Remember that week that I ate even more salad? Oh, this was it. Continue reading
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.
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”.
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.
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!
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…
El Dorado Style 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?
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.
It’s true! One would think it would be locally roasted coffee, but I have a whole lot of random tea bags waiting for me at home. I picked up a few coupons and sampled most of the new vegan items amongst the vegetarian (more on this below), got my Field Roast on, did several shots of coconut water, casually spread the word about Vida Vegan Con with the Voyager, but most importantly, I saw friends and took a much-needed mini vacation! Here’s a quick run down and photos…
Best in Show: Prometheus Springs Capsaicin Elixirs. Invigorating, spicy beverages with exotic, stimulating flavor combinations such as Lychee Wasabi, Citrus Cayenne and Pomegranate Black Pepper. I only hope I can find these in Portland!
Saddest in Show: The Burgerville cow ad at the Chez Gourmet table.
I wish this was in Portland: Small Planet Tofu. My mysterious day job has taken me to Spokane on more than one occasion, and Huckleberry’s Market, along with its bulk, seasoned tofu, spreads and tofu scrambles is always something I look forward to. It’s cool, keep it local – I’ll pick more up on a road trip one day…
Note: Seattle Vegfest organizers, your mass of volunteers was an impressive sight, and certainly friendly – but maybe a briefing on vegetarian vs. vegan next time around? Postings would be helpful. I was warned in advance that VegFest is is more of a ‘vegetarian fest’, which is funny for a city that’s been such a ground-breaker in the vegan community, and sure enough, there were many product samples that weren’t vegan, which is fine, but in addition, there were quite a few volunteers who weren’t sure of the difference. I found myself reading more labels than I’ve done in years. Yikes! It was an odd feeling to feel like a left out vegan….at a VegFest.
Onwards to the photo tour…
I came to the soul-tingling realization yesterday in New Seasons, that if I allow myself to buy quality curry pastes for Thai cooking, I could try the same, just once, for Indian cuisine. Perhaps it would prove handy and delicious over lazy and under-spiced, right?
Ridiculously, I had stocked up on various curry-related spices earlier in the day, but knowing my curries never quite taste how I want them to and that I didn’t have quick access to a few unique ingredients I had yet, and intended to incorporate, I rationalized the whim and picked up a jar of Patak’s Madras Curry paste. My dedication to making nearly everything from scratch be damned, I made a satisfying and spicy Madras curry for dinner and the teaspoons stayed hidden. Plus, the sweet and golden diced potatoes helped counter the heat of the curry. I loosely followed the recipe on the back of the jar (which was a hoot to do), substituted cooked chickpeas, red pepper and carrots for beef [using extra vegetables], and pureed Muir Glen tomatoes for diced.
So, there ya go. Sometimes I’m a little bit lazy. Or normal.
Even fast food chains have bowls these days, so don’t you dare expect another break down on how to bowl it up. I do happen to live in a bowl mecca (toot, toot on Portland’s horn), frequent both Cafe Yumm and The Whole Bowl for lunch – wishing Native Bowl was within reach – and crazily, it’s been two whole weeks since I’ve had bowl construction in my life. Blame fracturing my foot or something, and thank my friends for providing sustenance.
Now, I dig bowl meals because they offer variety, they’re saucy, they become a saucy mess, and as work lunches, can offer this assembly all over again, whether packed with sauce on the side or constructed level by level. The bowl below is my journey back to this land of bowl making, and includes several components – with one very special guest.
I definitely recommend Food for Lovers Vegan Queso and want to see this in more restaurants & stores – it’s so creamy and well-spiced! I’ve made the recipe in the past, and I was pleasantly surprised at how the jarred version was even better! Two words are in my future: Hello, nachos!
Note: Queso was purchased with my own money from Food Fight! Grocery. Word.
In case you didn’t know….it rains a bunch in the Northwest.
Portland’s rainy season is pretty much from October to April, and this makes the wintertime wait for the return of the Portland Farmers Market that much more worthwhile (and so bountiful!).
It’s a drizzle, for the most part. The frustrated East Coaster in me would like to note that you’re not going to see many big rain storms or snow storms, or that many umbrellas – but you will see rain boots. The days where the city’s inhabitants freak out over sleet (and call it snow) never fail to break my heart, but at least I have cute boots on.
So, I don’t write much about my personal style, because I don’t have much besides a fading predilection for stockings in various colors, but I am digging my streak of cowgirl rain boots. The warm Tretorn boots I bought last year cracked (and cost too much to do so!), and I get sick of buying rubber boots from Target or Payless, regardless of the charming design, that do the same. I had originally purchased a pair from Rainco this fall based on a recommendation from a friend, and sadly, they also quickly cracked after a couple of weeks! However, I contacted Rainco with a picture and the customer service was great – assuring me that it looked like a defect. They sent me a new pair of cowgirl boots as soon as more came in, and I was wearing them before they even made the website as a new style!
To note, Rainco also courteously assured me that their cowgirl boots are indeed vegan. This was the pair I first ordered (now out in my size), and my new pair is below.
In all their new glory:
Close up of pattern:
Bring the rain.
Alright! I’ve spent the past weekend resting, doing laundry, and catching up with my cats after two weeks traveling on the West Coast for my mysterious day job. As much as I usually think Portland is the bees knees, and as much as I complain about having a day job, I’m grateful for my employment and the bonus opportunities to explore other cities (and play travel writer). Back to my point and purpose here – I was in town for just over 24 hours halfway between my journeys north and south, which fortunately, allowed me to attend Portland’s annual VegFest. I may not have had time to experience every single exhibitor booth or attend any glorious talks, but I did get to see countless smiling veg-faces and proudly table for Vegan Iron Chef’s big public, pin-dispensing debut.
Most of these photos were taken as Saturday was ending. Pretend people aren’t falling asleep at their booths and that there’s a never-ending stream of veg-happy and veg-curious folks, because there was!
Photo essay time:
My favorite on the show floor (you can’t deny it was mostly a trade show out there, and I say that fondly): So Delicious.
I can’t really think of any flashy new veg products I hadn’t seen before or that blew me away, so I’ll call my favorite as I see it – So Delicious Coconut Creamer. And well, they were one of a couple of vendors offering complimentary coffee, and as I was there all day with my own mug, I happily drank it. On top of that, I have a fond memory of my friend Melissa bringing me one of their coconut ice cream sandwiches…
Deanna works the NW Veg table. She does so much for the vegan community and it clearly loves her back.
What to wear when you’re veg…besides Herbivore, of course.
The German Viana line. In the past, I found these very hit or miss for my taste buds – but after sampling most of them, I really dug the Doner Kebap and Veggie Cevapici.
Supreme Master: Never disappointing. Just tired. We had the sweetest reporter from their channel, Youping, come with a small team to Vegan Iron Chef last year.
Lundberg: Where I learned that according to CNN’s Health reporters, Black Rice could be the new Brown Rice. Noted.
Chicago Soy Dairy bros. Mozzarella teese, I got your back.
Fair Trade Theo Chocolate Samples
Another favorite of the day – Soy Feta at Heidi Ho’s Organic Vegan Cheeses. Locally made & currently available at Jazzkats Coffee Bar. They graciously donated a fruit & hazelnut cheese spread to a Portland talk my friend & fellow blogger Janessa (with a new domain!) and I did last month for Try Vegan Week.
Hold onto your hearts, you crazy Daiya heads – Amy’s Vegan Mac & Cheese. I finally tried it and have to give a big ol’ Pass, but I get convenience. I get novelty.
Pull yourself together! One more Daiya shot to go… Now this pizza? I really get it.
Thai and True’s distributor’s stand tied with Chicago Soy Dairy for the stand I supported the most, financially. I picked up 4 small tubes of teese (on sale 2 for $5 – it really bothers me that I can only get teese at one store in town, albeit the great Food Fight!) and restocked on Yellow and Massaman curry paste. Locally made & VEGAN.
Don’t buy curry paste from a can. This is so much better (or make it!)
Another popular neighbor, naturally:
Portland <3 Kombucha
I overheard such interesting, varying comments from the folks stopping by the Gardein table. What do y’all think?
I know these are *just beans* , but they really are good beans! The Better Bean Company.
A big bowl of spices at the CuisineMentor table.
Photo evidence of the crowds, and that guy on the left eating.
Food vendors. Who’s been to Yummy Tummy? I keep hearing such positive things!
Red & Black, my favorite anarchist cafe-runners, tabled on Saturday.
Sengetera, selling Ethiopian veggie combos.
My girls at the Vegan Iron Chef table:
Day Over! Back to the real job.
Off to work, work, beaches, work, Costa Mesa, and a few days vacation for my first time in Los Angeles after this.
I have a geeky Stumptown Vegans review of this cafe below coming soon….
Important Update: My sister has informed me that this is “Spin Dip”. Carry on.
Spicy Spinach Artichoke Dip with Nayonaise
Hello, vegan specialty ingredient time! This Spicy Spinach Artichoke Dip is absolutely a guilty pleasure of a party treat. At my recent Double Dippin’ party, it was one of the first things I noticed polished off! (because I was stoked to make more room for more dips!)
It’s a combination of veganization and pine nut and nooch alteration of every single other artichoke and/or spinach dip that exists on the internet. Extra credit to my sister Jenny for insisting I add sour cream. She’s a pro on matters of spinach meets artichoke – even if she did ask me the recipe for “dip” in the same conversation. What dip? “The dip you eat at parties”…that turned into a conversation about how the classic American dip is soup packet + sour cream + mayonnaise + cheese, etc – this vegan version is as close as I’ll ever get!
Anyway, prior to this, the only other time I can recall eating artichoke dip was at Georgetown Liquor Company with my friends Vijjy and KJ in Seattle, which rules (just remember to say VEGAN). So does their dip. And my Class of 2000 of NW club.
Onto the super cheesy, somewhat spicy, packed with spinach artichoke dip:
Spicy Spinach Artichoke Dip with Nayonaise
- 14 ounce jar of marinated artichokes, briefly rinsed
- 4 ounce can of diced green chilies (I used one from Trader Joe’s)
- 1 cup of Nayonaise* or other vegan mayo
- 1 cup of vegan parmesan (I used a blend of nutritional yeast and pine nuts)
- 1-2 cups of fresh baby spinach
- ½ cup of Tofutti Sour Cream or other vegan sour cream
- 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon of miso (I used chickpea)
- Freshly ground black pepper
Optional: 1-2 cloves of garlic, because I simply can’t recall if I added them. It’s harder to imagine I didn’t.
Garnish: 2 tablespoons of pine nuts and a generous pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, added during the final 5 minutes of baking.
- Preheat oven to 350F and lightly grease a casserole dish, such as an 8×4.
- Add all ingredients except for the spinach into a food processor. Pulse a few times, until well mixed.
- Add a bunch of spinach and puree. Add another and do the same until you’re done.
- Spoon into the casserole dish and bake for 20-25 minutes.
- Remove from oven and add garnishes, if using. Turn the heat to 425F and bake an additional 5 minutes.
- Serve with dipping items, such as baguette slices. Go. Party.
The party slowly begins…hundreds of more dips arrived, seriously. This is just the primary Savoury table.
The new Tofurkey Pepperoni Pizza, Sampled at Food Fight!
My past exerperiences with Daiya have ranged from a tasty, gooey grilled cheese with tomato at Savor Soup House, to uncooked samples at VegFest, to so so home experiments, to the oozing pizza I thought was going to coat my mouth forever and lead to the world’s first drowning by vegan cheese at zpizza in California. After the first couple tries, it was clear that I was in the minority opinion (but not alone) on this non-dairy cheese, it was taking over the vegan world, and making commercial strides into the ‘real’ world.
I came to accept that progress has been made, vegan cheese that looks and tastes like plastic will one day be behind us, and that goo is here to stay. That being said, please don’t think all I do is complain about Daiya. I think it’s fantastic that people are so ridiculously jubilant over a vegan product.
I remain open-minded and my appreciation has developed, which brings me to the latest of my Adventures with Daiya:
In the ever-flowing wave of vegan excitement over the novelty of vegan convience foods, and progress, in the name of nondairy cheese, comes the Tofurkey Pizzas.
I sampled the pizza above, Pepperoni, and the Tofurkey Cheese on Earth Day last weekend at the vegan mini mall. I liked the Pepperoni, with the thin layer of dispersed Daiya cheese (both Mozzarella and Cheddar?), mild sauce, and smokey bits (which truly tasted like Tofurkey jerky, but who’s complaining?)
I thought the sole Cheese slice had too much of the greasy cheese, but the Pepperoni distracted me from that with the chewy bits and I can see myself reaching for a slice in the future, if it comes my way. It’s a little sad that they don’t use traditional rounds, but it’s a freaking vegan frozen pizza, so who cares?
- Vegan, soy-free, and non-hydrogenated!
- Two popular brands & the possibility of being widely available.
- Nostalgic, convenience food, with a vegan twist.
- Thin crust and thin layer of Daiya.
Cons & Questions:
- Brand new – have you seen it in stores yet?
- Over-priced, convenience food – you make the call.
- The recommended serving size is 1/3 a pizza, is that practical?
- Daiya is now found at Whole Foods and all over the place – try your hand at a homemade pizza!
- The Daiya effect aftertaste. I was telling my friends about this pizza days after trying it, and my mouth was still weirded out.
More convenient Daiya options:
- Rossini’s Gourmet Vegan Cheese Pizza
- Amy’s Gluten Free, Non-dairy Mac & Cheese
- The Daiya Retail & Restaurant Locater
Buy it online, or in Portland at Food Fight!, Whole Foods, and Lamb’s Market.
In other recent vegan cheese adventures:
I really, really like Bacun Cheezly.
So much so that I made this pizza with Hot Lips dough, sliced creminis drizzled with olive oil, roasted raab, sliced Granny Smith apples tossed in liquid smoke and balsamic vinegar, Bacun Cheezly, and Mozzarella Teese.