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Showing posts with label dinner. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dinner. Show all posts

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Trader Joe's Carnitas with Salsa Verde Burrito


Confession time: I was thinking this was a beef burrito when I bought it. You'd think being married to a Latina, I'd know enough Spanish by now to not make that mistake. I've been learning to hablo the español for the past 14 years. I use the Duolingo app now. I have a 932-day streak going, for crying out loud. That means I've studied Spanish for at least 10 minutes a day for 932 days straight!

But here's the thing: in Spanish, "meat" is carne. The most common example is "carne asada," which literally means "grilled meat." It's always beef. Logically, "carnitas" means "little meats" and would just be teeny tiny beef cutlets, right? Nope. Carnitas is pork. I mean, it says it's pork right on the label, but...well, I'm an idiot, and not at all a real foodie.

Sonia and I avoid pork for the most part. I'd get into the reasons, but that would be a whole other can of worms. We're generally not dogmatic about it. It's just not our thing.


Ironically, the pork was by far the best part of this burrito. I mean, it wasn't spicy, which was disappointing. It was flavorful, but not hot. The tender texture and savory taste of the meat was the only saving grace of this product in my opinion.

Salsa verde? There was salsa in this thing? Neither of us saw or tasted anything even remotely resembling salsa verde here. We added our own salsa verde and it did blend quite nicely.

Likewise, neither Sonia nor I tasted or saw any evidence of cilantro, lime, or pepper jack cheese in our burrito. I'm not saying it wasn't there. I'm just saying if it was there, there was so little of it, it was virtually undetectable. We both just got tortilla—which is pretty run-of-the-mill for a Trader Joe's burrito—and pork, rice, and beans.


All in all, the flavor was good but not great. If the heat, cheese, and cilantro lime had shown up the way I'd hoped they would, I might have been able to recommend this wholeheartedly to pork lovers. We opted for 35 minutes in the conventional oven at 350° for a "crisp" tortilla. $3.99 for the burrito. As is, I think we're looking at about two and a half stars from Sonia, three and a half from me on Trader Joe's Carnitas with Salsa Verde Burrito.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Gnocchi

Maybe our taste buds are broken, but this tasted exactly like sweet potato gnocchi to Sonia and me. It's the combination of potato flakes, pumpkin puree, and cane sugar I bet. I know pumpkin tastes like squash....because it is a squash. But sweet potato? I guess if you throw regular potato and sugar in there...

Texture-wise, the gnocchi was soft, supple, and pliable, as were most iterations of gnocchi we've seen from Trader Joe's throughout the years. Nothing to complain about there. The flavor, while pleasant...was just a tad plain.

Sonia read on the interwebs that adding sage butter to this product really made its flavor shine. Alas, we had no sage. So I did a search for what herbs could replace sage and came back with marjoram, thyme, and oregano.


I looked in our spice rack and discovered that Trader Joe's Za'atar Seasoning contains all three. So I added butter and a dusting of zaatar. Delicious. It really complimented the sweet potato-esque elements in the product and made the whole thing much more flavorful. And in my opinion, the more butter, the better.

It's a decent product, but both the beautiful wifey and I think it needs a bit of help to push it into that realm of really darn goodness. As is, we'll go with "not bad."

$2.99 for 3 servings. Three and a half stars from Sonia. Three from me.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Trader Joe's Brussels Sprouts & Uncured Bacon Ravioli

 

There's nary a veggie our family doesn't love. Our twice a week Costco bill surely validates that. The only veggie I remain fairly wary of would be a kohlrabi, just because it looks too much like something I should yank from the ground and toss at a Shy Guy or Ostro a la Super Mario 2....that game frustrated me too much as a kid, and even in recent years, trying to show my kids how "awesome" it was. I don't need memories of my 8 bit trauma on my dinner plate. 

But yeah, even Brussels sprouts make the cut here. Love 'em in all varieties of ways, but mixin' 'em with bacon makes 'em even better. So, totes obvi, Trader Joe's Brussels Sprouts & Uncured Bacon Ravioli was a must get once they popped up in store. 

You gotta really like bacon to like these pasta creations. Yes, the ravioli is green as it has some spinach powder added to try to amp up the sprout factor. Maybe it's supposed to look like some sort of cruciferous concoction. But really....take a bite. It's bacon! So much of it, all ground up and mixed in with some not too chunky Brussels, and a smattering of cheese sauce-ish base. The package also says caramelized onions, and yeah, if I tried hard enough, I could kinda taste them...but mostly, it was bacon and soft cheese with only the occasional fibrous lil chunkie that suggested vegetative content. 

In other words, you're gonna want some veggies on the side here, folks. 

Nonetheless, it was a quick, tasty, fun meal. All we did was boil them up which took no time as they're sold fresh, then we added a little oil. The kids sprinkled (or in the case of our seven year old, totally cakked them) with Parmesan cheese, whereas I was pretty content to eat them as is. The ravioli would probably do okay with a variety of sauces, but perhaps a lighter one would be suggested - I feel as though some taste would get lost in something too creamy, too heavy or too rich. 

$3.99 for a package that yield two pretty ample servings. That seems about right, with prices what they are these days.  Two packages were more than enough four crew. These will be a staple for a quick, easy, fairly delish family meal this fall. Double fours here. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Brussels Sprouts & Uncured Bacon Ravioli: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Trader Joe's Loaded Potatoes

 Meat and potatoes. Potatoes and meat. Classic pairing, often done in various forms, almost always tasty and tough to argue with, and comes thru in a pinch. 

Please pardon the partially crinkled box of Trader Joe's Loaded Potatoes we have for this post's model. It had been lurking in the bottom of our freezer for who knows how long - few weeks minimum,  maximum of...well....I don't know. 

What I do know is the final form of this product doesn't look much like the box pic. In my state of heightened crankiness and bad hangritude (that's be hungry/angry/attitude all in one) I totally neglected to take a pic. Just imagine bigger, more starkly white potato chunks, without nearly as much sauce to cover and immerse. The pic almost looks like a tasty homemade concoction, whereas the real deal was pretty adamant it was, in fact, a freezer one. 

But no mind. It's meat and potatoes! So it's almost by default tasty. A little ground beef, a handful of tomatoes and scallions, almost enough creamy cheese sauce (nothing fancy, it's a mozz and cheddar combo with cream), coupla jalapenos and boom. Nothing fancy, and something almost like what I'd make as a 'Dad meal" from whatever I had in the kitchen. Except....no work involved. Just nuking a tray for eight-plus minutes. I'm not sure if that's a weak microwave we have or if we just had a radiation resistant batch, as directions call for five but was cold enough when pulled out that my lovely bride had to spit out her initial bite. 

What did this cost? $3? $4? Something like that. It's really not big enough to share, but is somewhat nutritionally advantageous to do so. Get some veggies on the side to fill in, as man, this wasn't close to enough. But it was tasty. Another serving idea: heat some up then scramble in a couple eggs to make some sort of cheesy breakfast kinda hash. I'm positive that'd work and be more filling too. there's not much spice to be had here, so if hot sauce is normally your kinda thing, you'll want some on hand. 

Not amazingly awesome, but not bad at all either. Meat and potatoes. Always dependable. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Loaded Potatoes: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Trader Joe's Beef Birria

Like any good dad, I could mumble under my breath about any number of things my kids have done. Leave their wet swimsuits on their bedroom floor? "Forget" to feed the cats again? Take my cell phone charger and knock my pillow right from it's perfect spot, all in one swoop?

Yes, to all those, almost every day. 

And man, to top it off this past week, none of my kiddos left Dear Ol' Dad any tortillas, so when I finally had a few hours to myself one night and wanted to make tacos with Trader Joe's Beef Birria, alas, I could not. 

At first, I'll admit, I was fairly sad about about having to make the birria as more a stew then a taco. The first few bites, with that amazing warm, welcoming sauce (or perhaps more aptly here, broth)....man. I just wanted something carby to help soak all that up. If we even had some rice (did my kids eat everything...again...did they eat uncooked rice???), it would've been welcomed. Mildly spiced, but just pleasant overall, until....

Eating the TJ's beef birria this way, no sidekick style, made me have to really focus on the quality of the broth. And unfortunately, this stuff suffers tremendously from the law of diminishing returns. The more of it I ate, the less I liked it. It still tasted "good" in some ways, but was increasingly one-noted, kinda flat, and as you can likely guess, incredibly salty. There's so much good flavor in the world, why does sodium overloadium have to be so prevalent? It's not like I have much authentic birria exposure, but I'm reasonably confident that most quality iterations have complexities and layers to their flavor profile. Here, it's not so much. It's just...salt. Red salt, I guess, with some scant notes of chili and garlic or whatever else, but really, it's almost all salt. If my newly established cardiologist would have seen me chowing down, I'd hope she'd properly slap me. 

Obviously, that's the biggest detriment. Everything else seems alright. The beef is a little mushy, as one would expect from a frozen entree, but still had a good quality to it. It wasn't too stringy or fatty or anything, and had a decent pot roast kinda feel to it. It was a good sized portion, but for the price I paid ($7.99!), I'd hope for a few bites more. That'd make it a more feasible tacos-for-two kinda dish. 

And, well...that's about all there is to it. 

My lovely bride didn't have a chance to try, as she was out wrangling those kiddos. When I made my dinner report to her, there was some initial disappointment, but assuredly, love, you're not missing much here. This will be hard pass from here on out. Not a fan. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Beef Birria: 3 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Trader Joe's Gochujang Vegetable Stir Fry


 Yeah, yeah, I know, we review plenty of snacks and treats here - more than plenty, but believe me, we eat our veggies too, at least my lovely bride, our kiddo squad and I. Produce takes up a significant chunk of our grocery bill and food storage, and as long as we don't stick it in the basement refrigerator, almost never our garbage bags. The beer fridge unfortunately where fruits and veggies go to be neglected and die.

We just don't review too many here, except when something new and exciting like Trader Joe's Gochujang Vegetable Stir Fry comes out, we just gotta try it!

Wait...what? This isn't brand new and has been around for months...or maybe even years? I could have sworn I've never seen this before - maybe it's somehow magically new to the Pittsburgh region (we are, after all, pretty much last to get anything), or maybe we do need to pay more attention to the veggies at TJ's after all. 

Anyhoos, what you see here is what you get. It's a nice little medley of everyone's trendyish low crab fave - zoodles! -  carrots, diced bell peppers, edamame, broccoli and green beans, all awash in a soy-based gochujang-tinged sauce. Nothing fancy, and honestly, a touch underwhelming, for a couple reasons. 

First and foremost - where's all the zoodles?!?!?!?! For a supposed four serving bag, which Sandy and I easily split two ways, we each got maybe two bites of zucchini. C'mon now.  If we stuck to a serving each, does that mean one bite - or less - for each? Give up the zoodles! 

Second, this would be much better off as a fresh and not frozen product. There's so much moisture from the freezing process here that everything seems a little soft and limp, aside from the edamame. It also took forever for the sauce to vaguely thicken up which further contributed to the over-steamed sensation. 

And third - well - maybe this is just me and my mixed experiences with gochujang, but I'd expect just a touch more of a kick. The spice level here is pretty mild, more of a touch of warmth than anything. It's pretty tasty and pleasant, don't get me wrong, but seems like maybe a touch less soy and a bit more chili pepper would do the trick. 

It's not an awful mix, but don't get it thinking it can be a meal by itself. We added some grilled chicken and even then it was somewhat lacking, even when doubling up servings. A little rice, or a lot more zoodles, would have been a good touch. 

In all, it's not bad mix for what it is, but I'd much prefer the raw/roasted/fresh veg we're used to than this frozen mix. At least it didnt come from a can. I'd pick it up again, maybe but maybe a couple zukes abd break out our spiral cutter too. And add some of our own gochujang to kick it up. or maybe just makes it mself, can't be that hard...anyways....

Double threes. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Gochujang Vegetable Stir Fry: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

 

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, January 24, 2022

Trader Joe's Indian Fare Kitchari

Sonia and I both love Indian food and have been to numerous Indian restaurants in numerous cities, so I thought it odd that neither of us had heard of kitchari before this. Apparently, the way it's pronounced rhymes with "stitchery" or "witchery," and it's a dish frequently used for cleansing or anti-inflammatory purposes. Here's a good article on the subject.

We've seen these convenient microwavable pouches of Indian Fare from Trader Joe's before. Nuke for about a minute, dump on rice, and voila, an extremely cheap and easy Indian meal. 
The smell of this dish was wonderful straight out of the microwave. There was a rich earthiness under a fragrant spice blend including ginger, fennel, cardamom, and turmeric. Upon tasting it, we were both somewhat unimpressed. We both agreed it didn't taste as bold as it smelled, and we wished there had been more whole peas or beans or something to bite down on. The texture was quite mushy.


The split mung beans by themselves didn't do much for us in the flavor department, and the spice blend, though pleasant, wasn't as pungent as we'd hoped. We certainly liked it overall, but didn't love it by any means, especially when compared to the vast majority of amazingly flavorful Indian products we've tried from TJ's over the years.

But then I decided to do some internet recon on the dish. That's when I stumbled upon that article I linked to in the first paragraph. It seems like maybe kitchari is more of a medicinal dish than the typical wild ride for the taste buds that East Indian cuisine can often be. Apparently, it's mushy by design, and that makes it super easy to digest. Other properties of the mung beans help remove toxins from the digestive system. Also the spice blend is so mild that even young children and old folks can consume it, according to that article.


As fate should have it, my stomach had been upset for a day or two prior to trying the kitchari. And...as fate should have it, the kitchari helped. It helped a lot actually. I noticed an almost immediate improvement with my gastrointestinal grumblings.

So...if you're looking for a scrumptious Indian dish, click right here and scroll through 12 years of reviews. I'd put this one near the bottom of the pack if scoring on taste and texture alone, but I can't deny there are definite detox qualities here...and again, it's not bad tasting by any means. $2.29 for the single serving pack. It's not explicitly labeled as "vegan" for some reason, but I can't see why it wouldn't be.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Trader Joe's Chicken & Chimichurri Empanadas


Despite her Latin-ness, Sonia isn't an expert when it comes to empanadas. That is, she didn't grow up eating them and I certainly didn't either. However, we've sampled a few tasty ones here and there throughout the years, so we're not entirely unfamiliar.

In the manner of tamales, mole, and flan, empanadas are eaten year round but are often associated with special occasions, including the Christmas and New Year's holidays. So I guess these are appropriate for this final week of the year when it's difficult to discern what day it is and 2022 resolutions still seem abstract and irrelevant.


Air fryer instructions are given on the back of the box. Hallelujah. And for the first time EVER I wound up heating the product for LESS time than was suggested on the packaging. The box said 375° for 15 minutes, but the chicken and chimichurri empanadas were fully cooked and crispy at about 13 and a half.

The crust was nice and flaky. It was crispy but not brittle. I wouldn't have minded a tad more filling inside each pocket, but what was there was impressive—finely shredded chicken and a delicious blend of veggies and spices. Very flavorful. Mildly spicy.


Sonia remarked that they were "very salty...but really good." At just shy of a quarter of your daily sodium in each empanada, I think that qualifies as "very salty."

$4.29 for two empanadas. It's not the most food for your buck at Trader Joe's. Each empanada feels more like an appetizer to me rather than a main dinner entree, but the quality is there in my opinion. Nearly restaurant quality for nearly restaurant prices. Four stars each from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Trader Joe's Vegan Stuffed Roast


A couple weeks ago a weird article about a human meat flavored product was going viral around the interwebs. Yep. Vegan peopleburgers from Sweden. A quick read of the article certainly raises more questions than it answers, at least in my mind. Like: how do they know what peopleburgers taste like? Also: what market are we targeting here? Native cannibal tribes who are running out of victims? Luciferian elites that consume children but are becoming wary of being exposed? Even meatatarians and carnivores should be able to get behind a cause that encourages people to eat fewer people, right? 

Okay, okay. Sorry. That subject is macabre and kinda gross for Friday fare on a food blog. But it got me thinking: if I eat something like Turkey-Less Turkey and I like the taste on the whole, but I don't think it tastes anything like real turkey, it's kind of a flop, right? But on the other hand if they don't tell me it's supposed to taste like turkey and I still generally like the taste, then it's a thumbs up, no? Likewise if a vegannibal eats a peopleburger and his reaction is "Delicious! But it tastes nothing like REAL people meat," then wouldn't it have been smarter to just leave it up in the air as a "meatless plant-based sandwich" that may or may not taste just like real dead human?

Again, sorry for the dark subject matter. If you're anything like me, you find it mildly amusing. Also, I just made up the word "vegannibal."

This product isn't necessarily supposed to taste like turkey or people or any other particular animal. It's just a "meatless plant-based roast with savory vegetable stuffing." I like that. It is what it is. Nothing less. Nothing more.


Although, now having said that, the finished product looks a bit like a baked ham, complete with scoring lines. Perhaps this product is scored for the same purpose: so the baste will penetrate a little deeper into the "meat." I basted ours with avocado oil. Tasty.

The texture was just a tad more rubbery than any type of roasted meat I've had. Maybe rubbery isn't the right word...perhaps "chewy" would be more accurate and a little less insulting to the roast. I suppose a few more minutes in the oven might have remedied the chewiness to some degree, but I was concerned about having it dry out. I used the "heat from frozen" directions and had it in the oven for a total of 85 minutes, basting twice during the process.

There's a nice blend of seasoning in the roast, including onion, garlic, lemon, and paprika. It's not particularly potent, though, so you might want to throw on some extra spices from the rack to suit your taste. The overall flavor is savory and pleasant, and honestly it's not a far cry from that of ham.

Unlike the aforementioned Turkey-Less Roast, this product doesn't have any kind of gravy. I'm not really into gravy that much, but I found myself wanting some here. The roast isn't dry per se, but the uniformity of the dense texture just begs for some kind of liquid condiment. The vegetarian gravy included with the Turkey-Less product was surprisingly good and would have worked with this offering, too.

I liked the central stuffing part of the product more than the outer portions. The stuffing is a little more interesting, texture-wise, and there are some veggie elements you can see and taste like kale and cauliflower.

$5.99 for 5 servings. Pairing this roast up with other sides like mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce would work nearly as well as a traditional meat-based holiday meal. I'd happily eat this if I were giving thanks with vegans or vegetarians or just some other adventurous eaters. It's wheat-based, rather than soy, which is another plus in my book. I think we're looking at about 3.5 stars a piece from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Trader Joe's Turkey Sausage Stuffing Fried Rice

 

Earlier this week, we discussed rice turned into stuffing, so in the name of equality, it's only appropriate to now cover stuffing turned into rice...right?

Look, I was just as bewildered as you may currently may be at the existence of something known as Trader Joe's Turkey Sausage Stuffing Fried Rice. I mean...well, as my duty, I shall grab a couple bags and make it for dinner and let y'all know what I think. I chance family dinner time for you all a lot. 

In all honesty, though, the stuffing fried rice is a decent enough product. The first bites are a bit odd, yes. Wish I would have filmed the reaction of my lovely bride. She's the cutest when she looks all quizzical. There's the initial comfort of, yes, stuffing..all that rosemary and sage and customary flavorings...but also the realization it's in a different form, known roughly equally as well for its comfort vibes. It's unmistakably stuffing in fried rice form. Taste and texture do not match. Brain must compute. It's odd. 

Once you get accustomed though...it's good stuff. 


There's carrots and green beans and corn all mixed in for some good veggie representation. Every here and there, you'll get a breadcrumb clump to help remind you'd its kinda like stuffing. Plenty of spices and flavorings all point towards stuffing

Turkey sausage though? That's an interesting choice. That's meant as no offense against turkey sausage. Generally speaking I appreciate it just fine. But still...maybe some turkey shreds might have been a better choice. A couple turkey chunks, all roasted and whatnot? Yeah, there we go. As is, the turkey sausage mini-meatball guys are somewhat nondescript and not overly suggestive of turkey. 

Overall though, the stuffing fried rice is a pretty decent dinner pickup for a quick, easy crowd pleaser. Our kiddos gobbled it down and asked for seconds. And at $3.99 a package, and a few minutes of heating up in our wok, it's not a bad choice and one we are looking to repeat. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Turkey Sausage Stuffing Fried Rice: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Stuffing Mix


 So listen...yes, it's Halloween in a few days and I hate the seasonal creep as much as anyone else. One holiday at a time. Yes, absolutely, yes. 

But stuffing really shouldn't be relegated to "just Thanksgiving" right? Like, when it's one of the first cold rainy days of the fall, when it's a great day to stay inside, watch some movies, play some games, read some books and snuggle some cats, a little warm stuffing will only do, right?

Such as it was this past weekend, and my lovely bride and I wanted to make one of her mom's classic comfort foods, chicken and stuffing. It's...what it sounds like it is, except with some cream of whatever soup and cheddar cheese all dumped in and mixed up. Not classy, per se, but pretty darn delicious. 

As you guessed by now, we used Trader Joe's Gluten Free Stuffing Mix. 

And you know what? it worked. Everything about the celiac friendly stuffing mix hit all the right buttons. We have no express need to be gluten free so we tend to judge these kinda products a bit closely. Honestly, and I mean this a compliment, I'd have no idea this was sans wheat if I didn't know.

No graininess. No dryness. No weird vibes. Okay, a few bites were a bit granular and sandy, but none so more that can happen with "regular" stuffing. That can be the fault of inadequate mixing more than anything. I'd never think that rice flour were capable of such a thing, but technology these days, I guess, right?

For taste, the stuffing gives off all the right flavors. There's all the savory aspects of chicken broth and celery and pepper and yeah, absolutely, a lot of salt. It's all there. If not making our particular dish, adding some apple slices or raisins like my mom did would have been a nice little touch. 

There's really not much to suggest that the TJ's GF stuffing is all that much different from Stove Top or even a decent homemade variety. It's easy and convenient and delish - all our kiddos gobbled it down and begged for seconds. Winner winner...turkey dinner? Grab some if you see it. $3ish bucks so it's worth it. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Gluten Free Stuffing Mix: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, October 1, 2021

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Butternut Squash Bisque


Have you noticed that the internet can read your mind now?

I mean, for as long as I can remember, it's shown me targeted ads based on my searches, purchases, and sites that I visit frequently. Then it started to show me ads for things that I'd only talked about, which isn't all that spooky since pretty much every device has a microphone that's listening 24/7. A little creepy, but easily explainable, right?

But lately, I've noticed there are ads for things I haven't even talked about—only thought about. Like after mowing the lawn the other day, I was thinking about how my back felt a little out of alignment. I hadn't thought about visiting a chiropractor in years, but for some reason the notion crossed my mind to look for a local one, and sure enough, the very next time I brought up this very blog, there in the right side bar was an ad for a local chiropractic center. Never said a word about it to anyone.


The logical conclusion? The internet can read my mind. We live in The Matrix. Or there are some ultra-advanced algorithms that have gotten weirdly good at predicting specific events within complex systems. I'm not sure which. Similarly, yet perhaps not quite as dumbfoundingly mysterious, Trader Joe's "read our minds" with this particular iteration of pumpkin soup.

Both Sonia and I had talked about how the pumpkin bisque from a couple years ago was too sweet and would have worked well with other veggies like butternut squash. Lo and behold, here it is in our grocery bag just two years later.

It's still punkinny. It's still creamy. It still has hints of onion, garlic, and apple cider vinegar. But it's much less sweet. Still a little sweet, to be sure, but they toned it down a few notches in a really good way. The savory flavors come through better in this iteration. It has a rich, harvesty taste that's very pleasant.


The part where they neglected to read my mind is where I wanted chunky veggies in the previous version. This one is still very smooth. There are teensy bits and flecks of stuff, but everything is pureed. It wouldn't have hurt the mix to have actual carrot and onion pieces floating throughout. We tossed some of the recently-reviewed veggie bites into our bowls, which partially redeemed them from their boring-ness, and partially redeemed this product from its lack of toothsome chompability.

Sonia's still into this stuff significantly more than I am, but it's a step in the right direction from that super sweet pumpkin bisque in the Mason jar if you ask me.

$3.99 for a 20 oz tub. Four stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Trader Joe's Kale & Cauliflower Chili with Navy Beans

 

Let's get real here for a quick mo...can anything really beat chili?

Of course, this is a seasonally qualified statement. Chili on a 100 degree/100% humidity day? No way no how. Nuh uh. Non starter. There's amendments against cruel and unusual punishments, after all. So yeah, not then. 

But on a cool or cooler day, when only something warm and hearty will do? Chili please! Keep it coming. All day long. 

Though nothing beats homemade, in a quick pinch for a bite, may I humbly suggest giving Trader Joe's Kale & Cauliflower Chili with Navy Beans a try?

Though I'm carnivorous by nature, I'm always down for an intriguing sounding veggie/vegan chili option. Chili works really well sans meat, heck, I'll even make it that way sometimes myself. This particular new TJ's chili, when spotted, became a must try, even when met with an initial wave of excitement mixed with a little skepticism. How good could it really be?

I took a taste, and now I'm a believer. 

Really, there's nothing not to like here, and nothing is missed. Big ol' meateating me loved every bite. There's the right consistency - not too watery, with plenty of bite between all the kale and beans and cauliflower crumbles. There's the right level of spice - enough to get a rise, sure, but not enough to overwhelm. It's kept in check perfectly. And there's the right amount of flavor - and it's delicoous! Kale is as fresh as can be given its circumstances, the beans add their beany goodness, all the spices are balanced in the right proportions to another. There's a pretty healthy dose of cinnamon added, which gives a nice little slant on the whole experience with a nice little warming touch that seems to really add a solid base to everything else. There's pepper and garlic and tomatoes and...it's just good. Every bite has a little bit of everything. It's awesome. 



Going back to the spice level, I'd rate it as about a 6/10 if eating straight on. It's more a flavorful spice than straight-out fire. I for one felt no need to add a little extra somethin'-somethin' to give it a kick. But , if say, one would add some cheese or pour over a baked potato (which this chili practically screams for doing) or some cornbread, I could see the heat getting dissipated a bit. For some of you, that'd be a plus, others, maybe not so much. But to me, that means it strikes about the right balance so as to be platable to the masses.

My lovely bride and I have already decided: we're stocking up. It's delicious and a jar will easily fill the two of us without giving either of us the food baby/food coma/ingested brick feeling I get with other chilis. This just may become our new cold day quick meal go to, and for like $4 for the jar, it cannot be beat. Love it. No faults at all here. Shoo the clouds away from the top of Olympus, we got a new Pantheoner here. Perfect fives and we mean it.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Kale & Cauliflower Chili with Navy Beans: 10 out of 10 Golden Spoons










Monday, September 6, 2021

Trader Joe's Organic Chickpea & Red Lentil Risoni

Did you know you can eat more food if you eat very quickly? It's true. If you eat slowly, you can feel yourself getting full. If you eat too fast, you're far more likely to overeat.

I did that with this deceptively dense and filling rice substitute for my "second breakfast" meal the other day. It was my first time trying risoni. I made about two thirds of the six-serving box, threw in some olive oil and onion salt and started chowing down.

Within minutes I had eaten about half the portion that I made, which if you do the math, is about two full servings of the product. I don't think I'll see any long-term weight gain or anything like that, but in 5 or 10 minutes these legume-based "grains" expanded in my tummy and made it feel FULL as can be, and lemme tell ya, I had some massive postprandial somnolence going on. I could barely function for a few hours. Didn't expect that from a box of chickpeas and lentils.


Full disclosure, I did add some cheese before I finished my portion—er two portions, rather—because I felt it lacked a little zing. I mean it lacked zing the way plain rice lacks zing. It's actually much tastier than I thought it would be.

Usually mid-morning, Sonia is still in coffee and cereal mode, but on this particular occasion, she followed my lead and finished the other half of the risoni in the sauce pan well before elevensies. She was even more impressed than I was and wound up more than full after consuming approximately two regular servings of this would-be side dish turned stand-alone meal randomly prepared and consumed on this Labor Day weekend.

There's an earthy richness that white rice lacks here, however, both risoni and rice need at least a little bit of salt to be palatable, if you ask me. Texture-wise, it's slightly more al dente than regular rice, but still somewhat soft and supple. Along with olive oil and cheese, this could be a stand-alone meal, or at least a snack. We both think it would go great as a side for chicken or fish, or basically wherever you'd use rice or cauliflower rice or orzo type foods.

$2.99 for the box. Would buy again.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Trader Joe's Vegan Meatless Meat Eater's Pizza

As you're likely more than well aware of by now, life is full of endless contradictions and redundacies. Who am I to depress you by pointing more out? We're diversion, not real life commentary, for the most part. 

Still, the name "Trader Joe's Vegan Meatless Meat Eater's Pizza" is a bit of a headache. It's both vegan (one definition) and meatless (another definition), which I understand the nuances betweenn't those words. It's like a square and rectangle thing. A square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is necessarily a square. Duh. Thanks, sixth grade geometry. But...why use both? Then use the phrase "meat eater"? Is the phrase "meat lover" trademarked or taboo? Is the meat eater the vegan meatless entity here, really, and not the pizza? But then how can one be a meatless meat eater, unless you're referring to one's body as being composed of meat, and being a person who has to eat, which while technically true is unecessarily complicated and creepy for a food product name for it to point out? This whole thing makes me go for the Excedrin. 

Good thing this is actually a surprisingly good pizza.

Not gonna lie: I had somewhat low expectations for this pizza, based on nothing but a whim. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised. Usually I can taste the difference between vegan meat substitutes and the real deal, but here, whether the pepperoni, the sausage, or the "chorizo style crumbles" it tasted 100% real. Everything was properly spiced, and had a little pseudo gristle which passed off as close enough to real deal, and dare I say, was even a little meaty. To be sure, each of the not-meats were a touch softer than the real deal, but man, it could have fooled me if I weren't paying close attention. Exceptionally well done here, TJ's.

If anything here is the vegan tell, it's the cheese. And that's not a knock. Don't let the pic fool you - while not looking overly melty like a good mozzarella, it has a shockingly creamy mouthfeel. A little too creamy. But it's a plus and not a minus - maybe some of that is a diversion away from the textural differences of the meat subsitutes. Can't say I've had a mozzarella quite like that - soft, mild, creamy - and while not true to the real thing, it works pretty well on this particular pie.  

The one thing, though, is this: the crust. It's a pretty standard frozen pizza crust. While that's not a demerit all by itself, the first ingredient, out of all things, is wheat flour. Listen: TJ's went thru all the trouble of making passable pepperonis, salient sausages, choice chorizos and melty mozzarellas out of things like soy and peas and mushrooms and coconuts and whatever else...but not a decent gluten free crust to really seal the deal and drive this baby home? Jeez Louise. The mind boggles. Check all the boxes next time, TJ's. 

Also: an ingredient is listed as rice brain oil in both the sausagey subs. Not rice bran. Rice brain. I don't want to eat rice with a brain, and does that make it an animal and therefore a meat? More Excedrin STAT. 

At least the tomatoes are most likely vegan, even if beefstakes.

Anyways, my lovely bride and I were most happy with this purchase for $5ish for an easy dinner for the two of us, and we'd likely do again. No headache about that, it's an easy choice. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Vegan Meatless Meat Eater's Pizza: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

 

 
 

Friday, July 30, 2021

Trader Joe's Hatch Chile Chicken Wraps


Can we count our chickens now?

I've heard all my life: "Don't count your chickens before they're hatched." Well, this chicken has clearly been hatched. That is, it's been given the Hatch treatment with chile peppers from Hatch, New Mexico.

During our travels, Sonia and I spent about a week in Las Cruces, NM. It was one of our favorite places in the country—like probably in the top 5. Definitely top 10. I'm not sure if Las Cruces is technically part of the Hatch Valley, but at any rate, it's less than an hour from the town of Hatch. While there, we bought a jar of mom and pop's Hatch chile salsa that we greatly enjoyed, the brand name of which escapes me now. We did find it a bit watery, but the flavor and spice level were just about perfect for us, though. It might have been just a notch above the Trader José Hatch Chile Salsa.


The flavor and spice level here are pretty spot on, too. There's not an overwhelming level of heat, and what heat there is brings a flavorful wave of chile pepper. It's not just heat for heat's sake.

The crust is flaky, crispy, and medium-thick. Before biting into the product, the folded shape of it greatly resembles that of a Taco Bell Crunchwrap Supreme® but instead of beef and lettuce, it's filled with chicken and chiles.

The poultry in the dish is so shredded and minced that there are virtually no discernible "pieces" of meat, per se. It's like a chicken salad kinda vibe, texture-wise. Likewise, the peppers and black beans aren't whole, they're sort of smooshed and whirled into the filling mixture.


There are a few types of cheese in the filling mixture, too, namely mozzarella and Monterey Jack. They're tasty, but they don't provide quite the level of comfort food satisfaction I was hoping for. Sonia and I both wanted more chunks of...anything. Kernels of corn, whole beans, or even larger pieces of peppers would have been a bit more appetizing than the mushy filling as it is.

Still, it's a tasty mush. $3.29 for two wraps, enough to feed two people for dinner. All in all, not a bad purchase, but not sure if it will find its way onto our TJ's shopping list on the regular. Three and a half stars a piece.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Trader Joe's Jerk Chicken Burrito


Lately, I've been waking up super early. Not sure if it's just part of being an old man or a type of insomnia or a shift in circadian rhythms. Growing up, I always wanted to stay up as late as I possibly could. I found it exciting. All the best TV shows were on late at night, for one thing. Now, I have little to no interest in television, and in the summer time, I often nod off shortly after the sun sets.

Likewise, I tend to be up an hour or so before sunrise. I find I get a lot done very early in the morning. I can make my own schedule for my work, so I often have more than half the day's tasks completed before the beautiful wifey even wakes up.


I don't know if this goes along with just suddenly becoming a morning person after a lifetime of leaning towards being a night owl, but I find myself craving more substantial food for breakfast, i.e. lunch or dinner type fare for my morning meal. And yes, that's exactly what I did with this jerk chicken burrito. I fired up the oven around 5 a.m. and was chowing down by 5:30 or so.

I'm always super hungry at that hour, and that may have influenced my enjoyment of the product, but I'll try to be objective as I can. First impression: cutting into the burrito, there's a sweet, fruity smell. That must be the fruit salsa mentioned on the wrapper. I'd rather smell spices on jerk chicken, but it can also pair well with sweet stuff, too.

Taste-wise, the sweetness isn't overwhelming. Along with coconut rice, the fruit salsa is enough to give the burrito a distinctly Caribbean flavor. The jerk spices are there, but could be stronger. They linger on the back burner while you chomp away and creep up on you after a number of bites. They're still not as intense as jerk spices should be, but they're flavorful and pleasant.


The texture of the chicken was excellent—cooked to perfection. Trader Joe's chicken products have been hit or miss in that department throughout the years. The chicken chunks here were not chewy or stringy or rubbery, at least in our batch.

I cut the burrito in two and saved half for Sonia, who reheated it in the air fryer and consumed it many hours later around lunch time, like a normal person. She liked it, too, noting the large, whole beans and coconut rice rounded out both taste and texture nicely.

For $3.99, it's a pretty decent meal for one person, or it could be split in two and supplemented with a few snacks or sides. Could use more heat for authentic jerk status, but it'll get a thumbs up from both Sonia and me. Four stars a piece.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Trader Joe's Wild Caught Cooked Atlantic Octopus

Okay, sorry, story time. It's cute, don't worry. For many nights over the past few weeks, at bedtime, i've had to spend ample time convincing one of my young kids that no, a giant octopus was not going to eat her overnight. I have no idea where she got that idea. I've "locked" the door and put her other stuffed animals on guard. I've made magic protective spells. I've even reminded here that here in Pittsburgh we live nowhere near an ocean. Doesn't matter. She had legit fear that a giant octopus was gonna come eat her. Even if Daddy was bigger and tastier looking, as I also reminded her. Nothing worked...

...until Trader Joe's Wild Caught Cooked Atlantic Octopus debuted in freezers a couple weeks back. "Look, sweetie!" I exclaimed. "Trader Joe's caught the giant octopus! We're safe!"

She totally bought that, then in toddler logic deduced that if the giant octopus can no longer eat us, we should eat the giant octopus. I thought she was joking but she insisted for weeks that we buy it to eat it. Finally, we relented.

And know what? We'd do it again. 

Granted, it can be somewhat of a visually challenging buy. I mean: tentacles, right? Gulp. 

But thaw it out and warm it up. As it says, fully cooked, which saves a few hours of prep from raw. We decided to make a simple "salad" of sorts with red onion, cucumber, and grilled octopus, prepped with just a little EVOO and salt and pepper. The octopus itself is firmer than we thought - sort of like a cross between calamari and a chicken sausage - while being extremely mild. No fishiness or anything. Likely if marinated, it'd soak up whatever flavor it was swimming in. Okay, not sure I like that visual either...my bad. 

And there's no rubberiness or anything, and as my lovely bride stated, even when chewing on a tentacle, it's the same feel in your mouth. Your teeth don't know the difference. If it's just a bit much, though, the tentacles can be removed easily enough which we did for our kids to get them to eat a bite before rewarding them with a hot dog. More octopus for us and happy kids. Win win. 

And our kid who begged for the octopus? We let her have first bite. She popped it in, amde a face, spat it promptly out, then said she loved it but had to twist her arm to eat it the rest of the meal, only for her to state afterwards it was her favorite. Yeah, I don't know either. 

Anyways, the eight ounce package is enough for two servings and costs $8.99. Seems reasonable compared to most seafood, and a buy we'd make again. Would love to hear ideas of how you all may have enjoyed the TJ's octopus, so share away. Double fours. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Wild Caught Cooked Atlantic Octopus: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons