Sunday, January 14, 2007

Product Review: Lightlife Foods

First, the disclosure says that the folks at Lightlife Foods sent us a box of some of their products and for that we said we'd post about them here. We're not receiving anything else from Lightlife nor are we affiliated with them in any way.

With that out of the way, let's check out what we got. I'll start with what may not be the best picture of the bunch but what was probably the best dish I made with the Lightlife products so far. In college when I was still learning how to cook, I used to make a chicken and rice dish with packaged saffron yellow rice, marinated chicken, salsa and jack cheese. I think I found the recipe in a booklet from a now-defunct hot sauce company. It's been many, many years since I last made it but somehow the recipe came into my mind when I was thinking about what to do with the Chick'n Strips. So I veganized it and made the rice from scratch - way better than the MSG-laden packaged mixes. One good thing about products like these is that those of us who are former meat-eaters can re-create recipes from our past while still remaining true to our vegan path. And I imagine they may be helpful for those who are just making the transition to veganism too. I don't fully remember what chicken tastes like but I think these strips were pretty close - especially after they'd been marinated. Which brings me to the recipe...

Kicked Up "Chicken" and Rice

1 package Lightlife Chick'n Strips
1/3 c. of your favorite salsa

For the marinade:
3 Tbs. lime juice
2 Tbs. soy sauce
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. agave
1 Tbs. hot sauce (or to taste)
1 clove garlic, crushed

For the rice:
1 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 c. finely diced onion
1/4 c. finely diced carrot
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. cumin
healthy pinch of saffron threads
2 c. vegetable broth
1 c. brown basmati rice

For the sauce (adapted from Very Vegetarian by Jannequin Bennett):
2 Tbs. nutritional yeast
3 Tbs. flour
3/4 c. + 2 Tbs. plain soy milk
1 tsp. miso
1/4 tsp. chili powder
1 Tbs. minced pickled jalapeños
small clove garlic, finely minced (if you have a garlic press this would be a good time to use it)
1 Tbs. margarine
1 tsp. prepared yellow mustard

First, mix together all the marinade ingredients and pour over the chick'n strips in a wide shallow dish. Marinate for at least 1 hour, preferably longer. For the rice, sauté the onion and carrot in olive oil for a few minutes, add the garlic and cumin and cook for another minute, then add the saffron and veg. broth. Bring to a boil, add rice, return to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 40 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed.

Meanwhile, make the sauce. Toast the nutritional yeast and flour in a small saucepan over medium-low heat for 2-3 minutes. Slowly whisk in the soy milk, making sure no lumps form, then add the miso, chili powder, jalapeños and garlic. Cook for several more minutes, stirring frequently, until the mixture has thickened. Add margarine and mustard, stir to combine then turn off heat.

Remove the chick'n strips from the marinade and sauté them in a little olive oil until they're just starting to brown. When the rice is done, spread it in an 8 x 8 inch baking dish. Evenly distribute the chick'n strips on top, then spread the salsa on top of that. Finally, spoon the sauce on top of everything and bake at 350° for about 20 minutes until everything is heated through. It's a little involved, but so worth it.

Next up, how about some brunch. When we went to DC a couple weeks ago, we had brunch at a place called Asylum. Darlene got a vegan breakfast sandwich with scrambled tofu, soy sausage and soy cheese and I had a tofu scramble with veggie chili and soy cheese on top and home fries on the side. All our food was good and it was great to have this option when eating out but I knew I could make something similar - and better - at home. The scrambled tofu with chili was quite interesting and when I saw the Lightlife Smart Chili I knew that's what I'd make with it. The chili was good with just the right amount of spice and it went well with my homemade tofu scramble. This was actually a hearty dinner a few nights ago.

Also in our goodie box was some of the Gimme Lean Sausage. For brunch today I made breakfast sandwiches on whole wheat English muffins with the sausage, a little of the sauce from last night's "chicken" and rice, and Susan's most excellent mini tofu quiches.

We also had some of the sausage on its own with oatmeal-banana waffles for Darlene's birthday breakfast. Again, it's been a long time since either of us has had "real" sausage, but this stuff tastes pretty good. Especially with something like sausage I think the taste is all in the seasoning. It's just that these sausage patties are a lot less greasy.

Something else fun we did that's a knock-off (albeit a better one) from our meat-eating days was a club sandwich with the Fakin' Bacon and turkey-style deli slices. Also on the sandwich are lettuce, tomato, avocado and Vegenaise.

And finally to tonight's dinner. One surprise in the Lightlife box was their new tempeh variety with flax. It's always good to get more Omega 3's in your diet and this seems like one good way to do it. This stuff hasn't shown up at any of our local stores yet but we'll keep an eye out for it. Here I used it in the Lemon Grille Tempeh recipe that was in a little recipe booklet from Lightlife. The tempeh is marinated in a mixture of water (1/2 c.), lemon juice (3/4 c.), canola oil (1/2 c.), granulated garlic (1/4 c.), soy sauce (2 Tbs.), and onion powder (2 Tbs.), then fried in a skillet (first the tempeh block is cut in half, then cut in half again across the thickness so you end up with 4 pieces that are half as thin as the original block). We served it on English muffins with spinach leaves and shredded carrots and some homemade tartar sauce and it was quite good.
And now for some final words. Like many vegans, especially those who like to cook, we generally pride ourselves on cooking from scratch as much as possible and not relying so much on packaged meat substitutes. But we do use products like this from time to time and we're certainly not against the idea. (And tempeh is just plain good stuff.) First and foremost, many of the Lightlife (and similar) products offer convenience, and that can be a good thing when you're pressed for time. These products are processed, but in looking at the ingredient list for a lot of these items I noticed that there aren't many mystery ingredients in there that I've never heard of like there are in so many other processed foods. A lot of these items are fairly high in sodium but again, generally not as high as many other processed foods. Honestly for us, the main drawback to these foods is their cost. They're convenient, but you certainly pay for that convenience. Actually I think it's a shame that plant based foods like these are so much more expensive than similar animal flesh-based products but that's the world we're living in at the moment. Let's all keep doing our part to change that shall we?

Now if you've read this far here's your reward (if you want one), a coupon for $1 off any Lightlife product (you may need to install a very small app to print it but it worked OK for me).


Brooke said...

Excellent post! Thanks for the coupon link (I will use it towards some fakin' favorite!) and thanks for all the great recipe ideas! Yay!

bazu said...

Woah- what a load of food! I've been vegan for a while, but I still like a good fake chicken or sausage every now and then. This post inspired me to think about converting some recipes.

aTxVegn said...

Everything looks really great, Chris! The faux stuff is quite expensive and I rarely buy it, but I do like the crumbles and patties. And I'm glad Lightlife is going to sell tempeh too - that's my favorite. I think the breakfast sandwich looks the best!

And thanks for the coupon!

Chris said...

Thanks Brooke. We liked the fakin' bacon too. It's amazing what can be done with soy beans and wheat gluten huh bazu? You could re-create all of your old favorites if you really wanted to. Though I agree with you atxvegn, it might be cost prohibitive to do so. The tempeh isn't terribly expensive though and Lightlife seems to have cornered the market on it. Making tempeh is actually how they got started. I was surprised to find it at the mainstream grocery store I went to in Florida, though it was about $1 more than what we get it for here.

CUNY Queen said...

Great post, Chris! I saw another vegan blog who had received a box of Lightlife products to review. Did they contact you about reviweing them? I agree with your final paragraph. I'm a little weary about meat subs for a variety of different reasons. First & foremost, they are often owned by mother companies clearly not aligned with the ethics of veganism. Lightlife is owned by ConAgra, agribusiness superpower and and one of the top "producers" of meat products. Although it is great they can offer vegan products and be stocked in regular stores alongside their other brands, do I really want my consumer dollars supporting companies like ConAgra? It is a blurry lines sometimes. Enough of that. I love yr blog and drool from it quite often!

Cherry said...

This looks great, especially the chick'n and rice. I don't usually use processed meat substitutes like these, but they're great for transitioning and convience. I relied heavily on them during the first 4 or 5 months of being vegan.

Chris said...

thanks cherry & cuny queen... Lightlife did indeed contact us about this. I also have mixed feelings about the fact that they're owned by ConAgra and I thought about that when they contacted us. Ultimately though it's awful hard to live in the U.S. these days and not have a decent chunk of your consumer dollars go to huge multi-national corporations. Is it too optimistic of me to think that by purchasing vegan products from such companies we're showing the powers that be that we don't support animal cruelty?

I do think it's good to shop at your local farmers market or join a CSA but it's difficult to get all your food locally or from small companies. It's certainly good to carefully consider where your money is going though - too many people don't.

KathyF said...

Let's hear it for convenience! While I too love to cook from scratch, I can't every day. I think the inconvenience is a major reason more people don't become vegan or vegetarian. It was only when I moved to Madison, WI and found lots of veggie products that I became vegetarian, I remember, so if it helps others make that transition, I support it fully.

I also have been reading an Indian cookbook that contains meat recipes (after years of not looking at such things), and I'm thinking some substitution might not be a bad thing. Wish Lightlife was sold over here!

Urban Vegan said...

I got a light life care package too--but haven't used anything eyt since we've been away. it's funny how we all got something a little different. Love the fakin' bacon.

Chris said...

Excellent! Can't wait to see what you do with it :-)

And Kathy - I'm definitely all for anything that helps people make the transition away from eating meat.

Jonathan said...

Wow, those tofu quiche pictures inspired us to make them with herbed biscuits last night, and they were fantastic! Especially once we put a little horseradish on top...

We just got a waffle iron, and made some really incredible flax whole wheat waffles the other day, I'll have to send the recipe your way.

-Jon (from work)

Chris said...

Sounds great Jon! We love trying new waffle recipes.

Stefanie said...

I have been thinking about going vegan for the past few months, and I believe your blog has just sealed the deal. What has kept me wishy washy is the fear of losing flavor, but your diet seems to be lacking none. I am surprised and inspired to get started.

Chris said...

That's awesome news Stefanie! We've found that far from losing flavor, being vegan has allowed us to discover many new flavors. I hope you'll continue to be inspired by this blog and so many other even better ones out there.