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Showing posts with label Italian/Other European. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Italian/Other European. Show all posts

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Trader Joe's Pesto Rosso

I'm not a fan of traditional pesto. For years, I thought it was one of the spices used in the mixture that turned me off, but some time ago, I realized that most regular pestos use pine nuts as a base. Pine nuts have always revolted me for some reason. Sure enough, every non-pine nut-based pesto I've tried since has been a thumbs up for me, this one included.

It's tomato-based, and there's parmesan cheese, cashew, and carrot puree in the mix. The spice blend includes basil, garlic, and lemon juice. It's an interesting flavor—sorta tangy, savory, and acrid, with hints of nuttiness and earthiness underneath. Goes well with pasta. There are some other serving suggestions on the jar that we haven't tried yet, including pizza and soup.

The sauce is thick and dense. Just a few spoonfuls are enough to coat a surprising amount of pasta. It's mostly smooth. No chunks of anything in there, although it's somewhat lumpy until you distribute it evenly across many pieces of pasta.


$2.49 for the jar. Would go great with crackers and cheese. We'd maybe buy it again to have on standby with a charcuterie board or something fancy like that, but I don't think it would ever be a day-to-day go-to kind of condiment for me. Although, I kinda wanna make grilled cheese with fontina, gruyere, or havarti and pair it with this. Maybe goat cheese?


Product of Italy. Three and a half stars a piece from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Trader Joe's Cacio e Pepe Ravioli

 


For whatever reason, I've found myself watching a lot of Gordon Ramsey snippets recently, like little three or four minute blurbs from Kitchen Nightmares or whatever. Don't know why, but man, watching and listening to him rip and bleep something apart is so satisfying on some level at times. 

If at a subpar Italian restaurant that was likely to be visited by good ol' Chef Ramsey, if some Italian cheese and pepper stuffed pasta was on the menu, I'd suspect it'd be a lot like Trader Joe's Cacio e Pepe Ravioli.


Is it fair to compare a frozen prepared product to a dining out dinner? No, probably not...except when other TJ's products have risen to the occasion it's been pointed out, so here's the flip side. 

This...just isn't good ravioli. The noodles are limp, soggy and bland even by a noodle standard. There's nothing to them, at all. Just tasteless and there, and barely contain the namesake filling. The cheese tastes okay - mild, a touch tangy - with a nice little dose of pepper to season it up, but it's also kinda gritty and not as creamy as hoped. The end result is kinda a letdown. 


Ramsey would be tearing this up, bleeping up a storm, maybe some crack about diapers, and storm back to the kitchen or have the server dump them in the trash. Good thing he wasn't at my table the other day when I served 'em up, because even when it's not that great, that's not something we do in my house. I'd have to put his butt in timeout. 

But yeah...subpar, even by frozen pasta standards, Perhaps a little included sauce packet could help liven it up. As is, it's take a bite and shrug. Just meh to not quite blah. DOuble twos here. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cacio e Pepe Ravioli: 4 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, December 13, 2021

Trader Joe's Organic Taralli and Friends Crackers

Wikipedia describes a taralli cracker as a "toroidal Italian snack food." For those of you who neglected to snag your masters in geometry from a prestigious university, a toroid is basically a donut shape.

The toroidal taralli crackers in this bag are kinda like Italian wontons I guess, at least flavor-wise. There's a vague sourdough vibe, too. Some people say you can dip them in sweet stuff. So if you dunk wontons in duck sauce as an appetizer or snack, you could dip these in...I dunno...cream cheese and fancy Italian marmalade?

I guess there are many different kinds of taralli crackers? Some get dipped in wine, some get paired with cheese, and others get dunked in spicy stuff. I need some Italian folks to weigh in on these because I clearly have no background with this fare.

The straight sticks taste very much like classic garlic croutons, but maybe a little softer. They're tasty, with a complex spice blend. There's a melt-in-the-mouth quality that most croutons lack. But I would totally throw these into any savory soup and I'm sure they'd enhance the taste and texture significantly. Both Sonia's and my favorite.


The square crackers are like sesame sticks kinda. But they're crackers instead of sticks. If you like sesame sticks, you'll like these. There are actual sesame seeds listed in the ingredients, so my tastebuds must be working today.

The twisty sticks are probably my least favorite of the bunch. They're a bit like plain saltines but puffier. And twistier. Fun shape, boring flavor. Could make a decent vehicle for a cheese dip I suppose.


$3.29 for the bag, imported from Italy. A sack of crackers with no chocolate or toffee or dipping sauce packets doesn't seem super Christmassy or exciting to me, but then I'm about as Italian as a spot of tea and crumpets. How do you serve these? How does TJ's offering compare to what Nonna used to make? For now, I'll score with a very neutral 3 out of 5 stars. Sonia will go with three and a half.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Trader Joe's Portuguese Custard Tarts


Ah, the Portuguese. First they gave us the man o' war, then they gave us Fado music, later Cristiano Ronaldo, and now these custard tarts. That's quite a legacy.

We have a couple of firsts here. The first first is that, at least as far as I can recall, this is the very first Trader Joe's product we've tried that's actually imported from Portugal. Sweet. I had an opportunity to go to Lisbon once, via train out of Madrid, Spain. I opted for Paris instead. Ah, well. Next time.

