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Friday, January 17, 2020

Trader Joe's Antipasto Mediterranean Vegetables

Every once in a while, I get creative in the kitchen. Products like this one that aren't really meant to be consumed straight out of the packaging sometimes inspire me to throw a few items together and see what happens. Those spur-of-the-moment impromptu projects often end up a disaster. Just ask Sonia.

So it's fortunate that there was a recipe on TJ's site that included this product as one of the main ingredients. I modified it just a tad, as we did not have every ingredient listed, but I didn't go out on a limb this time—and in half an hour, we had some pretty delectable dip on our dinette table. In the pic below, you can see a before photo of the antipasto veggies by themselves and also the diptastic conglomeration that resulted from my little culinary endeavor. We ate it with tortilla chips, but it would also go great with baguette slices like the recipe suggests. It's much richer and tangier than traditional artichoke dip. The Superbowl's not too far away, and this recipe would be a total crowd-pleaser, in my estimation.

Trader Joe's Antipasto Mediterranean Vegetables are "semi-dried" and absolutely drowned in olive oil. I guess that's part of the preservation process that keeps them shelf stable pretty much indefinitely, but there's just a TON of olive oil in the little tray. Even after mixing them with four different kinds of cheese and lemon juice and baking them for 25 minutes, you can still tell that they're completely drenched in olive oil. Fortunately, I don't mind olive oil.

Glancing at the veggies, it appears there are mushrooms of some kind in the mix, but I think those are just zucchini slices with their edges turned down a bit. The flavors aren't super intense, but they're pleasant and vegetabley. The artichoke hearts are my favorite, followed by the zucchini, then the eggplant, and finally the tomato. I've never been a huge tomato guy. If they're cooked in some way, I'll eat them. In this case, the saturation of olive oil makes them palatable. They're nothing like fresh tomatoes in terms of taste or texture.

I did try each of the four vegetables straight out of the packaging, but they're much better as ingredients in some larger appetizer or meal. They'd be great on salads, pasta, sandwiches, or even burgers, though in most cases, they'd probably work better in smaller chunks. The dip recipe had me quartering them. I can't imagine an instance where they'd work better as the large chunks they come as, so it begs the question why they weren't cut in smaller pieces to begin with. I know, it's a silly complaint. The chewier elements, namely the eggplant, work much better as bite-sized pieces for almost any application.

Sonia and I both enjoyed this product overall, with our biggest complaints being too much olive oil and too large vegetable pieces. We're both thinking somewhere between three and a half and four stars for Trader Joe's Antipasto Mediterranean Vegetables, so we'll just go with one of each.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Trader Joe's Furikake Japanese Multi-Purpose Seasoning

Over the years on the blog, I've referred to myself as an amateur-foodie hack on occasion. If memory serves me right, Nathan's the one who coined the phrase. I'm gonna take this opportunity to rebrand it, at least for my lovely bride and I, and say that instead of being actual foodies, we're really just eaters.

What's that mean?

If it's good, we'll eat it. Even if it's not "the best" or most acclaimed or authentic or true. Sure, we'll give that consideration and all, but at the end of the day, it's taste over everything else. Is Hattie B's the best, most authentic Nashville hot chicken joint in Tennessee? Nah, probably not....but danged if I don't still dream of them on occasion. To make a musical metaphor, is Imagine Dragons the best band around? Nah, far from it, but I can enjoy at least some of their catchy fun songs - "Zero" for instance, from Wreck-It Ralph 2 soundtrack. Yeah, we'll go to depths for our guilty pleasures. 

And (un)luckily for you, if it's a TJ's item I ate and have strong enough opinion on, you'll read about it here. Coming soon: another buddy and I are soon launching an Aldi's review site, so my goal of grocery world judging domination shall ever so slightly increase, muhahaha.

Sorry for the long windup for Trader Joe's Furikake Japanese Multi-Purpose Seasoning. But it's a great example of this. Do I know even the slightest thing, really, about furikake? Nope. I don't even know how to pronounce it - furry cake (can rewrite some really awful Twenty One Pilots lyrics, like our Facebook caption)? Foo-ree-kah-kay? Glad we're not doing the TJ's podcast at this time so you'd hear me butcher it as our producer buddy Marvo would slap his forehead in the background. We had such a long awkward conversation about how to pronounce "sriracha

But...I bought it at Trader Joe's. Cost only a few bucks. Looked like worth the shot. So I'm gonna go home and eat it. I'm an eater.

For such a fairly simply blend, there's a few different stages to the flavor which make this Japanese-inspired seasoning interesting. I think that's the right way to describe it instead of "complex" or "multi-leveled" as, if ingested just as a lonesome pinch or two, there's at first this funky seaweed taste, like straight up "whatever I just ingested was definitely floating in the ocean" type flavor, followed closely by toasted sesame and finally a good heavy dose of salt. Not sure if "savory" or "umami" really quite apply - more salty than anything - but it's a fun little mix...

So good to eat, but on what? Whatever, just go for it. I put some on some roasted green beans last night - much milder, but delicious. Eggs? Sure thing. I don't think it'd be much of a stretch to recommend on rice or fish or most sushi variants. Chicken? Heck yeah. Sandy dumped some atop her ramen noodles the other day, just to class them up a touch, and she's been raving about that since.

That is the one point: The furikake is mild enough that food flavor can overpower it and diminish it to little more than salt. Maybe that's why the pour opening is so huge - you can fit a penny through it - and a recommended serving is so much. I don't think I've come close to using that amount over several tastings.

Regardless, we'll eat it and try it on lots of different stuff. We're eaters now, ya know. If it tastes good, which I think the furikake would be on a high number of things, we'll do it.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Furikake Japanese Multi-Purpose Seasoning: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, January 13, 2020

Trader Joe's French Onion Soup Bites

Baby Yoda. I just have to start off this post with a lead-in about Baby Yoda. I'm warning you right now, I don't have a decent segue into the food review part of this blog post, but I still have to find a way to work him in here. 

You see, Sonia and I just binge-watched The Mandalorian. It's darn good—all the production value of a Star Wars film in a one hour television show format. And for those of you who aren't aware, there's a character called "The Child" that looks just like, you guessed it: a baby version of Yoda. Of course, it can't be the actual Yoda, because he's dead by this point in the Star Wars timeline, so it must be another member of Yoda's unnamed race. Yes, we're geeks. 

But that's not the point. The point is that he's absurdly cute. Just Google him if you don't know what I'm talking about. I'm already on high alert trying to curb my lovely bride's inclination to accumulate all things Baby Yoda. I found a Trader Joe's-themed Baby Yoda tweet last week. It doesn't even make sense. He never drinks wine on the show. In fact, all he consumes are frogs. I feel like that might be my cue to tie in the French part of this product somehow, but nah. We won't go there today.

I will point out, however, that like fresh swamp frogs, these appetizers are slimy. I guess "greasy" would be a more accurate word—but they're so liquidy in the middle that it almost feels like a dollop of actual soup surrounded by some crusty bread. The onions and cheese are slick, silky, and slippery. The bread part ranges from soft and crumbly to crispy and crusty. The overall mouthfeel is a little too gelatinous for my taste.

The flavor, on the other hand, is very nice. You can taste lightly sweet caramelized onions, swiss cheese, and rich buttery bread. Trader Joe's French Onion Soup Bites are salty, savory, and oh-so-onionny—and we're both big fans of onions. There's a "vegetable base" listed on the ingredients, and I want to say you can taste that, too. There's a vegetable soup essence to the flavor that works seamlessly with the taste of the onions and cheese.

I found it difficult to remove the apps from the oven-safe tray without mangling them beyond recognition. The photo included here represents my three least-disfigured specimens.

$4.49 for 12 appetizers. In the end we'll both give a thumbs up to the taste and a meh to the texture of these French-inspired hors d'oeuvres. Three and a half stars a piece.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.