Archive for the ‘packaged food/products’ Category

Vegan Cuts’ Snack Box: a review

When I opened an email from the folks at Vegan Cuts asking if I wanted to review a snack box, I didn’t hesitate. I had been wanting to sample one of these boxes from the moment learned of their existence, so this was an exciting moment.

This is a two-part review.

Part one (say this in your best Ira Glass voice): a review of the products in the box, because while they may not be in the next box, they are available on their own.

Part two: the box as whole entity.

Also, this is the January box (I’m a little delayed in my writing of this) so if you got the February box and are all like, “you’re crazy, girl — none of this was in my box!” — well, that’s why.

The Goods

Beanfields bean & rice chips in nacho and pico de gallo — it was love at first bite with these chips. The nacho flavor tastes just like vegan Doritos and are so cheesy-good that you won’t notice that they’re corn- and gluten-free. Even my mom didn’t realize or care — she can be a little critical of vegan dairy substitutes, and we happily snacked on these together. The pico de gallo is zesty and, again, you will not mourn the lack of traditional tortilla. I’ve been picking them up at Central Coop, and bought a 6-pack off of Vegan Cuts for the Oscars party I’m hosting this weekend. Highly recommend checking out Beanfields if you haven’t.

Pür gum– On Valentine’s day, I was all like, “I’m single, b*tches! I’m eating garlic today!” Then I remembered I was meeting a olfactorily sensitive friend after work to climb and he would be downright disgusted if my breath smelled like anything other than a pristine mountain stream. Pür to the rescue! This gum is as minty and fresh as the gum you’d buy at the supermarket, but doesn’t have aspartame, unlike the gum you would buy at the supermarket. Contrary to most natural gums though, this stuff actually holds together like the gum you buy at the supermarket. Which makes me ask: why can’t you buy this gum at the supermarket? Again, highly recommend.

Nutcase Crunch – This mix of coconut, pine nut, pecan, and almond is billed as a Paleo alternative to cereal, but I found it to be best as a rich, nutty topping on real cereal. A tablespoon on oatmeal transforms gooey blah into “hey, I can eat this,” while that same tablespoon on soy yogurt adds needed texture. Given the simplicity of the ingredients and preparation, one might just try adding the raw components to a blender, but I definitely enjoyed the sample.

Simply Straws glass straw — when I was growing up, my brother had a friend whose mother had her arms ripped off and eaten by a bear in Alaska (yes, you do not make these stories up) and she only drank from glass straws. So, in a weird way, glass straws kinda creep me out. Like, I can grasp cups — why do I need a straw? Is owning a glass straw practically asking to be mauled by a large hairy carnivore? Well, she already had the straw…

But then I got a really sore throat (seriously, what sort of person with minimal contact with children gets strep in their late 20’s? Me, apparently.) and I was so grateful for this straw. Straws make drinking easier and more fun, and when you are legitimately having trouble staying hydrated because it feels like daggers to swallow, sometimes novelty does the trick. So, I got over my weird glass straw phobia, and now am really looking forward to using my Simply Straws glass straw on a daily basis to sip water at my desk.

Cuppow lid – I don’t have a lot of mason jars hanging around my house and do have a ton of travel mugs, so I’m probably going to give this to a guy I used to date who for some weird reason only drinks out of old jars. (Mini rant time: you don’t can, and I respect your thriftiness and get that you don’t earn much, but cups are, like, 99 cents at Value Village, and it’s freakin’ awkward drinking a Manhattan from a tiny glass honey bear. You’re 30. years. old. Invest in some proper effin’ glassware.)

However, I love the idea of the Cuppow lid in theory: why buy a whole new travel mug when you can repurpose what you already have? Plus, you can hook it up to a really big mason jar for extra caffeine buzz. Not my cuppow tea (garrr) but a very cool concept.

Surf Sweets gummy bears — I’m not that into gummy candy, but these sugar-coated little bears are tart and natural-tasting. If I had a kid, I’d put a pack in his or her lunchbox, for sure. Also, they have 60% of your daily vitamin C, so they’re healthy, right?

Berry Plus laundry soap — I was a little wary that this stuff would make my skivvies smell like fruit loops, but I was really impressed by how fresh and clean and mild-scented my laundry came out — the main ingredient is soapberry, which bears no resemblance to the bluish-purple lab-created “berry” I had been envisioning. Berry Plus comes pre-measured in these cute little test tubes (microdoses), which are recyclable but seem a bit wasteful — my only criticism of an otherwise awesome product.

Freekeh Foods– I don’t know when I first heard of freekeh, but I’ve been wanting to try it for a little while. I use the present tense here because I still haven’t tried it. I know, I know, you get a freekeh gift, you play with it, right? The thing is, I haven’t been motivated to cook much lately (been inexplicably busy, combined with the general Seattle winter blahs), so if I waited to write this review until I cooked it… I would never write the review. The box even included a recipe, for Pete’s sake. I am lazy. Worse food blogger ever. Still, I’m excited to have it in my pantry for a sunny day when I have someone exciting to cook for.

Kelapo coconut oil sample — I don’t really know what to say about this. I like coconut oil. I’ve had coconut oil before. I am grateful for more coconut oil to try. I don’t use coconut oil as much as I should because I don’t like the coconutty flavor it gives everything. However, my one roommate is on a cleanse (who isn’t on a cleanse these days?) and cooked up some amazing cauliflower cutlets in coconut oil last night, so I might use this soon because her coconut oil cauliflower smelled delicious.

iTrain $25 gift card – this is a great idea: downloadable musical sets with a recorded voice keeping you motivated. I’m trying to get back into cardio exercise again, but am not all that motivated on my own and spend waaay too much money on a gym without a treadmill (because climbing is super fun!). So, a pleasant female voice gently but emphatically telling me to get my butt into shape is excellent motivation to run outdoors and actually get a workout. If only she sounded more like my scary middle school gym teacher and less like the nice computer on Star Trek…

The Box

I had a lot of fun with my Snack Box, and definitely am hooked on a few new things (I <3 you, Beanfields). It was so exciting to discover the package on my doorstep, open it up, and paw through the goodies inside. I am seriously considering subscribing just to feel this joy on a monthly basis — $19.95/month (which includes shipping) for all that is a bargain, and I can only assume future boxes will contain the same variety of bonanza.

Plus, you’re not just paying for products — you’re paying for curation and discovery. The Vegan Cuts Snack Box is a fantastic way to get out of a rut and explore something new. While I didn’t 100% love love love everything, I liked it all enough to make it worthwhile and am grateful to have been exposed to a few new vegan goods.

Some things (like Beanfields) I see and think, “there’s no way that could be tasty,” and without them appearing in a box on my porch, I never would consider sampling them. And then they’re amazing!

Other things sound trendy and are trendy (anything Paleo, amirite?), but you can’t really know what you’re going to like or dislike until you try them.

Others I have never heard of before (like iTrain) but one I am exposed to them, I love.

My only criticism is that the contents of the box are not all edible or easily, quickly consumed — when I think “Snack Box,” I think… snacks. Between my lady roommate and myself, the kitchen has enough stuff already, and we don’t need more items to gather dust in our collective (in my former colleague Melissa’s words) “-er drawer.”

And while a few months ago I would jump at the challenge of freekeh, right now I just don’t have the motivation. I don’t even have the motivation to open a packet of coconut oil and saute veggies. So, I guess my one suggestion would be to make the box more compatible with the instant gratification American lifestyle.

Overall though, two thumbs up. Recommend.

Queso taste test: Food for Lovers, Nacho Mom’s, and Nacheez

vegan quesos

There are quite a few vegan quesos on the market right now, which makes it easier/awesomer than ever to be vegan. I was pleased to see three competing brands in six different flavors at Sidecar for Pig’s Peace over the weekend, and bought three jars:

  1. Food for Lovers’ vegan queso (which VidaVeganCon introduced me to, and I love)
  2. Nacho Mom’s Ultimate Vegan Queso (also in Fire Roasted and Voodoo flavors)
  3. Nacheez vegan nacho sauce, spicy (also in mild)

I learned about 30 minutes later there is a feud going on between a couple of the quesos that extends beyond the grocery shelf.

As I checked Twitter at Chaco Canyon while enjoying a large kombucha and waiting for my sandwich to arrive (after stocking up on queso and other vegan goodies at Sidecar), I saw the following tweet from Quarry Girl:

OH SHIT! SCANDAL! did nacho mom’s@veganqueso totally rip off & steal from@foodforlovers? looks like it: #teamFF<3

If this is true, and there does seem to be quite a bit of evidence to that point, that was a really crappy move on Nacho Mom’s part. Still, I was determined to give each the benefit of the doubt and a fair taste test.

Update: the Facebook post above has been taken down, though is available on Lazy Smurf’s Guide to Life. Please also see chef Alana of Nacho Mom’s side of things on her website or in her comment below.

It was a really crappy move on my part to take sides or spread rumors based one account, though I haven’t changed any of the initial wording in this post. I acknowledge my bias, but maintain that the results of my taste test are fair.

To ensure an impartial trial, I pulled in David, who is impervious to vegan drama. And likes nachos. A lot.

And to make it all scientific-like, David closed his eyes and ate a plain chip and drank a sip of water to cleanse his palate between tastings. All were consumed cold.

A: Food for Lovers. B: Nacho Mom’s. C: Nacheez

Food for Lovers

David tried this first and nodded with approval, saying, “Mmm… it’s good.” When pressed for why it’s good, he replied that it was cheezy, with a little spice.

I, too, quite enjoyed this one. It’s creamy without being watery or gelatinous, and is a natural yellow color, with visible chunks of tomato and pepper. It was the spiciest of the bunch, with chili being the dominant flavor, balanced by a mild, savory cheeziness. It’s very fresh and sinus-clearing.

Food for Lovers’ vegan queso is soy-free and nut-free, but does have wheat. The ingredient list is simple and all-natural, and it’s $5.15 for a 12-oz jar, with 20 calories per 2 tbs (12 servings in all).


David’s immediate first reaction to this was of disgust. He described it as having a sweetness that doesn’t taste like queso, and definitely not as spicy or thick as Food for Lovers’ queso. However, he noted that it is edible.

I didn’t pick up the same sweetness (roasted red pepper is the second ingredient, so I can see where it comes from) or disgust, but agree that it’s rather bland — definitely not spicy and without the umami richness of the other two, though I liked the flavor. The texture is a little jiggly. It’s also a day-glo orange color, which turns me off a little, though there is no food coloring added.

Nacheez is free of soy and gluten, but does have cashews. It has the longest list of ingredients of the three, though none are crazy or artificial, and is the priciest: $6.25 for 8.5 oz, with 20 calories per 2 tbs (7 servings in all).

Nacho Mom’s

David found this to be middle of the road: a bit of sweetness, but not as much as Nacheez’s, and also not spicy, but thicker than the others.

Nacho Mom’s really isn’t all that spicy (again, I didn’t taste the sweetness David perceived at all), but has a nice hint of smokiness, probably from paprika — it’s quite tasty. The only downsides are that it’s a little gelatinous if not stirred and is an odd pinkish-orange color, with many big chunks of tomato (the chunks of tomato not being a downside; just an observation)

The ingredient list is straightforward and basic, with tomato as the first ingredient — no surprise there, based on the flavor and appearance. It’s also soy and nut free, but has wheat. At $4.75 for 16 ounces, it’s the most cost-effective. It’s also the most calorie-effective: only 10 calories per ounce, making the whole jar only 160.

L to R: Food for Lovers, Nacho Mom’s, Nacheez

The winner:

Food for Lovers — the spiciness and mellow cheeze flavor make it stand out. David said he would eat this first, with plain chips being his second choice; I would order it Food for Lovers, closely followed by Nacho Mom’s and then Nacheez.

However, I don’t regret having open jars of any of them in the fridge, and will happily eat Nacho Mom’s and Nacheez on baked potatoes and steamed broccoli while David munches on tortilla chips dunked in Food for Lovers. Plus, Nacheez is a great option for the gluten-free vegans out there.

I wanted to hate Nacho Mom’s queso based on what I had read, but really didn’t — the recipe is different enough from Food for Lovers that, even if it is a rip-off, it’s just another option on the market, and it’s pretty tasty. Still, I’ll stick with Food for Lovers queso — it’s delicious, David likes it best, and the founders, a young married couple from Texas, are just too cute.

Whole Foods Taste: a Thanksgiving preview

image by bookgrl via Creative Commons — not in Seattle

Thanksgiving can be challenging for vegans. And by “can be,” what I really mean is “is always.”

The entire holiday is centered around the killing and eating of a specific bird, so it’s pretty obviously not a holiday that vegans truly can embrace. Technically, Thanksgiving’s purpose is to show gratitude and thanks, which I am all for, but saying that Thanksgiving isn’t about turkey is like saying Christmas isn’t about consumerism. Lies!

Never are our values and dietary habits more apparent than when we pass on the turkey, and by that time in the afternoon some family member will have had enough liquor to openly poke fun at our beliefs.

Yep, Uncle Ed, I’m still doing that weird cult thing, and nope, Aunt Mary, I don’t care how long you spent making that egg-filled pie — I’m not eating it.

Plus, the prospect of preparing plant-based meals for crazy vegan guests can intimidate our hosts and cause friction in relationships.

So what does that all have to do with this post? Thanksgiving ideas and product reviews.

Lisa works at a PR firm that does a lot of work with Pacific Northwest Whole Foods stores, and invited me to a Thanksgiving preview at the Interbay Whole Foods last week; Lisa and I pretty much switched lives last year — she quit her job teaching lawyers how to use the internet to go work with food bloggers and enroll in the MCDM program at UW, while I graduated with an MCDM degree then quit my internship working with food bloggers to go teach lawyers how to use the Internet.

The event brought in foodies and bloggers to showcase Whole Foods Thanksgiving offerings, and I liked what I tasted, so I’m writing my honest opinion. They’re also having a tasting event tonight, with proceeds from the $5 suggested donation going to Solid Ground.

I was impressed with the buffet Whole Foods served: mashed potatoes made with cashew cream (BRILLIANT idea — must replicate), mushroom gravy, farro pilaf, a seasonal fruit/nut salad, two kinds of cranberry sauce (the healthier, less-cooked relish-y one made with orange being far superior to the sugary stewed variety), and a couple of kinds of pumpkin pie, one more-or-less raw and the other rather traditional, complete with soy whipped cream.

Buffet — camera focused on the flowers more than the food, apparently.

The meal:

Healthy pumpkin pie:

Traditional pie with soy whip:

Now, as a caveat, I’m not generally a proponent of outsourcing holiday meals — homemade with love is (usually) best, and there are a plethora of delicious recipes out there: Blissful Bites and Tofu Mom have wonderful recipes for gravy, Fat Free Vegan Kitchen has an awesome-looking green bean casserole, and Soundly Vegan has tons of Thanksgiving inspiration. I’m not quite as ambitious as M.E, who makes her own tofurkey, but Field Roast’s puff pastry-wrapped celebration loaf is generally the only thing I’ll buy (this year’s loaf has been sitting in my parent’s freezer for a month).

However, we don’t always have the option to make a T-day (tofurkey day, that is) meal from scratch.

You may find yourself in one of the following situations:

  • your family is absolutely baffled at what to cook for you
  • you’re traveling and don’t have access to a kitchen but still want to contribute to the meal
  • you belong to one of those irritatingly stubborn families that insist that guests don’t bring anything then ask if you’re cool with just eating fake meat in the sauce it came with and salad (so you want to pick up something anyhow without offending them by trying to one-up them with something homemade)
  • you just don’t have room in your tiny apartment to prepare a feast but still want to entertain

In which case I would fully endorse Whole Foods’ offerings.

I left the event with a generous swag bag containing the following:

CB’s Nuts pumpkin seeds are amazing — two very enthusiastic thumbs up. CB apparently soaks them in sea salt before roasting them, resulting in the ideal level of saltiness. Denise Breyley, the Whole Foods staffer leading the session, raved about them, and I could not agree more. A great discovery.

Denise also had very positive things to say about Manini’s gluten-free baking mix — “great for everyone.” I baked up a loaf using the all-purpose blend, and it ended up flat and overly chewy, though still relatively tasty. As a diehard fan of wheat, I’m probably not the best judge of Manini’s offerings, so I’m going to give the other two bags that came home with me to a couple of gluten-free friends for their review.

I love Bluebird grain farm’s farro, and excitedly cooked up a mushroom pilaf using more or less the recipe on the back of the Potlatch Pilaf bag. I like the contrast between the softer farro and the crunchier wild rice.

Finally, Finn River black current apple brandy.

Tart, sweet, thick but not syrupy — delicious. Denise suggested to pour it over ice cream, mix it with seltzer, or just drink it plain. I drank it plain.

Because the Interbay Whole Foods store is kinda the most amazing place on earth (not really, but it’s massive and has a selection you won’t find at other natural foods stores) I did a little shopping after the event and picked up some Whole Foods deli mushroom gravy and Gardein Savory Stuffed Turkey with gravy.

Here they are with my mushroom pilaf:

I wasn’t a huge fan of the gravy that came with the Gardein (it had a dirt-like rosemary flavor), but the cutlets were good topped with the Whole Foods mushroom gravy instead and would probably be even better topped with the mushroom gravy from Blissful Bites. David found them to be eerily similar to real meat, and the stuffing on the inside was fun. No celebration loaf, but definitely edible.

So, put them all together (plus roasted brussels sprouts) and you have Helen’s Whole Foods-inspired Thanksgiving feast (minus cashew cream mashed potatoes — which I will be making, oh yes):

So, in conclusion, make what you can, but don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Gomoku Inari Sushi from Uwajimaya

Uwajimaya seemed like a distant, magical wonderland of exotic goodies before I started working in Pioneer Square.

Suddenly, I was there once a week, sometimes more, to marvel at the imported (and locally-produced) pan-Asian delicacies — many of them vegan — and to buy beer for the office on Friday afternoons, back when my job description included that task.

My favorite thing to eat from Uwajimaya’s sushi section are gomoku inari, clumps of chewy shiitaki- and carrot-infused rice stuffed inside sweet tofu skins — the savory-sweet combo gets me every time. Just to give you a hint on how often I consume gomoku inari: I decided to stop taking the soy sauce packets and bought a bottle. I’m on my second bottle. Oh yes.

Uwajimaya has changed the recipe in the past year, and, while they lack their previous je ne sais quoi, the gomoku inari are still filling and delicious.

I have checked, double-checked, and triple-checked to confirm that they are vegan — there are a lot of ingredients, and they sort of wrap around the packaging. One of the ingredients is MSG, but I’m okay with that.


A little study in food photography: find a light source at your desk, arrange gomoku inaru on a plate, fluff up the rice and mushrooms, shoot, adjust in photoshop.


It’s VeganMoFo hump day!! Halfway there! Click the image to see it do gif-y stuff.

Please also enjoy Leslie Hall’s veggies song. The song is funny, and Leslie, aka Mother Gem, is a really cool lady. Thanks to Kittee for spreading the word!

Vegan flash mobs FTW!

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