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

Monday, May 24, 2021

Trader Joe's Carne Asada Burritos


A lot of my gringo friends think I must be eating things like tacos, nachos, and carne asada burritos on the regular since I'm married to a Latina of Mexican descent. While I am treated to an authentic dish from time to time, courtesy of the beautiful wifey or possibly her mom, it's usually a dish native to southern Mexico, specifically the state of Oaxaca. We're talking stuff like salsa de queso and tlayuda topped with quesillo cheese. Yum.

While similar to the cuisine of northern Mexico, the food my wife's family makes only occasionally contains red meat and is virtually never presented in a burrito-type format. All that to say, we're not really carne asada burrito experts or connoisseurs, although living in Los Angeles for seven years and thirty-one years, respectively, might mean we've had more decent Mexican food than the average American. If I have only one good thing to say about SoCal, it's that there's plenty of well-above-par Mexican at surprisingly affordable prices, if you know where to look.


After resisting the urge to heat the burritos in the air fryer, I opted for the oven. 20 minutes at 450 degrees as per the heating instructions yielded a warm outer shell and a nearly-still-frozen center. So I continued heating.

Another ten minutes at 450 seemed to do the trick. I tried the burrito plain at first. The meat was a little gristly. If I'm going to eat beef, I prefer it ground. If it's steak or carne asada, I'm not a big fan of wads of fat and sinewy textures. There was definitely a bit of that here. If you don't mind your meat a tad chewy, at least I can tell you there's plenty of it—at least one or two chunks of carne in every bite. 

Taste-wise, the blend of onions, chiles, and cilantro was underwhelming. There's a very mild heat and just a moderate amount of extra savory flavors. The product needed cheese, salsa, and sour cream to be truly palatable for either of us.


In the end, we each finished our burrito in one sitting, but we wound up giving any beef chunks that floated out of the crispy shell to the dogs, who didn't mind the bit of gristle at all.

$4.99 for two burritos. Two stars a piece on this one. Not a repeat purchase.

Bottom line: 4 out of 10.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Trader Joe's Shrimp Seafood Burgers


This is one of those non-beef products that's definitely not even trying to be a hamburger, so why call it a shrimp "burger" at all? I mean, really, it's shrimp and pollock fish and there's no way to make that combo taste like a beef hamburger. It's much more like a chicken patty in terms of texture, and maybe even a little bit in terms of flavor, too. Well, I can't say for sure why Trader Joe's went this route with the moniker, but I, for one, like the word "burger" better than the word "patty" for reasons I can't quite put my finger on, semantically accurate or not.

Taste-wise, it's about equal parts shrimp and pollock, and both flavors are balanced out by garlic powder and other "spices." I can't tell you what the other spices are, because Trader Joe's didn't tell me, but I can say that they're definitely detectable and also delectable by my reckoning.


The burgers are not hot nor spicy by any means, just flavorful and savory—not fishy at all, either. Another plus: they actually stay together when being consumed and don't disintegrate and crumble like some other patties we've seen from Trader Joe's. Must be the rice flour.

The four little discs come individually packaged. So far we've tried heating them on the skillet and also in the air fryer. Both methods yielded pleasant results and took comparable heating times, although the air fryer method was preferred just ever so slightly by both Sonia and me. The air fryer heating method wasn't listed on the packaging this time. We just winged it. I think it was about 375 degrees for 8 or 9 minutes.

The patties go well with condiments like sweet chili sauce, or you can burger them up and use a mild cheese and toppings like lettuce, mayo, and mustard. I can't see ketchup working too well with something like this, but I could be wrong. In general, ketchup is probably my favorite condiment for beef hamburgers, so it's not like I'm biased against it. I just don't do ketchup with fish, unless we're talking fish sticks, and even then I'd lean toward tartar sauce. Hmm. Tartar sauce might work as a topping for these things, too.

If you like the taste of shrimp, and you wouldn't mind trying it in a chicken patty-esque, puck-like format, then snag a box on your next TJ's run. 

Four burgers for $6.99. Four stars a piece on this one.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Trader Joe's Hearts of Palm Pasta

If you've lived in a northern climate most of your life, you probably think palm trees are exotic. I'm guessing you've seen them on vacations when traveling to tropical or Mediterranean climes, and understandably, you probably associate them with good times and easy living. I sure did until I moved to Southern California. I was in awe of the majestic palm trees lining the streets of Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley for my first couple years there on the west coast.

But at least for me, the novelty eventually wore off. Palm trees are actually kind of messy. Their large, cumbersome leaves fall all over the place and litter the sidewalks and roadways, they provide relatively little shade, and at least the ones in our old neighborhood frequently smelled like urine—and, um, you know, not from dogs urinating on them. I guess I can't blame the palm trees for that one, but the point is that my perception of palms changed.

Likewise, I had no idea that any part of a palm tree was edible. I'd heard of hearts of palm before but didn't realize they came from actual palm trees. I don't think most Angelenos know that either, otherwise they'd be chopping down the trees in their neighborhood and selling hearts of palm from a little street cart as a side hustle.


But if there aren't any hearts of palm vendors in your area, there's always this simple option from Trader Joe's. It's ready to heat and eat right out of the package. It comes in a vacuum-sealed pack, and all the little noodles are densely wadded together in a light liquid. At first, I thought it might be some kind of oil, but there's only one ingredient listed on the package: hearts of palm. So it must be the natural juice that comes from the palm plants.

At any rate, the pasta slides right out of the pack and into your pan with a decent amount of moisture. There's an earthy, planty, almost bittersweet smell at first. It's not unlike that of an artichoke heart. As the product cooks, the noodles disentangle and the smell evolves into something more squashy, or maybe even sweet potato-esque. It's a subtle fragrance.

Likewise, the taste is very neutral and understated. Without any fixins of any kind, I think it tastes like a white squash more than anything else. We mixed ours with some other veggies, tomato cream sauce, and some parmesan cheese, and it worked out quite nicely.

As far as texture is concerned, it's much more like zucchini spirals or other vegetable-based "pasta" than any real linguine. It's a great base for anything you might put on regular pasta, but it's just a tad stringier than grain-based noodles.

Scoring this as just a regular guy walking into a TJ's store from off the street rather than a hearts of palm connoisseur, I'd give this about three stars. I don't think I'll pick it up again any time soon, but it was another adventure in exotic-to-me foods, thanks to my good buddy Trader Joe. It's vegan, gluten-free, and super low in carbs, so if you're on a restricted diet, this is something to consider. $2.99 for the three serving box. 

Sonia concurs with my assessment and liked the product even a little more than I did. Looks like a four star affair on her end.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Trader Joe's Korean Inspired Bulgogi Beef Fried Rice with Kimchi


I've had bulgogi beef a couple times from some pretty legit Korean barbecue restaurants before. Granted, I haven't been to one in a number of years, but I still remember that bulgogi-style beef being among the best red meat I've ever consumed in my life. I'm not sure exactly what it was marinated in, but man, that stuff was tasty.

It'll be hard for any grocery store frozen product to compete. Also, I guess I'm on record on this blog saying I'm not really into the whole fermented vegetable thing, i.e. kimchi or even sauerkraut. However, I don't think this dish is full of the rotted cabbage that I'm familiar with—just scant bits of the stuff distributed throughout. There seem to be some green beans and maybe some scallions or green onions, vegetable-wise, too. I'm not sure if they're a type of kimchi as well. I know there are more kimchi varieties than just the cabbage one that's most famous. I'm always ready to give most foodstuffs a second chance. So kimchi, here we come.


Anyway, I cooked the bag of rice, from frozen, in a big pan that I insist on calling a "wok." Sonia always corrects me and tells me it's just a big saucepan. Hmmm. Looks like a wok to me. Although, I'm sure Sonia is technically right. In true Trader Joe's fashion, the heating time took nearly double the suggested 7 minutes listed on the instructions on the bag. But heat it did eventually, nice and evenly.

The kimchi flavors here are subtle. For that matter, the bulgogi flavors are subtle, too. I'd say there's a decent amount of beef in the product. There's not enough that you'll get a piece in every bite, but not so sparse that you'll run out before you finish, either. Some of the meat tidbits are gristly. One slab even appeared to have a large vein or artery sticking out of it. Gross. Most pieces are pleasant, though—not super chewy or tough—but as expected, they lack that melt-in-your-mouth quality that I remember from my previous encounters with Korean barbecue.

If anything, I'd probably want more of the green onions and green beans throughout the mixture. As it is, it's mostly just rice. And it begs for some soy sauce and/or sriracha. Fixins help it a lot. I even tried some K-Mex fusion, adding Cholula hot sauce in place of sriracha, yielding moderately agreeable results.

At $4.99, this dish is vastly more accessible price-wise than an authentic Korean restaurant meal. Those aren't usually cheap. Not surprisingly, the quality isn't quite on par with restaurant quality, though, either. We probably won't pick up this particular item again, but if Trader Joe's offers similar Korean meals in the future, we'll definitely sample those as well. Maybe some Korean folks can share their opinions here, or maybe they have some tips on what sauces and condiments they use to doctor this dish up.

I give it three out of five stars. Sonia gives it three and a half.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Trader Joe's Kibbeh

Although I haven't been there myself yet, I've known numerous people who've either lived in or visited Israel throughout the years. At least one of them referred to falafel as "Israeli hamburger" with a smidge of disdain. I, personally, could replace hamburgers with falafel and be perfectly happy. But I've often wondered if the reverse were true: if any Levantine people, upon being presented with beef or hamburger, thought, "Oh, this is that American cow falafel I've heard so much about."

That's probably a silly notion, since Middle Eastern diets do include beef. It might not be as ubiquitous as it is here in middle America, but there are a number of Mediterranean dishes that involve red meat. Kibbeh is apparently made with lamb just as often as beef, if not more so. I'm not a huge fan of lamb, so I'm glad this Trader Joe's offering went with another option.

The kibbeh are roughly football-shaped. That's American football-shaped, just to be clear, not futbol internacional...in case you don't speak 'Murican. They're so close to football-shaped, I'm actually wishing we'd broke these out a few weeks ago for the Superbowl. Ah well, there's always next year.


The "shell" is a firm, bread-like crust. I'm guessing that's the bulgur wheat mentioned on the box. It's not tough or chewy at all, but it has a much firmer texture than the ground beef within. The meat is tender and slightly juicy, but not oily or greasy. It's very lightly seasoned and flaunts a mild flavor profile.

It's so mild that it begs for some fixins, in my opinion. My instincts told me to throw a big slab of cheddar cheese on the kibbeh and slather it with ketchup and mustard, but then I came to my senses. 

I just had some beans and veggies on the side and added some extra seasoning. But what I really wish we'd have had on hand to pair with this dish is some baba ghanoush, garlic spread, tzatziki, or zhoug sauce. Even hummus might go well with these Middle Eastern meatballs.

It's another unique selection that I'm glad I got to try. Thanks for broadening my horizons again, Trader Joe's. I'd consider a repeat purchase, but next time, I'll be sure to pick up the appropriate condiments. They're nothing to complain about on their own. $4.79 for six beefy footballs. Three and a half stars from me. Four from Sonia.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Trader Joe's Calabrian Chili Tomato Dumpling Soup

Chances are, it's pretty cold where you are right now. It sure is here in the 'burgh. Cold enough that it killed our new battery in the family minivan out of nowhere, and naturally at a fairly inopportune time and place - as if there is such thing as a "good time" for that to happen. Cold enough to make being outside for more than two minutes worth questioning your sanity. And given the news stories and social media feeds we've seen from elsewhere, we're fairly lucky here in the 'burgh as other areas have been much more deeply impacted. 

Cold, cold, cold. Please, keep warm. If you can help others get warm too, please do. 

And maybe to help warm up yourself, get a big ol' jar of the new Trader Joe's Calabrian Chili Tomato Dumpling Soup. 

Listen: this ain't no ketchup water from a can. Warhol, when asked why he painted soup cans, said he wanted to paint nothing, and that soup cans were that - nothing. Given his choice of subject matter, in the famous red and white label, I can see why he said that. 

This ain't that. 

First: calabrian chili peppers. Even if you've only ever been to TJ's, you've seen them before, in probably my favorite product ever: the Italian bomba sauce. Mama mia! That's some hot stuff. The calabrese experience in the tomato soup isn't quite the same kick - it's not fermented or anything like the bomba, so a lot less kick - but still there's enough moderate spice and heat and warmth added. If you're staunchly spice adverse, it may be a bit much, but it's at a level that i think it'd be accessible to most folks. Then again I can eat an entire jar of the bomba with a spoon in minutes, so my scale may be off. 

And additionally: dumplings!

Man, who doesn't like dumplings? You can put some in my soup anytime! I love little bits of doughy dough floating around, in a form that's akin to but chewier and doughier than a noodle. Tasty. There's an extra heartiness imparted by the presence of the dumplings, that make the soup feel like less of a side and more of a meal. But there could definitely be more - I'm not asking for handful and handfuls, as the soup is actually pretty tasty and doesn't suffer without dumplings, but a few more would really fill it out more. 

All together, it's delicious, warm, hearty soup, with a little kick, with serious warm belly filling potential, in a convenient quick and easy glass jar, for like $3. Can't beat it. This might be my new favorite store brand soup. Gonna have to go get it a few more times, you know, if the car would start....

Wife and kids sat this out. My lovely bride doesn't like tomatoes, and my kids don't like spice. Oh shucks, more for me. Love it, with only the wish for more dumplings as a knock. So good, so warm on up with some yourself if I may suggest. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Calabrian Chili Tomato Dumpling Soup: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

 

Friday, February 12, 2021

Trader Joe's Vegetable Samosa Burrito

I'm not into globalism as far as politics are concerned, but I must admit, when international cultures entwine, some pretty interesting and enticing culinary combinations result.

I'm thinking taco pizza, curried chicken salad, or Chicano hamburgers...or the fact that you can put sriracha on anything American and make it better. Fusion food. The only thing finer than one tasty tradition is two or more combined in the same dish. And now they're doing stuff like sushi corn dogs, kimchi quesadillas, and pierogi poutine...? What the what? I'll have to try those things some day...but until then, I'm glad there's Trader Joe's.

So it's a samosa...in the form of a burrito. Sounds good. If you use the microwave, this happy little lunch item goes from refrigerated to piping hot in just two minutes.


Despite being a little stuffy from the excessive cold we're feeling here in the upper midwest, that familiar curry-esque samosa smell cut through the kitchen and piqued my appetite immediately. Sonia and I cut our burrito in half and ate it with some other leftover Indian food and rice. By itself, it would have been the perfect size for a stand-alone lunch or even dinner for one person.

There were big chunks of potato, cauliflower, and carrots, plus plenty of large whole peas throughout the dish. The texture of the veggies was just about perfect. The tortilla would have been a bit more crispy had we used the oven, no doubt, but we were fine with it being soft and supple. It's definitely a secondary element after the veggie chunks.


To me, "tomato chutney" doesn't sound particularly appetizing or exciting. But it tasted great. Just look at the ingredients list. There's onions, garlic, mustard, vinegar, white wine, ginger, paprika, turmeric and rosemary, just to name a few of the represented flavors. The taste was every bit as complex and bold as you might expect from those elements. It's a uniquely Indian flavor in the familiar format of a burrito. Would buy again.

$3.99 for the product. Four stars a piece from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Trader Joe's Misal Curry

I've always been fascinated with maps and geography. It's also interesting how places and groups of people got their names. I'm in awe that we can still refer to islands in the Caribbean as "the West Indies" based on the erroneous assumption that 15th and 16th century explorers found an alternate route from Europe to India.

"Man, I'm jonesin' for some authentic Indian curry. Let's try going in the opposite direction and see if we get to India faster." Great work, guys. You were only off by literally 15,000 miles.

Nowadays, we take frozen Indian food at the grocery store completely for granted, along with myriad other international cuisines. We truly don't know how good we have it. And I'm not saying that this dish or any of Trader Joe's other frozen selections are quite as good as anything you'd actually be served in India, or even a half decent Indian restaurant here in the states—what I'm saying is the accessibility factor along with the relatively authentic taste is something I'm truly grateful for, and it seems petty and frivolous to file any complaints at all about this miracle of modern convenience.


So for that reason, let's start with everything positive about this dish. It's vegan. That's good. I'm not vegan, but it's nice to not have to eat animals or animal products at each and every meal. It's actually spicy. Heck yes. So many curry products are totally lacking in the heat department. We're not talking five alarm fire type heat in this case, but there's definitely some kick to this curry. I'd put it just above half way on a spice-o-meter.

Finally, it's super easy to prepare. Six minutes in the microwave and you're good to go. It's not super fattening or calorific in the grand scheme of things, either. A lot of curry dishes can really pack a punch in that department.

The "brown rice" is kinda purple. I don't know if I've seen purple rice before. It tasted fine, although the texture was just a bit spongy. If you're not into beans, then the texture of the misal might not be your thing, either. Sonia thought the curry itself had too many "al dente" beans. Spongy rice and both squishy and firm beans made the texture my least favorite aspect of this curry. That might be a function of the beans used. There are "sprouted moth beans" and "white peas," neither of which I'm familiar with.


Some curries can be kind of sweet. This one isn't at all. It's earthy, beany, and spicy. Although there are multiple coconut ingredients in the product, I didn't taste much coconut at all.

It's actually a "product of India." I guess that makes it more authentic...? But also I'm not sure how we don't have the ingredients to make it in this country, or you know, at least in this hemisphere. For $2.29, it doesn't seem like the meal's cost has been influenced much by its trip around the globe. 

Score-wise, I think we're looking at something like double 3.5's.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Trader Joe's Roasted Garlic & Pesto Pizza with Deep Fried Crust

Having never been a Trader Joe's employee, I cannot confirm with absolute certainty if this would be the case or not, but as an avid shopper for years I can almost assuredly claim that it is: When checking out at the register, the employee running the register must absolutely see one product you're buying and exclaim "OMG have you ever had this? It's literally the best _____ I've ever had!"

Sure, maybe they're being super friendly brand ambassadors trying to make an easy natural conversation, but it's happened way too many times to be coincidence. Can any employee confirm? 

This is mentioned in reference to the new Trader Joe's Roasted Garlic & Pesto Pizza with Deep Fried Crust because while checking out, not just my cashier exclaimed this about this pizza, but two others I walked past as I was walking out. It kinda helps that they know who I am and want to say Hi and wondering what new thing I'm picking up for the blog...but when one of them, whose opinion you generally trust, exclaims "it's one of the best pizzas I ever had!", I follow with a clarifying question of "Pizza pizza or frozen pizza?" and she assuredly states "Pizza. Period.", well, it kinda gets a mind a-wanderin' and a tummy a-growlin'. 

The selling point here, obviously, is the crust. That makes sense. It's the single most important component of any pizza...by far. And I've heard  of deep fried pizza crust but have never actually had it, so I think this is a somewhat natural, unbiased opinion: the deep fried crust is amazing. I've grown so used to (and tired of) the usual frozen pizza cardboard crust that, to have something so light, so crispy outside, so soft and chewy inside (like chewing on a cumulus cloud) it was amazing. This...from a freezer box and my oven, with literally no effort on my part? Amazing! I love it!

However...

Making this only one time so far, I'm not sure if this is an everytime occurrence or not, but during baking the crust puffed up to deflated soccer ball size. Literally, I had a 5 inch tall pizza mound baking. Cheese and pesto slipped off, dropping to the oven floor, making the smoke alarm obnoxiously blare like some dumb kid with subwoofers driving down the street. Relatedly, the toppings also rearranged themselves, making them not quite as uniformly spread out as before. My lovely bride and I shared a pie, and we each only got about two, maybe three smallish bites of pesto on our portions. 

That's a shame, because it truly was the only downside to the deep-fried pizza. That classic pesto, beefed up with some cashews? Awesome, herbaceous, and lively. All four cheeses- burrata, mozzarella, provolone and parmigiano reggiano? All present and delicious, could use more of the reggiano, but then again I almost always think that. Plenty of good roasted garlic too, which coincidentally is our personal pizza topping of the month - we make homemade pizza almost every week and have ben plopping that atop our like mad. This stuff is great.

At $5.99 for a smallish pie, it's a good enough value. it says three servings per pizza, which sounds slim to me. Half a pizza and some veggies or side salad sounds like a much more appropriate dinner. And yeah, it's still frozen pizza, so there's much healthier things out there (looking at you, fat and sodium), but c'mon now. So happy with the pizza, it's definitely taken the crown of my favorite TJ's pizza. Still can't beat our homemade though. Double fours. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Roasted Garlic & Pesto Pizza with Deep Fried Crust: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons  


 

Monday, November 2, 2020

Trader Joe's Riced Cauliflower & Butternut Squash Risotto

Since Americans apparently like to "let their voices be heard" and stuff, I'm setting up a little referendum of my own. Voting is all the rage here in these United States as of late, so let's have a mock election for the president of the pantry...the culinary commander in chief...the premier of the palate. It's another Micropoll! Please vote down below.

Just assume that all variations of each answer are included under the broader category. For example, if you like "apple cider" or "apple cinnamon," you'd vote "apple." If you like "pumpkin pie" or "pumpkin spice," you'd simply vote "pumpkin." If your favorite fall flavor is something other than what I've included in this particular poll, then just leave a comment below.

In all honesty, I don't think butternut squash can keep up with those other choices, but hey, you never know. Likewise, Kanye West could be the next president of the United States. Wouldn't that be a trip? #BirthdayParty2020

In case that poll isn't displaying correctly on mobile, just click here to vote.


Fortunately, unlike American politics, we don't have to choose just one delicious flavor to consume all autumn long. We can indulge in all the many tasty treats fall has to offer. And I'm glad I got to try this unique "risotto" dish this year.

It's easy to prepare. Like most Trader Joe's products, the heating time went well over their estimation of 10 minutes in the pan. The frozen pellets of sauce had just barely melted at the 10 minute mark. I let it heat up a bit more and cooked off most of the liquid. The sauce eventually went from watery to creamy, if that makes sense. It was probably more like 15 minutes when all said and done, and it turned out pretty well. 

If anything, I think the riced cauliflower gets just a tad softer than the rice in regular risotto, but when consumed with the sauce and butternut squash, the consistency is very creamy and the overall effect is very pleasant, authentic, and similar to a traditional risotto dish. What can't they do with riced cauliflower?

The flavor here is subtle—it may be even verging on too subtle, as in...you know, kinda bland. It's a creamed veggie essence with delicate notes of garlic and cheese. There's earthy, planty, nutty flavors, and the light sweetness of butternut squash. We just wish the flavors were all just a tad stronger and richer. It tastes vaguely fall-ish, but I'd be happy to consume it any other time of year. Trader Joe's Riced Cauliflower and Butternut Squash Risotto isn't really a stand alone entree in my opinion, but it makes a great side dish for your choice of protein. We served ours with salmon and it paired perfectly.

$3.69 for the 16oz bag. We'd consider buying it again. Three and a half stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Trader Joe's Chicken Ginger Miso Soup

Got a meal rotation in your family?

We don't precisely...but we do have a fairly regimented meal concept rotation.

Monday is "breakfast for dinner" AKA "brinner" night. Wednesdays are "pack a dinner" night for the two hours of dance lessons we have the joy of being subjected to. Fridays are "jammie movie pizza night" and Sundays are generally leftover days. Conspicuously missing is Taco Tuesday, but tacos can work their way into all those themes easily anyways. Plus my kids are weird and don't like tacos. More for me. Shrug. 

As for Saturdays...now that it's officially crockpot season, it's gonna be Soup Saturday, and kicking us off, no crockpot required, is Trader Joe's Chicken Ginger Miso Soup. Hey sometimes we're low on groceries and have errands including a TJ's trip to do....skip leg day, but not Soup Saturday. 

Warming up on the stove, the aroma of the broth is nearly intoxicating with its promise of salty savoriness. That's the miso magic - who knew fermented soybeans could be so umami-fully delicious? Whoever invented that deserves a medal. But lay in a little lemongrass, gin up a little ground ginger, and boom! It takes off to another level. If this broth were sold separately as a warm sipper, I'd be all in. 

There's nothing wrong with the rest of the soup. There's ample pieces of white chicken that taste and feel just right, and all the veggies are that perfect not too firm/not mushy either. There's...just not quite enough of it. Interestingly, the chicken seems about right but the veggies feel skimped on. For instance, my lovely bride doesn't like mushrooms while i do, so she picked the maybe one or two max out of her bowl to give to me, which gave me like three total. Most of the soup seemed "empty" and was closer to that sipping broth than i would have liked right out of the package. It worked well for a lighter soup, but for something heartier, you may want to consider adding some rice noodles or something of the sort. 

Regardless, the soup tastes pretty great. It must be all that salt. It doesn't taste too salty, but it just is as part of the package deal with soups like these. You can find it in the refrigerated section for about $3 which makes this an easy, reliable, good option for Soup Saturdays or whenver the mood may hit. Double fours. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chicken Ginger Miso Soup: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons 


 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Trader Joe's Grainless Cassava & Coconut Tortilla Chips and Trader Joe's Romesco Dip

Probably like a lot of you, a lot went by the wayside this year for us. Vacation? Nah. Day trips to Idlewild, our designated family happy space? Season pass went unused. Schools are still not back to "normal," whatever that means any more, and I spend at least half the week in pajamas because when you start work no later than 5am in your own basement, that's a perfectly acceptable dress code. As opposed to the one time on the weekend at the office, where wearing PJs with a couple work buddies raised some eyebrows but no HR complaints, thank goodness. 

It's been a weird year, to put it mildly. 

One traditional holdover, though, that has not quit nor will it ever is the idea of having a family "snacky dinner" as we call it. it's up there with our Friday night jammie/movie/pizza nights in terms of favorites. Simple enough - get some cold cuts, cheeses, olives, pickles, chips, dips, hummus, veggies, fruits, whatever and we all pick at whatever we want to do for dinner. Nobody has to eat anything they don't want to, as long as they hit the major food groups. It's terrific, and we're always on the look out for new/new-to-us components. 

So, while on a trip for snacky supplies and I saw Trader Joe's Grainless Cassava & Coconut Tortilla Chips and also Trader Joe's Romesco Dip, it was a no-brainer for something new to chew. 

Let's start with the chips. If anything, I'm impressed by how normal they are, as there seems like a lot going on from the bag's description. No grains. Cassava, which is kinda like a potato but not quite, and coconut, fried in avocado oil, with some white pepper and garlic. No flour. No corn. None of the "normal" comforts of a typical tortilla chip. But yet, in an eyes-closed test, they might almost pass as near-variant of a usual tortilla instead of a complete reinvention. The biggest difference, naturally, is the texture - a tad crunchier, a wee less crispier, and more of a dry to "sandy" feel to them. Without knowing too much different and if unaware of ingredients, I'd guess they might be baked, because there's much more that feel. The flavor by themselves isn't awful but not terrific either - there's just something about white pepper that makes things taste off to me. Maybe that's my lack of sophistication more than anything else. Regardless, the flavor quickly disappears when dipped into most anything if that's what you wanna do...

...and you just might wanna do it with the TJ's Romesco Dip. Granted, cassava chips likely aren't a traditional use of romesco - there's likely a Catalonian fisherman somewhere rolling his eyes - but that doesn't mean they can't be snacky buddies. This is some pretty dang good stuff. The base is mainly roasted red bell pepper and tomatoes which add a little sweetness but are tamed in by the olive oil/almond butter base, with some ground almonds in there to boot. The mouthfeel isn't offputting in the least - it's a bit soupier and softly grittier than hummus, but along those lines - but works exceptionally well. With some crushed chili pepper mixed in, there's the smidgiest smidge of heat, but the whole feel is warm, hearty, zesty and glowing, not spicy. Just...flavor. Lots of it. Lots and lots of yummy flavor, and it was an instant hit. I'm glad I got more than bite or two. 

Of course, there's plenty of ways to enjoy these chips and/or the dip. For the chippies, eat 'em plain if thats your thing, nab some nachos, grab some guac, swim 'em in salsa, whatever. It's a tortilla chip, it'll work. The romesco strikes me as very versatile - though I haven't tried it this way, I'd imagine with grilled fish or chicken, or with a little pasta, it'd be great! Always open to ideas you can leave in the comments as well.  

So yeah. Big thanks to TJ's for another snacky dinner success and a couple new usual snack time rotation members. The purchase price wasn't bad  on either but regretfully I once again misplaced the receipt. One of these times I'll actually remember to stick it to the fridge. Both will be repeat buys but as a fam we're all more ecstatic about the romesco dip as you'll see in our scores below. 

Bottom lines: Trader Joe's Grainless Cassava & Coconut Tortilla Chips: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons. Trader Joe's Romesco Dip: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons



 

Monday, October 5, 2020

Trader Joe's Turkey & Pumpkin Mole Burrito

I was actually exposed to mole (rhymes with olé) before I met Sonia. I had some co-workers that brought chicken in a mole sauce to a break room potluck lunch one time, and I loved it. I remember it had a nice peppery kick to it and it tasted rich, a little sweet, and a little nutty. There was something peanut butter-esque about it, and I asked what was in it. To my surprise, the base was actually peanut butter.

Since then, I've realized there are many different kinds of mole sauces, and people use everything from Mexican chocolate to almond butter as a base for it. There's red mole, mole poblano, mole verde...the list goes on and on. The one thing every mole I've ever tried had in common: they were bursting with rich flavor—that is, every mole I've ever had except this one.


The mole here was apparently pumpkin puree-based. I've got absolutely nothing against pumpkin puree, especially this time of year, but you can imagine expecting something with a chocolate or nut butter base and getting something with a veggie base was unanticipated, if not a little disappointing. There was a very mild amount of heat, but like 90% of Trader Joe's Mexican and Tex-Mex style foods, Sonia and I were both pining for much more kick.

That's not to say the overall flavor wasn't pleasant. The turkey pieces in this burrito were surprisingly plentiful, plump, and juicy. I found one or two specimens to be a tad on the gristly, chewy side, but those few bites were the exception rather than the rule. The combo of rice, beans, and sweet potato was nice, too, and the spice blend was appetizing, but it needed to be ratcheted up a notch or two or ten.


But our biggest complaint by far was the lack of richness in the mole sauce. This tasted like a diet mole sauce, for lack of any better or more universal comparisons off the top of my head. Sonia agrees, and her family is from Oaxaca, Mexico, and she's as close to a mole connoisseur as anyone I've ever met. I'm sure there were way fewer calories and less fat than in any other mole either Sonia or I have had, but we're heading into the colder months and we'll need that extra layer of fat to keep us warm anyway. 

It was an interesting idea with a lot of potential, but I doubt we'll re-purchase. It's not a bad burrito by any means, but it's not what we were hoping for in terms of mole. $3.99 for the single serving. Three stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Trader Joe's Organic Spicy Pozole Verde

May 5, 1999, I was sitting in a now defunct Chi-Chi's restaurant in State College, PA with some friends and acquaintances after classes. We were celebrating Cinco de Mayo. I didn't know a lick of Spanish back then. "I wonder what Cinco de Mayo means..." I mused in my ignorance.

"Fifth of May," replied Stacy.

"I know when it is, but I mean what does the phrase 'Cinco de Mayo' literally mean?" I asked.

"Fifth of May," she persisted. "It's like Fourth of July for Mexicans."

My head exploded. "So it's the Mexican Independence Day? Whoa. I never knew that."

Many years later, I'd learn that it was not, in fact, the Mexican Independence Day. I'd also learn that the phrase "chi-chi's" is actually a slang term for "breasts" or "nipples" in Spanish. And here I thought it was a family restaurant. I always wondered what went on in that 21+ bar area.

The actual Mexican Independence Day is September 16, just over a week ago. There was a decisive battle against the French in Mexico on May 5, 1862, but the day they declared independence from Spain was actually September 16, 1810. I guess "Dieciséis de Septiembre" doesn't quite roll off a Yankee's tongue like "Cinco de Mayo."


At any rate, Mexican Independence Day is a good excuse to eat pozole, as are other special occasions like Christmas and New Year's. Sonia grew up with it. She explained that it usually takes a while to make, so it's often reserved for holidays and celebrations, not unlike tamales or menudo. It's usually served with pork or chicken, while Sonia grew up with a version with beef.

This variety is vegetarian—vegan, in fact, and doesn't suffer from want of meat, at least not in our opinions. There's a good bit of hominy and beans to give the soup a hearty texture. It's full of green chiles and onions, too. There's a nice, even, moderate spiciness in the mixture, as well. I'd put it at a 4 or 5 on the spice-o-meter, on a scale of 1 to 10.

Complaints: some of the onion slices are very long, spindly strands of onion that are a little difficult to eat. I found the plastic seal very difficult to remove and thought maybe the "onion" Sonia was finding was actually pieces of plastic that didn't stay attached to the rest of the covering. Upon further inspection, we determined that they were, in fact, pieces of onion. And I mean, we both love onions. Sonia also wanted more hominy. She's a big fan of the puffy kernels of corn. I don't know that I've had much hominy in my lifetime, but I really liked it here and wouldn't have minded a tad more of it.


The soup isn't much to look at. I think it resembles Eowyn's stew from Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers...minus the strand of hair. But hey, looks aren't everything.

You can put it in a pot and heat it on the stovetop or just puncture the plastic covering and put it in the microwave for 3 minutes. It's very easy to prepare. $3.99 for the 2.5 serving container—probably 2 servings in actual practice.

All things considered, this product gets a thumbs up from both a gringo who's never really had pozole before and a Latina who's been eating it her whole life. We're not vegan, but we're always happy when we find vegetarian and vegan products that have enough "meatiness" and flavor without the dead animals. Four and a half stars from Sonia. Three and a half stars from me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Trader Joe's Corn & Green Chile Pepper Quiche


I've been watching a bunch of 80's movies on Amazon Prime lately. What a weird decade. I mean, it was so carefree compared to today. Everything was loud and goofy, from music to clothing to hairstyles. It's such a stark contrast to 2020, which is why I've been finding it so refreshing to bask in all the gaudy glory of 1980's American cinema. Plus, there's not a lot I want to see in the way of new stuff right now, and it still costs $20 just to rent the third installment of Bill and Ted.

Also from the 80's: a book called Real Men Don't Eat Quiche. I mean, it's apparently satirizing the idea that certain things are more masculine to consume than others, but still...I must admit I don't know many dudes obsessed with quiche. In defense of my own masculinity: the three quiches I've reviewed on this blog represent more than half the quiche I've consumed in my entire lifetime. And so far, all of those specimens have fallen into a kind of "take it or leave it" status with me and the wifey.


As is standard for a quiche, this one's primarily made of eggs. I heated ours for 25 minutes in the oven rather than the microwave, and the insides came out surprisingly mushy, especially when one considers the outsides were extremely crispy. I know quiche should be soft, but I felt like the insides had an excess of moisture and the outsides were, if anything, a little too dry. 

Sonia pointed out that there was a decided lack of veggies, corn in particular, in the filling. We were expecting a whole bunch of corn kernels as well as more substantial chunks of chile, too. I guess we were pining for a sort of savory corn and veggie pie rather than a quiche.

Flavor-wise, it's eggy and quichey—not overly salty, sweet, or cheesy. It begs for a little help, honestly. Some salsa and/or hot sauce is definitely in order here. We had no trouble finishing it, but for two thirds of your daily saturated fat and 98% of your cholesterol, I was hoping for just a tad more piquancy. More green chile peppers would have unquestionably made it more memorable for Sonia and me.

$4.99 for the 9 oz quiche. Probably not a repeat purchase for us. Three stars a piece.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Trader Joe's Lemony Arugula Basil Salad Kit

Let's see here...

Arugula? Check.

Shaved carrot chips? Alright.

Crushed almonds? Ok.

Shredded Parmesan cheese? Yup.

What do all of these have in common, aside from being the base of the new Trader Joe's Lemony Arugula Basil Salad Kit?

A couple things, really, that are pertinent here. First, there's pretty literally nothing I can say about any of them. These ingredients, presuming they are fresh, are darn near impossible to mess up, and nearly as difficult to stand out in any way, shape or form. I mean, I suppose an exceptionally good Parmesan could, but when's the last time you had a noteworthy bite of straight up plain ol' arugula. I'll take the under on "never." So we're not gonna talk about them, because the second thing they have in common is I can almost guarantee that not a single of those ingredients is the reason why anyone would buy this salad. Nothing exotic. No fancy fixin's. No nothin', really.

Nah, it's all about that basil lemon vinaigrette.

C'mon now, that just sounds good, doesn't it? Sounds light and fresh and summery and just perfect to drizzle atop on otherwise uninspiring heap of greens and stuff. If you're like me and like to see what's in something before eating it, you'll notice a lot of funky ingredients, too - lemon and basil, sure, but also white grape juice, honey, garlic, cayenne, turmeric, white wine, and so on. Sounds intriguing, and visually, if I didn't know what it was, I'd think it'd be a slightly soupy avocado dressing kinda deal.

Take a bite of the salad without it? Meh. Get some mixed in. Even just a light coat changes that to an "ooo." It's surprisingly light with it's mediumish consistency, bright, and helps lighten up everything. There's the lemon hit, yet with it there's a taste of almost everything else, so there's a wee bit of complexity going on. If you're concerned about spice level because of that aforementioned cayenne, worry not - it's there but only slight, just enough to give the smallest hint of an edge but not much more. I mean, my kids devoured it, so it can't be that bad. It even made mouthfuls of arugula sound like an appetizing idea. Nothing against arugula per se, as it is a fine leafy green, and certainly above regular ol' iceberg lettuce, but it's definitely lower than spinach and kale in the cruciferious power rankings.

Yeah, yet another TJ salad where I'd imagine most of us wish they'd just sell the dressing separately.

Life gives you lemons, so make lemonade. Or you can make lobster. Or maybe now you can say a basil lemon vinaigrette for a side salad. Oooh all that sounds like a tasty dinner. Good stuff, good salad, good value at $2.99 for a large bag.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Lemony Arugula Basil Salad Kit: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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.