
  5. Dinner at Soy & Sake – specifically, the specialty sushi rolls and shrimp tempura appetizer. It was the vacation of fake shrimp and Daiya.  Overall, the best dinner of my vacation was here.  No photos, because every now and then I refrain.
  6. Gluten & Vegetables Pan Fried Noodles at Buddha Bodai – I get this every time I’m there.
  7. Vegan Knuckle Sandwich at Boneshakers -While I still think Daiya is more to look at than actually eat, I appreciated it in this glorious bagel sandwich.
  8. Dr. Cow’s cashew hemp nut cheese from Lifethyme Market - brought back to Portland, but in the running!
  9. The atmosphere & organic Ambrosia White Plum Tea at Wild Ginger, NYC
    • Side note: They refer to themselves as a vegan cafe, but the menu notes a few non-vegan offerings with whey, for example. Order carefully. My lunch here was the night after food poisoning, so I can’t say much about my meal because I picked at it.
  10. Toasted Almond Joy ice cream at Stogo – I dig this solid, gelato style shop. I’m not trying to take sides in the vegan ice cream shoppe wars, I just really like their ice cream. I haven’t been wowed by every flavor I’ve sampled, but I’ve been at least intrigued.  Toasted Almond Joy and Coffee have been my favorites so far, and my sister repeatedly orders the Coconut Vanilla..

Honorable Mentions:

  • Veganized Novice Pesto slice with sun-dried tomatoes and Daiya at Slice - even though once my friend Millie sampled it and said the pesto tasted like pickles, it invaded my experience. You order custom, organic slices here, and they offer vegan pesto and Daiya – which again, was all over NYC.
  • Soy Latte at Tillie’s of Brooklyn (another place with Daiya!)
  • Soy Cappucino at the dear minibar, East Village
  • and because it may have been the cause of late night food poisoning, but I’ll return for more, just the same: Oasis falafel, Brooklyn
  • Economy Candy – because it rules.

Recs? I’m well aware of favorites  I didn’t stop by during my brief vacation, and places I wanted to try (like Cocoa V, the freaking new vegan chocolate shoppe, Counter and Blossom) – any suggestions for my next pilgrimage?

The Photos and the arrival:

nyc

Upon arrival in NYC via good ‘ole Fung Wah from Boston, I decided to walk a few blocks into Chinatown for some vegan Chinese food. It was time for an early lunch after a long bus ride, the sibling I was staying with was just waking up for the day (of course), and her current neighborhood isn’t exactly known for its vegan options. Little did I realize, I was walking into the Chinese Lunar New Year Parade.   I didn’t quite comprehend the growing crowds, and then I was stuck first inside, and then within 1 block of Buddha Bodai with my suitcase, unable to go further for a couple hours.  On the plus side, I had meal in Chinatown, in New York City, and I witnessed the excitement of the New Year Parade!  It was wild, and I remembered what crowds are like, to an extreme.  Towards the end I did get a little angry, knocked over a few dozen people with my suitcase, and inched my way to a subway entrance and my mini family reunion.

Smiley Soy Latte at Tillie’s of Brooklyn (I was way too excited to be at a cafe named Tillie’s, with my friend Millie. It made my day).

tilly's

Candle Cafe

The wine

candle cafe

Carrot Apple Ginger juice

candle cafe

Blueberry smoothie

candle cafe

Bread with marinara dip

candle cafe

Bread with carrot tahini spread

candle cafe

Millet Casserole

candle cafe

Daily Special Lasagna (with Daiya)

candle cafe

Cajun Seitan Sandwich

candle cafe

Daily Special: Macadamia encrusted tempeh with quinoa and sautéed vegetables.

candle cafe

This was my entrée - the sides well cooked, but utterly boring, and the tempeh was bland, which breaks my heart to say that anything encrusted, in macadamia nuts, could be.

Vegan Knuckle Sandwich with soy sausage, Daiya cheddar, and tofu scramble on a bagel at Boneshakers in Brooklyn

Boneshakers NYC

Vegan sausage sandwich at Boneshakers

boneshakers, nyc

Boneshakers

boneshakers, brooklyn

Cappuccino from miniBar

nyc

Falafel at Oasis, Brooklyn

Oasis Falafel

My sister, Jen, creepily waving her hand, in front of the Vegetarian Dim Sum House. The rest of my photos can be found on the Stumptown Vegans Guide.

