Monday, November 16, 2009

Vrapple: The Other White Meat

I'll admit it. I actually like the taste of some fake meat products. Now I'm not saying that they taste like meat, but I can say that if used properly they can be made into a satisfying meal, and are great if you don't like tofu. My general rule of thumb is that they are best in dishes that are very flavorful and have lots of ingredients like chili or stew, not in dishes where meat is the central flavor. See below for my recommendations.

Burgers

Morningstar Griller's Prime - I'm not a fan of most veggie burgers, but these have the best texture and least "soy" taste.

Morningstar Spicy Blackbean Burgers - Again, a nice texture and spicy flavor.

Garden Burger - not a fan. They don't heat well, tend to be watery, and are bland.

Chicken Products

Boca Spicy Chik'n Patties - hands down one of my favorite soy products. It's one of my guilty pleasures, and I stock my freezer when they're on sale. I eat them by the box. I eat them as a sandwich, but also with pasta and sauce.

Trader Joes Soy Nuggets - I'm not generally a fan of nuggets, and these are no exception. They are bland, but might be ok if you use a really flavorful sauce.

Quorn Gruyere Chik'n Cutlet - sold at Whole Foods, and definitely my favorite meatless product. It's so good, but so expensive.

Sausage

Trader Joes Soy Chorizo - another one of my favorite products. It's surprisingly flavorful and spicy.

Gimme Lean Ground Sausage - great for dishes like shepard's pie or for making a stuffing for stuffed peppers.

Morningstar Farms Veggie Italian Style Sausage - the best sausage link. excellent in casseroles, such as a breakfast bread pudding.

Beef Products

Trader Joe's Meatless Meatballs - decent. doesn't have the texture of meatballs but not bad with pasta and sauce.

Gimme Lean Smart Grounds - great in pasta sauce, chili, etc.

Trader Joe's Beefless Strips - I'm not even sure about the concept of a meatless strip. I think it's trying too hard to be meat, but it's not convincing anybody. The only strip product that I find to be acceptable is TJ's Beefless strip because it has a decent texture. See below for a "beef" and brocolli I've made several times with it.

Other

Vrapple - Even though it's made locally, just don't go there. If you're cravin scrapple, eat some scrapple.

Any kind of luncheon "meat" - also steer clear of anything in this category.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Featuring Fall Flavors: Butternut Squash Ravioli

Squash is everywhere. From the kabocha and spaghetti squash in our CSA share to the ubiquitous pumpkin. I think of my dad's Russian friend who upon experiencing Halloween for the first time remarked "what's with all the funny looking squash?"

I wanted to make something special that would highlight the flavors of fall. I found a blue cheese and dried cranberry mix at Trader Joes and I immediately thought ravioli. With the mustard greens from my CSA, I decided that some toasted walnuts would round out the meal nicely. Now this isn't exactly quick and easy, nor is it foolproof. I guess I didn't learn my lesson the first time around that wonton wrappers are tempermental. After much tweaking and many many burst raviolis I finally figured it out. And as a bonus my large squash produced enough filling that I froze the rest with the plan to make a risotto later.

Ingredients

1 medium to large butternutsquash
1 small container blue cheese
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
Handful greens (spinach, mustard greens, kale etc)
1 package wonton wrappers
1 egg
Olive oil
Butter

Cut the butternut squash in half, lengthwise. Lay on some foil and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in a 350 degree oven until soft, should take about 45 minutes depending on the size.

Let cool slightly, scoop out the insides and mix in a bowl with the blue cheese and cranberries. In a small dish, beat the egg. Make an assembly line with the filling, egg, and wonton wrappers. Also set a large pot of water on to boil. Use one square wonton wrapper as the bottom. Spoon a small amount of filling the middle. Use your fingers to spread some egg around the edge of the wrapper and place another wrapper on top. Smooth out all the air bubbles and pinch the edges together until it seems secure. It will take some practice to find the exact right amount of filling and the best method for smoothing out the air bubbles.

When you have a pile of ravioli, carefully drop them with a slotted spoon, one at a time, into the boiling water. While they are cooking prepare a large sautee pan by melting some butter over medium low heat. When the ravioli have cooked for about 5-7 minutes, carefully remove them with a slotted spoon and drop them immediately into the buttered pan. Add a handful of greens to the pan. After a few minutes and when the greens have wilted, carefully slide everything onto a plate and top immediately with the toasted walnuts. Congratulations if you can get them onto the plate in one piece. If you have any secret ravioli making techniques please do let me know.

Restaurant Week: Not Just for Center City

I've done Restaurant Week a few times, but have found that the trendy Center City restaurants are overhyped and overpriced despite the prix fixe menu. Philly Neighborhood Food Week is the answer to that problem. In case you didn't get the memo, it was a week of great deals at local restaurants in different neighborhoods, Center City not included. I headed down to East Passyunk to Da Vinci Ristorante for some great BYO italian. At $30 for a decadent 4 course meal, I'll take it over Center City any day. With four people, I think we got to try everything on the menu. The truffle gnocchi was maybe the richest and most indulgent thing I've ever eaten. See below.


Popular Mechanics

I don't hang out in Old City often, and there are only a few places that I think warrant a trip down there. I tend to avoid the trendy, overpriced bars and college age crowd especially during the weekends, but I've added National Mechanics, on 3rd St. between Chestnut and Market, to my list of favorite happy hour spots. It often makes people's lists for the best burgers in the city, and I would add that it's also one of the best bargains in the city for quality bar food. I always appreciate a roomy dining area, perfect for a group, and as a bonus they have a giganctic big screen tv.

I can't say enough about the food. The first time Betty and I went for happy hour, Betty got bread pudding. If you think it isn't normal happy hour fare, you are wrong. I've sampled quite a few things on their menu, but have not yet tried their famous veggie burger. All the burgers are $6 during happy hour which might explain their popularity. They have decent beer specials as well. Here are some pics from my last trip.