The second first is that, at least as far as I'm aware, TJ's is actually giving us air fryer heating instructions on the back of the package. About time. Sonia and I have been rocking a Ninja since Christmas time. You know that if Sonia and I, still attempting to live somewhat minimalistically, have jumped on that bandwagon, that it's high time you do too if you haven't already. Air fryers are friggin' awesome. I won't say this is the first Trader Joe's item we've heated in the air fryer, but I will say that it's the first time we're not just guesstimating times and temperatures and are actually following some real printed instructions...so we can blame Trader Joe's if it doesn't turn out all right.


I'm excited. Let's eat some tarts.

After heating, the tarts were just slightly darkened on the top, near where the custard intersects the breading. The smell wasn't very pungent. It was almost like a faint quiche type smell, by virtue of a very similar crust.

They were incredibly crumbly. The tarts seemed to want to fall apart upon taking a single bite out of them. They were almost explosive the way they flaked apart and spread crumbs all over the plate and surrounding tabletop. I wasn't sure whether to try eating them with a fork, pulling the tart from the little aluminum tray bite by bite, or whether I should just yank the whole thing out to attempt eating it by hand. Neither method was particularly successful at minimizing the crumb carnage. These are definitely not something to eat on the road while driving.


The custard was thick and surprisingly not too sweet. It was much more creamy and eggy than anything else. There's a warm, hearty, homemade quality to it. I'm sure if it were ever Americanized, they'd make the custard much sweeter. Not saying I'd prefer it that way, just pointing out that it's much more buttery than sugary.

$2.99 for four tarts. These would be pretty decent for either breakfast or an after-dinner dessert. They're like a little piece of Portugal right in your own air fryer. Four stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Italian Panettone

Sometimes I wonder if I wasn't supposed to be born into a big Italian family. I'd never even heard of the Feast of the Seven Fishes until a couple days ago, after watching the 2018 indie film by the same name. Seven types of fish and seafood all on the same day? Yes, please. I like the way you Italians roll.

Likewise, I'm becoming more and more fond of the panettone each year, thanks mostly to Trader Joe's. This is the fifth type of panettone product we've reviewed on this blog, and I don't think I've disliked any of them. They're tasty, festive, and Christmassy. Look, you can even hang this one on your tree. It's an ornament and a snack all in one.


Like the other panettones I've tried, this one is made with soft, supple, lightly sweet, slightly buttery bread. But this one's gluten-free! Goodness. I'm almost always stating that Trader Joe's gf products taste great but have a weird texture. Not this one. The texture here is amazeballs. I probably wouldn't have even guessed it was gluten-free if I hadn't known any better.

There's a good bit of packaging around the product. Maybe it's overkill, but it keeps the bread remarkably fresh. There's the decorative outer cardboard box, then there's a cellophane wrapper within, and finally, there's a cupcake-esque muffin liner on the bottom and sides of the panettone.


The product is spongy and pleasantly moist. The bread alone would make a great little treat, but there are "golden raisins" and teensy bits of candied orange peel scattered throughout the loaf to make it even more interesting. The sweetness level is probably on par with a breakfast muffin, rather than a dessert like cake or cupcakes. In fact I had my panettone for my breakfast yesterday, and it was the perfect size and density to serve as a morning meal.

At $1.99, it's plenty affordable. If you've got anybody with a gluten-free diet on your Christmas list, this product has Sonia's seal of approval and mine as well. The original glutenful version is still available, but the taste and texture of this one doesn't suffer much if at all for want of wheat or gluten. Four Christmas stars a piece.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Trader Joe's Italian Style Soffrito Seasoning Blend

Some days are just potato soup days, aren't they?

This past Sunday was. First of all, it was a Sunday. Also: cool, rainy, all not-sure-if-November-or-March outside (in so many ways, actually). The kinda day that just made you want to curl up with a warm blanket and cats and books and movies while the crockpot did its thing all day to bring forth a warm, comforting meal that goes down easy.

One of the best things about potato soup is: you can make it taste however you want with toppings and mix-ins. In my opinion you gotta go with bacon, cheese and green onion at the very least, but then something else is needed. Something to give it a little more flavor, a little pizzazz, a little je ne sais quoi. Could go hot sauce or salsa, sure, but sometimes, that's not what I'm looking for.

Turns out it was Trader Joe's Italian Style Soffrito Seasoning Blend. 

Look at this stuff. It's beautiful. It looks very fancy and refined, what, with all the different rustic colors and flakes and crinkles all mixed up. That's just how it looks - but also, how it smells? Wow. "Aromatic" is an understatement. Crack it open and this warm, inviting scent of herbs and spices wafts everywhere. I kinda want to leave a jar open somewhere as an air freshener. If I were to open a fancy Italian restaurant, I think I'd pipe in the scent from this somehow to the dining room - it'd be an automatic five star review. 

Inspired by the "holy trinity" of onions, carrots and celery (or as the French would say, mirepoix), the Italian soffrito seasoning is very evocative of those elements without actually featuring carrots or celery. There's a lot of onion, for sure, which adds a little punch and really drives the overall flavor, but the rest of the ingredients like garlic or rosemary or crushed red pepper taste more like the seasonings one could put on those veggies instead of the actual veggies. Which works, because that's what one tastes anyway from a mirepoix/soffrito/onions, carrots and celery. I really wish we Americans had a cool name for all that. Still, a little dried carrot and celery salt could have been used, just to pay proper homage, but I'm not going to quibble too much and just run with it. It's just too good, with herbal warmth, the right amount of salt (neither too much nor too little), the smallest of kicks 

We love it in our house and have used in various ways already, not just on potato soup. Top of pizza? Check. Eggs? Yup. Grabbing a little pinch here and there? Absolutely. With holiday and soup season in full swing, I can see this in more soups, sauces, dishes like stuffing, atop a roast, most anything else...as always if you have ideas or favorite implementations please share! And only like 4 bucks max for an ample sized jar - I just bought a regular little guy of seasoning salt at a regular grocery store for nearly that much, so the price is definitely a good deal for what it is. 

Speaking of fours, we're gonna hit it with two of them and add a little more, because that's what you're gonna be doing once you give this a try. Boom.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Italian Style Soffrito Seasoning Blend: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons




 

Friday, April 24, 2020

Trader Giotto's Glaze and Trader Joe's True Belgian Brussels Sprouts


Here's a fun, exciting review to leave you with over the weekend: Brussels sprouts. Hooray. Joy. Elation.

Honestly, I don't think I ever had Brussels sprouts as a kid. My parents loved to make me eat weird stuff that I didn't like, so I'm not sure how I avoided these salubrious spheroids of sustenance. I truly don't think I ever ate a Brussels sprout until just a few years ago. In that first instance, I had them with a balsamic glaze that absolutely blew me away. Also, they were cooked to perfection—slightly charred and crispy on the outside; warm, dense, and planty on the inside.

Sonia grew up with a French family as neighbors. When she'd visit their daughter Natalie to play, her mother would often provide snacks or meals, occasionally in the form of steamed, salted Brussels sprouts. While Natalie would happily pop the sprouts into her mouth like candy, Sonia, secretly disgusted by the greens, would choke down one or two and then slip away from the table under the guise of not being hungry.

Her view on sprouts has changed dramatically in adulthood. She now loves them when prepared correctly and served with the right condiments.


Since these True Belgian Brussels Sprouts came frozen, we might not have left them in the oven quite long enough. They weren't raw or cold on the inside, but they might have benefited from another 10 minutes or so in the heat. I like my veggies well-done.

Still, the glaze made them pretty tasty, at least on the outside. Trader Giotto's Glaze is moderately sweet and has a fermented essence from the "grape must." It's not unlike a port wine, but a bit thicker in texture. It's less vinegary than a typical balsamic dressing, but there's still a hint of vinegar underneath the grapey goodness.

We found that the glaze wanted to slide off the sprouts and wind up on the baking tray, so we reapplied it a couple times during the heating process. The finished product was definitely more flavorful that plain Brussels spouts, but we both wished we had found a way to get more glaze to stick. We applied some post-baking, and it helped a little, but the portion that had baked on to the sprouts was more flavorful and beneficial to the vegetable within. All in all, the glaze paired well with the earthy, nutty bitterness of the sprouts. We'll probably try it with oil and bruschetta in the future, and maybe some tilapia, too.


We both liked the glaze and think the price is fair at $2.99 for the bottle. Sonia may have been even more enamored with it than me, as I feel like any old balsamic dressing would serve as a flavorful condiment in instances such as this. At 99 cents, the large bag of Brussels sprouts is an even better bargain. That's a lot of nutrition for less than a buck. Your personal score for a bag of sprouts will largely depend upon your feelings about Brussels sprouts in the first place. I'm well aware many people are disgusted by them, no matter their age. In our case, Sonia will give it four stars, and I'll give it three. Sonia will throw out the same score for the glaze, and I'll go half a star higher.

Trader Giotto's Glaze: Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Trader Joe's True Belgian Brussels Sprouts: Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Trader Joe's Brioche French Toast


Sonia and I have been working remotely since before our full-time travel days, and long before the covid-19 craziness. In fact, we've both worked from home since late 2016, in my case significantly longer than that.

We learned quickly that the whole "stay in your pajamas all day because you can" philosophy has a few distinct weaknesses attached to it, number one being weight gain. It's just too easy to think, "Ah my sweatpants fit me the same as they did yesterday. I'm not putting on any pounds." Throw on some jeans or khakis, and they'll tell you a different story. "Hmm. I must have left these in the dryer too long. And my belt...has obviously shrunk due to an excessive amount of humidity in the air. Yeah, that's it."


So obviously when you're not getting out as much, it's much easier to become... "pleasantly plump" shall we say? What to do? Exercise as often as you can whatever way you can. And watch what you eat. I'm no poster child for fitness these days, but I'm not letting myself go, either. I'm standing my ground in the battle of the bulge. Maybe some food shortages will do us all a bit of good. Or maybe we'll all starve to death. Time will tell.

All that to say that Sonia and I each ate two of these brioche French toast pieces for breakfast yesterday. They're filling enough, so one each might have sufficed, but we were both unusually hungry. And to put it in perspective, two of these incredibly indulgent carb-o-riffic breakfast breads contain fewer calories than a single package of two Pop-Tarts. And which of us has never eaten two Pop-Tarts in one sitting? Let him cast the first stone.

