Frozen Food Battle: Veggie Burgers

June 29, 2009

Veggie Burger

When I was doing my research on the frozen food endeavors of those around me, I was surprised to get so much consistency. It seems, with all of the full meal options available, many are opting for the frozen patties lining the freezer aisle. It makes a lot of sense and in fact, some of the products out there are pretty good. Plus it is easy to spruce them up with a salad or a great bun and a side or two. And as far as being convenient one box will get you almost a week’s worth of meals. But what about making these patties ourselves. There’s no doubt that fresh burgers outweigh the frozen variety, so what about the veggie patties…

Taste: Veggie burgers often get a bad wrap. Mainly because 99 times out of 100 they are called exactly that: veggie “burgers”. Now come on, these aren’t burgers and will never compete. It’s like I’ve written about before, meat is meat and there is no substitute. Maybe that’s why the Morningstar Veggie Patties are so popular. Notice the lack of burger in the name. If you read the list of ingredients, these veggie patties are filled with mushrooms, water chestnuts, onions, carrots, green and red bell peppers, and black olives. It is nice to see the first ingredients actually being vegetables and the brown rice filler is what clearly gives these patties their texture. But despite all the positives, fresh always outperforms frozen…doesn’t it.

Part of me seems to be rooting for the frozen version but I can’t lie. This homemade veggie patty was awesome. I wanted to keep them as similar as possible for comparison sake so I used a number of similar ingredients. I made my veggie patties with crimini mushrooms, red onion, bell pepper, fresh corn, and garbanzo beans. Rather than using rice, I decided to go with quinoa, a trick I’ve used before. The texture is much better; dare I say meat like. The addition of ginger and a bit of soy sauce gave these patties some awesome flavor. And the best part is, one meal worth of work netted me 10 patties. That’s a lot of future meals….

Cost: It’s a lot of meals but how much did it cost. The Morningstar patties come in a packet of four. The fresh direct price is listed at $4.79 for a whopping total of $1.20 a patty. That’s pretty good. How’d my version stack up. Not including the seasonings (kitchen staples) the total cost of my veggie patties was $9.65*. For all of you who struggle with mental math, that’s 96 cents a patty! Once again cheaper than the frozen!

Time: This time the comparison is a bit more interesting. Once again the time I spent making my meal tonight is completely demolished by the frozen option. The Morningstar instructions give two options for heating. The first, the one I’d prefer is in the oven for 12-15 minutes. The second is in the microwave for only 1 1/2 minutes. Either way the hour and a half I spent preparing my version is a commitment many aren’t willing to make. But here’s where it gets interesting. I now have eight patties in my freezer ready to go (2 morningstar boxes worth). At this point there is no difference between mine and theirs. Except the freshness of a homemade meal!

I served mine with stir fried tat soi and quick pickled vegetables with a chili mayo. Awesome!

*Cost Analysis:

  • 1 Carton Crimini Mushrooms $2.49
  • 1/2 Red Onion $.92
  • 1/2 Bell Pepper $.44
  • Corn $.80
  • Can of Garbanzo Beans $1.39
  • Basil $.50
  • 1 cup Quinoa $.73
  • 2 eggs $.45
  • Panko Bread Crumbs $1.13
  • Garlic $.60
  • Total (10 Patties) = $9.45
  • Individual Patty = $.95

Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup

June 29, 2009

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When the list of perfect food pairs is discussed it is hard to forget about grilled cheese and tomato soup. Whether its Cambells or Kraft, commercials and advertisements have engrained this combo into our lives and all for the better. It is a warm, cozy combination that is routed in simplicity. But sometimes simplicity can get a bit boring…

There are plenty of ways to jazz up this perfect pair. Like a grilled mozzarella and fontina sandwich with basil, tomato, and balsamic reduction. Or maybe a tomato and fennel soup with fresh orange juice for added sweetness. But I wasn’t up for any repeats. I was after something different. Something that captured the essence of this combo but didn’t so closely resemble it. Who would have thought one of my favorite late night snacks would give me the answers.

For years, I’ve relied on the quesadilla as light night grub. So versatile in that whatever I have works fine in between layers of crisp tortilla and gooey cheese. In many ways, the quesadilla, just like the grilled cheese, represents what is great about eating! Simple fare that often tastes better when left alone. When they are loaded with ingredients, your left with a slimy mess. This quesadilla with cotija cheese, sliced avocado, and a fresh tomato salsa worked wonderfully as part of the whole…

But what about the tomato soup. This quesadilla needed its match. By continuing to let simplicity rule the meal, fresh ingredients and raw delicous flavors prevailed. Pairing the quesadilla with a tomato, cucumber, and watermelon gazpacho was exactly what this meal needed. This chilled soup was bitey and flavorful and acted as a great counterpart for a wonderful meal. Maybe this new version of a classic pair will inspire you to mess around with your favorites. If you have any great versions send them in, pictures included.


Worth the cholesterol

June 25, 2009

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As you can probably tell, I’ve been on a huge seafood kick as of late. Maybe I should get my cholesterol checked but it all tastes so good so I’ll continue to take my chances. In one of my recent posts, I talked about how easy it is to overcook squid. It really is amazing how little heat is required to get calamari to the right consistency and how quickly they turn for the worse. But when cooked perfectly (I actually prefer the non-frying techniques) the delicate flavor and texture of this odd looking sea creature rivals pretty much anything.

The flavor really is delicate however. This is probably why most of the time you see fried calamari on menus. What doesn’t taste great fried! But just like anything, it isn’t just about the flavor of the ingredient on its own; it is about what it is paired with. Like most ingredients from the sea, the addition of salty ingredients brings out the fresh from the sea flavor. But solely salty dishes aren’t all that enjoyable. However, salty components in a balanced bite make for perfection (ever have salted caramel ice cream?).

One of my favorite ways to cook calamari along with most seafood, is in a strong flavor base. For this dish, I was able to develop a deep flavor from red wine, canned diced tomatoes, and clam juice. After simmering for a few minutes, the addition of spinach, gave the base a fresh boost of flavor. Next, the addition of little neck clams further developed that salty flavor of the sea. Finally, adding the sliced calamari and cooking for just a minute, this hearty sauce was complete and awfully delicious. The calamari was perfectly cooked and with just enough pasta to make this a meal, we were all satisfied.


Chilly with a chance of avocado

June 23, 2009

Chilled Avocado and Cucumber Soup

This time of year you hear a lot about gazpacho. Tomatoes aren’t in the heart of their season but have started to make their way into the markets, and the hot days of late June into July (although maybe not so much this year) beg for something refreshing. For the same reasons we love a big bowl of hot soup in the winter, chilled soups are there to balance out the elements. More and more, varieties other than gazpacho have become ever present. Yet despite all the interesting flavor combinations and the appeal of refreshment, I have never really enjoyed the chilled soup.

Maybe it was a matter of expectation. Looking down at the vibrant bowl of soup my brain is preparing for the warmth. “Don’t eat it too soon, otherwise you’ll burn your tongue, and then you won’t enjoy a thing”. Or maybe it is the fact that foods have the tendency to have a variation in taste level with different temperatures. Often subtle flavors become more apparent when cooled down and the seasoning and balancing can be thrown off. Or maybe I’ve just been a big baby…

Last night I decided to play around with a chilled soup I had seen a while back online. Utilizing the basic flavors of the version I was remembering I wanted to play around with the problem of expectation. Two of the main ingredients are rarely served hot. This would hopefully avoid the mental component of enjoying this dish. And what if the soup acted like a compliment rather than being the main component. This should hopefully avoid the temperature and flavor issue. Sure enough, problem solved.

This chilled avocado and cucumber soup with fennel and peppercorn glazed shrimp really hit the spot. Light, refreshing, and not at all disappointing…


Silver Caterers: One Man and a Baby Shower

June 22, 2009

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Most men never experience the inner workings of a baby shower. Whether its out of fear or out of instruction, we stay away leaving our questions to be answered by stories and interpretation. So when I was asked to cater a friends baby shower this past weekend, I was more than a bit nervous. Would my presence alter the day? Would my food be able to please 26 women? Would I make it out alive?

No, Yes, and Yes!

It was such an honor to help out and make this day special. Despite the awful weather, we we’re blessed with just enough time for me to grill up a feast for all of the guests. And with the help of another friend and recent culinary partner, there were cakes and cookies galore for everyone to finish their meal with. Along with that strawberry basil cocktail everyone seemed to truly enjoy the day! Congrats Judy!

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Baby Shower Menu:

Snacks:

Guacamole and Tortilla Chips, White Bean and Artichoke Dip with Pita Crisps, Cheese Plate, Olives

Salads:

Edamame, Corn, and Radish Salad

Baby Greens with Dried Cranberries, Walnuts, String Beans, and Goat Cheese

Grilled Fare:

Zucchini and Corn Quesadilla

Skirt Steak and Caramelized Onion Quesadilla

Vegetable Skewers with a Miso Glaze

Shrimp and Scallion Skewers

Grilled Sweet Potatoes with Curried Sour Cream

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Pho get about it…

June 19, 2009

I apologize for the blog being overrun with Pho entries but I promise this will be the last one for a while….

Pho 32

Right down the street from one of the Baoguette restaurants, opened Pho 32 and Shabu, a second location of this Vietnamese/Japanese fusion. I hadn’t heard much about the location in K-town but walking past one day I decided to give this East Village location a shot for lunch. The atmosphere is surprisingly nice. I’m not a big fan of many of the places on St. Marks, mainly because they are often less than stellar. The shear volume of restaurants, especially those serving Asian fare, means that there will certainly be a few misses amongst the hits. And I’m always weary when a restaurant’s menu seems to offer a variety of food from multiple Asian cuisines. This place makes no attempt at hiding this. Shabu-shabu: a Japanese hot pot dish. Pho: a Vietnamese beef noodle soup. Could it be, that the kitchen is pumping out both expertly?

The answer to that is a resounding no. Now I will admit that I have not tried the shabu-shabu and should probably do so before saying too much about this place. But I can tell you that the Pho is a disappointment. Watery, boring broth with gummy rice noodles isn’t going to bring me back for more. It certainly wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t memorable. The spring rolls were delicious and not so greasy (always a plus) and the summer rolls were equally enjoyable. Another interesting part of this restaurant was the tv, instructed you on how to eat your Pho. Kinda cheesy, although I guess it was kind of amusing as well. Overall, I would probably go back to try some of their other options, mainly because at the very least the food tasted fresh. But with a name like Pho 32 and Shabu, I expected more from my favorite dish…

Pho 32 and Shabu: 4/10


The Great Wall of Eggplant

June 18, 2009

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I’ve never been a big fan of eggplant. At least, I’ve never really worked with it. I’m not all that adverse to it, but there is something about cooking it at home that has always put me off. Two visions pop into my head as I stroll pass the eggplant. The first, a mushy dull round of eggplant somehow lost as an afterthought, and the second, thinly sliced, breaded and fried, acting as a base for a mound of tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella. Now of course these aren’t the only uses but sometimes we build barriers and have a hard time breaking them down. Eggplant is one of my walls.

Eggplant was one of my walls. The only way to get over something is to put your head down and commit. In the influential words of a friend, sometimes you just have to “Get GOOD!”. So as I carried my eggplant to the check out counter, half expecting lights to be flashing, people to be cheering, and montage music to be playing, I had to figure out what the heck I was going to prepare. I decided, that the only way I should prepare the eggplant would be where the subtle flavor was prominent and the textural mushiness softness could be appreciated. I thought about the flavors that would marry with the eggplant, not overpower it, and the necessary crunch that was needed. It didn’t take long to figure out the rest…

I sliced the eggplant into rounds of about 1/4 inch. Seasoning them liberally with salt, pepper, and cumin, I grilled the rounds until they carmelized a bit. Eggplant contains a lot of moisture so if the heat isn’t high, you’re most likely going to get something soggy. Layering these slices with sliced tomatoes, roasted fennel, mozzarella, and basil all on top of toasted garlic rubbed bread brought together the neccesary textural contrasts and flavor compliments to make this eggplant delicious. The subtle flavor really broke through. I’m not sure if I would call this an open faced sandwich or a large bruschetta, a healthy snack or a hearty dinner, but the details are moot. Of greater importance, now when I see those purple lobes in the green market and in the store, I won’t be so quick to move on.


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