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Showing posts with label microwavable. Show all posts
Showing posts with label microwavable. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Trader Joe's Vegan Mac

Like...couldn't you just make vegan cheese by getting milk from vegan cows? Y'know? Just feed the cows, like, only grass and hay and plants and other vegan stuff. Then you'd have milk from vegan cows, which, logically would be vegan milk, right? Why'd Trader Joe's have to go and use coconut milk and stuff?

Hopefully it goes without saying that I'm joking. But, unfortunately, in this day and age, it doesn't.

I'm here to tell you that even if you're not vegan or lactose-intolerant, this mac is edible, if nothing else. If the coronapocalypse shoppers have cleaned the local TJ's out of Joe's Diner Mac and Cheese and all the other lactose-laden varieties, you can go ahead and buy this one and at least give it a whirl. It doesn't quite have the comfort food quality of real mac and cheese, but there's a distinct creaminess and faint butternut squash flavor that's fairly pleasant in my opinion.

For vegans and dairy-free folks, this might be a game-changer. Sonia and I have tried "mozzarella" non-cheese before that we both found utterly revolting. That's not the case here at all. The unique blend of coconut milk, butternut squash, and various oils yields something unusual and cheese-esque, without trying too hard to make cheese out of stuff that is clearly not cheese.

Sonia noticed a slight oddness to the taste right at the finish. She said it wasn't like a lingering aftertaste, but just a hint of something that was a little out of place. I guess I might have noticed it, too, but it's extremely subtle. You'll get that when you mix five kinds of oils together. I'm telling you we just need to start milking vegan cows...

The macaroni were shell-shaped and larger than I'm used to in mac and cheese. They might have been slightly softer than most mac, too. You can heat on the skillet or in the microwave. We tried each one, both yielding very similar results.  

Trader Joe's Vegan Mac doesn't have a super long shelf life and needs to be refrigerated, so it's not like it's great apocalypse food. Eat that perishable stuff while you still can. After the third week of rice and beans, people will start killing for stuff like fresh mac, vegan or not. $4.49 for the tub. I think you could get four good servings out of it, honestly, especially if it's just a side accompanying a larger meal. 

Scoring this as lactose-loving non-vegans, we'll go with three and a half stars a piece.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Trader Joe's Mandarin Style Orange Chicken Bowl

While Sonia and I were on the road, traveling almost every day sometimes for weeks on end, we'd often take advantage of Walmart parking lots for quick overnight stops. Most locations welcomed RVers with open arms for up to 24 hours. Many were adjacent to strip malls, mini malls, and occasionally classic indoor malls. And, of course, many of these malls had a Panda Express as part of their lineup of eateries and shops. 

At this point I should mention I've been referring to Panda Express as "Poison Panda" since college. No, I'm not racist against Asians. I have cute little nicknames for every fast food chain including Toxic Bell, Booger King, Pizza Butt, and Jack in the Crack. Anyway, the point I was trying to make is that, perhaps part of some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, not once but twice, Sonia and I fell ill after eating Poison Panda on the road. We had running water in our RV, but for those of you familiar with RVing, it's very limited. You can't take 30 minute long showers, use a gallon of water for each flush, and run the sink the whole time you brush your teeth. You have to dump your tanks and refill your fresh water often unless you're extremely frugal with your usage. All that to say, if you're sick in an RV, it's not fun, and I'm not a fan of Panda since. Maybe I should just stop calling them "Poison Panda," and I'll have better luck. Law of Attraction and all that.

Fortunately, now I can get my orange chicken fix without going to a restaurant. Yes, I know there are decent orange chicken offerings that come frozen in bags and can be made on the skillet, but if you're pressed for time or want a decent break room lunch-at-work type of deal, this selection is quite satisfying.

Prep is simple. 4-5 minutes in microwave, thaw sauce in warm water, mix, serve. It's pretty close to restaurant quality as far as taste, but it's pert near impossible to make any kind of breaded chicken come out perfectly in the microwave. It's on par with Poison Panda orange chicken after you reheat the leftovers. I was surprised how much food there was in the bowl. It was actually filled to the brim. Maybe it's because we eat way less meat these days, but we were also impressed with the plentiful amounts of chicken in the mix. I might ask for more carrots, peas, and broccoli in place of some of the rice, but it was still a decent ratio as it was.

The included orange ginger sauce alone is adequate as far as condiments are concerned. I wouldn't have minded a tad more of it, but there's enough in the packet to coat the pieces of chicken and even some of the veggies and rice. You could throw in some soy sauce or sriracha if you were so inclined. I added a clove of raw garlic to mine, because I LOVE me some garlic and it has tons of health benefits. Also, I hate vampires. Go Team Jacob.

