Hello. My name's Nathan, and I love Trader Joe's. My wife Sonia does too. She's a great shopper, has excellent taste and knows good value when she comes across it. As many of you know, Trader Joe's is unsurpassed in the world of good-value grocery stores, so we spend a lot of our time and money there. Although the store fairly consistently delivers great taste with its own unique line of food products, there are definitely some big-hits, and unfortunately, there are some misses...

After doing a couple of internet searches for reviews of TJ's food items, Sonia discerned an apparent dearth of good, quality reviews for the store's offerings. So, at her suggestion, we decided to embark on a journey of systematically reviewing every Trader Joe's product, resulting in the blog you are about to read...

A couple of months into our Trader Joe's rating adventure, an old college friend, Russ, who unbeknownst to me had been following our TJ's blog, decided that I had been slacking in my blogging duties (which, of course, I was) so he decided to contribute his own original TJ's reviews to the blog, thus enhancing it, making it more complete and adding to it a flavor of his own. He and his wife Sandy are also avid TJ's fans and, as you will soon discover, he is an excellent writer and is nearly as clever, witty and humble as I am.

Seriously though, Russ: You go, boy!

So here it is: "What's Good at Trader Joe's?"

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Friday, March 29, 2013

Trader Joe's Garlic Fries

I have random pictures on my iPhone. Take, for instance, this lovely looking picture of Trader Joe's Garlic Fries. I don't remember taking it. It might have been a few weeks ago when we had them last. It might have been any one of the several times Sandy and I munched down on them over the past couple years. About a year ago at this time, we were eating a lot of fries. Pregnancy and sympathy can certainly do that. While we favored the sweet potato frites, these were a common-enough pick up...I think her watching the Twilight movies and her strong desire to not  have a vampire baby might have had something to do with that. Eh well. Stumbling across the picture was a little bit of providence, as our latest trip to TJ's produced much of the same staples as usual without much of anything new to review, so here we go.

They're not bad. These fries are the type with a little extra batter on them to make them a little extra crispy and greasy even straight from the oven. They're also pretty generously cut. I approve of that. I'd recommend baking them a little longer to make sure they're a little extra crispy, because the garlic goop comes in a little pouch on the side that you swish your fries in a bowl once baked. That leaves the potential for a plateful of limp, very non-crispy fry. That's not good. That brings us to the garlic sauce...it's decidedly very garlicky. You've got to like roasted garlic to like these, because man, it's strong. We've used the whole pouch and have found that the "less is more" approach works better. Also, in retrospect, I wonder if drizzling the garlic oil on the fries then baking for an extra couple minutes might not be a bad approach to try and avoid the inevitability of a few less-than-perfunctory spuds. Anyone try that method?

That biggest gripe I have, though, is if you follow the instructions and pay attention to the labeling, you have to bake the whole bag at once (I guess because of the one pouch of oil), and that's seven servings. Maybe that works well for the seven dwarves, but for just me and the wifey (Baby M's still a bit too young), that's a lot. Granted, I think the serving sizes are small, because, um, well, we can eat the whole bag (not that we should, but we can). There's probably some sort of creative solution that doesn't involve reheating them, because that's gross.  Also, it'd be preferable if it involved not storing the excess oil in my fridge, because knowing us it'd end up going bad and making a nasty piece of Tupperware we'd fight over cleaning up (I always lose those).

To wrap it up, the Trader Joe's garlic fries aren't necessarily fantastic, but they're not terrible either. I'm "borrowing" the packaging picture from a veritable fry expert, French Fry Diary, and their review, while a bit more harsh than ours, isn't too far off the mark either. They're not bad, and they're worth the occasional pick-up, but not much more than that. Split our score as you see fit.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Garlic Fries: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Trader Joe's Organic Creamy Tomato Soup

A couple weeks ago, we reviewed Trader Joe's Organic Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Soup. In that post, I brooded sufficiently over TJ's discontinuation of their Organic Tomato Bisque, so I shan't do so any more in this post. But man, I really miss that bisque!

I should also point out that a reader mentioned in a comment that Trader Joe's English Cheddar with Caramelized Onions makes a brilliant companion for the aforementioned red pepper soup. I would think this creamy tomato soup would work well with it also. Or try dipping Piccolo Paninis in one of those tasty TJ's soups.

All that being said, I guess you're wondering what this soup is actually like...

Well, it's got the texture of typical creamy tomato soup. Think Campbell's. Or think TJ's Roasted Red Pepper Soup. 'Nuff said.

As for the taste, it's not as good as TJ's Tomato Bisque. But nothing is. Furthermore, Sonia and I both agree that the Roasted Red Pepper Soup has a bit more flavor and uniqueness than this product. But if you're a fan of just plain old, traditional, classic tomato soup, then check it out. It's organic, so that puts it one step ahead of Campbell's, and it doesn't contain anything nasty like high fructose corn syrup, so that puts it two full steps ahead of Campbell's right there. And it tastes like creamy tomato soup. Pure and simple.

I only use Campbell's as an example since it's the archetype for all American soups, the wrapper of which is worthy of Warholian pop-art. It is the standard by which other soups are often measured. That doesn't mean there aren't other brands of healthier tomato soups out there. Amy's comes to mind. And word on the street is that she offers a chunky tomato bisque, comparable to Trader Joe's...I'm'onna check that out!

All in all, we can't complain. But I usually reserve the really high scores for weird stuff with bells and whistles. 4 stars from Sonia. 3 stars from me.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Trader Joe's Piccolo Panini

So, I get why Sandy and I picked up the box of Trader Joe's Piccolo Panini a few nights ago. We were both in the mood for an easy dinner, and definitely not in the mood to go grocery shopping, yet we felt compelled by the power of our rumbly tummies and empty fridge. Normally, in this kinda situation, the veggie corn dogs and some Trader tots would be high on our list, but we've had that dinner a few times recently, and wanted something different. For whatever reason, this caught our eye, and for the $3.99 for a box of 16, we figured, why not. One can do much worse for a midweek dinner, I suppose.

But I don't exactly get the point of these overall. Now, I'm not that dumb. These are obviously meant more as a snacky hors d'ouevres than an actual dinner dish. I get that. But even in that regard, that kinda fall a little bit short. It's not that they taste terrible, because they don't. It's kinda of everything else.

For a few small bites, the preparation is kinda silly. You have to take them out of the package, let them thaw out for 20 to 25 minutes, bake them for about 15, then let them sit for a few before eating them, leaving a small window of time before they get cold and not as appetizing. Maybe that doesn't sound that bad. But let's talk about that, with the theoretical happenstance you're making these for a shindig at your house. Perhaps you're much different than my wife and I, but the last few minutes before any guests arrive, we're usually shoving plates, pots and random doodads into the dishwasher and tossing all of our dirty socks down to the basement and out of sight. There's not much time to be spared for panini prep time management, assuming we'd want these on the menu.

Plus, kinda the whole point of a panini, at least to me, is having a big ol' oversized sandwich. The piccolo squares are teeny little bites, maybe two midsized nibbles each square. It just doesn't have the same kind of satisfaction. Maybe that sounds like a silly thing to say, in light of the fact we purchased them, knowing what they are and their size and all, but while eating these, we just became that much more aware of that fact.

Buuuuttttt....they tasted okay enough. The bread got nice and reasonably toasted and crispy on the outside, and while the pesto and red pepper spread were nothing special, they weren't terrible by any means either. They made a good enough side dish for some orzo and peas. The panini bits even made a decent enough leftover lunch, even though the bread got noticeably chewier and denser overnight. But all in all, they're just very much in the middle - nothing that bad or too wonderful to say about them. Sandy's reaction summed it up about perfectly when I asked for her opinion: "Mmmmeeehhhhhhhh...". I interpret that as a three. Mark me down for that too.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Piccolo Panini: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Trader Joe's Crunchy Peanut Butter Granola Bars

For those of you who want the bottom line first, I'll just say that if you like Nature Valley Crunchy Peanut Butter Granola Bars, you'll like these.

For those of you who'd like me to entertain you for a couple of minutes, read on.

Ever notice how the Nature Valley commercials always show people eating those granola bars while sitting on a rock next to a crystal lake among pristine mountains and pine trees? The woman takes a bite, closes her eyes, and appears to climax for a moment. In reality, most people are eating these bars in their car on the way to work, and bursts of crumbs are popping off with every bite, soiling nice suits and business slacks, garnering curses with each crunch, causing near-accidents as drivers take their eyes off the road to swipe crumbs off of their laps and onto the floor mat. Drivers know they should just stop eating the bar and finish it in the parking lot, but they just taste so darn good that people can't stop. Yeah, well, these TJ's bars are the same kind of deal.

In the past, we were delighted with TJ's Fiberful Peanut Butter Bars. And the Peanut Butter Oat Bars were pretty tasty, too. Trader Joe has this peanut butter bar thing down pat. Especially when they're really just ripping off companies like Fiber One and Nature Valley. But hey, if it saves me a buck, I won't call you out on your unoriginality, Big Joe.

With two grams of fiber per bar, they're good for the digestive system, not to mention, quite filling too. And five grams of protein is nice for energy and stuff. All in all, a healthy, tasty snack. 3.5 stars from me. 4.5 stars from Sonia.


Bottom line: 8 out of 10

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Trader Joe's 100% Whole Wheat Everything Bagel Slims

Back in mid-November, I started a new job. The details of it are quite inconsequential, so I'll skip over them. The highlights: closer to home, less stress, better hours, and more pay. Tough to argue with that combination! Anyways, I split a double cubicle with a guy there who I've gotten to be decent enough buddies with. He's...interesting. I mean that in a good way. I genuinely like him. But like the rest of us, he's got his little things and minor hang ups. For him, it's his bagel. Every day I have eaten lunch with him (which has been most every day after my first week or two there), he's had an asiago cheese bagel (bought day-old and half price from an outstanding local bakery) sandwich with precisely the same amount of sliced lunch meat and cheese on it, with probably the same number of lettuce leaves and jalapeno slices. Every day, without fail. He's funny, too, because he obsesses over his bagels, to the point he claims he can drive by and spot when they're available on the halfprice rack and when they are not, and if they are, he will stop and buy every single one. I don't doubt him one bit.  

Anyways, my bagel of choice is usually an everything bagel. They're far from an everyday thing, but when given the opportunity, I'll bite. When we're shopping, Sandy is usually on the lookout for new and interesting carby creations to use for sandwiches and whatnot, and the sleeker and sexier, the better. She got really excited over some "pocket bread" she saw recently and got, while I tried my best to point out to her it was really just a pita. Not to her, though. "It's pocket bread!" I gave up. Fortunately, when those were gone, we both managed to spy the Trader Joe's 100% Whole Wheat Everything Bagel Slims, and needless to say, we were both on board. The pack of 8 cost something like $3.

 I completely neglected to take a picture of them, but they look about as exciting as they actually sound - round, slim, hole in the middle. You probably could've guessed all that. And you probably could have guessed what they taste like, too - whole wheat, onion, the usual seedy suspects. And further, you probably could have guessed that they resemble something much closer to a slice of bread with all that in it and on it, instead of an actual bagel. Yeah, these kinda are what they are, without too much surprise. They're not bad, but they don't blow me away either. Even when we toasted them up, they still lacked the bite that I knew they wouldn't have but wanted them to anyways, if that makes any sense. The way I figure it, if the Food Network can find all these chefs to make a dessert incorporating stuff like peanut butter, green tea leaves, duck eggs, and Cinnabon icing (or whatever), they should be to find someone with a useful skill like making an actual slim bagel, with the tough egg-brushed skin and chewy middles that an good bagel has, without all the Atkins-cringe-inducing carb crushload. Maybe that person is out there. Heck, maybe it's you. Get to work! 

All that being said...we'd buy them again. They matched every kind of sandwich we made wth them, from tofu parmesan to veggie masala burgers to egg and cheese. They're solid if not spectacular, perhaps an unsung hero in some ways. You need something to help hold your sandwich together, and these do an admirable enough job. Sandy made a satisfied Mmmmm when I asked for her score, so I knew she liked them, and she did, well enough to give them a four. That's a bit high in my book. Here's a 3.5 from me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's 100% Whole Wheat Everything Bagel Slims: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Monday, March 18, 2013

Trader Joe's Coconut Caramel Dark Chocolate Bar

Ah, that checkout counter at TJ's—the display is tailored to ensnare the strongest of men. And the strongest of women. Like my wife Sonia. She has an iron will.

She can place a chocolate bar on the counter in our kitchen and not touch it for weeks. And the thing is, she loves dark chocolate. She walks by it day after day, simply ignoring it. She manages to ignore all manner of goodies. Ice cream in the freezer. Butter cookies on the table. These incredible feats of self-discipline are routine for her.

Me? Not so much. I can usually muster up the willpower not to buy those tempting treats in the first place. But once they're in the kitchen, it's "game over." Sweets and treats in the house taunt me, break my concentration, crush my will, and leave me utterly defeated. Fat—and utterly defeated.

This chocolate bar was no exception to the rule. I knew from experience to expect deliciousness from Trader Joe's products featuring dark chocolate and caramel. In fact, TJ's seems to have mastered all of the dark arts—dark chocolate arts, that is: dark chocolate-covered fruit, dark chocolate-covered mints, dark chocolate-covered cookie butter. You name it, they've done it, and almost always have done it very well.

This bar follows in the footsteps of those other great products. If you're a fan of 70% cacao dark chocolate, caramel, and coconut, you will like this bar. The coconut adds a Mounds-esque tropical element to the confection, and it works pretty well. It looks like they're playing up that whole tropical theme on the wrapper with exotic flowers, flamingos, and such.

The sections of the bar are huge. Ideally, I would think they'd be a tad smaller. And yes, we included a pic of the product out of the wrapping. Just click here to see it.

The balance of flavors is good. The texture is pleasant, and the coconut makes everything a bit more interesting. They even threw some "black Hawaiian sea salt" in the mix. Even the salt has to stick with that tropical theme. Nice touch, TJ's. But I'm still pining for more white chocolate and milk chocolate options from that infamous Trader Joe's checkout display. I know, I know, it's not "good for you" like dark chocolate is, what with all the antioxidants and stuff. But let's go ahead and mix acai berries with white chocolate or something to add the goodness back in. Just an idea. But I guess they're on a roll with the dark chocolate caramel business. I can't really complain.

Sonia gives this candy bar 3.5 stars. I give it 4.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Trader Joe's Japanese Style Fried Rice

Apparently edamame and soybeans are the same thing. But I feel better eating "edamame" for some reason. Maybe it's because I always associate them with fine Japanese dining. I associate "soybeans" with Monsanto for some reason, and then I start thinking about genetically-engineered foods and biotechnology, and all that stuff just makes me grimace and not want to eat. Despite the fact that there's a good chance the edamame in this bag had something to do with Monsanto, I will remain willfully ignorant of such facts, and what I don't know won't hurt me.

In the past, we've seen our boy Trader Joe do good things with edamame. And of course, he's done good things with seaweed and tofu, too. So it's no surprise that the taste of this vegan, new age, frou frou hippie stuff is actually shockingly good. Although, we must point out that there wasn't really much tofu in this dish. We didn't see it. We didn't taste it. That doesn't mean it wasn't there. But if it was, there was barely a hint of it. Likewise, there are no chunks or sheets of seaweed, but rather just tiny little flecks of it everywhere. It was almost as if the seaweed was used as a seasoning rather than a main ingredient. But that's just fine with me, because it tasted great.

The edamame beans were plump, green, and happy. And there were lots of carrot slivers throughout the product. The overall texture was really nice. The flavor, though pleasant, was not very strong. To give everything a bit more kick, we added soy sauce and our favorite, Sriracha hot sauce. That made the dish really tasty. Have you noticed I'm on an italics kick lately? I've used italics in every paragraph so far. But that's neither here nor there.

If you want to watch Sonia and I try it for the first time and also get a glimpse of the prepared product outside of the packaging, just click here. Sonia gives this Japanese Fried Rice 4 stars, docking a point mainly for the lack of tofu.  I give it 3.5 stars.


Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Trader Joe's Meatless Meatballs

Alright, alright, let's get the obvious joke out of the way here. "If Trader Joe's makes a Meatless Meatball, can't you just call them balls? Does that mean they taste like...?" Hahaha, so on and so forth. Discretion is the better part of valor, so much like Nathan a few weeks ago when given the opportunity, I'll be strategically avoiding all that the rest of this post. I'm not saying I haven't made that joke (and others fairly similar to it) at pretty much chance here at home while eating these said balls, and probably even a few in the frozen aisle while purchasing these (poor Sandy, who chuckles and blushes each time), but yeah...my mom reads this blog. And lots of other moms, too, I'm sure. Let's keep the moms happy. That's important.

Anyways, we got ourselves bag of frozen soy spheres on one of our last trips. Sandy and I have been on meat-free experiment the past few weeks (except for the Friday night fish fry, can't miss those), and feeling a little encouraged by how it's going, we're considering becoming full-time "gracious vegetarians." We really don't miss meat all that much, and we've both been losing some weight and feeling better, and I've gotten some encouragement and ideas from my sister's blog as she's been adapting to a similar lifestyle. We don't have all the "rules" set up for this, and I think meat will be still be an occasional part of our diet, especially if we're invited somewhere or if the very occasional hamburger hankerin' hits. But anyways...

Trader Joe's Meatless Meatballs. I'll be honest. Out of all the fake meat options we've sampled from TJ's, these are my least favorite. I think that more speaks to Trader Joe's particular strength in fake meat as opposed to being a strong indictment. They taste fine enough, in fact I'd even say pretty close to the actual-meat meat balls we've had (and believe me, we've eaten lots of those). It's more the texture.They're just too soft and crumbly, like there's nothing hold them together. Even time I tried to spear one with my fork, it just broke in half. And you don't have to chew these - I literally smashed one up against the roof of my mouth with my tongue, and it was ready to go down the hatch almost immediately. If I am eating a meat (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) I want to be able to use my canines and molars as God intended. There is no such opportunity here.

Sandy, the more texture-sensitive of the two of us, agreed. "If we were to become vegetarian, I'd eat these occasionally and be fine with them, but these don't make me want to give up meat by themselves," she says. I pretty much agree. They're not horrible, but these albóndigas dementiras could be much better with a little more bite to them. Compared to the virtual fake meat cornucopia that Trader Joe's typically offers, we can't afford to muster much more than a mediocre "meh" for them.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Meatless Meatballs: 5.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 




Friday, March 8, 2013

Trader Joe's Cowboy Caviar

There's a few random things that spring to mind when I think of the product name "Trader Joe's Cowboy Caviar." First, for whatever reason, I can't recall right now what exactly real caviar is, so hold on just a moment...alrighty, well, honestly, that sounds kinda gross. A "cowboy" version of that woulda be even more gross, considering what we know of "Rocky Mountain oysters" and all, so, first, there's some gladness that this isn't something a little more literal. Secondly, there's the vision of actual cowboys eating actual caviar. I've always thought that the only people who eat caviar are people like the Grey Poupon gents, though it seems a little beneath them to randomly stop alongside another car and beg for condiments. So it's tough to think of grizzly, musty old booted cowboys enjoying some fine salt-cured fish eggs. It's a "tough meets classy" juxtaposition that's as comically out of place as Chuck Norris at a tea party (note carefully the capitalization of what I just said).

And third, well, despite the goofy name and all, Sandy and I were pretty glad there's a new salsa sheriff in town for our samplin'. Here's the actual verbatim exchange that transpired last Monday night between the two of us in the salsa/chip department. Unlike other conversations I've let you eavesdrop on, this one is not made up at all.  Me: "Want some chips and salsa?" Her: "Hrrmmmm...nah. There's nothing we haven't had." Me: "Yeah....wait... Cowboy Caviar? What the eff? Let's try it." Her: "Oooooooo I'll find us some chips!!!"

So, how does it stack up? Purdy darn well, amigo. Obviously, from the label and a quick peek at the jar contents, the base of this salsa is comprised of black beans, corn, and red bell peppers. Those just happen to be three main staples in our house that we seemingly never get sick of. There's nary a trace of tomato, except for a little puree that's the base for the chipotle adobo sauce that gets mixed in. Mmm, adobo sauce....that's the primary taste here. It's deep and smoky with a sneaky little kick to it that'll rattle you like a snake in your boot if you're spice-adverse. Despite that, though, you can still taste everythng...the citrus bite from the lime, the little flames of heat courtesy of the jalapenos, even a little sweetness, with the flavor of the beans and corn and peppers still poking through without getting too muddied up. This is certainly tilts towards chunky, with everything in it, but man, it works well. I misplaced the receipt so I can't tell you the exact price offhand, but it's about the price of a typical jar of salsa there, somewhere around $2.49 to $3 or so.

I'm not sure how the jar survived three nights between the two of us. It must be some newfound restraint Sandy and I have, because in the good ol' days, I could see this being polished off in a night. Seems to me the Cowboy Caviar would pair well with most any chip, but it was especially good with the veggie flaxseed tortilla chips we picked up (which may just be the most uncowboy-like ones available. Regardless...). It's a much better, taster spicier and truer salsa than the Corn and Chile Tomato-Less Salsa we tried way back, though Sandy loved that one too because of its lack of, well, tomatoes. This one had her fooled, too. "Four it up!," she exclaimed. Four it up, indeed, and tack on an extra half spoon just because. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cowboy Caviar: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons     


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Trader Joe's Loaded Fruit & Nut Gluten Free Granola

It's been quite a while since Sonia and I reviewed a Trader Joe's brand cold cereal. The Shellys were thoroughly impressed with TJ's Mango Passion Granola about 2 years back, and I recently reviewed Archer Farms Pecan Sticky Bun Granola and Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti cereals on my other blog. But I figure it's high time we check out another TJ's breakfast food—one that's gluten free!

It's a bag of granola that's not necessarily intended to be eaten with milk. The bag suggests trying it on yogurt or eating it straight out of the bag, both of which we did. But I think Sonia and I agreed that neither of the two latter cases would be regular occurrences in our home.

Most of the mixture was made up of dime-sized, corn-based, circular flakes, many of which had bits of nuts, fruits, and sesame seeds fused to them, presumably with honey or evaporated cane juice. The flakes were very dry and super-crunchy. They were actually kinda hard, too. They ripped up the tops of our mouths a bit when we ate too much at once. At the bottom of the bag, underneath layers of the aforementioned flakes, there was nothing but free-floating seeds, nut-bits, and crumbs.

The overall taste was that of corn flour, walnuts, sesame seeds, and raisins. The ingredients mentioned hazelnuts, almonds, coconut, apricots, and Brazil nuts, too, among other things, but I felt like many of the ingredients didn't really contribute as much to the product's flavor. Both Sonia and I thought there were way too many sesame seeds. They're potent enough in limited quantities, and I wouldn't have minded TJ's removing them from the mix altogether. We both thought there should have been more fruit, too. Raisins are the only fruit we noticed in any significant numbers, and even they were sparse compared to the corn flakes and sesame seeds.

I feel like Trader Joe's wanted to make this a sweeter product. They included coconut, honey, cane juice, and some dried fruits. But they didn't quite commit to that end. I don't think it was intended to be a candy-licious kid cereal, but if they would have left out things like sesame seeds, flax seeds, and Brazil nuts, I think they could have made this a better, more dessert-like breakfast food, while still maintaining the overall wholesomeness of the product. If you're on a gluten-free diet, by all means, try it. It's definitely not a thumbs-down, but Sonia and I feel like it failed to live up to its full potential. 3's from both of us.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Trader Joe's Quick Cook Steel Cut Oats

In a change from my usual tack, I'm gonna be real upfront with you right off the bat: Trader Joe's Quick Cook Steel Cut Oats will be the very first product, in the nearly 400 reviews on this blog to date, to earn two different scores on the very same review. It is equally true that this particular oatmeal is very, extremely delicious (you know, as oatmeal goes) and yet....ugh. It all depends how you make it.

I've heard that "it all depends how you make it" statement made about many things, upto and including those gawd-awful turkey meatloaf muffins. Apparently, if you ignore the stated "preferred method" notes (as I didn't), bake them twice as long as need be, broil them, slather them in cheese, deepfry them, add gravy, wrap in a wonton then saute in some olive oil and hot sauce and top with a cherry while singing loudly to Justin Bieber, they're good. Or something like that. Why the heck they're still available, I have no idea.

But I digress. Back to the oatmeal. Here's the breakdown:

Trader Joe's Quick Cook Steel Cut Oatmeal is GOOD when: you make it on the stove top. Oh yes, very good, indeed. Sandy and I made up a couple bowlfuls (pictured) this past weekend to have for breakfast along with a fresh French press full o' coffee. I added some grade B maple syrup and toasted almond slivers to mine. Deeeeeee-lish. Extremely good, and very easy to make, taking roughly the eight minutes or so the package says it takes. It's kinda fun watching the little oatmeal granules take in the water and turn into mush. Which brings to mind: why the big deal about oatmeal being "steel cut"? I suppose, living in Pittsburgh and all, that ought to make me proud in a way, but what does it matter what oatmeal is cut with? What if it were cut with titanium? Or adamantium? Or if it were just repeatedly crushed by a Thwomp Brother? I just see those clever marketng buzz words "steel cut oatmeal" all the time. I guess if you can't make oatmeal sexy, make it sound exotic. Or something. Regardless, yes, stove top prep method = healthy nomnomnom.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons when cooked in a pot
 
Trader Joe's Quick Cook Steel Cut Oatmeal is NOT GOOD when: you use the microwave. Nope. Believe me, I've tried, three times, with three different methods, and they all have failed. The first time, and this was probably my underestimating of the matter, I had my quarter cup of steel cut oatty bittybits, three quarters cup of water from the hot water tap at work (you know, what you'd use to make tea), put it in roughly a container with a two cup volume, and nuked it for three minutes. My visual estimation was, after only three minutes, roughly 60% of the oatmeal and water boiled over, causing a huge mess. I took two dish towels to clean up. I didn't dare nuke it again, and so instead ate what was left with almonds and berries. Ugh. Definitely not cooked all the way - all grainy and mushy and kinda chewy. Okay, I said to myself, I need a bigger container. So the next morning, I used roughly a container with roughly a six cup volume. After three minutes, there was no boil over....instead, all the water evaporated and left a dry, crusty oatmeal reside layer. The word that comes to mind is bird suet. It was inedible. Okay, I said, maybe a smaller container, with a smaller surface area but still tall enough to handle the boil-over potential. So I got a Chinese delivery quart size container (like one for wonton soup) and tried that, and I guess a little mindful of the last round of squirrel bait I made, added just a the tiniest of smidges of extra water. Nope, it boiled over, again after just two and a half minutes, leaving me with halfcooked breakfast and a mess. This time I guess it was about 20 percent, and it took one dish towel. After that, I quit. Back to my usual Clif bar for a midmorning at work snack.

Bottom line: 1 out of 10 Golden Spoons when cooked in a microwave

So, there you have it. Stove = good. Microwave = blecch. When made right, it's good enough I'm willing to bump it into our semi-regular weekend breakfast rotation, as both Sandy and I enjoyed ours. I can also see this working well for something like a backpacking trip, as it makes a good, simple, stick-to-your-ribs meal. I just wish it'd be a viable solution for work. Maybe you're a microwave master and can tell me how to do it. No, I'm not going to cook it for realz at home then reheat at work. Tell me how to do it, and you'll be my hero. It's $2.49 for the can.

Bottom Bottom line: Use the stovetop!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      

Monday, March 4, 2013

Trader Joe's Spicy Seaweed Ramen

TJ's has offered us a number of unusual, but surprisingly good soups over the years. I'm thinking Lentil Soup with Ancient Grains and Tomato and Red Pepper Soup. But, they've also offered a number of so-so selections like the Rice Noodle Soup Bowls.

In several past posts, I've mentioned that I love seaweed. And at least once I've mentioned that I hate kimchi and sauerkraut—the whole rotted cabbage deal just isn't my thing. Well, this dish has both seaweed and kimchi, but as the product's name would suggest, seaweed is more prominent in the soup. There's little more than a few kimchi flakes in the whole package. Thank goodness. But I do have to admit that they added a hint of excitement to an otherwise unremarkable broth.

The noodles are really good. They're thick and soft—but not too soft, depending on how long you cook them—and they've got about as much flavor as you can expect a ramen noodle to have. There seemed to be an excess of broth when we added the prescribed amount of water. Two cups I think. And less water would have meant a slightly stronger flavor in the broth, which I wouldn't have minded one bit. It was sorta spicy as it was, but I could have stood it being doubly so.

I also wouldn't have minded more seaweed. I liked the way the noodles and seaweed paired up, but I still had half my noodles left when the little green leaves started getting scarce. This product is a really easy, inexpensive international snack, but it's also unsubstantial and would benefit from a stronger broth and more seaweed. All in all, not a bad value, but probably not something we'll buy on a regular basis. I give it 3.5 stars. Sonia gives it an even 3. 

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10

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Here's a photo of the prepared product, with some of the broth drained out. We didn't waste the excess liquid. We used it in a culinary experiment so shameful, that I shan't mention it on this blog for fear you'll downgrade me from a "foodie-hack" to a "person who shouldn't be allowed to eat at all." 

Okay, you twisted my arm. I'll tell you. We added chicken hot dogs to make an Asian-American fusion dish. Please, kids, don't try it at home.