Veg Dim Sum, NYC

Pesto Slice, at Slice

Slice, NYC

Stogo counter

Stogo

Lifethyme Natural Market - I’ve rarely been in NYC and not stopped here.

NYC

Wild Ginger – first time.

Wild Ginger

King Oyster Mushrooms appetizer

Wild Ginger

Sauteed Tofu & Vegetables in Brown Sauce (lunch special, my order – I really appreciated the side of kabacha squash)

wild ginger

Smoked Teriyaki Seitan with Sugar Snap Peas (lunch special, not vegan, not mine!)

wild ginger

Miso Soup

wild ginger

Singapore Mai-fun with vegi fish cake (lunch special)

wild ginger

Ambrosia White Plum Tea

Wild Ginger

Wild Ginger, and my reckless suitcase

Wild Ginger

Only in New York.

freaking Rice Pudding restaurant

rice puddin'

Jenny, Millie, and Mike in front of MooShoes

strike a pose

Alright, that’s it for the travel recap of my winter vacation in Boston and NYC! Here’s Part I and Part II.

Photo Essay: boston. vegan. vacation. go.

Just what got checked off the Vegan To-Do List from my Return to Boston post…

See tall buildings? check!

beantown

As for food, let’s start with the No Name.  If there was a flag representing Vegan Boston, this would be on it.  The very first gluten/fake meaty anything I could stomach! (and now require at least once every two years).  Battered gluten, sweet and sour sauce, sesame seeds, broccoli – need I go on?

they call me no name

More from Grasshopper – Tofu & Broccoli

1/100th as exciting as the No Name, I know.

Grasshopper

What best follows Grasshopper?  Pizza! Who’s with me? (Not immediately after! Allicia can attest.)

Slice of the day from Peace ‘O Pie in Allston.  With Daiya, vegan sausage, pine nuts, kalamata olives, and roasted garlic.

Peace O'Pie

I was really content with my experience at the former T.J. Scallywagg’s.  On top of that, this was the first time I tried the Mozzarella Daiya and continued eating.  Super nice staff, great menu, and gluten free options!  Any place that optimizes the pine nuts gets a gold star in my book.

My friends shared this intense looking vegan ham & mushrooms pie:

Peace O'Pie

Tableside jar of Parma.  A shaker of nooch (okay, or Parma) is the true sign of a vegan friendly establishment.

Parma at Peace O'Pie


Soy Latte from Espresso Royale on Newbury Street

Espresso Royale

Featuring Bagel Rising bagels and cream cheeses & tofu cream cheeses!

Below, you can see my first East Coast bagel experience – a real treat with jalapeno tofu cream cheese, roasted red peppers, and sprouts. Thank you to my friend Sarah for the rec, even if I wasn’t badass enough for the vegan Tequila bagel sandwich!

bagel rising

Spike’s Curly Fries

spike's

Dinner at Montien Thai Restaurant in the Theater District.

One of those great, impromptu dining decisions.  I was really pleased that our server didn’t even flinch at the vegan requests.

Montien

Sorry for the flash photos, but what can I say? It was after a bubble gum martini at the IT.

Montien

Rice Noodle something something.

Montien

Back Bay, the old college stomping grounds.

boston

Comm. Ave – tiny little bits of old snow that broke my heart.

Comm Ave

Wired Puppy Coffee on Newbury St.

NEWBURY ST

Espresso from Wired Puppy.  Every now and I give in and decide my stomach is up to the task.  It was worth it.

Wired Coffee

Davis Square & Blue Shirt Cafe

Blue Shirt

My friend Millie and I decided to visit Davis Square for a bit. I have so many fond memories from my first apartment there.

Our original intention, besides wandering memories, was to visit the new, all vegan Pulse Cafe that someone had left me a comment about a couple months ago. Sadly, we were in Davis early on, and the cafe didn’t open until 5pm.
We then browsed the menu at Diesel Cafe and were both bummed that the most exciting vegan option being a hummus plate, and went corner the corner to Blue Shirt for lunch. The cafe had expanded since my days of running in for a wrap with tofu to quickly eat on the T to class or work downtown, and it at least seemed like their vegan options had as well.  There were a few more mentions of tofu on the menu, but bizarrely, it’s not that they weren’t vegan, because I comprehend that honey and eggs are utilized, but that there wasn’t a vegan-izable version of a couple of these options. Both Millie and I found our wraps unexciting, which is extra sad considering that a) we have just flown in that morning and were ravenous, and b) we’re both excitable people!

A Disappointed Millieship

millie! with a boring wrap.

Her Disappointing Curry Wrap

wrap

My Disappointing Wrap.  I rarely don’t remember what something was, but this…huh?

wrap 2

Expanded Blue Shirt Cafe

blue shirt

Ah, Chinatown.  I remember when I found you terrifyingly sketchy to walk through at night as a college freshman.  How things change. This is where the original Buddha’s Delight was. I did go for lunch at My Thai, and have a review in the works.

Chinatown, Boston

Soy Latte from Boston Common Coffee Co. in Downtown Crossing. News to me. I have to say that it doesn’t look like much, but it was decent.

soy latte

Let’s head to Kendall Square. When I lived in the area, I was constantly paranoid of secret helicopter pads and underground labs blowing up on the MIT campus.

jess 032

My reason for the venture to Kendall – scoping out the Clover Food Labs food cart. It was nearby the relocated Olive Tree cart, which was formerly my staple Jerusalem cart (and restaurant). I was in college, so my diet was supposed to consist of $3 falafel wraps.  C

jess 033

Heading down to Central Square – just because it’s fun, I will mention again how much I used to love Pu Pu Hot Pot, their free delivery, and Spicy Tofu and Broccoli in Garlic Sauce.  And again, did you see their name?

Central Square

The highlight of my time in Central Square, or Cambridge, for that matter,my first exposure to Leslie and the Lys!  Wow. Wow. Wow. WOW.

leslie

Another highlight? 1369 Coffee House.  So reliable!

jess 015

Vanilla Soy Latte.  Vanilla = Vacation.

Soy Latte from 1369

Next up, NYC.

sorta boring, mostly great & a segue

Roasted Blue Potatoes, Golden Beets and a single Russet, with coarse sea salt, olive oil and pepper. Roasted Colors

I’ll take golden beets over red any day, any place, any time zone, as long as there’s a working oven.

Huckleberry’s Bistro style Tofu Scramble with Italian kale, green cabbage, kalamata olives, yellow bell pepper, creminis, lemon juice, shoyu, garlic and spices.  I like this style because it channels the scrambles I used to make as a young vegan, over-relying on soy sauce for flavor!

olive, lemon veggie scramble

Lightly fried rice with broccoli, carrots, Zesty Lemon Tempehtations (in my freezer from an old product review), leftover brown rice, sesame oil, almonds, tamari, garlic and white pepper.  Definitely a ‘what do I have to work with??’ type of dinner.

light fried rice with tempeh

Total Hodgepodge dinner.  Steamed spinach, baked tofu, kalamata olives and roasted chickpeas (loosely based on Tamari Roasted Chickpeas from Eat, Drink & Be Vegan).

hodgepodge

Not boring – just great! Lazy Samoans (with even lazier chocolate drizzlin’ and dippin’) from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar

lazy samoans

My recent flickr stream informs me that I’ve been saving money by cooking at home lately!  As much as I enjoy visiting new and old favorite establishments and socializing, I’m part hermit cat lady and have been spending time the past couple weeks enjoying fortunate holds on dvds the library (30 Rock! LOST! The Departed!)!

Isn’t that a swell segue for mention of a presentation I’m giving on this site and Local & Vegan Eating in Portland later this month at the library? Sure! I’m flattered that the library likes vegan bloggers! I’m flattered if one of my friends even half considers going!

Here’s the Multnomah County Library Events listing and the Facebook Event. I’m working on my comical winks all afternoon in preparation.