$3.99 for the bowl. Four and a half stars from Sonia. Four from me.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Trader Giotto's Gnocchi al Gorgonzola

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Trader Joe's Corn Poblano Chowder

I must have walked past this little box a half a dozen times on my last Trader Joe's haul. I'd been looking for it in particular since I'd heard good things. I finally had to ask the friendly clerk where it was. I guess I was looking for something a little bigger...? And I wasn't sure if it was in the refrigerated section or not. Turns out it's totally shelf-stable, so it was over by the cans of chili and stuff. Most of the obligatory Trader Joe's cashier conversation where they compliment at least one thing you've purchased revolved around this selection. The bagger expressed her utmost approval as well. If both cashier and bagger chime in on the same item, it's a safe bet you won't be too disappointed.

Our "use by" date was in November of 2021—a year and nine months from now. That's long enough to ride out half of the apocalypse. And this isn't a bad food to have on standby in the pantry. At $1.99, it's affordable, the little boxes are stackable, so they won't take up much room, and the chowder is pretty hearty and appetizing, as well.

Taste-wise, it's salty, savory, and creamy. There's plenty of corn flavor backed up by a nice blend of garlic, pepper, and onion. The poblano peppers are both visible and tastable in the mix. Heat-wise, they're not game-changers—the spice factor is relatively mild.

I'm truly surprised how chunky it is. I'd say corn and potato are the most prevalent elements, and the broth is plenty thick. It's the perfect cold weather winter lunch. Heats on the stovetop in six minutes, or about a minute and a half nuked.

On the down side, there really aren't two servings in the 17 ounce box. One person could put this away pretty easily, but that's generally par for the course with Trader Joe's nutrition labels. If you do consume the whole thing by yourself, you're looking at about half a day's worth of sodium. Better sea salt than some weird chemical preservative, but still. High blood pressure's no joke. 

And one more small complaint before I close: the corn had a slightly stiff texture. It wasn't awful, but there was just a hint of waxiness to most of the corn kernels that I'm not accustomed to that was ever so slightly off-putting. It won't be a deal-breaker, though. I'm still thinking this will be a repeat buy for us. The convenience factor, value, and overall flavor are all big positives here.

Sonia gives Trader Joe's Corn Poblano Chowder four stars. I'll throw out a matching score this time.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Trader Joe's One Potato Two Potato

Nothing like a little comfort food to get you through the coldest parts of winter. Potatoes and cheese? How could Trader Joe's One Potato Two Potato go wrong?

One Potato, Two Potato,
From the Trader Joe's,
Three potato, four potato,
See how that cheese flows.
Five potato, six potato,
It's a hearty dish.
Sev'n potato, eight potato, 
Scrumptious and delish.

As usual, there are heating instructions for the microwave and the conventional oven included on the packaging. I opted for the latter, as I was feeling less lazy than usual—kicking off the new year practicing good habits and all that. The directions simply state: "remove packaging," but don't specify if the tray that contains the dish is "ovenable," a term that Trader Joe's preparation instructions have employed in the past. I made the assumption that it was indeed ovenable, and as evidenced by the fact that the tray did not burst into flames while baking at 350° for nearly an hour, I concluded that I did make the correct choice. Also, had it not been for the tray, the veggies and cheese would have spread out all over the baking sheet and perhaps gotten a little too toasty.

What's working here: lots of big, chunky veggies, tasty and evenly-distributed cheese, a crispy, crusty outer layer, and an overall salty, savory taste, perfect for a winter side dish. The potato chunks and the places where the cheese browned a little around the edges are by far my favorite elements in this side dish.

What's not working here: too many sweet potatoes, which at first I took for carrot chunks. Oddly, they bugged me more than the mushrooms. Even though I've never been a fan of 'shrooms, there simply weren't enough of them to bother me here. Sonia actually wished there were more of them. 

The sweet potato chunks were plentiful and enormous. They should have called this Trader Joe's One Sweet Potato Two Sweet Potato, although I'm not aware of any nursery rhymes that involve counting sweet potatoes. I normally don't mind sweet potatoes at all, particularly if they're well-baked. However, I feel like the ones in this selection had an odd texture—almost spongy—and the chunks were simply too big. There was a lot more sweet potato than regular potato by my reckoning. So...I wouldn't have minded more regular potatoes, peas instead of mushrooms, and thicker, gooier cheese.

