Search This Blog

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Trader Joe's Chocolate Crème Brulée

I've only had real crème brulée a couple times in my life. The first time was in Las Vegas at one of those all-you-can-eat buffets in one of the casinos. Probably Caesar's. I don't even remember. I just remember being thoroughly enchanted by the solid sugary shell on top of the dish. It was fun cracking it open with my spoon.

The second time I had it was at a friend's wedding. Again, there was this extraordinary novelty about the dessert. The juxtaposition of the textures in the dish was the best part. On one hand, there was the hard, brittle candy shell, and on the other, there was a creamy pudding-like substance. Quite unique. Also, mispronouncing it as "cream brooly" on purpose is fun.

So, to the best of my recollection (which is often severely flawed) this Trader Joe's Crème Brulée is only the third version of the dish I've ever had. I was a bit curious about the inclusion of chocolate in TJ's brand, as there had been no chocolate involved in my first two crème brulée encounters. And of course, Trader Joe's is frozen. Very often, TJ's does the impossible with frozen dishes and makes a product competitive with its freshly-made counterparts.

With this dessert, I'll just cut to the chase: it's delicious, but in my opinion, it shouldn't be called crème brulée. The deep, rich chocolate shell and creamy insides, once blended together, reminded me more of tiramisu than crème brulée. There is no crackable candy shell on top. Just a chocolate shell on the sides, which is not nearly as enjoyable to break with a spoon.
It's a silly complaint, but I feel like I should just warn you all that if you really have a hankering for some real crème brulée, you should just go out to a pricey restaurant and shell out whatever they're asking, because I really don't think anyone could do frozen crème brulée well.

That being said, if you're looking for a creamy, sweet, and chocolatey dessert that's not necessarily crème brulée, this stuff is excellent. The richness of the custard is reminiscent of the other crème brulée dishes I've tried, and it's pretty darn satisfying. I recommend following the thawing instructions exactly: take out of the freezer, leave it at room temperature for one hour, and then eat it immediately. We ate one each that way, and it was really amazing. The following day for dessert, we ate ones we had left in the fridge. Definitely not as good.

Sonia gives them a 3.5, also citing the non-crunchable top as her primary criticism of the confection. Because they're really tasty nonetheless, I'll give 'em a 4.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Trader Joe's Seafood Blend...and More

Hello everyone! Hope you don't mind the slight break we at the WGaTJ's team took last week with Thanksgiving and all. Sandy and I did a quick run out (left kinda late Wednesday, came back e-a-r-l-y Friday because my cubicle apparently missed me) to the Philly 'burbs where my folks live to go the annual turkey day get-together with oh, roughly 70 or so family members at a campground. That's considered an average, maybe even slightly small, year...yup, there's that many of us, and we're constantly growing. Needless to say, there was lots of great homemade food, from everyone from my mom to my cousins to my great aunts to the folks I can't remember who they are but dang they made a good pie so they're always welcome. Between stomach prep and food comas, between Sandy and I, we just didn't eat all that much TJ's last week. That's a nice change of pace. We truly hope you enjoyed yours.

Anyways, by Saturday night we had almost recovered and were kinda tired of turkey for the time being, felt kinda lazy (driving 300+ miles then working a full day the day before then a long day of plaster wall work does that to you), but still were in the mood for something that could almost pass as homemade-ish and definitely comforting. And no turkey or potatoes, please. We decided on a simple, easy to make dish of some seafood alfredo pasta, just hoping it'd hit the spot. Fortunately for us, TJ's sold the main three parts needed for our dinner, so let's review how they did.

First, the seafood. We used Trader Joe's Seafood Blend for this. Honestly I haven't spotted this at our usual store, but the weekend before last, Sandy and I checked out the new South Hills shop (inside a former Pier 1) where we saw it and picked up. Man, South Hills, not only do you have more stuff, but nice, wide aisles, too. The East Lib store's jealous. Anyways, the seafood blend is pretty basic. It's just frozen shrimp, calamari rings, and bay scallops. Out of all of them, the shrimp kinda stands out as being the best to me, but then again, I'm usually a shrimp guy. All the bites I had seemed to be about right - the shrimp was definitely firm yet tender, and the calamari was kinda chewy and tough, and somewhat reminiscent of when an old high school buddy tricked me into eating one at the Italian restaurant from the movie "Big Daddy"on a field trip to NYC back in my junior year.* Truth be told, I haven't had scallops more than once or twice that I can recall, and they were a little mushy/ever so slightly gritty, but I presume they were on-target enough and were palatable. As a whole, the seafood blend wasn't salty or mushy or just kinda crappy like other times I've gotten frozen seafood at other stores, and I presume the blend is versatile enough for a variety of dishes.

