Sunday, 4 September 2011

Reviewing Linda McCartney Vegetarian Mushroom & Ale Pies

I'm always intrigued when it states serving suggestion on the food packaging and it's just something random like two pies on a chopping board. I know you're supposed to take it with a pinch of salt (heh) but some days (most days) I lack inspiration and just want a few ideas of what will taste good together. On the back it claims to be "delicious with lightly sautéed leeks mixed into mashed potato". Show me the mash! They made it and put it in the corner of the photo so I can only see half of an out-of-focus bowl. I try to visualise, or should that be oralise, the flavours but this is why I fail at juxtaposing foods. Fine, focus on the pies. I don't have any leeks today anyway.

Linda McCartney Vegetarian Mushroom & Ale Pies come in packs of two and cost £1.49 (Sainsbury's). This was the winner of the UK's tastiest meat free dish of all the submissions made by consumers to Linda McCartney Foods between November 2010 and January 2011.
The pies take 30 minutes or more in the oven. I brushed the tops with soya milk and slid them in on a baking tray. 

I decided on the usual suspects: potatoes, carrots and peas. I had been craving chips. The really deep fried, crispy on the outside fluffy in the middle chips. As a compromise I peeled and sliced the potatoes, spread out the slices in an old roasting tin and covered in a light drizzle of olive oil, scrunches of salt and pepper and a sprinkle of oregano. After half an hour of diligently moving pies and potato slices around so everything would brown evenly and bringing the carrots and peas to boil in the last ten minutes everything looked done.

I started to doubt myself on serving the pies though. As I removed them from their foil tins the pastry sagged and collapsed on the plate. Dammit. I was too hungry to contemplate the effort of getting them back in their tins to see if cooking them longer would help when everything else was ready. I served. 

Initially we were quite impressed with the flavours. It was so unlike anything we'd eaten in a long time and yet so simple and it was really tasty only the richness of the gravy and the soggy bottom pastry began to get a bit much after half the pie. Lots of mash would have been a good idea after all to balance the strong ale flavours.
By the end of the pie none of us were impressed anymore and tried to determine whether it was just the ale flavour we were not a fan of or if it was possible the gravy could be less rich. We have some pies left in the freezer which I think I will cook for longer and try with lots of creamy mash but I doubt we will buy them again. 3/5 

Monday, 29 August 2011

Reviewing Quorn Fajita Strips

It's been a while since I reviewed as we've been distracted with festivals this month and camping food isn't usually much to write home about. However, we did manage to take a few vegetarian snacks with us which I now regret not reviewing 'on the move' as resampling one of the things we tried isn't the most exhilarating prospect. I will try it again in the future though for the future's future reference.

These Quorn Fajita Strips cost £2.20 - £2.60 per pack and are "perfect in tortillas & salads or straight from the pack". I haven't had a wrap in ages and already the old salivary glands were working overtime. This had better be good. I tried a piece "straight from the pack" but was immediately disappointed. It was wet and tasteless. The packaging provides cooking instructions but isn't clear on if you have to cook these or not. Having tried it cold, I placed enough for a couple of wraps on a microwaveable plate, covered with cling, stabbed a few random holes and blitzed it in the microwave until they were hot and starting to smell flavoursome (in my overkeen microwave this was about ten seconds, others may vary however they do warn not to overcook).

I laid out my wraps, smothered with mayo and piled on shredded lettuce, cucumber, tomato and grated carrot. Then I added dollops of guacamole (still struggling to be completely dairy free). Short of salsa I dribbled on sweet chilli sauce instead and then added a smattering of chopped olives for good measure and finally topped with the fajita strips. It had been so long since I'd made a wrap I'd forgotten I'd need to roll it up and in my enthusiasm slightly overloaded the wraps. About 1/3rd of the filling fell out as I rolled them up.

The result was amazing. I realise the strips could have been drowned in flavour but in between the fresh, crispy salad, creamy guacamole and spicy sweet chilli sauce you could still taste the gently spiced strips and all the flavours complemented, even the sporadic tangy pieces of olive.

I will definitely try these strips again. Perhaps in a stir fry or with rice though I wouldn't bother with them cold. The verdict is influenced by the juxtaposition of flavours but still: 5/5!

Friday, 29 July 2011

Reviewing Cauldron Cumberland Vegetarian Sausages

I know. Sausages again. But I was hankering after some bangers and mash comfort food and have been curious to try the Cauldron range as it's a brand I seem to only be vaguely aware of even though they've been about for 25 years!

Cauldron Cumberland Vegetarian Sausages come in packs of six standard sized sausages and usual price is £2.10.

Oven cooking is recommended for best results though you can grill or fry them. Following the instructions I brushed them with oil and slung them in the oven on to a preheated baking tray.

In the twenty minutes they took to cook I boiled and mashed up some potatoes with a smidgen of butter and a splash of soya milk. I boiled runner beans, pan fried mushrooms and then used the water from the beans to make a gravy.

I used Sainsbury's own brand vegetarian gravy. It's made like normal gravy and tastes scrummy!

The sausages were very tasty. Full of flavour and the texture was perfect, just moist enough and pretty convincing as a sausage. They were quite peppery as would be expected from a cumberland sausage however I found it was not as overpowering as some tend to be and the whole meal was delicious.

 At 80 calories a sausage they are definitely a winner. Cauldron's website suggest trying these sausages in a casserole which I think would work wonderfully. Cauldron also make a Lincolnshire sausage variety which I'm hoping to try but will be buying these again. Happy taste buds! 5/5

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Reviewing Quorn Frankfurters

Exploring the options for vegetarian meals and meat substitutes I have decided to document my findings for future reference thus bringing about my first review!

Quorn Frankfurters come in vacuum sealed packs of four and cost about £2.10. Allegedly, they are "ideal for hot dogs". I was excited to try these as a quick lunch option thinking they would be well received by my twin ten year old boys.

The heating guidelines recommend boiling the pack in water for 10-12 minutes or piercing the plastic several times and microwaving for 2 minutes.

This wasn't a difficult choice. As they hummed away in the microwave I quickly made some fried onions. Heating up a pan with a dollop of olive oil and a blob of butter, I sliced up some particularly juicy red onions and scrunched them, half-blind with tears, into the pan then stirred continuously until they were soft and sticky. Then served in a bun with the frankfurter and obligatory ketchup and mustard.



They smelled and looked great. However, the texture was disappointing. The frankfurter was quite firm and a lot drier than expected since a hot dog is usually a bit squishy. Having lots of fried onions and sauce helped. Quorn can do pretty convincing chicken substitutes but this is more of a hot dog alternative.

It did have a lovely smoky flavour though, and I think the texture could be something you get used to when you know what to expect. They were quick to make and would be handy to have in the fridge for when you need to feed a family on the go as they keep for about a month or they can be frozen for three months. They are also a much healthier alternative to a hot dog and the boys gave a thumbs up verdict and asked if we could have them again.

I would buy again for the convenience of a quick and filling meal and I am tempted to try them cut into small pieces on a pizza or with pasta and tomatoes where the sauce may counteract the dryness. Overall 3/5.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

A pesky diet and why ignorance is not bliss

I'm the type of person who worries about what I can't see. I stretch my sleeve over my hand to avoid touching buttons at crossings and door handles. I get squeamish about public transport, hotel beds and sharing toilets with strangers. I don't have OCD. I just can't stand dirty people.

It was easy when I could disassociate. I think most people do this. You go to a restaurant or even just a cheap take-away. It doesn't cross your mind who handled all your food before it was given to you. It crosses my mind through and crosses back and loops and ties my mind in knots. Sure they have their food hygiene licence hanging proudly in a poundland frame behind the bar and they're nice to your face. Is the chef in perfect health or did he come in with a bit of cold because he needs the money? Does he think it's okay to use the five second rule if no one is looking?

Putting my shopping away I wonder how many people have touched these things. I prefer to pour my drink into a glass than worry about what fingers have possibly groped the top of my beer cans. At least you can wash fruit and vegetables and remove any trace of picker, packer, stacker and curious shopper.

Meat is a whole different story. It's interesting how vegetables stay vegetables but animals become meat. There's that disassociation again. You don't have to connect what you're putting in your mouth with anything alive. Unless you're standing in the supermarket and realise that what you have just put in your trolley is the dead body of a chicken that had been crammed in a shed with hundreds of other chickens awaiting their ultimate fate in the slaughterhouse just to become somebody's dinner. Maybe you're still able to disassociate or you just can't get sentimental about chickens.

But all animals can feel pain and fear. Your heart may soften at a charity advert showing a dog cowering and hopeless after being abused and neglected. It's easy to forget the same happens behind closed factory doors to animals bred purely to be sold as meat. I may not be able to stop it from happening but I feel happier knowing I'm not part of the cause.