At any rate, Trader Joe's Brioche French Toast is delicious. It's sweet even before you put any syrup on it. There's a distinct eggy flavor, and lots and lots of fluffy white bread.

We made our first two toasts in the oven. They didn't come out as crispy as I thought they might, but not in a bad way. There was a firmness and density to the outer crusty layers of French toast, while the inner layers were super soft and light. The microwave yielded just slightly less delectable textures, with everything winding up just a tad in the direction of "chewy," but still scrumptious. Also, the microwave is 15 minutes faster than the oven, and that's not counting pre-heating time. In each instance, we ate them with butter and maple syrup, and they were amazing.

$3.49 for four thick pieces of scrumptious toast. Four stars a piece.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Trader Joe's Pappa al Pomodoro


Well, we know that in the last days a loaf of bread will cost a day's wage. When that day comes, it's time to go Mad Max on your neighbors to obtain some at any cost, because this stuff turns ordinary slices of white or wheat into scrumptious tangy tomatoey sourdoughy delights.

Just kidding about going Mad Max on your neighbors. We need to stick together now more than ever. But you should totally get down on your knees and beg them for a slice of bread if you don't have any, because it pairs really, really well with this stuff.

At first, I thought the box might contain a few pieces of bread or breadsticks, because look, right there adjacent to the soup...is a delicious-looking breadstick. But then I looked closer, and sure enough it says "serving suggestion" in the upper left-hand corner. But then I read the ingredients. Look! "Sourdough bread" is right there on the list right after "vegetable broth." I was overjoyed...until I opened the box several seconds later only to be crestfallen by the lack of sourdough breadsticks.


Maybe Italian folks already know this, but apparently pappa al pomodoro is a soup that's made with bread. I had no idea. What a weird concept.

But it's a darn good one.

After heating the product on the stovetop and pouring it into a bowl, Sonia and I sampled the soup by itself. It was very thick, tangy, tomatoey, and had just enough basil to balance the other flavors. I dipped a slice of semi-stale wheat bread into it.

Man, I don't know if I was just really hungry or what, but that was the best piece of bread I've eaten in a long time. The sourdough in the pappa al pomodoro seemed to magically transform my cheap, old bread into a scrumptious sourdough breadstick with an amazing Italian pasta sauce. We finished the bowl in short order, alternating bites of bread with spoonfuls of soup. Sonia was even more impressed than I was.

This fantastic pappa al pomodoro would work well as a pasta sauce, a pizza sauce, or as a stand-alone soup. $3.69 for two 9oz pouches. We like that it comes frozen and you can save it as long as you need to. We think this will be a repeat purchase. 

Perfect five from Sonia. I just wish it came with a couple little breadsticks. Four and a half from me.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Trader Giotto's Gnocchi al Gorgonzola


Unfortunately, I've never had the pleasure of trying gnocchi from an Italian restaurant. Maggiano's, Buca di Beppo, Olive Garden—been to them all numerous times and I'm not even sure if they sell gnocchi, honestly. Probably better off trying it from a mom and pop's place rather than any of those chains, anyway. I would have sampled it long ago if someone would have drawn my attention to it. 

But as far as I can recollect, the only gnocchi I've ever had has been from Trader Joe's. Frozen grocery store fare is the extent of my experiential knowledge of the subject. To wit, I'm no expert. Sonia's got a slightly better reference point since she's had a gnocchi dish or two in some elegant Los Angeles eatery, the name of which escapes her, before we ever met.


At this fine, nameless Italian establishment, she recalls the gnocchi being "puffy," "fluffy," and nearly "airy." She thinks it tasted and felt primarily potato-based, possibly with some egg. The pasta here, while it does contain potato, is doughy, dense, and slightly chewy. The primary ingredient is durum wheat semolina. It's not unappetizing by any means. It's certainly not "rubbery"—nor would we use the word "gummy." Chewy? Yes. A little.

In my relative ignorance, I happily chomped away on the dish, thinking the texture was just fine. It wasn't hard to overlook its imperfections, because the cheese sauce stole the show. It wasn't an intense flavor, but it was complex, creamy, and savory. If you like fancy Italian cheeses, this easy-to-prepare pasta dish is worth a looksee just to sample a bit of this gourmet gorgonzola.

If only because of my subliminal repulsion to fungi, I probably would have enjoyed the cheese significantly less had I been cognizant of the fact that gorgonzola is a type of "blue cheese," i.e., it's made with veins of blue-green mold growing through it. There's no indication of its mold-factor when looking at the odd, angular chunks of frozen cheese that come in this bag. They're just a solid, creamy off-white. 

Since the cover art on the packaging does approximate the actual look of the final product—minus those weird dark flecks of god-knows-what on top, I opted to show you what it looks like straight out of the freezer. Those big bricks melt and seamlessly coat each piece of gnocchi by the end of the preparation process.

Tasty cheese. Pasta that doesn't exactly melt in the mouth. Super easy prep. $2.99. We're looking at about four stars from me on Trader Giotto's Gnocchi al Gorgonzola. Put Sonia down for three and a half.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Trader Joe's Limone Alfredo Sauce

Ay yi yi.

A couple weeks ago, my lovely bride was mildly displeased with me. There could be any multitude of reasons why, but this one stuck out to me: on a busy night, she quickly roasted some veggies (Brussel spouts or green beans or something, doesn't matter) and sprinkled some garlic salt atop. She then mentioned how good they tasted. I, before tasting them, wished to put some Asian crushed chilis on my portion for a treat. This notion was somewhat offputting to her as I "didn't even taste" her "creation" before dumping whatever I felt like on it. Mmmkay. Disney version of what happened next: I deferred, as perhaps there's not some battles really worth waging...right dear? I love you.

Fastforward to late last week, when on another busy night, I made some quick chicken alfredo using the newish Trader Joe's Limone Alfredo Sauce. Just the sauce, some penne, and chicken. Sure, it was nothing fancy, but a creation of some sort nonetheless, plus as a targeted review item I wanted to have an honest opinion of the unaltered product....

What does my lovely bride do? Before tasting, she sprinkles some black pepper atop hers. I noticed and said nothing, but brought it up before writing this review. "It's because I know I like pepper on my alfredo," she said. Well...okay.

I'd give her a harder time about it, but man, that was a good idea. The Limone Alredo sauce (can I just call it "lemon alfredo" from here on out?) was a pretty great little sauce. Good stuff. Creamy and cheesy, rich with parmesan reggiano, with a little twist of lemon just to brighten everything up without going too tart or sour, well balanced...but it just needed a little extra something. And lo and behold, a little sprinkle of black pepper would be just about right. My wife is pretty smart and intuitive.

Alfredo sauce, in general, isn't a big deal with me. I can be either way, but this TJ's lemon-tinged one definitely strikes me as a good one, and is much preferable over a plain one. For my noods I'd rather go with a good marinara or a lighter melt some butter/sprinkle some cheese approach, but I can swayed to this again. I'd imagine it'd work well in any variety of alfredo-inspired dishes, with various proteins and veggies and whatnot. I'd love to slather some on some zucchini, in fact, but that'll be a next time kinda deal.

With her expert insight and addition, Sandy gives this sauce a solid 4.5, and only that because she, in her own words, "rarely gives anything a 5." Good deal. I can't say I'm as huge a fan, but maybe if I put some of those Asian crushed chilis on it...I kid, I kid. I'll do a 3.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Limone Alfredo Sauce: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Trader Joe's Outside-In Stuffed Gnocchi


Finally, it's officially fall. The afternoons are still quite warm here in the midwest, but it was nice and cool yesterday morning, so we were craving something hot and somewhat hearty for lunch. We'd normally do pierogies on that kind of day, but lacking those, we opted for gnocchi. Similar, right? Heated in the skillet with butter and/or oil, potatoes, cheese... I mean, they're not exactly the same, but a pierogi craving could certainly be curbed with gnocchi, no?

I fired up the stove top, took a couple product pics for the blog, and tore open the bag. And then...I followed the heating instructions exactly.

What resulted was nothing resembling pasta or dumplings, but little balls of mashed potatoes with bits of cheese and tomato sauce inside. I mean, "mushy" would be an understatement. The taste was perfectly fine. What's not to like about the taste of potatoes, mozzarella cheese, and something vaguely reminiscent of marinara sauce? Nothing. Delish.


The texture was another story. The gnocchi would often rupture or disintegrate as I stirred them. You can see one specimen in the pic is showing its tomatoey insides there where I accidentally punctured it during the heating process. I took a few bites, somewhat disappointed with the uber-soft squishiness of my gnocchi...but then I discovered a piece that had not been stirred properly. It had sat right in one spot for more than six minutes. It was a deep brown on its underside, nearly burnt. It was perfect! The outer shell was firm, chewy, nearly crispy. 

So...I simply heated the uneaten portion a bit longer. And by "a bit longer," I guess I mean a lot longer. I stopped looking at the clock and just watched the food. Once the gnocchi were all nicely browned, I turned off the burner. After that, these little guys made a great warm lunch on a cool day.

The gnocchi are super-filling and dense. They are indeed like pierogies, but still significantly softer, even when cooked extra long, and their shells are actually potato based, rather than pasta filled with potato. The cheese and sauce are pretty tasty, although there's not quite enough of either. One blurb on the bag states, "The sauce is on the inside!" Farther down in the heating instructions, it says to add your own favorite sauce. Smh. Which is it? Stop sending mixed messages, Mr. Joe.

We ate ours without extra sauce, and we liked them just fine, although Sonia would have preferred a lot more of the tomato-based topping and would have added more if we had it. 

Three and a half stars a piece on this one. $2.99 for a pound. Pretty darn good value if you ask me.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Trader Joe's Italian Bomba Hot Pepper Sauce

Fermented Italian condiments? So hot right now.

So, so hot.

And so, so good.

Case in point: Trader Joe's Italian Bomba Hot Pepper Sauce. Mama mia, this sauce is especially speziata.

Take for instance the very first ingredient and the entire base of this new intercontinental condiment from all of our's favorite purveyor of such things: calabrian chili peppers. Not familiar? I wasn't overly as well. Look 'em up on the Scoville heat registry though. Jalapenos start around 2,500 Scovilles and range up to maybe 8,000. That's kinda spicy for most folks. Calabrians? Try 25,000 to 40,000. So these bad boys, just to start out with, are anywhere from 5 to 10 times spicier than the common American standard. Hoooo boy.

But that's not all, of course. Nah. Crush 'em allllll up, but make sure you keep in all the seeds with the capsaicin/ And let it sit, and sit, and sit, and ferment. That's not gonna make anything more mild in terms of flavor. Definitely not the case here.

The result? Full blast heat, with a good dose of fermented funkiness to back it all up and add a lot of depth. That's precisely what's going on here. And it's spicy in a genuinely chili pepper kinda way, and not some cheap vinegary mode. It's spice in a very authentic form. But although spicy, it doesn't completely overwhelm or linger too long, at least for me. It's just the right amount of burn.

The actual sauce is mostly the peppers in a kinda crushed/shredded/generally decimated form suspended in sunflower seed oil. Kinda odd, I would have expected olive oil, but I digress.  Texturally that might a challenge for some, but not me. Love it. Love everything about the TJ's bomba sauce.

Please, please, please share all the different ways to implement the bomba sauce in different dishes. I'm imagining mixing some in pasta sauce, some paired with mozzarella and fresh tomatoes, on pizza, on grilled chicken, with eggs, with crusty warm bread, with crackers...yes to all. Love it.

I have not a single complaint and will be stocking up every trip I can so help me God. Absolute, unqualified perfect five from me. This might be a mistake but I'm going to assume my lovely bride loves it as well - she tried only a bit, then had a couple bites of ice cream and said she could still taste the bomba afterwards. Then we both pretty much fell asleep and here I am having to finish this review. I'll say 4.5 from her and if I'm wrong, it won't be the first time.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Italian Bomba Hot Pepper Sauce: 9.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Monday, July 15, 2019

Trader Joe's French Crêpe Wafer Cookies


More. Freaking. Cookies. 

I'm baffled as to why Trader Joe's makes so many different kinds of cookies, and I'm even more confused about why we bother reviewing them so religiously.

At least I was confused...before I shoveled a bunch of these delightful, crispy, buttery, flavorful, snacky sweet, angular edibles into my mouth—all the lightness and deliciousness of crepes in wafer cookie form. Now these could be one of my "desert island cookies." As of right now, they're definitely on Sonia's short list, too. 


They're tasty by themselves or slathered with cookie butter or served with ice cream...and I'm sure most of you readers have come up with dozens of ridiculously wondrous things to do with them that never occurred to me. I'll admit I was so enamored with them that I gobbled up most of my share plain before I tried putting any fixins on them. Sonia was the one that got creative with cookie butter and ice cream. 


Looks like traderjoes.com is suggesting we serve them with banana slices and chocolate syrup. That could work, as well, and it's probably more authentically crepey. 

$2.49 for a box with two separate little plastic trays covered in cellophane. Packaging overkill? Perhaps. But I'm sure it's there in hopes of preserving the outstanding buttery flavor of these wafers a little longer. There's also a delicate, multi-layered crispness that's hard to describe.

3.5 servings? Seems like a very random number to me, but whatever you say, Trader Joe.

The isosceles triangle is relatively unexplored territory in the world of geometrically-inspired snacking. I guess tortilla chips are isosceles, at least some of the time, too—and they are also quite tasty. They should offer isosceles triangle-shaped pancakes and pyramid-shaped cakes and pies and see if it makes them more delicious. 

Four and a half stars from Sonia once again. And another four from me.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Gastronomiche Casa Milo Squid Ink Spaghetti

It doesn't happen often...but it does. I'm actually talking about two different things here.

First, a review of a non-TJ's branded product on our blog. Over 90% of a TJ's is their own house brand so there's plenty to choose from...but there are exceptions.

And secondly...my kids begging for something for dinner that doesn't involve the words "mac 'n cheese."

By some wizardry and magic, those two worlds coverged upon a single product: Gastronomiche Casa Milo Squid Ink Spaghetti. Available at your local Trader Joe's...maybe. Sandy follows a bunch of TJ's Instragram and Facebook pages and has seen a lot of buzz about this particular black pasta, as well as scores of pictures of empty shelves with the product tag and a sad face.

So apparently it's a big deal, so good enough for a review for me.

I think I get the appeal from my kids' standpoint: It's black! Spaghetti usually isn't! This is new and exciting and kinda spooky! I'm sure there's all sorts of creative Halloween-themed dishes you could make with this to have it be even more fun. Although both kids kinda forgot about it in the couple days between purchase and preparation as they both asked why their noodles were black. I just told them that I burned them.

What about us adults? I tried figuring out the benefits or plusses or anything that made squid ink pasta stand apart from the regular ol' semolina fare (aside from appearance of course) and came up with two things: it has more antioxidants and it tastes a little different. I'm not gonna argue about anything with antioxidants - the less oxidants I have to fight on my own, the better - but different taste? Really?

If anything I was surprised by how similar the squidghetti tasted to the usual. It took a few slow, careful, plain bites to discern a small difference, and even then I'm not sure it wasn't a case of me trying too hard. Really, for all intents and purposes, at least to me, it tastes the same, especially when adding garlic and EVOO and shrimp like we did.

Worth a try? Sure. Will it change your pasta-pounding world? Probably not. If you want a dark colored pasta that's truly different, here's another option. But I'm not intimidated by squid ink spaghetti anymore, at the very least, so perhaps I can be a little fancier if I ever see it on a menu somewhere. 'Til then, this will be in our occasional rotation I'm sure for the two or three bucks a package.

Bottom line: Gastronomiche Casa Milo Squid Ink Spaghetti: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Friday, July 27, 2018

Trader Joe's Creamy Polenta


Usually, when Sonia's home, she insists on doing the cooking. I'll admit, she's a little more skilled in the culinary arts than I am, but she's so adamant about always doing the kitchen stuff, I'm beginning to think she has serious doubts about my competence. I don't blame her.

For one, she always insists on washing the skillet thoroughly between each meal. But I always make the point that the remnants of the last meal simply yield "more flavor" in whatever's being prepared currently. She disagrees. She says that idea is "just a guy thing." From what we've heard from other couples, there's not much disagreement on that point.


Fortunately, for this meal, I was home alone and was left to run amok, unchecked by my better half and her pretentious ideas about culinary propriety. There were remnants of a makeshift stir-fry in the pan. I left it there. I mean, I took out the actual food—at first. But I left the remnants in there without washing anything. It was mostly bits of onion with a few shards of green bean and a thin coating of olive oil.

I'm sure this polenta would have been delightful without the onions, green beans, and olive oil, but I'm pretty sure they didn't hurt either. In fact, I liked them with the polenta so much, that I later mixed in the actual leftover stir-fry. Delish.

But I made sure to try the polenta by itself for the sake of this review. Thanks to reader Carissa E, who left a comment on this English muffin review from 2014 encouraging us to try this polenta. She says she'd give it an 11 out of 10. Sorry, Carissa. The scale only goes to 10. 

"These go to 11," right?

I must admit, it's pretty tasty, though. It's very creamy, as the name would suggest. When frozen, the "cream" comes in the form of large pellets that look like oversized white chocolate kisses. There's lots of spinach and plenty of carrot bits. The texture is indeed creamalicious. It's thicker than a soup, but still much more mushy than solid. The carrots didn't add a whole lot to the taste, but they lend a bit of substance to the otherwise porridge-like consistency.

It's got a savory flavor, with plenty of spinach taste to it. There's a buttery/milky flavor, as well. It's a nice comforting taste, with an almost homemade-quality to it. I agree with Carissa that it's much better than the Polenta Provencale. Sonia wishes there were a little more pepper and garlic seasoning in this dish, but was very happy with it other than that. It doesn't say gluten-free on the bag, but we're wondering why it wouldn't be. Cornmeal shouldn't have gluten, should it?

Four stars a piece here.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Trader Joe's Blue Cheese Stuffed Chalkidiki Olives

You've heard of the summer of love...this summer just might be the summer of olives here.

Years ago, if you would have told me that my lovely bride would like olives that weren't just of the canned and black variety, I would have laughed. That's just not what she did...along with many other foods.  Like meatloaf or steak or most red meats or Thai food or chili or pickles or most veggies or anything. I remember asking with trepidation when we were dating if it'd be okay if I made her chocolate chip cookies. I had a really picky girlfriend, apparently, which really adds to the confusion of why she ever picked me.

Now she loves all that stuff, pretty sure me as well, and when she does something like pick up some olives and other cool goodies off a grocery store salad bar to bring home for dinner, it's just not terribly surprising. We've done that a few times recently. The slightly pickled garlic cloves? Awesome! Time changes you, I guess.

Still, Sandy's pretty hesitant about Trader Joe's Blue Cheese Stuffed Chalkidiki Olives. She hasn't tried them, still kinda sticking to her claim that she doesn't like green olives.

I'll get her to, though. Oh I will. Unless I eat all of them first.

I've never heard of a "chalkidiki" olive before. Apparently they're named after a region of Greece and are basically just big and green. That's more or less how they taste as well - big and green, and perhaps a little firmer than the smaller, pimento stuffed olives I'm more accustomed to from growing up.

The creamy cheese filling is pretty delicious, too. Took me a second or thrid read when I noticed the lack of usual bleu cheese bite...but it's not "bleu" cheese, it's "blue" cheese." Well, whatever. It's soft and creamy, a lot  like cream cheese, and jives really well with the olive to make a cool, refreshing, salty snack or addition to antipasto platter.

And typing this I just realized the true appeal to me...

Growing up, on occasion, my mom would make us cream cheese and olive sandwiches. Maybe that sounds odd, but they're delicious. Granted, they were made with those aforementioned pimentoed olives and Philadelphia cream cheese, and the ingredients in these Greek-inspired TJ's olives are perhaps a little fancier than that. But there's still a familiar, yet fancier vibe. I dig it.

It's only a couple bucks for a huge jar. I think it's about $3 or $, but I've misplaced the receipt so I'm open to correction. It strikes me as a decent enough value, and something I hope we pick up on a regular basis this summer as we swelter through and hot dinners just don't sound as appetizing while living in a 100 year old, well insulated brick house with no AC. It's like a Thermos. Great in winter, but not right now. Unlike this olives...if it's the summer of olives, bring it on.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Blue Cheese Stuffed Chalkidiki Olives: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 


Friday, May 18, 2018

Trader Joe's Giardiniera

All I can think of when I see this product is that Iggy Pop track from a few years back: Gardenia. I realize it's not exactly the same word, but it's close enough that I get that bizarre, oddly-catchy chorus stuck in my head.

"Bizarre and oddly-catchy" wouldn't be entirely inaccurate if you were describing these veggies. Although the word "giardiniera" is foreign to me, the concept of spicy, pickled vegetables is not—peppers and carrots in particular. Sonia introduced me to the Mexican version—the La Morena brand—fairly early on in our relationship, and I fell in love with them. They're advertised simply as "pickled jalapeno peppers," but the small can contains carrot slices and onions, as well. La Morena has much more flavor and heat than this Trader Joe's product, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Things like pizza and pasta don't always beg for mouth-searing spiciness in the same way that many Mexican dishes do. That's when these pickled veggies come in handy. They'll spruce up just about any Italian dish that needs a little extra color and flavor—and even most American dishes for that matter.

The veggies are surprisingly crisp and crunchy considering they've been floating in liquid for a good while. The green and red peppers are noticeably limper than fresh specimens. It's the carrots, cauliflower, and pickles that flaunt an unexpected crispness. Some of the cauliflower pieces were large whole florets. I wouldn't have minded them in tinier fragments.

The liquid is predictably briny, but there's a pretty decent balance of the pickled flavor and natural veggie taste. For $1.99, this product makes a nice handy sprucer-upper to have on standby. I probably wouldn't recommend them as a stand-alone snack, although, I guess there are plenty of people who eat pickles that way, and well, there are pickles in here—pickled cucumbers, anyway. So if you'd like to expand your pickled veggie horizons, you should totally check out this jar of giardiniera.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

P.S. - Where are you, Giotto?

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Trader Joe's Just a Handful of Olives Pitted Salted Manzanilla Olives


Ah, it's springtime, and the forsythias are blooming again. Who knew forsythia bushes yielded green olives? Not this guy, that's for sure. Fun fact: they don't actually. But we put these manzanillas there anyway, because, you know...pretty picture.

I hablo enough of the Español to know that "manzana" means "apple." So I figured "manzanilla" might mean apple...something or other. Applicious? Probably not if they're salted. I didn't really think that one through.

Actually, "manzanilla" translates to "chamomile." Do these happy, snackable olives taste like chamomile? You'll just have to watch our short video review to find out.



Closing thoughts: are olives fruits or vegetables? Technically, they're fruits, but for culinary purposes, they're treated as veggies, so I tagged them as both. 4.5 from Sonia. 4 from me.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.



Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Trader Giotto's Organic Spinach & Ricotta Pizza

"Pizza night."

Oh goodness, I love those words.

There's so many things that those words signify. For our family, that almost always means it's Friday night, after a long week of work, and right before a weekend full of familial nonsense like Costco runs (more pizza!) and stuff like kid birthday parties (usually even more pizza!). It means it's time to kick back and relax a little, and chow down on some comfort food. I mean, it's tough to beat pizza. Ask my kids - it's one of few foods we don't have to beg, borrow, and deal with them about. They'll happily chomp it right on down. Easiest dinner this side of mac and cheese, or ice cream sundaes. Eat pizza, pizza yum. Good times.

Yes, we love pizza and what it means...but when I think of pizza, I don't think of pies like Trader Giotto's Organic Spinach & Ricotta Pizza.

I mean, organic? Spinach? That sounds...kinda healthy. I prefer stuff like buffalo chicken or pepperoni or sausage or basically any kind of meat. I want me greasy comfort, not healthy freshness. And ricotta? I have a love/hate with ricotta. Mostly, I love avoiding big globs of it, because I hate big ol' chunks of it. It's one of those "less is more" type deals for me, for sure.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed this particular pie, though. It's not a new favorite, by any stretch, but it works. The key seems to be the sourdough crust - first of all, it tastes fantastic. It's not overly sour, but has just the right touch to offset the thin coat of marinara and play off it a bit. It also helps that the crust is thick and doughy and a little chewy while still getting a little crispy on the bottom. Sandy says she wishes she baked it a little longer than the box instructions dictated to be a little crispier, but nah, was great as is.

And as you can see, there's plenty of spinach atop as well. Nothing too overly special about that - I mean, it's just spinach, but I was pretty happy with how much there was. It helped hide the ricotta a bit. I guess if you're a ricotta aficionado, you may be disappointed with the small crumbles here and there. But for me, I was happy. With the ample mozzarella, it seemed to be more a light creamy touch here and there, without overly affecting either the overall flavor or feel of the pie too much. That's a plus.

Both Sandy and I had to shake a little red pepper flakes to liven up the spinach ricotta pizza a little, which worked great. As you can imagine, without the flakes it was a little plain tasting overall. But in all, it's a solid pie, if not my ideal version. Bonus points for it being a Giotto product - I miss all the different names, and they seem so few and far between these days. It'll be an occasional pick-up for our many pizza nights, I'm sure.

Bottom line: Trader Giotto's Organic Spinach & Ricotta Pizza: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons