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Thursday, November 14, 2019

Trader Joe's Holiday Herb Rolls

Every holiday meal we get together with my family, no matter all the other awesome stuff my family makes, it's always her cheesebread I look forward to the most. Philly cheesesteaks aren't Philly cheesesteaks if not on an Amoroso roll. Sandy's homemade rolls really make a great compliment to whenever I smoke some pulled pork.

There's just something about great bread that really makes a meal complete. Evidently it's called "breaking bread" for a reason.

In stores now, for those times you need a festive bread but are in a pinch, is Trader Joe's Holiday Herb Rolls.

Naturally, I'm not gonna tell you these rolls are as good as any respectable homemade bread. "Decent" is about all most rolls like these can aspire to. I don't feel like a snob in saying that, but maybe I'm just spoiled by too many good bakers.

Dinner last night was these savory rolls, sandwiching turkey, provolone and cranberry sauce and warmed in the oven. Nomnomnom. Thanksgiving in a sandwich, practically. Karen, our favorite TJ's employee, made that suggestion and my goodness it was another winner.

Ingredients, herbwise: parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme. Like the lyrics to "Scarborough Fair", except these rolls just also have to have marjoram as well - oh well. Let's not quibble too much here - the spice blend works very well all together, and compliments the enriched wheat base well.

Heated up in the oven, these savory herb rolls got a little crispy/toasty on the outside and filled our kitchen with their herby aroma. Inside the rolls, the dough still remained soft and chewy when eaten - perfect. My kids loved them, even my oldest who randomly decided she didn't like cranberry sauce. Sandy loves anything with rosemary, so these were a win with her, easily.

Easy rolls for a festive get-together in a busy upcoming holiday season - they're worth a buy at only about $3 for a dozen pull apart rolls. Likely, these rolls will pair well with most meals or menus. For those times when homemade just isn't possible, these should do just fine.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Holiday Herb Rolls: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Trader Joe's Fall Zucchette Pasta

In the whitebread central Pennsylvania neighborhood I grew up in, there weren't a whole lot of Italian folks. I had a long-time babysitter with the last name "Capriotti," but minestrone soup was probably the extent of Italian culture I experienced under her care. Of course, every American eats his share of pizza and spaghetti throughout childhood and beyond, but even now at forty, I'm still learning about Italian pastries and pastas that are completely new to me. "Zucchette" is a prime example.

Googling the term wasn't much help in this case. There's not even a wiki for zucchette pasta as far as I can tell. In fact, this Trader Joe's product is one of only a handful of references on the entire internet. I'm gathering that "zucchette" might just mean the pasta is inspired by or contains gourds, pumpkins, or squash. This product does both—that is, it contains butternut squash, and its shape is evidently inspired by pumpkins.


The taste is quite a lot like any other pasta I've had, with just the slightest hint of something earthy. That subtlest hint of extra richness must be, I guess, from the dehydrated butternut squash within. It's a shame we only had traditional marinara sauce on hand. I would have liked to try this with the Autumnal Harvest Creamy Sauce. Its squashy flavors may have helped bring out the butternut squash flavor in this pasta here. As it stands, any squash taste is completely and utterly overshadowed by whatever cheese or sauces you might serve this with. 

Still, it's a bag of decent pasta, each little pumpkin shape a substantial bite. Sometimes a dab of sauce and cheese fills the void in the center of the pumpkin, and you get a particularly robust forkful of flavor. 

For $1.99, this isn't a bad purchase at all. It's plenty for a meal for two adults, or as a side for four or so. I'm guessing this product might be done for the season already, unless there are a few specimens lingering on the shelves in your area for some reason. In all likelihood, it will be back circa September 2020. Or...maybe not.

There's not much improvement here over traditional shells or what have you, but nothing is taken away, either. If that butternut squash flavor were a bit more potent, we might have had a real winner here. Four stars from me. Three from Sonia.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Trader Joe's Focaccia Bread

When/where/how did the term "Karen" become such a pejorative?

"Ugh...she was a real Karen."

"She's got that Karen haircut."

"I'd like to speak to the manager...oh."

We can get our laughs, but know this doesn't apply to everyone named Karen. Especially Karen, who works at the Pittsburgh North Trader Joe's, the one my family and I happen to shop at the most.

She's awesome.

Understatement? Yes. She recognizes us everytime and asks how we're doing. My kids love her. She's always full of recommendations and if she happens to be working the sample station, she'll sneak me and the kids extra. Always friendly, and it's not just to us. A few years ago, she was recognized for outstanding service TJ's by getting to ride their float during the Rose Bowl Parade.

So, when Karen sneaks a loaf of Trader Joe's Focaccia Bread into your cart and says "this one's on me," you go with it, review it, and give her a little shout out. Thanks, Karen!

Solid recommendation here. I'll admit, stuff like this isn't on our usual radar. But man, it should be. This bread is awesome.

Opening the bag lets out a hearty aroma of roasted tomato, parmesan, a little olive oil and carby goodness. It's intoxicating. And it gets even better when warming up in the oven, if that's your thing. Anticipation levels were running high.

When ready...oh man. Super crusty outside, warm soft inside, doughy, full of bite...it's got the feel that literally says nomnomnom.

The parmesan and roasted tomatoes add a mild flavor that doesn't overpower the bread. It's a light and pleasant flavor, perfect for spreading on a little butter or dipping in some olive oil. Or you can be weird like my almost five year old and put strawberry jam on it....okay maybe not that last one. Whatever, she was happy.

I'm not sure how this tastes so fresh, without there being an instore bakery, because it really does have that freshmade feel. In all honesty, this is one of the best store bought breads I've had in quite some time. The TJ's focaccia is pale in comparison to anything homemade, so don't worry Mom, your cheese bread is still king, and Sandy, I'll nom on your challah anytime. But I'm so happy with this.

This focaccia admittedly was a freebie for us, so I can't tell you a price. But I'll tell you I'm being honest in my assessment. Four spoons from both my lovely bride and me. Even the Karen-est of Karens (which our Karen is not!) can live, laugh and love with this loaf.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Focaccia Bread: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Trader Joe's Mixed Mushroom & Spinach Quiche


Yes, yes. I know, I know. I shouldn't review something with an ingredient I don't like. 

I've confessed on this blog before that I don't like mushrooms very much. I even have a mild allergic reaction to most mushrooms. But every once in a while, I'll eat them anyway—like, just because they're there and I'm too lazy to go to the store and purchase a mushroom-free alternative. Sonia used to have weird reactions to certain species of mushrooms, too, but she seems to have outgrown that sensitivity. That's one of the many reasons why she purchased this product.

I'm pretty much okay with this quiche, because, as Sonia noted, there aren't a ton of big mushroom chunks. There's a moderate amount of shroomy bits floating about the mixture, but they get overshadowed by the spinach, cheese, and buttery crust.


"Shouldn't the word 'spinach' go before the word 'mushroom' if there's more of it in the mixture?" asked the wife. "I guess they were listing them in alphabetical order," she mused.

I think they were going for alliteration with the pairing of "mixed" and "mushroom" side by side and also, perhaps, mushrooms are a bigger selling point for most people, so they wanted to lead with that. Whatever. Doesn't matter. We both agree there's more spinach than mushrooms. I guess that's the point I'm trying to make.

The overall flavor is eggy, cheesy, and buttery. It's nice—kinda typical for a quiche, I guess, but since I don't have quiche all that often, it still feels like a treat in a way. It's fairly rich, but when you consider the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol, I'm actually kind of surprised it doesn't taste even more indulgent.


In light of the nutrition facts, I'd say a couple should split this one quiche between the two of them and pair it up with some sides, rather than eating it as a single serving as the package suggests. That's basically what we did, except if I tell you what we had as our sides, you'll never ever read my reviews again because you'll realize how far from foodie-hood we really are. What do you even serve quiche with? A salad? Soup? I don't even know. Okay, I'll tell you what we had it with. Sonia had it with a bowl of blueberry Kashi cereal and I had it with a piece of peanut butter toast. Don't judge.

And in case you're wondering, no, I do not recommend either of those sides as a pairing for this quiche.

The price is right at $2.49 for the fairly filling dish, but I don't think we'll buy it on the regular because atherosclerosis doesn't sound like fun. Three and a half stars a piece.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Trader Joe's Cuban Style Citrus Garlic Bowl

For a dude who's been co-writing this blog for over eight years now, you think I'd have a better pulse check on the new products pipeline for Trader Joe's. Lol. Nope, not at all. It's not accurate to say "painfully oblivious" as TJ's tends to be quite secretive about things, but normally I don't hear or see anything new until my lovely bride tells me about an Instragram or Facebook post she saw. That makes me about 1,876,542nd in line to hear about anything.

I'd settle for just jumping her place and finding out about anything before she even has a chance to tell me about it.

And finally, I got my chance with the new Trader Joe's Cuban Style Citrus Garlic Bowl.

Ha! I told her about it! I'm the one who tagged her and got her to say "oooo" with that gotta-try-that inflection. I'm the one who went to the store and hunted it down while corraling our Halloween costume-wearing kiddos, not her. I won. O'Doyle rules! This has got to be a winner....right?

Right?

Only kinda sorta, unfortunately, if only for spousal bragging rights.

Let's look at the premise here. Plentiful chicken bites - I don't mind dark meat if it means a few more bites. Seasoned yellow rice - likely means turmeric. Black beans and plantains - two of my favorites. Zesty citrus and garlic sauce - sounds intriguing. Looks like some bell pepper and some other goodies in there too. Looks like a Cuban one way ticket to Flavortown, sans Guy Fieri. 

But for all of that, there's just not much flavor. "Bland" isn't the right word. It's more perhaps "understated" or "muted." Most of the mix doesn't taste like much except a faint hint of orange and some subtle, subtle heat. Really, the only bites that pop are the plantains, which there were far too few of. With their natural sweetness and earthy starchiness, the plantains made a perfect platform for the spices and flavors to really come out and play, especially the garlic which I detected nowhere else in this dish.

That doesn't make the TJ's Cuban bowl a bad dish, it just could have been better. My suggestion; more plantains! Heck, I'd even sacrifice the chicken if it meant room for more plantains. That's saying something here.

As usual, my lovely bride may have put it best. "For all the salt and calories and everything else in there, I just felt it wasn't worth it," Sandy said. I'm inclined to agree. At $3.49 for a one serving microwavable paper dishful, there's certainly far worse options out there, but there's better ones too. This TJ's Cuban bowl seems like one of those products teetering on the fine line of flash-in-the-pan and longterm staple product availability, so if you see it, give it a try, but don't expect to be wowed.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cuban Style Citrus Garlic Bowl: 5.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, November 1, 2019

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Pumpkin Spice Bagels

Apparently, you can't find gluten-free pumpkin spice bagels on every street corner. Just Google the name of this product, and you'll see countless blogs and websites from the gluten-free, celiac, and Crohn's communities absolutely rejoicing that FINALLY there's a gluten-free version of Trader Joe's Pumpkin Spice Bagels.

Honestly, I feel like pumpkin spice is on its way out, and the poor gluten-free folk are a little late to the party, by no fault of their own, of course. But if this product floats your boat, I definitely don't want to rain on your parade. These aren't a bad purchase at all. But our job as folks who aren't on a strict gluten-free diet is still to give it to everyone straight: what we think is working here and what we think isn't. So here goes...


Flavor-wise, they're virtually identical to regular glutenful bagels. Sonia was a little dismayed that "there wasn't enough pumpkin or pumpkin spice flavor." I'll admit, they aren't bursting with either real pumpkin taste, despite displaying a few visible specks of pumpkin puree throughout, or pumpkin spice flavor, despite smelling of it quite a bit. But my reaction was more along the lines of, "That's good they didn't overdo the pumpkin spice thing." If you're really craving pumpkin spice, you might be disappointed, but thankfully, there's a remedy: pumpkin cream cheese.

Texture-wise, they do that gluten-free thing, where they want to be chewed like regular bread, but there's something just ever so slightly off-putting about the mouthfeel. It's just a tad chewier, rubberier, and stiffer than what we're used to. For people who are strictly gluten-free, you'll likely be just fine with it. It's not a deal-breaker even for me. Sonia and I often do gluten-free because we are both gluten-sensitive, while neither of us is totally gluten-intolerant.

Not that I'll be craving pumpkin spice bagels any time soon, but if I do, I'd just as likely reach for these puppies again, rather than the forgettable non-gluten-free pumpkin bagels from TJ's—which have mysteriously never been reviewed on this blog. Neither version is a real show-stopper in our opinions, but at least these are appropriate for a group of people with significant dietary restrictions, and they can feel like there's one less gimmicky, pop-culture food they're missing out on, for whatever that's worth.

Me? I give 'em three out of five stars. Sonia will go with three and a half.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.