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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Mac & Cheese


This isn't the first gluten free mac and cheese we've looked at on this blog, but this is the first frozen gluten free mac and cheese at which we have looked.

If you've been reading this blog for a long time, you'll know that Sonia and I consider ourselves "gluten-sensitive" but haven't been diagnosed with any actual conditions that would warrant a strict gluten-free diet—although non-Celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is a legit condition, and eating bread can cause schizophrenia, apparently, among other things, in just about anyone. Every once in a while, we'll choose gluten free because we're not anxious to feel any uncomfortable bloating, but after reading articles like this one, I'm thinking it might not be a terrible idea to avoid gluten as often as possible.

But still, there's the matter of taste. It's hard to eat something that doesn't taste good or have the right texture. All four of us at WG@TJ's are more than happy to take one for the team and try gluten free and vegan items not out of necessity, but for the sake of intrepid food blogging. We know many of you have more dietary restrictions than we do, and we respect that. Plus, we can provide a comparison to the "normal" counterpart of any special diet items. How does this offering fare? Read on.


I'll tell you right now Sonia is a huge fan of this product. I have mostly positive sentiments, but I do have my share of reservations. Let's start with the good stuff first.

What they got right: the four cheese combo. The cheese here is delicious, and there's plenty of it. They didn't skimp. Every piece of pasta is slathered in that scrumptious blend of cheddar, swiss, havarti, and gouda.

It's a good thing, too, because the pasta itself doesn't bring as much to the table in terms of flavor. It's pretty bland. Not sure why wheat pasta tastes a little better than this corn and rice-based offering. Maybe we're just more used to wheat. Or maybe it's all that yummy, schizophrenia-inducing gluten. Or maybe it's just the voices in my head telling me that wheat pasta tastes better.

As far as texture is concerned, Sonia says this pasta is slightly more rigid than traditional pasta, and that regular wheat pasta is "more chewy than this." I felt the texture of this pasta was not unlike that of wet paper—thick wet paper, mind you, but wet paper-esque, nonetheless, however, not to the point where the dish became unpleasant or difficult to eat. It simply had a texture I'm not used to.


Finally, we noticed that, despite a generous amount of flavorful cheese, there was very little oil or grease in the product. I mean, there's plenty of fat in there. But I'm always turned off when it's the kind of fat I can actually see pooling up on the top of my food.

All in all, we'll both recommend it, but Sonia will do so much more heartily than I will. We might purchase it regularly if it were just a bit cheaper, too. $3.49 for the frozen, microwaveable meal.

Four and a half stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Trader Joe's Chocolate Chunk Cantuccini

As I'm offically entering the later part of my thirties, I'm learning more and more that adulthood is a series of learning to embrace and enjoy different shades and forms of bitterness. It's not exactly a bad thing. Like coffee, for instance. Or alcohol. Or, even, disappointment. Those are all cups from which I drink often.

I'm on a small disappointment streak with TJ's products, and Trader Joe's Chocolate Chunk Cantuccini are just a continuation of that trend. I can partially pin all this on me. The other night, while semi-listening to my lovely bride prattle on about her most recent TJ's trip, I heard her say "blahblahblah chocolate something-chini biscotti blahlblahblah" which my mind instantly, without though, translated into chocolate zucchini bread-inspired biscotti. Now that sounds intriguing and seasonally appropriate, and maybe something zany that ol' Joe would whip up. If you haven't had good zucchini bread ever, I don't know what to tell you.

So, imagine my disappointment when I popped one of these kinda Italian mini biscuits in my mouth...and tasted just a regular old chocolate chip biscotti. Except smaller.

Sigh.

Cantuccini is what I should have heard, not zucchini. Not familiar with the term? Me neither, but apparently it's an almost interchangable term with biscotti (i.e., biscuit), except cantucci are apparently more from Tuscany, and the -ini means they're smaller. Meh.

It's small chocolate chip biscotti. Nothing more, nothing less. Kinda almondy and earthy, with a vague sweetness, without quite the flavor of a full blown chocolate chip cookie...yup. No icing or any extras, with only a few small chocolate bits to vainly try to break the monotony. And they're smaller, making them less handy to dunk into coffee or tea or milk or anything. They also seem crunchier, maybe due to their condensed size. Sandy said they didn't seem to soften up when dunked either.

Blah. Disappointment. I really wanted to love these bitty biskies, but nope. There's nothing special about them, nothing to set them apart. In a word, they're boring. I'm disappointed. But I can embrace that, I guess, along with some coffee. Such is life. Matching twos from our house to yours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chocolate Chunk Cantuccini: 4 out of 10 Golden Spoons 


Friday, August 10, 2018

Trader Joe's Sun Dried Apricots


Every time I eat apricots, I think of my childhood pet, Apricot. She was an apricot-colored miniature poodle. I called her Apricot because she was, well, apricot...and I'm a writer.

In my defense, though, I was only 6 years old when I named her. Also, for those of you who think poodles are sissy dogs...you might be right. But they're also hypoallergenic for people like my mom who had a sensitivity to most breeds' fur and dander. I was just an elementary school kid who was very happy to have a dog at all. Apricot was my best friend until she passed away many years later while I was off at college.

Maybe that's why I don't eat apricots all that often. So sad. Apricot.

But these apricots are sun-dried, packaged in bright colors, and flaunt fun graphics and a whimsical font—one of the most cheerful-looking products I've seen in a while. There are three sections that break apart for easy travel with a peel-away top. Each little container has about 8-10 dried apricots, each roughly the size of a quarter. And to be honest, the packaging is the best part of the product.


Most of the apricots look pleasant enough, but Sonia and I both immediately observed that they're a bit more leathery than other dried apricots we've had. I know dried apricots tend to be a tad chewy, but I felt this offering was just a little too tough—not to the point where they were hard to chew once you had a piece in your mouth, but tearing off sections felt a bit too much like eating stiff beef jerky.

Flavor-wise, they were plenty sweet. There was nothing unpleasant about the taste at first, but we both agreed there was a slight odd aftertaste, almost as if there were a little too much of the "sulfur dioxide," which I assume is there as a preservative.

The three sections are super-convenient, and the price is reasonable at $1.49. If you need a blood sugar boosting snack that will easily fit in a small pocket, this isn't a bad product to reach for. We just can't tell you we were madly in love with these apricots. Three stars a piece here.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.