Next, the alfredo, as in Trader Giotto's Alfredo Pasta Sauce. When I think alfredo sauces, I usually think pretty mild, kinda bland, slightly cheesy white sauce. Yup, well, that's what this is, a fine example of the genre. The sauce has all the typical ingredients like romano and parmesan cheese, a little garlic, so on and so forth. I could kinda taste it, but it seemed to just cover everything with white stuff and not do much else.Although I'm not an alfredo aficionado, I'm not saying this as a negative. It's just that, I wish alfredo sauces had more to them in general, and TJ's wasn't an exception. That being said, the alfredo sauce definitely added the needed "comfort" to our dinner and help tie everything together pretty well.

Lastly, the pasta noodles themselves. I'm not a resident pastalogist, so I'm not entirely sure if Trader Joe's Egg Pappardelle Pasta was the most appropriate of choices for a seafood alfredo, but it's what we had and truth be told, they worked just fine. Sandy and I love our carbs (not pictured above: the garlic bread we demolished as well) but a package of these, about half the seafood and half the sauce seemed to make two generously sized dinners that slid into our over-expanded tummies pretty well. The noodles were a big part of it. They're big and thick and not wimpy at all...I might actually fear taking lashes from a wet one of these. Okay, well, probably not, but they're not weak, but firm with a bite to them. I can easily see using these to make different soups and all sorts of pasta dishes.

Altogether, they made a pretty good pairing. I kinda misplaced the receipt for this** but I think the seafood blend either 7 or 8 bucks, the sauce was $3-something and the noodles were probably $2 or so. I'd put the dinner about on par with something you'd get at the Olive Garden (just without the fresh ground pepper), so $13 for two good dinners at home plus some reserve supplies is a decent win as opposed to more than twice that out somewhere. I think it's kinda silly to rate each item separately, as we enjoyed them all tossed together, and it's kinda hard to single out just individual items as they're not made to be enjoyed alone. Sandy, who cooked it all up for us, was pretty pleased and made some nice friendly "mmm"s throughout the course of our meal. I was mmming right along with her. We'd both brandish our dinner with a good solid 8, so that's what each of the components will get.

Bottom lines:
Trader Joe's Seafood Blend: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Trader Giotto's Alfredo Pasta Sauce: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Trader Joe's Egg Pappardelle Pasta: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
* Jerk told me it was an onion ring.
** Let's hope the IRS doesn't audit....:)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Trader Joe's Peppered Uncured Turkey Bacon

Nathan's right. It s kinda silly that leading up to Thanksgiving we've featured Thai products two posts in a row. So let's talk some turkey, shall we? Chances are, in just a few days time, you'll have more turkey leftovers than what you'll know what to do with - too good to throw out, the food pantries won't take it, but before too long you'll be sick of it. Never fear; there's some okay looking recipe websites out there that'll give you plenty of tips (although some look a little gross. Like Thanksgiving in a Cone. Blecch).

Not a single one of these sites will tell you how to make turkey bacon, though I can presume how it's made: mix and mash up all the random turkey bits you can, process them down with a couple random spices, form into a thin loaf-like shape, put a heavy coating of pepper on the outside, and cut into thick strips. To cook, drizzle some oil in a pan and cook to either it's limp, greasy and heated, or burn the crud out of it and hope for the best.

If that doesn't sound so great, well, there's a reason: it isn't. I've extolled my love of bacon before so I'm not going to go over that all over again. But dangit, bacon is either pork, or it isn't bacon at all. Trader Joe's Peppered Uncured Turkey Bacon is no exception. It tastes just like how presume it was made, which kinda left me with the impression it was Turkey Spam. For cooking, we went the "blacken and pray" route, and while the outside got burnt and semi-palatable, the insides were left chewy, kinda funky, and Turkey-Jerky-esque. The cooking instructions say to heat for a couple minutes on both sides but all that produces is the aforementioned big floppy greasy strip of meat. The directions also ominously say "results may vary." Tastewise, it's mostly pepper, though the meat is a little sweet from the applewood smoking it undergoes. It's okay, but it doesn't taste enough like bacon to either one of us. I should've guessed that before buying, with poultry being such a lean meat and fat being such a key part of the bacon equation, but the thought didn't cross my mind. I just saw cheap ($2.99) bacon and decided to try it out.

I can understand people liking it though. Nutritionally, it's a bazillion times better for you. Almost no fat or calories, no nitrates, yada yada, all that good stuff. And perhaps things like turkey bacon are an acquired taste, and perhaps this is good for the aficionados out there, and if it is, go enjoy. For Sandy and I, we're just a little confused that while TJ's can consistently offer a reasonably good alternative meat products like soy chorizo, veggie sausage, beefless ground beef, or heck, even a meatless corn dog, they can't do the same for one animal stepping in for another one. I made us a panfull for breakfast over the weekend, and for once my scrambled eggs were the highlight on the plate. Sandy, who I thought would be in a better place to appreciate this TJ product, actually had much the same thought as I did. "It just doesn't get crispy, which I like, and it tastes kinda weird," she said. I concur. She went with a 2.5 for it, while I'll knock it a half-spoon down from there.

Bottom line: 4.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, November 18, 2011

Trader Joe's Vegetable Thai Kao Soi

If you like curry, you'll like this Thai Kao Soi. It's got some spice, and it's got a great balance of noodles and vegetables. It even comes with wonton-like crisps to put on top for a little extra texture. Trader Joe's usually does pretty well with vegetable dishes because they always throw in a great mix of veggies. When there's meat involved, TJ's tends to be a little stingy. There's always just enough meat to leave you wanting some more. But personally, I didn't miss the meat in this dish. Thai foods usually don't need meat because the flavors are always so rich without it. It's an extremely filling dish as it is.

We ate it with rice. It didn't really even need that, but it did help round out the meal. The Thai Kao Soi was on par with restaurant Thai curry. Good restaurant Thai curry. We used to go to this place in Hollywood called Jitlada. It was just a hole in the wall in some strip mall, but it was a nice hole in the wall. The friend of mine who introduced us to the place claimed that when the previous prime minister of Thailand visited Los Angeles, he stopped in and ate at this place. After I tasted the food, I could believe that claim, which originally sounded a little outrageous. There were photos of important-looking people adorning the walls of the restaurant, but then, there are photos of famous and important-looking people in Hollywood's hot dog stands and McDonald's.

I'm not sure if the prime minister of Thailand has ever stopped in to a Trader Joe's while visiting the U.S., but Ms. Yingluck Shinawatra, if you find yourself in America and you've a hankering for a microwaveable taste of home, I'd swing by a TJ's if I were you. Most of their Thai stuff is decent, considering most of it can be prepared in under 10 minutes. I'd avoid the Vegetable Pad Thai, but apparently the Red Curry Sauce is good. Interesting that we've reviewed two Thai items right in a row...and a week before Thanksgiving.

I'm all about an international Thanksgiving. Hopefully I'll get a little taste of that next week in NYC as I partake of my dinner with a Mexican, a Cuban, and an East Indian. One of the things I'm thankful for is that my wife and her friends allow a white person to hang out with them.

I really don't have any major complaints about this dish. Well, there's the 70% US RDA of saturated fat, but hey, that just goes to show you how authentic it is. Real curry ain't lite. It's creamy and coconutty and it's got a bit of a kick, and that's exactly what we've got here. Double 4.5's from Sonia and I. It's another near-Pantheon dish in our opinion.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Trader Joe's Thai Red Curry Sauce and Low Sodium Soy Sauce

Sandy and I are coming up on our second anniversary in the next week or so. Don't worry, I know the date and got a special night set up for us. Know what got me talkin' with her a few years back? A cake. Seriously. For a church picnic, she made a homemade lemon lavender cake with white chocolate cream cheese frosting...I swear to this day one of the best things I've ever eaten, it was so impossibly good. I found out she made it, saw she was cute, knew she was single, and the rest is history. Due to the hours she spent baking it, Sandy's on record as saying she'll never make it again, which I'm strangely okay with, seeing as that I'd prefer not to keep fending off any more happy-bellied suitors. That cake's already got her one man, thank you very much.

Despite her baking prowess, I am predominantly the chef in our household, though. Not that I'm supremely talented or anything, but it just kinda works out that way more times than not, probably because I'm holed in a cubicle all day as she's wrestling a classroom worth of older toddlers. I tend to try and look at what we have and go from there. Have bread, cheese, butter, and leftover soup from our weekend crockpot-o'-goodness? Grilled cheese and soup for dinner. Bacon, eggs, and a certain hankering? Breakfast for dinner. Seeing as that we have a Home Depot bucket full of rice in our kitchen, we go to that fairly often for all sorts of tasty meals, and we nearly always have chicken and onions (which I chop under careful spousal supervision to make sure they're small enough under threat of revolt) and other tidbits around, so fried rice/chicken-and-rice dinners are pretty common, too. The question is, how should I make them tasty and different enough to keep them from getting old?

One decent choice is Trader Joe's Thai Red Curry Sauce. Is this the best curry sauce ever? Nah. We've gone out to enough Thai restaurants to know it's not in the running. But how many world class curry sauces do you have lurking around your pantry shelf? Thought so. It's thick, creamy, sweetened from the coconut milk, fairly rich, and a little kick to it. That's the main problem - the kick just isn't strong enough. Granted, this comes from a guy whose Thai waitress once said, in an equally polite and incredulous tone, "I have never seen a white person eat as spicy food as you." That earned her a big tip. The pureed red chiles just don't do enough, and when the ingredients say "spices" I presume that's just salt. Still, it's complex enough (I liked the little bit of ginger you can taste), with a little sweet and a little spicy, and most importantly, it does well enough when simmered with some chicken and served with rice to make a fairly good, satisfying dinner fairly quickly. There's also a yellow curry sauce available, and although it's been a while since we've had that, I remember it being pretty decent too, maybe even a little spicier. At the local shop anyways, it's $2.69 a bottle, and with a little discipline it can last more than one meal, though we're usually tempted otherwise.

Another go-to option is the Low Sodium Soy Sauce. Hmm, looking at the label, I'm not sure how that qualifies as "low sodium"...is regular soy sauce that much worse Na-wise?...eh. I've made my one nutritional stand recently to hold me over for a bit. Anyways, I frequently use the soy sauce for making a good-size batch of fried rice. Used to be that along with the soy sauce, I'd toss in different spices to try and come up with a good flavor combo. What does the trick for us now is a little extra soy sauce to get that flavor in and a sprinkling of crushed red pepper to add a little heat. It's a little sweet, definitely salty, and deep and robust, and it brings out a lot of goodness with chicken, rice, eggs, peas, peanuts or whatever else I toss in. TJ's soy sauce delivers a winner nearly every time unless I botch something up, like the time I confused the cinnamon and cumin. That was kinda weird. A bottle lasts a while, and it's something like $2 a pop, which is a small price to pay for some dependability for your rations.

I pressed Sandy for her opinion on the Thai Red Curry Sauce, and she gave me one of those looks. "32," she said. I pointed out that's not a valid Golden Spoon rating, and that there's no way she liked it 6.4 times as much as one of our favorite ice creams. "Arrrrgh, sometimes I just want to eat something and not try to rank it," she said. Poor thing. Must be tough to be hitched to one of the nation's prominent foodie-hack bloggers (and a self-indulgent one at that), with the pressure being what it is.* I finally figured out that by "32" she really meant "4" for the curry sauce, and I thought it best to not press my luck and ask her to rank a soy sauce, of all things. I can tell she likes both though, because when I present her with a hot dish of either, after a few bites, she usually says to our pooch, "Wimbles, Daddy makes good dinner. Yumyumyum." Both sauces make for one of the major flavors, so she's gotta like 'em both. I'll presume a 4 for her for the soy sauce as well...aww heck, matching fours all the way around. We're harmonious like that.

Bottom lines: Trader Joe's Thai Red Curry Sauce: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Trader Joe's Low Sodium Soy Sauce: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

---------------------------------------------------------------
*I'm not even recognized at the Pittsburgh store yet. That has to change.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Trader Joe's Organic Acaí 120

I remember it well. Circa 2004, I walked into Jamba Juice on Ventura Boulevard near my old apartment in Sherman Oaks, CA; the same Jamba Juice where I saw Natasha Henstridge, Brooke Burke (twice) and Shaquille O'Neal on seperate occasions. I perused the menu for a while, wanting to try something new. They had an item listed called the Acaí Supercharger, which, I believe, they have since discontinued. They now offer at least one other acaí-based drink. Curious, I asked about it. The enthusiastic "juice-ista" (that's a word I just invented) explained that it had about the same amount of caffeine as a can of coke (35 mg) but that the Supercharger's caffeine was all wrapped up in the completely natural acaí (ah-sigh-yee) berries, rich with fiber and antioxidants, etc. She explained that the natural caffeine would be slowly time-released as my body digested the berries, thus preventing the dreaded caffeine-crash associated with sodas, energy drinks and coffee.

I tried the Acaí Supercharger and quickly turned into a proponent of the acaí fad. Soon thereafter, every smoothie place and health food establishment in the city was offering at least one product with acaí. Those acaí-based drinks from Jamba Juice became a staple of my diet, and thanks in large part to those smoothies, I lost more than 20 pounds over the next 12 months (almost all of which I have gained back in recent years, unfortunately). At the time, I could have been the poster child for Jamba Juice—like their version of Subway's Jared, but hopefully a little less annoying. (If anyone from Jamba is reading this, please open a store in the Philly area, have me walk there every day, and I promise I'll rapidly lose weight again and you can use me as your Jared-like poster child, and I'll write my own commercial scripts as a bonus).

Now, I realize my opinion is probably part of a distinct minority, but I could write you a lengthy essay on why I believe Southeastern Pennsylvania is superior to Southern California. However, that's one thing I really miss about Los Angeles: my beloved Jamba Juice. The nearest Jamba Juice to Philly is over 2 hrs. away in NYC. Road trip, anyone?

Flavor-wise, acaí tastes a little like dark chocolate. It's a berry flavor, but it's very rich, very complex. This Trader Joe's acaí juice is no exception. The "120" represents the supposed number of berries in each bottle. At our TJ's, one tiny little bottle will run you about $2.30. You're paying almost 2¢ per berry. I suppose I can live with that, since the berries are coming all the way from Brazil—and in PA, there aren't a whole lot of other places you can buy organic acaí.

The serving size is tragically small, but it does pack more of a punch than one might think. The three gulps in the bottle are relatively filling, since they're thick and rich, and have 2 grams of fiber. It's just enough to curb a moderate appetite for a while, or to give a little boost of natural energy.

You should know that the acaí berry has taken flack recently for supposedly not being as healthy as was originally claimed, and also for allegedly being farmed and harvested unethically. I myself am still a fan of acaí for its taste and natural energy. If you've never tried any acaí stuff, I recommend you pick up just one of these bottles to taste it. And that's all these are: just a taste of acaí.

Because it does what it's supposed to, and it tastes good, I give it a 4. Sonia does too, for the same reasons. Be warned, however, that it's a lot of money for a very small amount of product. Perhaps our score is a tad high because the novelty-factor is also very high, here in our otherwise acaí-less world.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10 stars.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Trader Joe's Mojito Salmon

I've only ever heard of a "mojito" as a drink: a Caribbean-originated rum-based citrusy thing with mint. I wikied it. Same thing. No mention of a salmon dish. Trader Joe is getting creative in the kitchen again, apparently. Maybe he dumped the remains of his cocktail on a piece of fish once and like the taste, so he whipped up a recipe and mass produced it for the frozen sections of his stores.

This is another one of those $7 a pop deals...or something pretty close to that. Like the Chicken Serenada, this stuff comes as a single serving, and heating in the microwave is allowed. Sonia decided she couldn't bear to eat salmon from the microwave, so she fired up the oven. Sonia pronounces the "l" in "salmon," as many Angelena's do. Not sure why. They just don't get the whole silent "l" thing. I guess I can't really blame them.

At any rate, we heated it in the oven. It came out firm and slightly dry, but that was just as well for me. I'm not a fan of even slightly-mushy fish.

Any time we do these reviews, it's just natural to compare what we're eating with similar products we've had recently from other places. The TJ's product has to slug it out with its competitor in a virtual arena in my head. Apparently, Russ has similar delusions when he eats Trader Joe's food, as he once wrote an entire review in the manner of a boxing match between veggie sausage patties. A few weeks back, while visiting friends in the D.C. area, Sonia and I had the privilege of trying some salmon burgers from some healthy-type store. I forget where they came from. It wasn't Trader Joe's and it wasn't Whole Foods. It might have been Wegman's. But that's all beside the point, really. The point is that there was some competition for this Mojito Salmon fresh in my memory. Those salmon burgers were tasty.

As I mentioned, this salmon was dry. It was almost too dry for me, and I kinda like my fish on the dry side. I'm sure heating it in the microwave would have yielded something a little more moist. The salmon burgers we had were just right in the moisture department. And they were softer than this Mojito Salmon. Even the parts of the salmon that were buried under that...mojito-esque topping were a little parched. The mojito-esque topping wasn't really very mojito-esque. It was kind of just like a mélange of vegetables and a touch of sauce that happened to be green.

Flavor-wise, the salmon tasted like salmon. It's not like we grilled it, so it didn't taste grilled. It didn't taste fishy (I think if salmon tastes fishy that they probably just took some trout and dyed it pink or something). It was perhaps a tad more salmony than those salmon burgers that we tried (we put a touch of mustard on those). So that was good, but at the same time, they could have done something really special in the flavor department with that mojito-looking stuff on the top, but I found it a bit disappointing and underwhelming. It added little.

Considering the price and size of the dish, it's not a whole lot of bang for your buck in my opinion. It was salmon, and as I might have mentioned before, we quite enjoy salmon. So I can't give it too low a score. How about a 3? Sonia will give it a 3.5 (my score may be lower because I'm projecting my unresolved frustration about that peculiar silent "l" onto the poor fish).

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10 stars.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Trader Joe's Maple Leaf Cookies

I really don't know why Canada gets so much flack. Don't know what I mean? Google "Blame Canada" and that'll give you a brief lesson. It's a lovely nation, having visited it close to ten times myself. Montreal? Great city, as close as to being in Europe while still being in North America, as possible. Niagara Falls? A wee bit commercialized, but beautiful, and Niagara-on-the-Lake is pretty charming. And let's not discount what some famous Canadians have done to make our world a better place. Alexander Graham Bell? Jack Warner (founded Warner Bros.)? Bryan Adams? All Canadians. Arcade Fire is one seriously underrated band. And let's not forget my favorite Canadian contribution to society...Tim Hortons. Man oh man, Sandy and I love us some Timmy Ho's. Not that there's one in Pittsburgh (okay, a coffee stand at the Consol Energy Center), but while traversing to a neighboring state to procure some TJ goodies not available in PA (the really good, fairly good, and just plain bad), there's one or two stateside shops we can stop at for a sandwich/coffee/doughnut break. Two summers ago, before relaxing at my grandparents' cabin in Maine for a couple nights, we stopped at the Portland shop, and were incredibly irked when the lady in front of us bought every last Timbit that we were so eagerly waiting to munch on over the course of our stay, and were resigned to buying a dozen regular donuts. That just seemed so much more, I dunno, overtly gluttonous or something, and despite being so tasty and delicious, both of us were pretty aware of what we ate and how bad it was for us.

It's kinda like that with Trader Joe's Maple Leaf Cookies. I'll start with the positive: superbly delicious. Seriously, with just about anything maple-related, these were right up my alley. These are big, huge honking cookies, with two thick maple leaf-shaped shortbread cookies tinged with maple sandwiching a mega-swath of maple cream. Think Double-Stuffed Oreos on steroids except far, far tastier. The filling is rich and sweet and practically dripping with maple goodness, and I'm a sucker for a good shortbread wafer to boot. I want to eat and eat and eat these, and wash them down with a tall glass of milk poured right from the bag. On the merits of taste alone, both Sandy and I agree: pantheon contender, almost a certain shoo-in.

Except one thing...look at the second picture here. That's for one cookie. I've said it before, and will say it again, that I'm not a prude when it comes to nutritional info. Tastes good, eat it, I say, and damn the torpedoes. Usually. I'm slowly working myself out of that mindset, and this is one singular cookie we're talking about, with no inherent nutritional value nor any expectations thereof. It's like a luxury item, and for something so good it makes you want to eat more than one, well, before too long you could find yourself in some trouble that'll take more than just curling to work off. I don't there's much harm in having one, but that's not where I want to stop.

I needed something else to help justify the relatively low score these will be earning, because really, I wanted to five these babies up, but can't. I looked all over the box for something, anything, and saw that on the front, these are clearly labeled as "Maple Leaf Cookies" with "cream" filling. Well, I'm not sure if the side of the box was printed in Quebec or something, because it refers to the product as "Maple Creme Cookies" with "creme" filling. C'mon now, you couldn't expect to blow that past me like a Gretzky slapshot, could ya, Trader Joe? That's yet some more silly packaging from you. Gotta love it.

Sandy insists we've had them before, but I don't remember that at all. They really do deliver for a sweet, maple-y, sugary treat, but for Sandy and me at least, we have to begrudgingly hold ourselves to one, and that makes it harder to enjoy them, and so we may not spend our loonies and toonies on them for a bit again ($3.29 American for the box). Me forgetting about allegedly buying them before must have been a psychological defense mechanism, kinda like what kicks in whenever I hear Celine Dion and remember I saw "Titanic" three times in the theaters. Ugh. Sandy's divided between a 3 and a 3.5 for these, as am I.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, November 7, 2011

Trader Joe's Organic Tortilla Longboard Chips and Organic Tomatillo & Roasted Yellow Chile Salsa

Ok, so I'll admit it. I was kinda tempted to look up some surfer lingo for reviewing the Organic Tortilla Longboard Chips to drop in and make myself sound cool or something. Thing is, Sandy and I aren't even close into fitting into the surfer crowd, and me trying to sound like I do would, like, totally sound bogus or something. Busted, man.* All it took was a couple short hours at Huntingdon Beach in California on our September vacation to confirm that, during which time due to a sunscreen spray snafu I ended up with a second degree sunburn on my back. Unrighteous, dude. But I guess that's just the price I pay for my pale ginger beauty. Sunburns at night are a real thing and those who suffer from them shouldn't be mocked.

Okay, I made that up. It's better than me trying to make up too many other surfing similes while trying to review a bag of chips and jar of salsa. Other than being shaped vaguely like surfboards, there's no relation I can make from these chips to surfing at all. I can't even say that Sandy and I channel surf while munching on these, because we decided to not have cable and any shows we watch (currently "Law & Order: SVU" and "Phineas & Ferb" ... interesting combo...) we stream from Netflix via our Wii. I thought couchsurfing might be a term, and it is, but not what I thought it was (although fortunately a work-safe link to click).

So yeah, anyways, the tortilla chips. Pretty decent, actually. They're long, flattish ovals (hence the "longboard") made from stone-ground white corn and lightly salted. There's not much to them tastewise, of course, which isn't a bad thing. They're really not too much different from a typical crunchy, salty, fried, tortilla chip aside from two things: 1. They're organic and 2. The shape. Somebody thought, apparently that these were an ideal shape for dipping, which I can see if you're going for the bottom half of a tall skinny jar of salsa or something. Dump your dip in a bowl, though, and it loses that advantage and makes it no more and no less than just a chip. They're all kinda wrinkled and crinkled a little differently, so I don't see what makes these so exceptional for dipping. Also, I'm not sure if it was directly because of its long slender shape, but there seemed to be an inordinate amount of busted-in-half tortilla chips in our bag. The Tostito Tortilla Scoops seem to be the best for salsa-bearing capacity and capability, though I like the overall taste of the TJ tortillas better and appreciate that they're organic and lower sodium per serving (as if we can stick to those, unfortunately). For a bag of chips in the $2-$2.49 range, they won't change your life or anything, but chances are you won't be too displeased.

And of course, a good tortilla chip needs a good salsa. I could make a joke about TJ's Organic Tomatillo & Roasted Yellow Chile Salsa bringing in a "tidal wave of taste" bringing in a "flavor wipeout" or something, but nah. What I will say is, darn good salsa. Let's see, first ingredient is tomatoes, which are generally red, tomatillos, which are green, and yellow chiles, which my sources tell me are, in fact, yellow. Add them all up with some onions and other stuff like garlic and cilantro, and it makes the greenish reddish brownish jar of tastiness. Everything seems fairly well pureed so it lacks any big chunks, much to Sandy's delight, and goes down easy. The tomatillos, which salsa verde is made from, adds some mild depth to the flavor while the yellow chile adds some roastedness and a kind of sweetness. It's far from being a spicy salsa, but it seems to me to be one of the most flavorful of the Trader Joe salsas, and for once not in a nasty overly vinegary kinda way. It's so good I can eat it by the spoonful, and I'm already envisioning using it in some of our soup recipes which call for a jar of salsa. We made some tortilla soup a week or so ago that I put just plain salsa verde, and that lacked a requisite snap. This salsa won't have that problem. I just went shopping again yesterday and have already made it a repeat purchase. For $2.29, it'd be hardpressed to be beat, although a little more spice would make it absolutely killer.

Sandy and I ate quite a bit of the chips and salsa few nights ago while relaxing, and this was a definite winning combination for the both of us. Neither one of us have anything too bad to say about the chips, nothing overly affirmative either except hey, they're organic, so they must be good for you or something. Or at least better, so we can feel less guilty while chowing down. I think we settled on matching 3.5s for the surf-inspired longboard chips. The salsa? Sandy's judgement: "Mmmmm it's sooooo goooooood...let's eat more tonight!!!!" That translates to a four. My call is, I really like it, quite a bit, actually, but wish it ended on a slightly less sweet/spicier note. Really, just a tidbit more spice, and we got ourselves a pantheon candidate here. As is, I'll give it a 4.5 just to taunt it a little bit.

Bottom lines:
Trader Joe's Organic Tortilla Longboard Chips: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Trader Joe's Organic Tomatillo & Roasted Yellow Chile Salsa: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
-----------------------------------------------------------------
*See what I mean?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Soufflés

I actually wrote the bulk of my previous post (about the peanut butter oat bars) in a little journal while riding on the train home from work. For some reason, it felt like I had written a novel, and yet, when I transcribed it into this blog, the post actually turned out significantly shorter than my average post. I had completely forgotten how tedious writing by hand can be. I guess some might say how cathartic and therapeutic it is, but really, I do much prefer typing on a keyboard. (I'm writing this entry by hand right now, and my wrist is already tired and sore after one measly paragraph). Thank goodness for modern conveniences. It's so easy to take them for granted. But anyway, I imagine you're interested in the soufflés...

Prior to this blog post, I'm not sure if I could have told you precisely what a "soufflé" is. Something sort of puffy came to mind when I heard the word, but I don't think I knew what it was made of or what it tasted like or anything. I suppose not knowing the properties of a traditional soufflé gave me somewhat of a disadvantage when it came to comparing and contrasting a pumpkin soufflé with a usual one. But that's not really the point, as I am a foodie-hack that knows what he likes and what he doesn't like and that's pretty much what this blog is all about, take it or leave it.

Here's what I found about souffles from a quick Google search:

souf fle /ˈso͞ofəl/
Noun: A low murmuring or blowing sound heard through a stethoscope.

Wow! Pumpkin indeed must have transformed these strange murmurs into something different entirely. These souffles are more like oven pastries than blowing sounds within the body (though they may create such noises after consumption). Ah, but silly me—these are soufflés, not souffles. The accent over the "e" makes all the difference, even if it does slow down my typing, hitting "alt+0233" every time I type the word "soufflé." It's still much faster than writing by hand, so I won't complain about the alt commands...at least not until there's some kind of app that reads your mind every time you want to type a letter with an accent as opposed to the organic, non-accented version.

But seriously though, apparently, a soufflé is a cupcake-like pastry of sorts that puffs up while you bake it and then deflates like a cheap children's jumping castle at a frat party once you take it out of the oven. The box recommends baking these in cupcake pans for 25 minutes. We didn't have cupcake pans, so we baked them on a regular baking tray. They took 40 minutes for us—perhaps for want of the proper culinary tools. And they were still very squishy in the middle. But I rather enjoyed them that way. Sort of like warm bread pudding, texture-wise. They tasted like pumpkin pie filling. Which, unless you're like my friend who, on the subject of pumpkin pie, once said, "Um, yeah, like, I'm not big on vegetables as desserts," is a fairly good flavor.

My big complaint with the Pilgrim Joe's Pumpkin Ice Cream was that it tasted like pumpkin pie, but lacked the duality of textures featured in pumpkin pie: bread and puddingy filling. Well, this product was sorta like a combo of both of those textures, more greatly resembling the former on the outside, where it was cooked better, and more greatly resembling the latter on the inside, where it was slightly more raw. So, if you can get something to taste like pumpkin pie and have a bit of complexity in the texture department, it's a winner in my book. I give it 4 stars.

My score might have been slightly lower, but my wife enjoyed neither the texture nor the flavor of these. Not exactly sure why. She said she just didn't like them. She shafted them with a paltry 2 stars. That's just too low. These shouldn't be lower than a 6 overall. And that's exactly what they shall be.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10 stars.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Trader Joe's Italian Roast

Y'know, Trader Joe's has had some odd names and silly packaging for some of their products before, but this one...this might be the most out there in a way. First, the name. If you weren't giving it much thought, or were completely ignorant of what section of the store you were in, and just saw a can labelled "Trader Joe's Italian Roast," well, isn't it conceivable it could cross your mind that this is a big o' can of tasty tender savory meat? Okay, probably not, but it's coffee, why not put it in the name? It'd be kinda like naming something "Honey Nuts" without an "O" in the title to tip you off it's cereal. Then there's the design on the canister. My picture cannot fully encompass the absurdity of it, but take a gander at it next time you're at TJ's. From left to right, you got Edward and Bella of "Twilight" fame pictures. Bella, of course, has kinda spacey, lost-in-the-sparkly-dreaminess-of-Edward gaze upon her face. Meanwhile, Edward has an arm growing out of the back of his head that's pouring a lady with a honky-tonk badonkadonk in a red dress a cup of coffee, while simultaneously apparently thrusting his spittle on a disproportionately huge steaming mug, served by a dude with a funny shaped head, skeevy 'stache, gigantor arms, and strong-as-all-heck fingertips. If that's not enough, there's the Tower of Pisa, the Red Baron flying by, and some chick who kinda looks like Mona Lisa sipping a cartoon drink through a straw. If you're a fan of bad puns, in the product write-up, there's a reminder that this'll make you a cup of guiseppe because it's Italian. Get it? Har-de-har-har. That's pretty lame.

Know what isn't lame though? A good full cup of this dark roasted coffee. I usually brew my own coffee at work with a French press (much to the continual amazement of my coworkers) and recently I felt the need to switch from my usual go-to get-up-and-go. I'm glad France and Italy got over any hard feelings from the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis a few years back and managed to combine efforts to make this kind of caffeinated beverage possible. For me, a good cup of coffee is strong, vibrant, with a little character, and it sure as heck shouldn't taste burnt. That's pretty much this. There's three types of beans (Costa Rican Tarrazu, Colombian Excelso, New Guinea Koban, if you're a coffee bean buff) which have much more flavor than, say, Sanka or whatever brown mulch my work uses for coffee. Each cup I've had of this has tasted well-balanced yet bold, and rich and well-flavored enough that I can usually get away without putting any sugar in it and only a sparse amount of cream. Not that's it's sweet or anything, because it's not. It's just good, kinda earthy, kinda nutty, and has more than enough caffeine to put me in a good mood for the day without buzzing like a banshee.

I've brought this home on the weekend for Sandy and I to enjoy...well, enjoy's too strong a word for her. Tolerate? Maybe. Sandy just doesn't like her coffee tasting like, well, coffee, and has to have all sorts of flavor shots and loads of sugar a la Dunkin Donuts to really like her coffee. Eh, I enjoy that stuff, too. "It's just too dark for me," she says, "although not burn-y. That's good." She's going through more of a green tea/steamed milk/hot chocolate kick right now anyways, so that may contribute slightly to her non-enthusiasm. We had a couple over for brunch the other weekend where we served this, and it was a definitely hit for me and the other guy ("wow," he said), so apparently it's all dependent on your preference. To be honest, I don't recall the exact price of this, but I think the can runs somewhere in the $6-$7 range, which isn't bad at all. I still like the chicory-laced brew a tad better, which I gave a four, so I think I'll go 3.5 here. Not a bad change-up, and it'll definitely make my work-coffee rotation. Sandy? For the aforementioned reasons, she's slapping it with a 2.5.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons