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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Trader Ming's Stir Fried Vegetable Rolls

I really wish I read food labels a little more carefully. In fact, there should be more of them. A lot more of them. GMO free? Organic? Fair trade? No antibiotics? Slap it on the label. Conversely, if it's some good ol' ammonium-washed beef or full of wood chips or even worse, straight from the gates of Monsanto, let me know about that, too. I think all of that should be mandatory. Let me know what exactly what I am buying to make an informed purchase. There shouldn't be a controversy about these kinda things.

Although, to be honest, I'd still probably screw things up and buy something I really shouldn't have. Like these Trader Ming's Stir Fried Vegetable Rolls. See, I snatched them on a solo trip, and my eyes inserted the word "egg" before "rolls" and missed the vegan V. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but had I noticed that, I would have turned the package over to read the ingredients to see what all was wrapped up in lieu of the typical egg roll ingredients, would have noticed the word "mushrooms", recalled that my wife absolutely detests all thing fungi, and would have moved on to a different dinner option. But that's not what happened, and all of that didn't dawn on me until about 10:30 at night when I snapped these awful pictures of them after a long day of cubicle jockeying, baby wrestling/juggling and house-working. I kept all that to myself, though, in hopes that if these were good enough as they were, with all the other stuff included, maybe, just maybe, Sandy wouldn't notice. Dinner could conceivably be salvageable if my man Trader Ming could come through as he almost always does.

Welllll....that would be a no. I baked all five rolls in the oven for just over half an hour, so a little past their recommended bake time of about 25 minutes. These needed more time, as while the wrappers were mostly crunchy and crispy and pretty tasty (dead ringer for crunchy lo mein noodles), all the wrapper parts that were touching the baking sheet were soggy and drippy and kinda nasty. That's even with turning them. And for Sandy, the wrapper was pretty much the highlight. One bite in and she grimaced. "Ugh! Nothing but mushrooms!" she said as she dumped out all the innards. Indeed, the insides were pretty much mushrooms and bean sprouts with a couple tofu tidbits all kinda mushed together in some grayish soy saucy substance. For some reason, the TJ Indian Hot Pockets (not their real name) came to mind, not because these rolls and those pouches were overly similar in taste, but because of the nondescript disappointing filling. Even at about 11 at night, when dead tired and hungry enough to consider eating my own shoe with enough hot sauce on hand, they were a major downer.

Must be that I'm a little too opposed to wasting food, as I ate two rolls that night, plus took two for lunch the next day, and ate them despite the rest of the wrapper getting all sogged up, thereby losing the best thing they had going for them. At least Il know not to drop my $3.99 on them again, as I can ensure these will not be a repeat purchase. Sandy's a little more adamant about that - when I mentioned I'd be writing this review, she just made what would be instantly and internationally recognized as a "barf face", made some sort of corresponding sound, and shuddered. And somehow that translates to a one, which must mean she really liked the few crispy bites of just wrapper she had. For me, these no-ovo-uh-ohs shouldn't have been the near disaster they were, but I'll go with a two.

Bottom line: Trader Ming's Stir Fried Vegetable Rolls: 3 out of 10 Golden Spoons      

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Trader Joe's Coconut Oil Spray

Since it has long been established that Russ and I are "foodie-hacks," and since there has been a precedent set for a "celebrity guest reviewer" to show up in a post or two, I decided it was high time we found someone respectable enough for the title of "full-fledged foodie" to co-score an item here on our illustrious blog.

Not only the Director of Community at Consmr, she's also the co-founder of Philly's own Federal Donuts and a food writer for numerous publications even more impressive than this blog...please welcome Felicia D'Ambrosio!

At her suggestion, we're taking a look at this coconut-based cooking oil from TJ's. It was cheap, a little under $3 at my local store. It has delicious-looking coconuts on the packaging that make the product look like it could quite possibly be used as an ice cream topping as well as a cooking spray. (I found out the hard way that it should NOT be used as an ice cream topping).

But it does have a slight hint of coconut flavor if you ask me. Felicia found it to be "neutral in flavor," adding, "I haven't noticed much coconut in finished foods, since you are using so little in each spray."

I think she was hinting that if I'm tasting any coconut, that I'm probably using too much. But in true foodie-hack fashion, I slathered the pan with a generous coating of coconut oil, and at least with the first item I made, a stir fry, I could have sworn I tasted just a hint of coconut. The can does mention that it's "mild flavored," and after squirting some directly into my mouth, I did confirm that there is a subtle hint of coconut there. Granted, it's so subtle that spraying the product into your mouth is not a particularly pleasant experience, and it follows that any normal amount of the oil should probably not be tasted in your finished food. When I baked these crab cakes in the oven, I no longer detected any coconut.

But the taste of this product (or lack thereof) isn't the reason for using it. Felicia used it to make veggie burgers, steaks, and she raved about its non-stick properties in regards to baking. She recommends it for its "high heat tolerance on the grill and for baking as a healthier alternative to products like Pam." I did raise an eyebrow when I saw the words "propellant (no chlorofluorocarbons)" on the ingredients list. It's great to know the ozone's safe, but will we be safe? Apparently propellant is in most aerosol-style cooking sprays, so it's probably something that can't easily be avoided. 

But anyway, we were both impressed that actual coconut oil could be used as a replacement for traditional kitchen cooking sprays. Again, Trader Joe's appears to be ahead of the curve in terms of culinary innovation. There are other "health food" brands that make similar products, but they tend to be significantly more expensive than $3 a can. Felicia asks, "How long until big food companies pick up on this coconut cooking spray idea?" 


They're too busy finding new ways to kill us slowly, Felicia.


Ms. D'Ambrosio gives this product 5 out of 5 stars. I'll give it 4.5, docking half a star because part of me still wants it to taste more like coconut.


Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Trader Joe's Druid Circles

If you went back far enough on my pasty, pale, Anglo-Saxon family tree, like, thousands of years, you would undoubtedly uncover a Druid or two among my ancestors. I've often wondered about their mysterious culture, their pagan celebrations, and their early knowledge of astronomy. Apparently they kicked it oldschool, pranced around Stonehenge gaily, burned wicker effigies, and sacrificed their brethren to Celtic gods, all the while snacking on tasty oatmeal cookies.

While I shall refrain from most of the former activities, I shall happily engage in the latter, because these are some of the best pre-packaged oatmeal cookies I've ever had. They're very moist, they're full of raisins and walnuts, and they fill my mouth with joy. The cookies actually taste like brown sugar, yet the flavors of the grains come through as well. They come in a little bag similar to that of the Sutter's Formula Cookies, and it's got tape that allows you to reseal it repeatedly, although toward the end of the bag, the stickiness kinda wears off.

The cookies taste surprisingly fresh. And not only is the cookie dough part soft and moist, but the raisins themselves taste and feel like they're straight out of a Sunmaid box.

They've got a nice little chunk of your daily fat and saturated fat, especially considering a "serving size" is one cookie. One cookie? This is the part of the blog post where TJ's makes me feel like I have some kind of revolting overeating habit because I had three cookies with my meal—and 45% of my RDA for saturated fat.

Oh well, there's always a catch. Cookies this good can't be good for you. They might have gotten double 5's had we not looked at the nutrition information. As it stands, Sonia and I will each give them 4 stars.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Trader Joe's Wheat Free Toaster Waffles

One of the best parts of daddyhood is watching my daughter experience so much of the world for the first time. Heck, sometimes even for the tenth time, it's pretty entertaining. And I'm not even necessarily talking about big, exciting things. It's about the simple stuff, like sitting and playing with some toys, or even just in the grass, or pushing her in the swing. One of our favorite things is each time we go to Target, Sandy and I will have her sit "like a big girl" in the cart and when there's enough space to do so, I'll push her out maybe 5 or 10 feet then run up to catch her. She cracks the biggest smile and giggles every time, like there's nothing else she'd rather be doing in the whole world than goofing off with her daddy as we go get our paper towels. diapers, light bulbs, and perhaps some Archer Farms goodness for dinner. I love that girl, and I'm pretty sure she loves me, too.

If there's one thing I can say without a doubt that she loves, it's got to be toaster waffles. This review is nominally about the Trader Joe's Wheat Free Toaster Waffles, but really, this could be about the multigrain or blueberry variety that are available locally as well. She just happened to pick this box when Sandy and I presented all the options to her our last trip. It's usually too crowded to do our cart tomfoolery there.

For Sandy and I, who nibble on 'em as we feed the waffles to her, they're pretty much like any other freezer waffle. Really, there's not all that much too special about these gridded goodies. But I do like how after a few minutes in the toaster, they consistently get crispy on the inside, and soft and warm on the inside. They make a decent enough little bite whether plain or with perhaps some preserves or maple syrup or peanut butter on them. The gluten-free type is actually pretty good, and tastes a lot like a "regular waffles," and you can't always say that about products and their gluten-free counterparts. Overall, though,, there's not a single thing I can say about the TJ waffles that differentiate them from the ubiquitous Eggo waffles. In fact, I wouldn't be one bit surprised if Eggo made these, and slapped the "Product of Canada" verbiage and failed to mention both the gluten-free and multigrain varieties on their official site just to try and throw me off the scent a little, because heaven forbid if anyone knows who actually makes TJ's-branded products. It's like the world's axis would get tilted a few more degrees or something if we did.

Going back to the waffles, introspectively, the point of this review isn't really to review the waffles, but just to tell you about my baby daughter who loves them so. I refrain most other times from blabbering on about her, so this one time, just deal. So let's talk about her again. She loooooves them. I think if she could eat nothing but waffles and peas and have a little mama milk, she'd be the happiest baby ever. You see how her face lights up and little chubby legs kick in excitement when I get them out of the freezer - it's like she thinks she just hit the mealtime Powerball or something. Yeah, I make a little show of it, from shaking them in the box to wooshing and swooshing one in the air after being toasted to col it down to a baby-okay temp, but once she gets her lil' grubby grippers on them, it's over. I used to be a lot more concerned about tearing them up into little bits, but now she'll just grab a section and double-fist mash it on down. Doesn't matter that she doesn't have teeth yet, she can down an entire one. I asked her for her input, and she said "Ah da bla bla da wa da ahhhh." Interpret that as you will, but I'm sure it's glowingly positive, and so I'm inclined to hold them in much higher regard than I would otherwise.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Wheat Free Toaster Waffles: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons        

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Trader Joe's 12 Macarons à la parisienne

It seems there's a current marketing trend that involves vanilla and chocolate items together in the same package, like: TJ's Coconut Macaroons, Archer Farms Cake Balls, and now, these happy little French "macarons." Perhaps they're making a statement about peace among diverse peoples. Like Seinfeld's Black & White Cookie, maybe they're "two races of flavor living side by side in harmony."

However, I'm going to cut that metaphor off right there, for fear of being labeled a vanilla supremacist. Because Sonia (who is not white, by the way) and I both agree that the vanilla macaroons in this box were better than the chocolate ones. Like waaay better.

Sonia, who is inclined to like chocolate more than vanilla under normal circumstances, pointed it out first: the chocolate macaroons' texture was weird. We gave them plenty of time to thaw. We even left one out for an extra half hour at room temperature. Still weird.

They tasted ok. But the chocolate creme centers were chewy. Sonia, who is full-blooded Zapotec Native Mexican-American Indian Hispanic and most definitely not Caucasian, noticed it too. By contrast, the vanilla ones melted in our mouths the same way the Pumpkin Macarons did. The vanilla ones were light, soft, fluffy, and tasted like sweet clouds straight out of heaven.

This guy's a macaroon bigot!
I'm not I swear. Though I am rethinking that racial metaphor at the top of this post.

But try as I may, I just didn't like the chocolate ones. I feel like I'm being generous giving them 3 stars out of 5. Sonia gives them 3.5. Which is still pretty low for her. So the chocolate ones would get a score of 6.5 just by themselves.

The vanilla ones were amazing, though. I feel guilty putting it that way. They just were. Even though Sonia doesn't even like most white people, er, vanilla products, they get 4.5 stars from her. I'll match her score on this one, giving them a rating of 9 by themselves. And we'll average the two scores for our final:

Bottom line: 7.75 out of 10.
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Fun facts about the author:
-Ancestors on both sides of his family fought for the Union in the Civil War.
-He lives with his non-white wife in a highly racially-integrated suburb right outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Trader Joe's Spicy Thai Shrimp Fried Rice

Admittedly, Sandy and I are on a dinner time slump of sorts. We used to cook an actual "real dinner" almost every night, as opposed to our current habit of ripping open a box or bag and heating whatever's inside. Used to be that on "lazy nights" I'd end up making us some fried rice of some sort, using whatever we had around. These days, even that sounds like a bit of an undertaking. There's many reasons why I guess - tiredness from workday, the baby needing attention, the house needing to be cleaned and prepped for putting it on the market - but man, I at least miss actual cooking, but the allure of something quick and easy, with one less mess to clean up is pretty tempting these days. I'm hoping this will change as things hopefully begin to slow down, more veggies get in season, and the farmer's market/CSA season gets into swing.*

But until then, we still need to eat. Trader Joe's Spicy Thai Shrimp Fried Rice was a pretty natural pick up. Pretty much every word in its name is a buzzword that once my eyes see them, I'm instantly interested in whatever it is. It's like naming something Dinosaur Baseball Bikini Beer or Sleeping Baby Couch Netflix White Russian - there's too many good sounding things about it that I gots to see what it is.  I'm just glad that this name at least makes sense.

This dish isn't a terrible pick up. On some levels, the fried rice is a pretty straightforward, fairly typical variety one might expect from the freezer section. Typical veggies, typical spices, typical shortage of shrimp, and so on. But there's one or two extra things done right that help kick it up a notch. The teenyThai lime leaves scattered about make a great, flavorful extra touch that I wasn't fully anticipating, even though I've become reacquainted with them recently thanks to these catchy cashews. Also, while the rice and other contents maintain an adequate level of spice that'd be accessible to most folks, the sliced red chiles actually kick things up several notches in the heat department. If you like heat, head for them; if not, avoid them, and the rest of your dinner should be unscathed. And thankfully, TJ's has kept up its track record of of having only fresh, firm, delectable shrimpies included, which is not the norm I've experienced at other chains. 

That's not to say it's a perfect dish. According to the label, this is a four serving bag. I ensure you it is not. Sandy and I, who have been watching our portion sizes, were easily able to polish it off without much trouble in one sitting. Need more evidence? There were only seven shrimp in the bag. Tell me how four people split seven shrimp. If you need to feed a crowd bigger than two, I'd say get an extra bag, or at least add some extra protein like some eggs or cashews. I for one am glad that frozen egg bits were not included, unlike other shrimp fried rice offerings in the past.

Other than that, this particular iteration made a decent enough dinner. Grab some spring rolls and you can make a reasonable approximation of a Thai dinner out at a fraction of the cost. I misplaced the receipt, but this cost about four bucks if I remember right. Seriously, only about a small handful of shrimp keep this away from a much higher score. Also, if this didn't give poor Sandy a little bit of heartburn after the fact. I told you to give me those chilis, love, because you're hot enough the way you are, and you just had to roll your eyes. Tsktsk. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Spicy Thai Shrimp Fried Rice: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons   

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* Sandy and I are jumping aboard the CSA bandwagon this year, and quite honetly, I'm frightened about it. The reason can be summed up in one word: kohlrabi. Never had one, have no idea what to do with it, and it reminds me of the veggies from Super Mario 2 that you throw at the bad guys. When's the last time you saw a Shy Guy riding an Ostro around in real life? Thought so. So what the heck am I supposed to do with it? We'll see.....

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Trader Giotto's Eggplant Parmesan

I am a fan of eggplant. And the Rodgers have had pretty decent luck with Trader Joe's eggplant products in the past, although the Shellys haven't been quite as fortunate. Plus, I recently reviewed a surprisingly good eggplant parm pizza that I highly recommend. Furthermore, I had heard quite a bit of buzz about this particular dish by Joe's cousin from the old country, Giotto. So my expectations were very high.

Which is probably why I found it so disappointing.

Before I begin complaining, I should point out that TJ's offerings often vary from region to region, and even package to package in some cases. So it's always possible that we got a bad batch. So we'd love to hear your experience with this product in the comments below. Keep in mind, we're very tough graders, and we've made it our mission to be critical of all aspects of Trader Joe's usually-incredible foods.

The cheese and tomato sauce were on par with what I'd expect, though they certainly didn't go above and beyond my expectations. They tasted like run-of-the-mill mozzarella and very-recently-frozen, somewhat-watery tomato sauce. They both lacked zest. They both lacked that special something that would have set them apart from other frozen parmesan dishes.

But the eggplant was the most disappointing part of the meal. It tasted like eggplant, but it was extraordinarily chewy. I cooked the dish for exactly the amount of time called for on the instructions, and I even overcame the urge to yank it out of the microwave immediately and let it sit for 2 minutes, as prescribed. The rubberiness of the bulk of the eggplant slabs wasn't the worst part. The worst part was the skin around each piece. I understand the skin contains a lot of vitamins and minerals, but it was stringy, tough, and difficult to chew. What would have been a moderately pleasant meal turned into a rigorous set of jaw exercises.

I'm sure someone wiser than myself took the time to scour the back of the package and discovered that there are, in fact, instructions for heating in a conventional oven and got much better results, but I honestly didn't see them at first. Usually, if a non-microwave option is listed, I'll do it that way. In this case, I missed them because they're crammed right up against the microwave instructions, to the ruin of my poor eggplant parmesan lunch.

I won't be too brutal with my scoring since I could have cooked this in the oven and didn't. 2.5 stars from me. While eating the dish, Sonia said, "It makes my mouth tingle." Apparently not in a good way. She gives it 2 stars.

Bottom line: 4.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Trader Joe's Sutter's Formula Cookies


I've searched the interwebs high and low and everywhere in between and have come to this conclusion: I have no idea where the Trader Joe's Sutter's Formula Cookies get their name from. Absolutely none. There's not quite a lack of famous-ish folks with the last name Sutter. For instance, there's John Sutter, a prominent Californian at the time of the gold rush, and his son, creatively named John Jr, who was the founder of the city of Sacramento. Enough social studies there. There's the famous Sutter family tree in hockey, of course, and Bruce Sutter, who's not only a Hall of Fame relief pitcher fom the '70s and '80s but also is my personal facial hair role model. Other than that, I haven't stumbled across any scientists or mathematicians named Sutter, and certainly not anything relating to any formula. Uncharacteristically, the packaging offers no hints either, so I'll just presume that these cookies were partially inspired by all the aforementioned Sutters, thus giving me an excuse to stealthily sneak as many bad puns into the next paragraph or so as I can. See how many you can sift out.

All you really need to know about these cookies is, if you like that constantly irresistible combo of chocolate and peanut butter, you'll want to make a bee-line for these. These are treats worthy of a king. Unlike a lot of "fresh-baked" sugar pucks masquerading as cookies from other grocery stores with the onsite bakeries, these Sutter cookies maintain their freshness and composure for days after opening. They're soft and crumbly yet chewy and satisfying - what a great prospect. Even when your teeth hit one of the big ol' mlk chocolate nuggets, it won't throw you for a curve. Flavorwise, these cookies are a big ol' slapshot to the tastebuds. The peanut butter flavor is impeccably rich and hardhitting, and while dark chocolate has surpassed milk chocolate in my mind, in this instance it's not a strike. I believe there was a sign at TJ's stating these were fresh-baked and delivered every day, which might be part of the sales pitch, but I'd say it pans out.  Watch out or you'll get hooked.


Oh goodness, let's get some relief from that. Sandy and I loved every single one of these cookies we ate. I cannot think of a single argument against them. Yes, they're full of sugar and fat and calories and all sorts of general unhealthiness, but it's a cookie, and one more than worth the indulgence at that. If you feel guilty about eating one of these, go eat some kale or something afterwards and tell yourself it evens out.  Sandy and I aren't going to buy them every time we go, but I promise you, the thought will cross our minds. "I really really really like them," Sandy said. "They're soft, they're chewy, they're peanut-buttery....what more can a girl want?" Well, only one of those adjectives readily describes me....I digress. These confections are near perfection. Our score says it all.



Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sutter Formula Cookies: 9.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

 


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Trader Joe's Reduced Guilt Filet of Sole

After a "reduced guilt" disappointment or two, and a Trader Joe's fishy failure or two, I was thinking this product might be a bit of a gamble.

But on a recommendation from one of our readers (Thanks shanaelyse), I decided it might be worth taking my chances. With a price tag under $3 at our local Trader Joe's, not much is lost if it isn't the best thing ever. And, to be fair, we've seen our share of tasty fish from TJ's: think Fish Nuggets, Cod Fillets [sic]*, and Mahi Mahi.

I went ahead and took the lazy route and microwaved the fish. It was extremely simple and involved poking holes in the plastic wrapping and pressing a few buttons on my magical radiation machine. The total heating time was 8 or 9 minutes, which isn't bad if you're cooking it at home, unless you have some serious patience issues, which is entirely feasible in this age of instant gratification. But the 8 or 9 minutes might glean you dirty looks from co-workers if you're heating this fish in a heavily-used office break room microwave. My point is that it's all relative. Even I can wait 9 minutes for tasty fish, and I'm one of the least-disciplined people I know.

And, incidentally, it was tasty. Surprisingly so. The fish was tender, moist, and only tasted mildly fishy. It flaked off the filet with the slightest touch of my fork. The flavor of the fish was delicate and light, and it let all of the other amazing flavors through. Though I was a fan of the fish, I must say that all of the other ingredients were even better.

The sauce was excellent. It was savory, flavorful, and matched perfectly with the taste of everything else in the dish. You can see there in the ingredients list it contains molasses and soy sauce. I've never had anything quite like it before. The butter beans were plump and delicious, and even the soggy spinach leaves were cooked to perfection and blended right in with each of the other elements.

This is one of the biggest pleasant surprises we've had from Trader Joe's in quite a while—at least compared to what we expected. And even though it's not quite Pantheon quality, it comes darn close in our opinion. 4.5 stars from Sonia, who was floored when she saw that this dish o' fish only contains 2 grams of fat. Same score from me.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.
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*I'm not sure why there's a discrepancy between TJ's spelling "fillet" with two "l's" when it's cod and only one "l" when it's sole. I just wanted you to know it's TJ's fault, not mine. I'm a good speller. It just seems like they should be consistent, right? Please reference this article for more info.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Trader Joe's Fruity O's

Yes, these are Trader Joe's Fruit Loops, for all intents and purposes. However, as one might have expected, TJ's left out the scary toxic neon colors, and the flavors come from actual fruits and vegetables. I guess they could have called them "Fruit and Vegetable O's" but that probably would have scared people off. I know I wouldn't have bought 'em.

The organic corn flour makes for one super-crunchy, roof-of-the-mouth-scratching "O." I'd say they're even firmer than actual Kellogg's Fruit Loops. And I've never been a fan of them for that reason. The taste of blood doesn't mix well with milk and cereal.

But for those of you with mouths of steel, this might be a decent breakfast treat for you. This cereal does accurately mimic the flavor of traditional fruit loops, although it's much less sugary and somewhat understated in comparison.

I really used to like the crazy neon milk left over from a bowl of Fruit Loops. The milk barely changes color at all with Trader Joe's version. Likewise, when you pick up the bowl to sip the milk right out of it, it actually tastes like milk rather than a melted milkshake dessert. But I guess that's a sign that it's healthy.

At nearly 34 years old, I suppose I should change my priorities and steer clear of the whole "asking for diabetes" thing and drinking carcinogenic dyes from a cereal bowl. I grew out of Saturday morning cartoons recently, but that's only because the ones they show now suck compared to the stuff we grew up with in the 80's.

Sonia has always been a bigger fan of fruit loops than I have, so I expected her to rave about these things, but she gave a lackluster reaction and shrugged her shoulders when she tried them. However, they kind of grew on her by the end of the bowl, and she settled on a dignified 3.5 star score.

Overall, this cereal's not bad. But if you want a few recommendations for cereals that really wowed us, check out our reviews of Organic Mango Passion Granola and Maple Brown Sugar Mini Wheats.

I give the Fruity O's 3 stars.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Trader Joe's Battered Fish Nuggets


Right in the basement below Sandy's job, there's the college campus greasy spoon/student hang out cafe. Every day when I pick her and Baby M up to go home, I must get there right at the time when they're venting out all the deep fryers or something, because man, that tasty greasy aroma just spills out over the whole parking lot and sneaks right up my sniffer. Most of the time, I'll admit it, it smells gooooood, to the point that Sandy and I comment about it at some length as we're packing up the Tucson. You don't have to sell me on the horrors of greasy fast food - I've seen firsthand what it does to my body, and I've worked at McDonald's and gagged near enough grease buckets to know how foul it is behind the scenes -but man, that good greasy aroma? It must hit whatever evolutionary triggers I have left that beckon me towards fat and calories and comfort and whatever else for self-preservation (even though, ironically, it has quite the opposite effect these days).

Fortunately, I can avoid the grease pretty well these days. It's a work in progress, admittedly, but the results so far have been fantastic (about 30 pounds lost this year!). But also fortunately, when the mood hits and I need me a fix, there's good, relatively healthy/not-as-bad options like Trader Joe's Battered Fish Nuggets out there.

These are not your high school cafe's fish squares. I absolutely love the fact that I can bake these in the oven (admittedly, after spraying the sheet with a little PAM, like the directions say to), but they taste like they're straight from the fryer basket. The batter is the thick kind that as it bakes it crisps all up while keeping the middles perfect. A few extra minutes in the oven, and the nugget batter gets even a little extra crunchy. Most importantly, they taste and even feel a little greasy, but the nuggets really aren't all that much. It's a fishy fake out that fools me pretty well. The pesce piece itself is a pretty typical white fish, pollock, which tastes clean and not too fishy, which is appreciated. Even with the aforementioned extra bake time, the outcome was flaky, not-exactly-dry, not-exactly moist nugget innards. Delishy fishy indeed.

I just so happen to think they're darn near perfect. Condimentally speaking, I'm a hot sauce guy, which made a great accompaniment for the fish nuggets, and I can imagine they'd pair well with whatever your sauce of choice is. Plus, at $3.99 for the box, it's a decent value for two dinners for the wife and me. Sandy said she'll give 'em a four, and I'm disappointed she didn't say much else so I can poke some light fun at her as I usually do. Next time, I hope. I'll go 4.5.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Battered Fish Nuggets: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons