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For Real: Pseudo-Meat That Tastes Good!

I don't understand why food companies fashion soy derivatives to look and taste like meat (see my posting on Grasshopper Restaurant). I've heard vegetarians say that the smell and texture of meat makes them ill. So the reasoning behind pseudo-meat baffles me. Isn't this just confirming that humans by nature crave (and maybe need) some meat and if they are deprived of it, they must eat something that at least resembles it? I'm not a vegetarian because I believe in the whole enchilada including small amounts of lean red meat, poultry, dairy, and fish eaten weekly as well as plant proteins like nuts and beans. That said, I was happy to review these soy products by Gardein simply because I'll try any new food once! I'm not usually a fan of processed soy products from the supermarket except maybe Morningstar Farms. Gardein offers 11 varieties of refrigerated entrees (I found them in Whole Foods sitting near the tofu). All just need a quick zapping or stir-frying. I tried the Sante Fe Good Stuff, BBQ Skewers, and BBQ Pulled Shreds.

After tasting each one, I said "Wow, that's pretty good!" The BBQ Skewers tasted a lot like tender Salisbury steak, even after heating it up with the least preferred method: microwaving. The Sante Fe Good Stuff mimicked a chicken breast stuffed with black BBQ Skewersbeans and corn. Also really good. The textures were slightly rubbery (as most soy "meats" are) and if you were paying close attention after sampling the different varieties, you might conclude that the textures are identical, but each unique well-seasoned sauce is so enjoyable you forget that. I love that these are not only great sources of protein but iron as well. Vegetarians who avoid all animal foods have to watch their iron because the best absorbed form of dietary iron is from animal foods. Many plant foods contain iron but that form is not as well absorbed and may contain other ingredients that block iron absorption (e.g., phytates in grains and beans, tannins in tea). Vegetarians therefore often have to eat more total iron and combine it with foods rich in vitamin C, which enhances iron absorption.

My toddler son Jake gobbled up these products and I truly enjoyed each bite too. Definitely a keeper for my shopping list! Another nice thing is that these products cover almost every dish that uses meat. In addition to the ones I mentioned, there's Seasoned Bites that you can add to soups, stews, and chili; or Chick'n Strips for salads or fajitas. Gardein products are made from soy and wheat proteins, vegetables, and grains. There's no MSG, preservatives, or artificial flavorings, and all are nut-free.


Tippee Sippees

No, I'm not babbling baby talk. Tommee Tippee, the most popular brand of infant and toddler feeding products in Great Britian is now available here. I received only a Tommee Tippee Explora trainer cup to review, so I can't vouch for the rest of their extensive line of BPA and phthalate-free bottles, cups (available in five different stages), bibs, and tableware. My 3-year-old Jake is past sippy cups but he quickly volunteered to try this one. I love certain details like the rubberized bottom and stouter shape that keep it from too easily toppling over. It also has an attached lid that flips back and rests in a groove—ingenious! Can't tell you how many plastic spout covers I've lost, sometimes resorting to wrapping a bare spout in tin foil. The soft spout on this cup has a special valve designed by a physicist(!) so that "almost no force is required to drink" yet remains leak-proof. I observed Jake's cheeks to see if he was sucking any less (couldn't tell) but I agree the cup seems completely leak and spill-proof with not one drip escaping even when Jake shook it violently over his head.

A recurrent gripe I've had with toddler cups and bottles is that every crevice has to be meticulously scrubbed or else mildew sneaks in. So a concern I had with the Tommee Tippee cup is that the spout inside the lid is so narrow that I can't see into it or clean it out with a brush (see photo right). A dishwasher might clean it thoroughly but I'm part of the minority who handwashes everything. It makes me nervous to think that mildew is sprouting in areas I can't see so I'm hesitant to use it at all. Another more nitpicky gripe is that the lid doesn't always screw on so the spout is centered. The spout may end up over the handle, so you have to keep placing the lid on at different angles to get it centered...a time-consuming annoyance. 


Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Translation: Happy Chinese New Year! It's the Year of the Tiger, a symbol of bravery. Even if you can't make it to Chinatown for an authentic celebratory feast, you can try this easy delicious Asian-inspired recipe by Melanie that your kids can help assemble. After testing it out, I'd call it Happy Salad! The flavors were like a sunny day—clean, bright, crisp. I never realized that Napa cabbage makes a perfect salad base. The sesame oil and spices affirm the Asian essence. (Note that I didn't have soy sauce or bok choy handy so my photo above isn't as colorful as Melanie's original recipe!) It's a lovely complement to any dinner; or add a cup of sliced chicken, shrimp, or cannellini beans to transform it into a refreshing lunch. Click here for the recipe!