Still, despite one or two distinct weaknesses, this potato platter is a winner in my book. The overall effect doesn't suffer much from the overabundance of sweet potato—there are still some tasty bites to be had. $3.99 for four servings. 

Sonia's likes and dislikes were a little different than mine, but we'll still both arrive at the same respectable score for Trader Joe's One Potato Two Potato: 4 out of 5 stars a piece. 

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Trader Joe's Cauliflower Gratin

After checking out an odd pasta plus cauliflower dish from Trader Joe's recently, numerous readers mentioned this particular pasta-free dish as an even lower carb, lower-calorie alternative. There are breadcrumbs in this cauliflower gratin, so it's neither completely carb-free nor gluten-free, but it does contain significantly fewer carbs and calories.

It's apparently only a seasonal dish, but it was still available on our last Trader Joe's run, thankfully. Sometimes I think "seasonal" at TJ's means "we get exactly one shipment a year, and if you miss out, just cross your fingers we'll get one more shipment next year about this time."

Anyway, we were curious to see how it would compare to the cauli and shells combo. Both dishes are refrigerated, not frozen, and they come with "best by" dates printed on the packages. I'd prefer them to be frozen so there's not a gun pointed at your head to eat them soon after purchase, but then I guess there's that whole "freshness" issue...

I digress.

There's plenty of flavor in Trader Joe's Cauliflower Gratin. There's a four cheese blend flaunting parmesan, asiago, fontina, and provolone. The cauliflower chunks are much larger in this dish, and I feel like they're slightly softer, but there's still a nice roasted quality to them, and they taste great alongside the copious cheese. The breadcrumbs were more plentiful here—another reason I enjoyed this gratin offering more than its predecessor. They're not panko this time—just regular wheat-based breadcrumbs with some herb flavoring.

Sonia raved about the taste and texture as she quickly downed her share of the dish. She was shocked at the conservative numbers on the nutrition facts at first glance, although if you pay attention, they're not as low as one might think initially. The recommended serving size of this product is half a cup, as compared with a whole cup on the cauli & pasta shell combo. They want us to eat half as much cauliflower gratin and somehow stretch a package to three and a half servings. Nope. Not gonna happen. This is two servings at best.

Both products are the same price: $4.99. In the end, this will get a thumbs up from both of us. We like it just a tad more than the very similar dish with pasta. The cheese combo and breadcrumb elements in the cauliflower gratin seem just slightly higher quality to me. Four stars apiece.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Trader Joe's Cauliflower & Cheesy Pasta Shells

At first, I thought Trader Joe's was substituting pasta shells completely with cauliflower in this dish. It seemed like the most Joesian thing to do. 

You feel me on the use of the term "Joesian"? It means Trader Joe's-esque, as in, What Would Trader Joe's Do? Because Trader Joe's loves to swap out normal foods with cauliflower. It's super Joesian.

Just check the search term "cauliflower" on our blog. We've seen them swap out pancakes, rice, pizza crust, mashed potatoes, and much, much more...with cauliflower. Nothing but cauliflower.

Now they're keeping the pasta, but throwing cauliflower into the mix. I guess it's lower in carbs, but obviously not carb-free. I honestly wouldn't have minded a dish sans pasta. Cheesy cauliflower with a little panko would have been just fine with me. The pasta shells keep the look, feel, and taste just a tad more familiar...and it works.

In truth, I don't think the cauliflower adds a whole lot. But like I said, it might be taking away some of the carbs. It smells of cauliflower even more than it tastes like cauliflower, in my opinion. 

This dish is tasty because of the oodles of warm, gooey ricotta and fontina cheese, with just a bit of dry, crunchy complexity from the panko. I love panko bread crumbs. Wouldn't have minded a whole lot more of it here in Trader Joe's Cauliflower and Cheesy Pasta Shells.

It's possible to tell which little bits of the dish are pasta and which are roasted cauliflower pieces, but they really don't taste all that different to me. I went the lazy route here and microwaved the dish, although both microwave and oven heating methods are listed. During the stirring process, I mixed most of the panko into the mostly melted cheese, except around the edges, where a nice, firm panko crust remained. I wish I'd left the panko-encrusted top intact, because it was probably my favorite part of the meal.

There's still plenty of fat and cholesterol in this product, so it's not really diet food, unless you're just aiming to consume slightly less carbs. I mean, pasta isn't the first thing you'd want on a low carb diet, but if you were going to splurge, cauliflower plus pasta is better than pasta alone I suppose. I give three and a half stars to this cauliflower & cheesy pasta shells microwave dinner. Sonia gives it four. 

