On Unboxing the Beyond Burger

I finally found it.  The Beyond Burger by Beyond Meat.  One of the two vegan burgers that bleeds.  My local Whole Foods just started carrying this delicious mix of science and nature.  Still digesting, I figured it’s the best time to report on this new edible experience.

The packaging starts the experience.  It sets it apart from the average veggie burger.  Though my local Whole Foods stocked the Beyond Burger with other vegan proteins, the package would clearly feel right at home in the meat section.

wp-1489287311942.jpgIt’s a strange experience, being a vegan, and opening a plant based burger that looks, and even feels, like raw meat.  It reminded me of being in Eindhoven, The Netherlands where a few years back I found a vegetarian version of raw beef lunch meat.  Vegan tartare I believe it was, but it had “America” in the the title somehow.

Anyway, back to the Beyond Burger.  This plant patty cooks like meat.  It juices up in a way that isn’t just water hemorrhaging out of a frozen bean burger.  The smell is not that of a soy burger either.  I can’t say it’s beefy, but it’s not like your average vegetarian puck.  This thing cooks like meat.

Three minutes on each side is the recommendation on the box.  I neededwp-1489287292641.jpg a little longer for my burgers.  I was expecting the red to cook out more quickly, but that didn’t seem to be an inevitability.  The cooked result looked more like a medium-rare beef patty.  Of course, I haven’t had red meat since 1990, so I could be way off here.

I wanted to enjoy my first Beyond Burger experience without too many frills, so I went with just Follow Your Heart’s near perfect provolone cheese, and a sandwich pickle.  I went with a sesame bun, which was all Whole Foods had in stock here in Cambridge, MA.

Taste.  It was wp-1489287336252.jpgkind of amazing.  I have tried Beyond Meat’s burgers several times before.  Frozen, they’re really good.  Fresh from the package like the Beyond Burger, they’re kind of the best veggie burgers I’ve ever had.  And I’ve had them all…
It’s the texture.  The taste isn’t that much different than Beyond Meat’s Beastly Burger, but somehow, the texture changes everything.  If you can find this burger, buy this burger.  It’s really good.  Let’s just hope Tyson Foods doesn’t screw this company up for those of us who eat only plants.

On Buffalo Chick’n Wraps

I’ve mentioned before how fortunate I am to live not too far from Eat at Jumbo’s in Somerville, MA.  It’s a traditional, college-town, take out place that also happens to have an amazing vegan menu.  My go to order at Jumbo’s is the excellent Vegan Buffalo Bomb.

20170217_194806The inconvenience of driving in greater Boston is enough that I often avoid it at the expense of my favorite take out.  To that end, I’ve attempted to recreate this favorite sandwich at home.  It’s not quite the same, but it is close enough for jazz.

Jumbo’s offers the sandwich on a variety of breads.  I prefer a wrap – sometimes tomato, usually whole wheat.  My biggest challenge with this sandwich is that I’m terrible the wrapping part of making wraps.  Though that lack of skill is probably compounded by the fact that I prefer Whole Foods Whole Wheat tortillas, which are not really full wrap size.

As I do for my chik’n quesadillas, I start by shredding some mock chik’n.  Typically, I use my all around favorite Tofurky Slow Roasted Chick’n, but lately my local Whole Foods 20170217_195227hasn’t been carrying it.  So as an alternative, I’ll use Beyond Meat’s Lightly Seasoned Strips.

Full honesty, I have been avoiding Beyond Meat, because they recently took investment from the Tyson Foods.  It’s nothing new.  Most vegetarian/vegan foods companies are in bed with conglomerates, but Tyson is responsible for an incredible amount of needless suffering in this world.

OK, back to the food.  A bag of frozen strips is pretty low in calories (under 400 for the whole bag), and about right for a large wrap, or a couple of smaller wraps.  In a small food processor, pulse the strips until they’re about the consistency of shredded (vegan) Parmesan.  Of course, pulse to your preferred cut.

20170217_195406I’ve tried a number of sauces, and even attempted to make my own.  I’ve used a mixture of barbecue sauce, and hot sauce.  You can tune the sweet to heat ratio that way.  For off the shelf, I find Red Fork’s Windy City Wing Sauce to be a pretty good option.  Though, it isn’t appearing on Red Fork’s product list, and another site showed it as unavailable, so your mileage may vary.

This Red Fork option has the advantage of being one of few wing sauces available that I’ve found to be wit20170217_200217hout honey.  The whole bag of sauce is a bit too much for a single bag of shredded chick’n.  I use about half.  I stir it into the chick’n before heating.  Transfer to a pan, heat, and that part is done.

For fixings, I like keep it simple.  Lettuce.  Tomato.  Pickle.  One addition I do make is to
add Organicville’s insanely good Non-dairy Ranch.  Definitely check out their line of vegan dressings.  They’re decadent, but worth it.  The ranch compliments the wing sauce perfectly.

Finally, I (attempt to) wrap things up.  Usually I just settle for eating this sandwich like a poorly constructed taco.  Simple, yet delicious.

On a Simple, Sloppy Veggie Chili Dog

I’m not much of a baseball fan, but I can appreciate the idea of a ballpark Frank – well, except for the whole meat part.  Unlike your local baseball stadium, most grocery stores thankfully carry vegan alternatives to the beef/pork/mystery meat hot dog.

There are a lot of veggie dogs out there.  Next to the veggie burger, the veggie dog might be the most common form of meat alternative out there.  My personal favorite is the Field Roast Frankfurter.  These links taste nothing like a typical store bought frank (from what I remember), and taste more like their proper German counterpart (or so I assume).

20170215_193749However, I have a vegetarian daughter, and she’s a bit pickier about her meat alternatives. So when we have veggie dogs, we generally go the more traditional route.  Along those lines, you can find satisfying links from Tofurky, LightLife, and even Whole Foods.

LightLife makes two varieties – Smart Dogs, and Tofu Pups.  Tofu Pups, LightLife boasts, is the “original vegetarian hot dog.”  These pups are tasty, but I prefer the Smart Dogs for texture, and because Smart Dogs also come in a “Jumbo” option.

Even at the larger size, the Jumbo dog is nearly half the calories of my preferred Field Roast option.  Both regular sized Smart Dogs, and Tofu Pups 20170215_194408weigh in at only 50 calories a link, with 7g of protein.  That’s a pretty modest intake.  The jumbo option is twice that, which is still quite reasonable for when you want to amp up your dog with some toppings beyond standard condiments.

I don’t recall ever having a meat based chili dog, but it’s definitely become one of my guilty pleasures as a plant eater.  It’s a pretty simple addition to an already simple meal, and adds some big flavors.

We’ve established the base – a whole wheat veggie dog bun, and a Jumbo Smart Dog.  For the chili, I cheat and use Tofurky’s amazing Chorizo.  These crumbles are already perfectly seasoned, and fully of flavor.  For my chili, I just heat a serving (about 1/3 of a cup), with a couple tablespoons of diced onions.

I like my on20170215_194951ions crispy on a veggie dog, so I don’t cook the mixture too long.  Once the crumbles are warm, they’re ready to top the link.  If you don’t have the chorizo links handy, any veggie beef crumble can be made ready by mixing it with three-to-one mixture of ketchup, and mustard, with a bit of hot sauce.
I top my dogs with dill relish, and German mustard.  Some Daiya shreds also make a nice addition – preferably cheddar, or Pepper jack.  If you have some melted vegan cheese, that also makes a nice add on.    Jalapeños are also a welcome touch.

On Chicken Soup for the Vegan’s Soul

There’s nothing like winter in New England.  But all these old offices and schools with their dated HVAC systems make for the perfect breeding ground for the common cold. Conventional wisdom – and even some science – suggests one should rely on chicken soup to fight off this seemingly unstoppable virus.

So what’s an herbivore to do?  20170213_183217

As I write this post, I’m fighting off a slight winter cold.  It’s my first in a while, and coupled with the piles of fresh snow outside, it’s the perfect reason for some homemade vegan chicken soup.

While there are some canned, and dried options available, I prefer to make mine from scratch.  I’ve played with a lot of combinations, changing different broths, mock chicken, and various ingredients.  I’ve settled on a combination as described below.

I love garlic.  I start most of my soups, and sauces with lots of it.  For this soup, I usually start off with about six small-to-medium sized cloves, crushed.  I heat it with about a tablespoon of oil to create a base.  I’ve been known to add some oregano, or similar herbs, but usually, I keep it simple.

For the veggie blend, I prefer to get a mirepoix prepared for me.  Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s generally have a nice mix of carrots, celery, and onion.  If you prefer to chop your own, 2 or 3 carrots, 2 or 3 celery stalks, and a small or medi20170213_183305um onion are about the right mix.  Once the oil is heated, add these veggies to the mix.

I let them heat a bit, but not for too long or they’ll start to burn.  After they’ve softened (maybe 2 minutes) I add the broth.  I’ve tried a few bullion cubes, and a couple of nutritional yeast based bases, but nothing beats the low sodium No-Chicken Broth from Imagine Foods.

I used to make this soup with one box of the broth, and two cups of water.  I now prefer two boxes, as it provides a less diluted flavor.  Bring the broth, and mirepoix to a boil, and add the mock chicken.

20170213_183600There are a lot of options for the mock chicken, and I’ve tried most.  Tofurky’s slow roasted chick’n works very well.  Beyond Meat’s, and Gardein’s respective chick’n strips don’t quite get soft enough in the broth to make it into my rotation.  Instead, my go to for this recipe is West Soy’s chicken style seitan.

The seitan has enough sodium to make up for the low sodium broth, so I generally don’t add much, or any more salt.  It also has the perfect texture, and flavor for a mock chicken soup.  The texture is chewy, but in a rubbery way.  That sounds unappetizing, but it’s actually quite good.  Bring to a boil again.

This being a soup to speed up recovery from illness, it wouldn’t b20170213_185158e complete without something vitamin packed.  Enter blue curled kale.  I buy it frozen from Whole Foods.  I eyeball how much I put in, but estimate it to be a little over one cup.  I measure based on the overall amount of green that shows through.

I also like some good woodsy mushrooms.  I buy mixed mushrooms from Woodstock Farms, frozen.  The shitake stems in particular bring out a nice earthy flavor.  Again, I eyeball here, and add probably three-quarters of a cup.  Bring to a boil again.

20170213_194115Finally, I add some orzo pasta – about a third of a cup.  Orzo is the pasta shape tha tlooks like big pieces of rice.  I use Delallo’s whole wheat.  I cook the pasta until it’s soft, which is about 7 minutes.

Finally, I add some cayenne pepper to give the soup a special kick.  Adjust according to your heat tolerance.  Salt, and pepper to taste.  I then let the soup simmer for about twenty to thirty minutes.

I like to top mine with some oyster crackers (vegan from Whole Foods) an
d some Parmesan shreds from Follow Your Heart. This soup is filling, and hearty.  It gets better when reheated the next day, as the flavors have had more time to combine.

 

On an Improvised Chick’n Marsala

One of my favorite meals back before my vegetarian days was a chicken Marasala dish that my mother used to make.  While I don’t recall the exact recipe, I do remember the rich flavor – with mushrooms, complimented by some sort of mild cheese.  I imagined a vegan version recently, and below is how it came to be.

For the chicken, I started with Gardein’s versatile chick’n scallopini, which is lighwp-1486842345730.jpgtly seasoned enough that it’s useful in almost any recipe calling for chicken cutlets.  There aren’t too many cutlet options out there.  I wish Tofurky would consider the cutlet form factor for its exceptional slow roasted chick’n.

I looked up a few recipes online for ideas, and found consistently that the cutlets should be breaded in some way.  I decided to improvise here.  I created a roughly 2-1 mixture of Italian breadcrumbs, and nutritional yeast, with some Italian herbs, onion powder, and garlic granules.

To stick the cutlets to breading, I took a small amount of VeganEgg (about 1/2 tsp) and mixed in enough water so that it wouldn’t get quite VeganEgg thick.  I dipped the cutlets in that, and then dipped the wet cutlets in the breadcrumb mixture.

wp-1486842356197.jpgMeanwhile, I heated some frozen mushrooms (your choice, mine was Whole Foods brand) in a bath of dry red Marsala wine (1/2 cup), some Earth Balance spread, and about a 1/4 tsp of molasses.

Once the mushrooms were browned, and the bath was heated, I added the cutlets.  Twp-1486842654865.jpghe cutlets heat through quickly, so after a few minutes, they should be good to go.  I admit, I cooked mine a little too long as the Marsala bath dried up more than I’d hoped.  I added a bit of Daiya mozzarella shreds for good measure.

While I didn’t quite get it right
(as I remember it), I think I’m on to something with this recipe.  The combination of the Marsala wine with the sweetness of the molasses really complemented the chick’n.

On the Classic Veggie Burger

Until recently, store bought veggie burgers were perhaps the least interesting faux meat option available to vegans.  These plant protein patties have graced grocery store shelves for decades, making it into our consumer collective unconscious when Gardenburger dropped seven figures on a Super Bowl ad buy.

Fast forward to 2017, and veggie burgers are making a big splash, as everyone from Big-
20170129_200202Agra to Silicon Valley are trying to create the perfect plant-based burger.  While I’m genuinely excited by the trends, you don’t need to find a veggie burger that bleeds to satisfy your carnivorous cravings.

When I gave up red meat in high school, and later gave up all meat in college, veggie burgers were a staple.  My college cafeteria offered them nightly.  I slathered them with melted cheese, and pretty much sustained myself on those bean, and grain beauties for four years.  Well, that, and of course excessive amounts of pasta.

These days, the sheer variety of veggie patty options is staggering.  Engine 2, and Hillary’s both make some delicious non-meaty patties.  I highly recommend either brand’s lineup for a quick and light lunch sandwich.  But when you want to recreate the decadent flavor of say, a bacon cheeseburger, there are two readily available standouts.

Beyond Meat’s Beastly Burger is quite good.  It’s a flat, and wide patty, and packs a fair number of calories.  In terms of texture, and taste, a Beastly Burger gets both right.  A lower calorie alternative that keeps the taste and texture is Gardein’s Meatless Patties.

I’ve experimented with all sorts of combinations of veggie burgers, veggie bacon, and veggie cheeses.  There are fewer veggie bacon options to choose from, but for my taste, Upton Natural’s seitan bacon is just right.  These protein strips cook quickly, and have a nice crispy texture. 20170129_195805

While I generally prefer Sweet Earth’s vegan bacon as a standalone option, Upton’s is best when used in sandwiches (think B.L.T.).  Both products are fantastic, but Sweet Earth’s veggie bacon is flavored more heavily than the simple seitan from Upton’s.

When it comes to vegan cheese, no company gets it uniformly right.  Daiya’s shreds are unmatched, but their slices don’t quite match the taste, and texture of Follow Your Heart’s slices.  I enjoy Daiya slices just fine on a sandwich, but Follow Your Heart’s options are so good, you’ll find yourself willing to snack on a solitary slice.

20170129_200222For my vegan bacon, veggie burger, I prefer Follow Your Heart’s Provolone slices.  I would call this particular product one of the five best vegan faux products available.  It captures the flavor of provolone like no other has.  It also melts quickly, and much like dairy based cheese.  Oh, and don’t forget the shitake slices!

Finally, what sandwich is complete without a sandwich pickle slice?  Add ketchup, and consume.  Pictured here are homemade onion rings (baked, not fried) from Chloe’s Italian Kitchen).  Also, from this book is a simple, and delicious arabiatta sauce for dipping.

On a High Protein Italian Meal

Pasta.  A staple for the omnivore, a necessity for the vegetarian.  This wheat, and water combination is a gateway food for many aspiring to live plant-based.  I know that I personally survived on pasta, and veggie burgers during my college years, and the years after graduation.

Chicken Parmesan having been one of my favorite pre-vegetarian meals, one of my earliest vegetarian recreations was chick’n Parmesan made with  Lightlife’s chick’n cutlets.  These breaded cutlets were discontinued somewhere along the way.  I later worked with Quorn’s cutlets.  Though delicious, the egg whites are a non-starter for a full on plant-based version.

Enter Gardein.  This Canadian purveyor of plant protein makes a mock meat to satisfy just about any carnivorous craving.  From mock wings, to mock meatloaf, Gardein has you covered.  Though not breaded, their excellent chick’n scallopini cutlets make for a great base for a vegan chicken Parm.

One of the joys of pasta is the simplicity with which it is cooked.  Adding the mock Parm should be no 20170122_192513exception.  I like to make mine in a toaster.  Using either aluminum oil, or a toaster pan, simply cover the cutlets with a few spoon fulls of maranara sauce, and cover with a mock mozz.  In my experience, Daiya’s shreds work best.

The trick to getting the cheese right is to bake the cutlets for about 10 minutes at around 400 degrees, and then
turn your toaster oven over to broil.  While Daiya’s shreds won’t quite brown like a dairy based mozzarella, it does cause it to melt just right.

I also like to turn my tomato sauce into a bolognese.  For that, I usually prefer Tofurky’s incredible chorizo.  Though I’ll often use Beyond Meat’s Feisty Crumbles, because I almost always have some in the freezer.  Simply brown a little in a sauce pan, and mix with your favorite vegan sauce. 20170122_193118

For the pasta, I’m a big fan of DeLallo’s exceptional whole wheat, organic line of pastas.  These guys get it right, and it’s made in Italy. However, recently, I tried a box of Ancient Harvest’s POW green lentil penne, packed with 25g of protein.  While I’m not ready to give up on the whole wheat taste of DeLallo, I will say I’ll mix this bean pasta into my rotation.

Finally, top the pasta with some sauce, and add the cutlet.  To top it all off, be sure to add a bit of Follow Your Heart’s Parmesan.
No one recreates real cheese flavor like Follow Your Heart, and these shreds are easily one of the best non-dairy cheese products available.

 

On a Quick and Easy Quesadilla

Mexican food has always been a staple of my vegetarian diet.  As far as ethnic diets/restaurants are concerned, it’s pretty friendly to those of us who live without meat.  After I transitioned to vegan, it wasn’t particularly challenging to continue enjoying most of my favorite Mexican dishes.

Hold the cheese, and a bean burrito, or vegetable fajita is almost certainly friendly for a plant-based diet.  And most restaurants offer veg-friendly rice, and beans. However, there is one dish where holding the cheese means eating plain tortillas20170115_194114 – and that of course, is the cheese quesadilla.  Fortunately, at home, I’ve found a simple, and satisfying way to make a filling quesadilla.

Thanks to Daiya (and others), there really aren’t too many cheesy meals that can’t be made with from plants.  Making a plant-based quesadilla is no exception.  I start my recipe with Daiya’s “Classic Blend” and a whole wheat tortilla from Whole Foods.
While at this point, we have a the beginnings of a very basic quesadilla, it would be a little boring to stop here.

To make things a little more interesting, I like to add some veggies, and a protein.  My personal preference is a combo of mushrooms, peppers, and onions.  In this case,20170115_190335 I went some shitakes, onions, and a red bell pepper.  I also added a bit of Tofurky’s excellent Slow Roasted Chick’n, which I believe might be the most versatile faux-meat on the market.

I prefer that these additional ingredients compliment a heavy cheesey flavor, so instead of cutting them up into small pieces, I chop them all in a food processor.

By having all of the stuffing ingredients sized to about a that of a diced onion, the effect is to have mushrooms, onions, peppers, and chick’n that swim within a sea of melted Daiya, rather than tasking a meaty bite of chick’n with a cheesy sauce.

To prep the chopped ingredients, I use a small Ninja food processor, and pulse until they’re mixed as I’d like.  I then transfer them to a pan and heat them through.  Heating them aside from the Daiya topped tortilla allows me to start melting the shreds in the oven so that the tortilla doesn’t overcook waiting for the veggies to heat.

20170115_190908

Once heated, I add to the tortilla, and top with some more Daiya.  I then top the bottom tortilla with a second tortilla.  While quesadillas are typically folded over, I use smaller tortillas, so the doubling up yields a similar result.

I then put the “sandwich” back in the oven (at 350).  Once there’s some good melt going on, I flip the quesadilla over.

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as flipping a pancake.  The quesadilla will fall apart pretty easily, since I don’t fold it over.  My trick for a clean flip is to spatula it onto a plate, and then flip it back onto the pan from the plate.

Total cooking time is roughly 15-20 minutes.  Prep time is about the same.  Consumption time will vary.

It’s worth noting that although plant-based, this meal isn’t meant to be healthy.  It does skip out on carcinogens, and cholesterol, but all in, it’s probably a 600-700 calorie plate, with about 200 calories each from the tortillas, chick’n, and shreds.

 

On a Salad with Wings

Salad.  It seems such an obvious choice for a vegan.  Lettuce.  Beans.  Other plants.  Done. While that might be standard fare for a side salad, sometimes one wants something a little more savory.  Something (as Red Bull might say) with wings, or in my case, with spicy wing sauce.

I’m fortunate to live in a metro area where vegan food is readily available at both restaurants, and grocery stores.  One of my favorite options, is a take out joint in Somerville, MA, USA named Eat at Jumbo’s.  Jumbo is the mascot of nearby Tuft’s University.  Jumbo’s is a traditional sandwich, and pizza shop, with a rather extraordinary vegan and vegetarian menu.

My favorite sandwich at Jumbo’s is the Vegan Buffalo Mock Chick’un.  This sandwich cis flavored with a moderately spicy wing sauce, with vegan ranch.  I’ve recreated it at home a few times, and will write about that experience next time I do.  For this post, I’ll be sharing a simple, yet savory salad that was inspired by that sandwich.

The underpinnings of the salad itself are nothing special.  I’m a fan of red lettuce, which is pictured above.  Carrot, mushrooms,20170111_182129 cucumber, tomato, and baked tofu are included. But it’s Tofurky’s exceptional Slow Roasted Chick’n that makes this salad special.

Ever since I discovered this product, I’ve been adding it to salads, soups, and wraps.  It is, in my opinion, among the very best of mock meats.  It’s delicious cold, or hot.  It is versatile.  It’s lightly seasoned, and easily flavored.

Now adding mock chicken to a salad isn’t that interesting.  But when heat that same mock chicken in a pan, along with some super spicy wing sauce, it’s a totally different game.

Thankfully, Jumbo’s started selling its own sauces, and I took a bottle home.  20170111_220000This sauce is hot.  It’s made with ghost peppers, for good measure.  I cook up just enough to spread the flavor.  Obviously, any spicy wing sauce will do, but for me, the spicier the better.

To balance that heat, I also include a bit of vegan ranch.  My local Whole Foods has recently started selling Organicville’s non-dairy ranch, which is just excellent.  20170111_182153Hillary’s Chia ranch is also a good option here.

While salad might not seem like the most interesting omnivorous meal to make vegan, there are a lot of mock meat options to turn a healthy salad into  a not-so-guilty pleasure.

 

 

 

On My Favorite New York Breakfast

Back when I worked in Manhattan – and was still a vegetarian – I had a Friday morning breakfast routine that often followed a Thursday evening happy hour.  This greasy, gooey, and guilty pleasure was quintessentially New York.  Unapologetically, I ended nearly every week in the City with this pile of food porn.

When you’re a commuter working in New York City, you develop a special appreciation for deli-deliverables.  On every corner, a deli-meets-convenience store can be found serving a diner’s worth of breakfast options, every day of the week.  For me, it was the egg and cheese sandwich that did me in.

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