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.

Veggie Grill Double Feature

It makes sense that while I’ve been overwhelmed with the rest of my life lately, the one matter I’ve somehow made time to post about, is the one topic that vegan Portland is jumping up and down about: the downtown opening of our very own Veggie Grill.

It’s the growing chain that offers more than just novelty – Veggie Grill boasts the delicious normalization of vegan food in mainstream America.

Most importantly, the Veggie Grill in legitimate downtown Portland is NOW OPEN. The sneak peaks were held last week, and the very grand opening just happens to be today, June 6th, 2012. As usual, the location is shiny and new and sending countless people home with bellies full of soy chicken burgers and kale every single day. That’s what you really need to know.

Mac-N-Cheese and much more ahead…

I would say I became a Veggie Grill fanatic back in January, when sure, they invited myself and a few other Portland area food bloggers for a weekend tasting event down in Los Angeles. I had stopped by for a meal here and there on past visits to the area, and I enjoyed it, but the devotion was official while sampling nearly every thing they offered, including knife & fork items that were recently developed, while meeting the founders and head chefs. I had returned from a month-long escapade to Southeast Asia mere days before, and looking back, I realize their American vegan cuisine could not have come into my life at a better time. I remember people asking me if there was anything I had missed, vegan wise, while spending a month expanding my life and culinary horizons, and the only thing that came to mind was nooch sauce and seitan tenders. Cue nachos. Cue tenders.

Most recently, I’ve had the pleasure – the tasty, tasty pleasure, of attending two Veggie Grill events in the past couple of weeks.

Let’s start with the most recent, the sneak peek of the much-awaited downtown Portland locale on SW Taylor & 5th.

finally.

Janessa’s Thai Chickin’ Salad

Without a doubt, my new favorite item is the B-Wing Salad, with Buffalo glazed wings and creamy ranch dressing.


All Hail Kale Salad, Bayou Chickin’ Sandwich. All Veggie Grill chickin’ is a Gardein-ish substance, which trust me, tastes way better than that sounds.


Near definitive Veggie Grill Feasting ™


The gluten-free Urban Plate, featuring an entire portobello mushroom on top of tempeh and caramelized onions.


Uptown Nachos: an easy favorite

Veggie Grill offers both beer and root beer


A week or two before the downtown opening, Michele, Janessa and myself traveled all the way to Beaverton for a new menu items tasting. The things we do for Veggie Grill access! We were joined by Kristin, from Beaverton-based blog Our Ordinary Life, for a family style debut of B-wing Salad, VG Rollers, the Blackened Chickin’ Plate, “Crab” Cakes and a couple of other dishes we’d been fortunate enough to have a sneak peek of back in January. Bring it on.

Behold, a sign of great hope in the suburbs. How much better is this than a TGI Friday’s or a Subway?!? At least 200x.


On-wards.


You’ve got to be kidding me.

Serious preparation

Once again, more glorious Veggie Grill Feasting ™ lays ahead…

My adorable VVC cohorts and fellow Veggie Grill enthusiasts, Michele & Janessa. Appropriately hiding behind a menu.

Another brand new item: VG Roller, spicy tortilla bites with blackened chickin’, cabbage & zesty Santa Fe spread.

Also new, the “Crab” Cake with tartar sauce. Intriguingly chickin’ of the sea-like.

Time to bring on the kale – the Blackened Chickin’ Plate, one of the newer homestyle, fork & knife  plates on the menu.

Instant classic?  The Crispy Chickin’ Plate with cauliflower mashed potatoes and porcini gravy. Don’t you just want to cover it in nooch?

Another encore: The Urban Plate

I can’t get enough! This was first time trying the B-Wing Salad. I even brought one home for my girlfriend. She’s had it twice new, and declares it “the best thing on the menu. Obviously”. I concur.

Ed Casey insisted we try their staff-inspired Mac-N-Cheese paired with the bonus spoonfuls of basil & garlic pomodoro and pesto. I’m glad that Michele was there to remind me about my silly little nut allergy and I stuck to the pomodoro with my mac – delish!

VGF™ in progress

Michele liked the crab cake so much she went for a full order. Nice.

Ah, dessert. The new chocolate pudding parfait awaits.

Tah dah! Digesting with Janessa.

Hold up, carrot cake.

Til we meet again, Veggie Grill!

As in…tonight, for dinner.

Full disclaimer: All dishes featured in this post were courtesy of Veggie Grill.

The October Sunrise & Operation HotDish

Caribbean Vegan Ham Balls!!!!

See these balls to the left? They’re the delicious, steamed ham-style seitan recipe from Taymer Mason’s Caribbean Vegan cookbook. They’re smoky, they’re sweet, they’re spicy (how could I not add a big pinch of cayenne?) they’re chewy, and they were diced and pan-fried as part of an entirely inappropriately named October Sunrise casserole at Saturday’s Operation HotDish. I can justify the namesake because who doesn’t want to eat sun-colored macaroni and cheese on a gloomy fall day? Come on.

The main components of this crazy indulgent casserole at the crazy packed potluck and competition were wagon wheels smothered with 3 different cheesy sauces.  I based the primary cheesy element on this recipe for Who Cares Vegan Mac and Cheese (which has two separate sauces!!) from the 2009 SF Mac Battle Royal with Cheese, which seems to be based on the VegNews nooch-less creation. And because this layer sat in the fridge overnight and was looking a little dry, I spooned a batch of garlickly nutritional roux sauce on top of it before layering it up some more.

Here’s the breakdown of the October Sunrise Casserole:

  • Lightly oiled casserole pan
  • Layer of cooked hash browns
  • Diced vegan ham
  • Massive layer of wagon wheels & cheese > with chopped broccoli!
  • Layer of cooked hash browns
  • More and more diced vegan ham
  • Super sprinkling of breadcrumbs, nutritional  yeast and Hungarian Half-Sharp Paprika

Pre-baked October Sunrise

  • Lightly sprayed with oil & baked at 350F for 35 minutes

Ready to go: October Sunrise Casserole

I’ll admit, I didn’t try any casseroles, but I did bring an empty casserole dish home, which was totally my goal.

Thank you to everyone who came out and ‘sold out’ this event within minutes!

Here’s a couple of pics my friend and fellow VIC volunteer, Stephanie, took at the event:

Live Casseroling!

The Winners & Judges!

P.S. If you’re constantly on the search for great vegan mac & cheese creations and recipes like me, you must check out The Noochy Noodle. Trust me.

P.P.S. My long-term favorite remains this lower-fat version of The New Farm recipe.

warm & comforty foods.

Brussel Sprouts Au Gratin from The Urban Vegan


brussel sprouts au gratin

here’s a showing of what I’ve been cooking in the past month or so.  colder weather & holiday season = comfort foods on the brain.  turning on the oven to roast vegetables and bake tofu is delicious and keeps the apartment warm!

they’re the type of dishes where you want to hug the plate, and then raise your fork.  truthfully, in my heart and stomach, Italian food reigns as the ruler of the comfort food kingdom, but American vegan comfort foods call out, just the same.

Whole Wheat Biscuits from The Kind Diet, Silky Chickpea Gravy from Isa’s test kitchen, roasted brussel sprouts (clearly I let the gravy sit a few minutes here!)

WW Biscuits and Tester Silky Chickpea Gravy

Spicy Collards & kidney beans, Bbq baked super firm tofu

recent dinner

The spicy collards dish above was based on the test recipe for the dish below – Spicy Black Eyed Peas & Greens from Isa’s test kitchen, served with Cornmeal & Nooch baked tofu. Perfect for the days the Bye & Bye is just too far across town from me.

PPK dinner.

More BBQ baked tofu & Brussel Sprouts Au Gratin – the lunch@work edition. I made a double batch of maple sweetened Backyard BBQ sauce from Veganomicon a few weeks ago, and it’s been handy.

lunch @work series

Baked Bean balls from Veganomicon. I eat these with steamed greens and a side of marinara, or happily over whole wheat spaghetti.

chickpea balls

Seitan roast, maple baked carrots, baked potato and mushroom croquette, silky chickpea gravy.

belated tday dinner.

The day after Thanksgiving, I felt the delayed desire to make a seitan roast.  Like my friend Joanna’s amazing seitan roast, I modeled mine after Brian P. McCarthy’s recipe.  I didn’t pull out all the stops and buy cheesecloth and string, but it was still remarkably good seitan. The potato and mushroom croquettes were a mix of leftover mashed potatoes, roasted garlic and a little extra stuffed mushroom filling, formed into patties, rolled in seasoned breadcrumbs and baked.  I remember my mom making a pan fried (mushroom-less), traditional Italian version of these a few times a year growing up. comfort foodz for the win!

Tofu Skin, Tolosana black beans, carrots and tomato with Mexican spices. Burrito filling.

tofu sheets, mexican style

Really serious warm & comforty food – Side Dish Stuffed Mushrooms from my friend Michelle’s Thanksgiving potluck.

shrooms

and…Melty Swiss Uncheese turned Ancho Uncheese Dip from the classic Uncheese Cookbook.

swiss uncheese turned spicy ancho swiss uncheese

so, what’s your comfort food of choice come winter?