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Trader Joe's Cuban Style Citrus Garlic Bowl

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 21, 2019

Trader Joe's Angus Beef Chili

There's nothing quite like making homemade chili. I love it all...chopping veggies, browning the meat, tasting and adding spices while it simmers in a crock pot. It's so relaxing and one of my favorite cold day activities.

Unfortunately I don't make very good chili.

Or so I gather. No one else in my family touches mine. I've put forth a great amount of effort into various chili cook-offs over the years and have always come in last, or close to it. I don't know what anyone else's problem is, it's perfectly good...but it leaves a lot for one guy like me to eat.

Fortunately, when the chili bug hits me, I now have Trader Joe's Angus Beef Chili.

Oh, I'll still make my own, no doubt, if for no other reason than spite all you haters. But for a quick, ready to heat, no hours of preparation needed bite, this stuff'll do just fine.

Let's see, what's to like here....pretty much everything. Angus beef is the number one ingredient, so there's plenty of meat here, in small soft pieces. It's not quite ground or's just pieces. And it's delicious. Lots of beans, beans, the magical fruit too to really fill it all out. And it's all a pretty smooth, go down easy blend, without any big chunks of anything. Most of the beans seem to have disintegrated into the final product which is alright by me.

The pepper spice indicator on the side says this is about medium heat. Seems accurate to me. It could be spicier, but I didn't need to add anything to enjoy the chili, either. There's plenty of peppery garlicky tomatoey spicy goodness as is, which blends well with any fixins like cheddar or cornbread. Heck, one morning last week when it was just me around I hard-fried a couple eggs and had this over top. Delish.

Plenty filling. Plenty warming. Plenty good. The tub says it's a two serving container....seems low to me. I could have made this into three or more meals. Good stuff. And at a decently reasonable price (either $3.99 or $4.99) it's a good buy for when I don't need a crockpot of literally my own jamming up the fridge for a couple weeks. It's just me here grading this, so I'll go double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Angus Beef Chili: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Trader Joe's Fiery Chicken Curry

Despite all proceeding evidence to the contrary, I really thought this was shrimp.

Maybe it was just a weird random parallel pescaterian universe portal that let me see this, but I really thought I read this as "Trader Joe's Fiery Shrimp Curry," not "Trader Joe's Fiery Chicken Curry." I was on a solo parenting trip, so no witnessses. And it being a hot day, with no plans to go right home afterwards, and this being a frozen entree, it made a purchase unwise at that time. I thought about taking a pic, but TJ's doesn't really like that, and I've bent enough rules in the past by recording a podcast there, so I relied on my old, thought-to-be-rustproof memory. I'll just tell Sandy to get it next time she goes. No biggie. shrimpy. Internet searches and calls to all the area TJ's confirmed. It's chicken, not shrimp. It's still an acceptable protein, of course...but it ain't shrimp.

It's kinda too bad, as the chicken in the new TJ's fiery chicken curry is kinda the weak point. Not that I reasonably expect high quality pollo from a frozen dinner that cost $3.49. But I'd expect better than what I got here. The package states upfront it's chicken breast AKA white meat. Now, I have no real problem, generally, with dark thigh meat, but when you expect a few choice-ish morsels of white meat but get only three of them, and about three dense, grisly dark meat pieces it kinda throws you off. It'd be more acceptable if somewhat expected.

Everything else? On point. Gotta give it to TJ's on the sauces for their frozen dishes, particularly the Indian ones. This curry sauce is awesome. Coconutty, sweet, layered, peppery, fiery, spicy, with intensifying and lingering heat....yes to all of those. It wasn't too spicy for either Sandy or I, but could be for some of y'all out there. If the sauce were sold separately as "fiery curry sauce" we'd buy again and again and probably prop it to our pantheon on here.

Turmeric rice is turmeric rice. Helps fill out the meal and soak up all the sauce. Nice work, rice. Represent.

Still, with this being chicken and not shrimp I feel an opportunity got missed. And lo and behold I'm not completely crazy. The term "Goan-inspired" made me Wiki up some info, and, well, look: "Goan food is considered incomplete without fish." With some high quality shrimp, and even at a mildly increased price point, this dish could be a real absolute winner that'd help make up for a rare shrimp miss on TJ's part. Oh well.

The fiery chicken curry is definitely repeat purchase worthy if for no other reason than to get another hit of that tasty tasty sauce. Love it. Makes a perfect microwavable meal for my heavily birddogged no-less-than-28-but-absolutely-no-more-than-32-minutes lunch break for me. Double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Fiery Chicken Curry: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Trader Joe's Egg Frittata

Our travels have taken us to numerous large casino facilities throughout the American West over the past 6 months. We've probably stayed at a dozen or more since they generally offer free RV parking for a night or two. Many have hotels, restaurants, clubs, gas stations, and convenience stores all owned and operated by the same group of people, often a nation or tribe of Native American Indians. 

These complexes apparently generate a great deal of money, because even the convenience stores are huge, occasionally boasting vaulted ceilings and elaborate decor surrounding typical mini-mart fare like toaster pastries and bags of roasted peanuts.

Prior to purchasing this frittata product at Trader Joe's, but not long ago at all, Sonia wandered into just such a convenience store to discover a display full of fresh-baked pastries, quiches, and frittatas. The frittatas were actually frittata-bread hybrids, with the egg and cheese baked right into a buttery croissant. Anyway, the wifey picked up a couple of them, and we had them for breakfast a few weeks ago. They were absolutely scrumptious. A tad on the greasy side, they were full of flavor and left us both in comfort food heaven.

I might have had frittatas one or two other times in my life. I can't remember any of them vividly. But those Indian casino convenience store frittatas will linger in my memory for years to come. These Trader Joe's frittatas, not so much.

No, it's not fair to compare frozen, microwavable frittatas to fresh-baked ones—even ones baked in a glorified Quickie Mart. But I'm going to do that anyway, since that's my reference point. 

Honestly, the convenience factor here isn't bad. They come frozen, and after a few minutes in the microwave, voila, you've got a couple of frittatas for breakfast or whatever meal you're supposed to eat frittatas. Our major complaint is that they're a little on the bland side. They need some help. Hot sauce is in order here—or some kind of extra seasoning if you're not into hot and spicy foods for breakfast. There's nothing particularly unpleasant about the taste at all, but nothing particularly memorable, either.

The texture is fine. They seemed a bit more bready than just eggs alone usually do, probably due to the whey protein and cornstarch. They're soft and cheesy, but not overly so. I feel like they were in want of a bolder cheese, too. I like swiss okay, but this product might have worked a little better with cheddar. 

$2.99 for two frittatas, which the packaging even admits is only a single serving. There's a lot of saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium for a product that doesn't really deliver in the flavor department. Probably not a repeat purchase for us, but a decent offering as far as uniqueness and ease of preparation are concerned. 

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Trader Joe's Riced Cauliflower Bowl

I move that the standard bean ingredient serving as the cornerstone of all vegan/vegetarian meals be changed from soybean to garbanzo bean. Do I hear a second? Anybody?

Not that I hate soy or tofu or other soy derivatives. I just like chickpeas better. And then when rednecks are trying to insult vegan/vegetarian men, they'll call them "garbanzo guys" instead of "soyboys." Doesn't sound quite as demeaning. Confession time: I'm originally from Pennsyltucky, so I'm still part redneck. Also, I'm not even full vegetarian. I might be more inclined if we can make that chickpea initiative happen.

Fortunately, there are delicious marinated chickpeas in this dish. There's also a good bit of soy-based tofu. Sonia thinks there's not enough of it. I disagree. Sweet potato, kale, and onions round out the veggie combo for a unique mixture of flavors. I find the tahini sauce to be somewhat acrid and acidic for my taste, while the wife is more than fine with it. 

Sonia thinks some of the vegetables are a bit too tough. I can see where she's coming from, although, overall, I think the texture is nice—particularly the chickpeas. Plenty of riced cauliflower here, too. Serves as a nice low-carb base for the dish.

For a quick, zappable, vegan lunch, $3 isn't a bad deal. The taste and texture are good, but not outstanding, in my opinion. Sonia is a little more enthusiastic overall. Says she'd definitely purchase it again. I think I'll go with three and a half stars here. Sonia will dole out four.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Trader Joe's Chipotle Vegetable Quesadillas

"If they're called 'vegetable' quesadillas, there should be more vegetables," stated Sonia. "I want sliced-up zucchini or eggplant or peppers in there. Corn and beans aren't enough."

This is coming from the only human being I know who eats plain cheese quesadillas for a meal—nothing but a tortilla with melted cheese—on average about twice a week. If she'd add beans, corn, and chipotle sauce, I could probably live off her quesadillas, because I enjoy the taste enough, and also, I'm guessing, there'd be enough nutritional value in there.

Likewise, I could live off these quesadillas. I really like their simplicity and flavor. I'll admit we heated them in the microwave, but I was more than pleased with the result. 

Sonia? Not so much. Sometimes I think she feels threatened by Trader Joe's Mexican offerings—as if I'll suddenly ask her to never cook again and demand the freezer be stockpiled with Trader José's comida Mexicana. Where is José these days, anyway? Don't worry, wifey. I'll never get tired of your salsa de queso.

Sonia's other major complaint was the price. $3.49 for two quesadillas. I'll admit they're not exactly giving them away, but each quesadilla could stand as a meal in and of itself. That seems like a pretty standard price point for frozen foods to me. I think Sonia has a problem with it because she can make about 500 of her plain quesadillas with an inexpensive stack of corn or flour tortillas and a hunk of cheese from the grocery store, and they wind up costing about 15 cents each.

The balance of corn, beans, and cheese is on point here in these "vegetable" quesadillas, and the chipotle flavor is almost perfect, too. There's a hint of heat, but it's not overwhelming. If I were in the mood for something with a significant kick, I would have to put some kind of hot sauce on them, but for most occasions, they're perfect just the way they are. 

Sonia didn't really have any specific complaints about the taste or texture. She just thinks they'd be better with another ingredient or two. Fair enough. Two and a half stars from her. 

That's a painfully low score for these, in my opinion. Four and a half stars from me.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Trader Joe's Ramen Soup

Might not yet be back-to-school time for all the pre-college crowd, but university arrival is in full swing out here in the 'burgh. As home to several major schools in close proximity to each other, the local Targets and WalMarts are overflooded right now with masses of aspiring scholars getting their futons and table lamps and God knows whatever else.

And chances are, ramen noodles too. Need your stockpile.

Amazing I didn't suffer from malnourishment during college, as for three years I literally lived off of ramen and Papa John's pizza. Can barely touch ramen since, let alone it's slightly fancier cousin, that Cup o' Noodle feller.

There's a new twig on the ramen family tree: Trader Joe's Ramen Soup. There's presently two varieties as you can see: miso and chicken. Not that typically "flavors" matter for ramen - it's supersalty cheap carbs. It's only a matter of what color the seasoning packet is, right?

Well, I've admittedly only tried the chicken variant, but even from it, I can tell these soup cups are a decent buy. There's not just a seasoning (read: salt) packet inside, but also a small flavoring oil baggie, which when mixed with hot water makes a frothier, almost "creamier", slightly richer soup broth. The noodles are pretty basic ramen, with nothing too fancy about them, so the decent broth is a real nice plus.

A word about the noodles, though: There's two ways these can be prepped. You can either pour in tap water and microwave, or pour in hot water and let it sit. Sandy said the second non-nuking method seems to work better, as the noodles seem to "cook" better and have a better texture to them.

At a little over a buck each, these TJ ramen cups seem a little pricier than any I'd remember from college...then again, everything's more expensive than 15 years ago and I was being spoiled by 1o packages of ramen for a buck back then, too. Haven't really kept tabs on ramen market prices since then. We'll be picking these up, especially as the weather finally begins to cool, for a quick and easy lunch / small carbo-loading boost at work type deal. It's not the fanciest in the world but for what they are, they're pretty good. Double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Ramen Soups: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Mac & Cheese

This isn't the first gluten free mac and cheese we've looked at on this blog, but this is the first frozen gluten free mac and cheese at which we have looked.

If you've been reading this blog for a long time, you'll know that Sonia and I consider ourselves "gluten-sensitive" but haven't been diagnosed with any actual conditions that would warrant a strict gluten-free diet—although non-Celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is a legit condition, and eating bread can cause schizophrenia, apparently, among other things, in just about anyone. Every once in a while, we'll choose gluten free because we're not anxious to feel any uncomfortable bloating, but after reading articles like this one, I'm thinking it might not be a terrible idea to avoid gluten as often as possible.

But still, there's the matter of taste. It's hard to eat something that doesn't taste good or have the right texture. All four of us at WG@TJ's are more than happy to take one for the team and try gluten free and vegan items not out of necessity, but for the sake of intrepid food blogging. We know many of you have more dietary restrictions than we do, and we respect that. Plus, we can provide a comparison to the "normal" counterpart of any special diet items. How does this offering fare? Read on.

I'll tell you right now Sonia is a huge fan of this product. I have mostly positive sentiments, but I do have my share of reservations. Let's start with the good stuff first.

What they got right: the four cheese combo. The cheese here is delicious, and there's plenty of it. They didn't skimp. Every piece of pasta is slathered in that scrumptious blend of cheddar, swiss, havarti, and gouda.

It's a good thing, too, because the pasta itself doesn't bring as much to the table in terms of flavor. It's pretty bland. Not sure why wheat pasta tastes a little better than this corn and rice-based offering. Maybe we're just more used to wheat. Or maybe it's all that yummy, schizophrenia-inducing gluten. Or maybe it's just the voices in my head telling me that wheat pasta tastes better.

As far as texture is concerned, Sonia says this pasta is slightly more rigid than traditional pasta, and that regular wheat pasta is "more chewy than this." I felt the texture of this pasta was not unlike that of wet paper—thick wet paper, mind you, but wet paper-esque, nonetheless, however, not to the point where the dish became unpleasant or difficult to eat. It simply had a texture I'm not used to.

Finally, we noticed that, despite a generous amount of flavorful cheese, there was very little oil or grease in the product. I mean, there's plenty of fat in there. But I'm always turned off when it's the kind of fat I can actually see pooling up on the top of my food.

All in all, we'll both recommend it, but Sonia will do so much more heartily than I will. We might purchase it regularly if it were just a bit cheaper, too. $3.49 for the frozen, microwaveable meal.

Four and a half stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Trader Joe's Yellow Jackfruit Curry with Jasmine Rice

Apparently I don't know jackfruit.

You probably knew that already.

My wife certainly does, bless her heart. So I was really kinda curious when she was trying to tell me that some people consider jackfruit to be kinda like a vegan pulled prok kinda deal. On the surface, that sounds kinda ludicrous to me. How can a plant be meatlike? Pssh, sounds like other crazy stuff she tries to tell me, like that Tupperware has a particular place and organizational method for storage. Yeah, right.

Anyways, in another attempt to yank my coworkers' chains, I picked up Trader Joe's Yellow Jackfruit Curry with Jasmine Rice for an at-desk lunch this week. This would have to do it, right? C'mon now.

Mission failed. No raised eyebrows. No mention of anything. Everyone was too nosedeep in gossip and TPS reports, I s'pose. 

At least I got a pretty good lunch out of it. jackfruit kinda like pulled pork?

Tough for my admitted carnivoresque self to say. Visually, I can somewhat see the similarity here - there's kinda a stringy, chunky look. In this curry's instance, though, the jackfruit gets a little lost amongst the rice. There's a soft chewy feel here and there, but not really the fleshy bite. Kinda the difference between pig and plant, I suppose.

As for the rest of the dish? Delish. Somewhat unlike the jarred TJ's yellow curry sauce, the curry here definitely has a sizable, decided kick. As in, at first, it's pretty spicy...probably about an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10. Took me by surprise at first, but once accustomed to it, the curry heat took on more of a pleasant, sustained warmth. There's a little layered aspect too - I wouldn't necessarily say complex but there's some sweetness from the coconut base, the mentioned spice, and a healthy dose of turmeric as well. The only real relief from it is the few biggish bites of eggplant here and there that the curry sauce doesn't really sink into. There's something about the bell peppers that makes it kick up a notch.

Altogether, I'll admit I was pretty pleasantly surprised by the overall wholesome goodness of this curryous dish. It was no more than a couple bucks for the tray which took about five minutes in the microwave - I would have expected (and been reasonably happy with) paying for something of similar quality from a restaurant. It's all there - good flavor, good heat, good firm rice. And it's all good enough that I want to try and make my own now, too - apparently there's a canned jackfruit TJ's sells for just this purpose? I'd be down. Sandy wasn't quite brave enough to try it herself yet, but probably will now. I'm just gonna go go out on my own here and give it some double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Yellow Jackfruit Curry with Jasmine Rice: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Trader Joe's Sriracha Shrimp Bowl

This was gonna be it. This was gonna be my revenge.

For all the slightly too loud talk with a little bit too much TMI. For all the ice crunching and nail clipping and shoe stripping. For all the times my jokes weren't laughed at - I mean, I'm not always funny, but be a little polite, ok? For all the burned popcorn and odd smells and perfumes and other scents, whether from something mass produced or from something...rhyming with what I just wrote.

Yes. I was gonna microwave Trader Joe's Sriracha Shrimp Bowl for my lunch at work, right in the central break room. I was going to parade it proudly back to my desk, as the aroma of nuked seafood and various spices would waft around the cubicle farm.

I try to get along as best I can....but today would be different. Revenge, in this case, would be a dish best served hot.

Too bad it didn't quite turn out that way.

Surprisingly, this spicy shrimp and rice bowl is not overly aromatic, whether from a seafood or a spice perspective. It's almost completely innocuous. I don't think a single coworker noticed. No one asked. No glares. No nothing. I just looked like a dude eating lunch at his desk.

Overall, it makes for an okay lunch. For $3.49 you can't expect too much, so that's how I'm trying to approach this. The biggest issue seems to be the shrimp itself. My bowl had five in there, which seemed to be a reasonable number. But the shrimp just didn't taste all that great, mostly because it wasn't seasoned, and the sauce didn't have a chance to really flavor the shrimp either. The result was every bite with shrimp had a big, fleshy, taste-tempering feel that wasn't too spectacular.

Everything else was about on par, though. Mostly brown with a few red grains spinkled in, the rice added a hearty, earthy bite, while the veggies remained steamed yet firm enough. And the sriracha was about what one could expect, and it definitely helped tie it all together, too.

I'm not sure if this says more about me or the dish, but one letdown was, only about an hour after eating it, I was kinda hungry again, enough to consider running downstairs to our work cafe for chicken fingers or something along those lines. I'd definitely advise not considering thes hrimp bowl to be an entire lunch in of itself, but pack along some fruits or veggies or something to help complement it all.

Good chance I'd buy this TJ's rice bowl again. There's only so many times I can eat leftovers per week, and I certainly can't buy/order out every day...unlike most of my coworkers...but that's another story. Just me grading it this time around, so gonna double up.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sriracha Shrimp Bowl: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Trader Joe's Chicken Sausage Breakfast Burrito

Oh, fast food breakfast sandwiches. They will always be my vice. A few years back, I'd eat two of them a morning a few times a week, and wonder why I was about a hundred pounds overweight. Those days have passed, and I'm in a better place and all, but still...can't quite give up the breakfast sandwich. Fortunately I'm down to usually only one a week now, on Fridays as a treat. Seems reasonable enough a prize for lasting thru a long week up to that point, with a little added something to get me the rest of the way home.

I have my usual go-to spot, but anytime I hear anything new about a breakfast sandwich somewhere, my ears instantly perk. So only naturally, when I heard of the new Trader Joe's Chicken Sausage Breakfast Burrito, I had to give it a try.

Not that TJ's exactly has a sparkling history of mornin' wraps. I'm with Nathan on those - gross and nondescript. The burritos, I mean, and not Nathan. He's a pretty good guy.

As with most things, there's plusses and minuses here. First, it's in the refrigerator section, and not frozen. This means there's a definite fresher quality to the whole shebang that plays out through things like tortilla and egg texture, and there's no chance of any frozen little chunks here or there which torpedo any decent shot at breakfast. Indeed, everything's pretty on point in that regard. To heat, there's both oven and microwave options, which Sandy and I tried both - the oven, unsurprisingly, is the superior option by far, with the tortilla getting nice and crackery-cripsy, as opposed to soft and flaky and crumbly and kinda limp. Of course, you might not always have half an hour to heat a breakfast burrito, and if you did, you could probably easily make a better one yourself, so there's that.

Each element is good and solid in its own right - tortilla is representative, the eggs of decent quality, the cheese present but lacking much distinction, and the chicken sausage and potatoes holding up their end of the deal. Problem is, there's kinda an overall lack of flavor. Nothing is good enough to really stand out on its own, and there's not even enough spice added to really do too much. Granted, this just means you could easily doctor with your favorite salsa or hot sauce or whatever else you wanted, if you wanted to. I kinda just wish there was something more to it - more sharpness to the cheddar, or more savoriness from the sausage, or a little peppery kick, or something - but nope.

Then there's the price. It's $3.99 for the burrito. That doesn't strike me as great bargain for something I have to heat myself and probably add more stuff to. Heck, my go-to breakfast sandwich of choice costs less and I can pile high with veggies and customize to my heart's content. Man, I love touchscreen menus...

Overall, the sausage breakfast wrap is a good, not great, bite. It fills a void and uses up a lot of your discretionary nutritional values for the day. Sandy and I shared a burrito both times we had it for breakfast, and with some fruit and coffee it was more than adequate to hold us over til lunch. But I struggle to see the point of its existence - it's not often I'd find going to TJ's more convenient than a drive-thru or convenience store for a bite. Plus, I've learned through too many embarrassing shirt stains that burritos are absolutely not meant to be consumed on the go, which this seems tailored to...just odd. Maybe I'm completely whiffing on something here. Can't seem to muster more than a halfhearted three for it, while Sandy goes in a little higher.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chicken Sausage Breakfast Burrito: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons