To Meat or Not to Meat, That is the Question…


I was once extremely skeptical of the of the terms, “vegeatarian chicken strips”or “vegan tuna”, but I can say that I might have been converted after visiting the vegan butcher in Toronto.  Yes, I put the word vegan + butcher in the same sentence.  That sounds almost as wrong as coconut bacon, doesn’t it?  Well, my recent trip to Yam Chops was an eye opener to how closely a non-meat product can look, taste and feel like the real thing.

It is estimated that global sales of meat substitutes will reach $4B in 2016, a 42% rise since 2010.  That’s a lot of money, right?  Well if you combine this with the 3.5% of the US population or around 7.5M that classify themselves as vegan plus an additional 23M who are vegetarian, you now have a category worth taking about.

In addition, we see a growing base of individuals that are calling themselves Flexitarian.  This loyal group made up mostly of Millennials and GenZ’s has built a meat-free movement that developers are finally starting to realize.  The problem continues to be however, the need for these products to not taste like cardboard or feel like you are knawing on tree bark.   The good news for this industry is from what I tasted, there is hope.

Now I am not saying that the items I sampled had the bloody and delicious texture that we all have grown accustomed to from meat, but for a vegan option it was damn good.  It cut like meat, it looked like meat and believe it or not it tasted like it.

Specifically, the black pepper beef was amazing.  Not only did  it have the look, feel and texture of beef, but it actually had an amazing sautéed beef profile with sweet seared notes and a bit of char.  Keep in mind this products was made from a base of soy, pea protein and wheat, so from those standards it was incredibly close to a real meat experience.  Stringy texture with a bite that if you closed your eyes would be very similar to real beef strips.  Impressive.

I moved onto the Miso Sesame Chick’n and Korean BBQ Chick’n and once again my taste buds were tricked, no mesmerized, by just how close this product was to a real chicken strip- farm raised, butchered and delivered right to my door.  A nice firm texture and an abundance of sauce and flavor helped to take these two dishes over the top.


Feeling like I was a carnivour, I moved onto my third option, Chick’n Shawarma.  Now this was quite a challenge being gluten free and vegan and as it did have a slight resemblance to meat, it overall was what you would expect, disgusting.  In fact, it was like eating a piece of rubber.  Spongy, tasteless and just flat out weird.  This one actually lived out to what you would think vegan meat products taste like.

Finally, there was the vegan, coconut bacon.  Not this just feels flat out immoral in my book personally, but being an open minded guy, I figured I would give it a shot.  I must say as a religious bacon connosiur, I was offended by the mere fact they even used the term bacon in the same sentence.  It was smokey coconut and nothing more.  Listen up Yam Chops, there is only one bacon on this planet and we all know what it is.  That salty, fatty piece of love that should not be downgraded by any vegan.  Sorry to all my vegan and vegetarian friends, but if you don’t indulge, don’t act like you know what this experience is about as bacon lovers may find it offensive.

The final chapter was the vegan tuna.  Once again, chickpeas are not tuna and don’t pretend they are.  This makes the Pescatarians a little unsettled.  They also don’t like anyone messing with their fishy world.  Chickpeas with a touch of Nori doesn’t make something taste like its from the sea.  While I greatly enjoyed the dish I was a bit taken back by the name tuna.

Overall, I was very impressed and would go back and eat there again. I actually try to live a bit more flextarian these days and avoid meat during some meals, especially red meat.  A little less death, a bit healthier, and a lot better for the earth isn’t a bad reason to think twice next time you are ordering.  If it is flavored and prepared right, you will never know the difference anyway.

According to #meatlessmonday for every burger skipped, you can save enough water to drink for the next three years.  Give #meatlesmonday a try, you may enjoy the challenge of preparing recipes and experiencing new spices and culinary adventures.

There are a number of excellent cookbooks out there to help on this journey, but a personal favorite is Thug Kitchen: Eat Like You Give a f*ck by Matt Holloway, Michelle David and Thug Kitchen, LLC.  They take vegetarian cooking to a whole new fuc%ing level with amazingly flavorful combinations that take you on a delicious journey between cuisine types and flavor exploration.

Here is one of my favorite recipes to get you started via Thug Kitchen:

thug-kitchen_recipe1

Cold Mango Soba Noodle Salad

Makes enough for 4-6

15 ounces soba or other thin, long noodle

Dressing:

½ cup chopped mango

¼ cup rice vinegar

¼ cup toasted sesame oil

3 tablespoons lime juice

1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce

1 tablespoon grape seed or other flavorless oil

1 tablespoon chili garlic paste

1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger

2 cups mango sliced into matchsticks

1 ½ cups radishes sliced into matchsticks*

1 ½ cups cucumbers sliced into matchsticks

½ cup torn mint leaves

½ cup torn basil leaves

½ cup torn cilantro

1. Cook the noodles according to the package directions then run them under cold water to cool them down when they’re done cooking. While the noodles are boiling, make the dressing. Throw the ½ cup mango, vinegar, sesame oil, lime juice, tamari, grape seed oil, chili garlic paste, and ginger into a food processor or blender and run that shit until it’s smooth and looks like a motherfucking dressing.

2. In a large bowl toss together the cooked, cooled noodles, sliced mango, radishes, and cucumbers. Pour over the dressing and then fold in the herbs. Keep tossing until all that shit is good and mixed and the dressing has coated everything. Serve right away or let is chill in the fridge for a couple hours.

*We used watermelon radishes because those bitches are beautiful but regular radishes are fine too. Fucking hate radishes? Use a bell pepper or more cucumbers instead

13 Things to Consume Before the Next End of the World

mayan_calendar

Photo: www.uta.edu/planetarium/astronomy-101/articles/doomsday-2012.php

 

Since we all lived through the Mayan apocalypse of 12/21/12 and made it to 2013, here is a list of 13 things you must consume before the next end of the world prediction.  These are a few of my favorite things on earth and begging for someone else to discover if you haven’t done so already.


1) Pork belly (or at least settle for some bacon) – either one of these belly busters (no pun intended) will provide a heavenly experience in how delicious fat can taste.  Yes, fat does have flavor.  Slightly sweet, oily, mouth coating with a hint of vanilla; pork belly can be an interesting addition to any dinner plate or appetizer tray.

Bacon of any type, flavor, shape or form is always a crowd pleaser.  This perfect marriage of fat, smoke and protein is simply delicious and can be put on or in anything to make it taste better.  Smokey notes with hints of applewood, hickory or cherry provide the perfect compliment to bacon’s fatty yumminess.

2) Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale – an English ale with a lot of character.  A fresh nose, nutty and sweet middle and a lasting hoppy finish that doesn’t leave you parched by bitterness, but refreshed.  This delicious beverage is consumed best at room temperature and in a classic English ale style provides a masterpiece of malt and hops.

3) Sushi – preferably not from a gas station like in Bentonville, AR, but an actual Japanese restaurant.  I am not talking about a California roll, but real sushi.  The raw stuff.  Eel, tuna, salmon, squid, roe, anything that is slimy and gushy and makes you queasy in the knees.  Its unique texture is intriguingly disgusting, yet enjoyable.  The artistry that goes into most rolls is worth the price, even if you just plan to stare at it.

4) $7.50 cup of coffee (Sun-Dried Sumatra Rasuna) – I know it sounds ridiculous, but this $7.50 cup of coffee was well worth the wait and price.  It was gently massaged by hand through the one of a kind Clover machine at the Starbucks on Pike Street and turned out to be a truly romantic experience.  This fruity bouquet of cherry and dried fruit made my nose happily dance while a subtly strong hit of spiciness blew me away.

Coffee is one of those vices of mine that cries for me to satisfy every morning.  Some days are for the Keurig when in a hurry, but most days the French press is king.  Move over Maxwell House because I would trade an entire pound packed in your metal can for one sip of this delicious nectar.

5) Chicken & Dumplings (my Grandma Jewels recipe) – this was always a staple at the Sunday feast that my grandmother prepared.  It was a subtle bribe to all of us to visit knowing that we would see a stove of buttered corn, green beans and ham, corn bread, carrots and chicken and dumplings.  This all being cooked in bacon grease of course.  On top of the savory goodies was a fully functional orchestra of fudge, red velvet cake, chocolate cake with caramel icing and cookies galore, but nothing could compare to the dumplings.

Typically it involved butchering a fresh hen from the backyard and a morning worth of work, but it was a treat I will never forget and regret not learning how to make.  The soft and chewy, but fluffy buttermilk squares of heaven sitting in a bath of gravy and slow cooked chicken is a smell and taste that will always be embedded into my reptilian brain as the ultimate comfort food.

6) A Real Bagel (from a good Jewish deli) – The only place that I have been able to enjoy a truly authentic bagel is with my roommate in college from Long Island.  On multiple occasions I had the pleasure of being exposed at a young adult age to a New York bagel.  Not those imitations that are frozen or come from Ohio, but a chewy center, crusty tough outside that blends together in a doughy paradise.  When ordering, make sure to get the everything bagel with the rye seed to push it over the top of all time favorites.  Throw on some cream cheese and lox and now you are really ready to party.

7) Asian food – it doesn’t matter the region or culture, bring it on.  When I was growing up my idea of Chinese was the restaurant in my hometown that served sweet and sour chicken and wonton soup.  Luckily, with the emergence of Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, Korean and other regional types popping up around the US we are able to enjoy lots of spices, recipes and traditions never imagined twenty years ago. They say that food is the spice of life, but I feel that spice is the food of life.  It supercharges the olfactory system, wakes up the taste buds and excites the palette for a worldwide journey with the lift of a fork.

Thai is probably my favorite Asian food with an amazing marriage of sweet heat, rich creamy coconut milk and subtle fishiness in many dishes is the perfect combination of exotic and amazing.  The umami bomb that is created by the Tom Kha Gai soup makes you yearn to understand what the hell kokumi is all about.  The multiple layers of never ending flavors created from the coconut milk, ginger, kefir limes and lemongrass finished with fresh hits of cilantro and basil make even the dead taste buds come alive.  As it appears that Thai has become the new Chinese food in it shouldn’t be that difficult to find.

8) German bratwurst and pretzels (preferably from Munich) – pretzels as big as your head, a crusty outside, soft chewy inside and yeasty finish make this the ultimate snack.  In addition to the enormously large twisted treasure the bratwurst needs to be too large to handle with one hand as well.  Mellowly seasoned and stuffed into a natural casing with the distinct bite and sound as you pierce into it with your teeth. Throw some seedy brown mustard on the side and some kraut on the top and now you are in business.

9) Garbage Plate (Rochester, NY’s famous Nick Tahou Hots) – I don’t even know what the hell is on this thing, but the standard fare involves something like this – a bed of french fries or home fries, baked beans and Cole slaw, topped with hamburgers, cheese burgers, fish filet, white hots, red hots, Italian sausage, fried ham, grilled cheese, eggs and beautifully covered in some type of weird spicy beef gravy sauce, onions and mustard  This is traditionally served after 1:00 am and consumed when intoxicated.  At least that is how I enjoyed it the first time.  Amazingly enough, this masterpiece even tastes good after a long day of work and is high on the list of must have’s  before you die.

10) Cadbury Creme Egg- I am not sure how they can keep that creamy white filling with just a hint of yellow for the yolk as a liquid for like three years without it getting hard.  It’s a food scientist’s masterpiece.  This is my favorite candy on the planet.  This is because of the fact that it is probably the sweetest candy in the world.  I am scared to think about the calories or grams of sugar packed into this beauty, but it puts me in a joyous diabetic shock every Easter.

11) Scotch Egg- yet another egg, much different, but equally racking up the calories.  The scotch egg is also known as an egg devil and for those not aware it consists of a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage, coated in breadcrumbs and then deep-fried.  Only the Brits could have provided such a culinary delight that would be placed into the deep fired hall of fame.  This is a strong competitor to the fried Twinkie which glorified proudly at every county fair from Hamilton to Des Moines.  The sausage and breadcrumb combo is an excellent accent to hard boiled egg and the mild spiciness finished with a good brown mustard makes it all come alive.

12) KimChi – This stuff will tease your taste buds and confuse your stomach.  A traditional Korean staple made up of fermented vegetables and random ingredients such as napa cabbage, radish, scallion, ginger, red peppers, and cucumber to name a few.  There are hundreds of different recipes for this stuff and even has seasonal varieties, but it is a disgustingly amazing culinary treat.  Sourness, sweetness, heat, and crunchiness in a side dish that has literally been buried and fermented.  All I can say is, wow.

The dish is amazingly difficult and time intensive to make, but luckily for us it is starting to find its way into the mainstream American culture.  I even saw it being carried at Wal-Mart so you should be able to enjoy this with very little effort to find it.  I recommend a good Korean restaurant to fully emerge yourself in the side dish dining experience, but I guess you can settle for the jar at Wal-Mart.  It can be eaten as a compliment to any Asian dish or even added to a thick chicken or veggie sandwich for a little exotic flare to a classically boring lunch or dinner.

Lucky #13) Cincinnati Chili – for those of you out there that have never had the pleasure of a three way, please read on.  We have our own way of eating chili in southwest Ohio and it involves noodles, sweet meaty chili and lots of Wisconsin cheddar.  This Greek inspired sweet meat combination of beef, cinnamon, allspice and even chocolate creates a savory sauce to sit proudly upon a hot dog or bed of pasta and huge mound of cheese.  For the typical chili consumer this unique delicacy will scare you slightly, but don’t worry it works in complete culinary harmony.

Cincinnati once was a battleground of rival chili houses all having their own unique ingredient and style.  Recipe wars were raged from Price Hill to Blue Ash, but only one is king in my book and worthy of the one time experience – Skyline.  Appropriately named after the beautiful view you get from the cut in the hill as you cross the Ohio river from Kentucky will provide the Cincinnati chili virgin with a three, four or five way they will never forget.

If you have a bucket list, hurry up, it is 2013.   The fact that unlucky #13 is in the date is not a good sign for the future, so eat up!

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