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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Trader Joe's Chocolate Crème Brulée

I've only had real crème brulée a couple times in my life. The first time was in Las Vegas at one of those all-you-can-eat buffets in one of the casinos. Probably Caesar's. I don't even remember. I just remember being thoroughly enchanted by the solid sugary shell on top of the dish. It was fun cracking it open with my spoon.

The second time I had it was at a friend's wedding. Again, there was this extraordinary novelty about the dessert. The juxtaposition of the textures in the dish was the best part. On one hand, there was the hard, brittle candy shell, and on the other, there was a creamy pudding-like substance. Quite unique. Also, mispronouncing it as "cream brooly" on purpose is fun.

So, to the best of my recollection (which is often severely flawed) this Trader Joe's Crème Brulée is only the third version of the dish I've ever had. I was a bit curious about the inclusion of chocolate in TJ's brand, as there had been no chocolate involved in my first two crème brulée encounters. And of course, Trader Joe's is frozen. Very often, TJ's does the impossible with frozen dishes and makes a product competitive with its freshly-made counterparts.

With this dessert, I'll just cut to the chase: it's delicious, but in my opinion, it shouldn't be called crème brulée. The deep, rich chocolate shell and creamy insides, once blended together, reminded me more of tiramisu than crème brulée. There is no crackable candy shell on top. Just a chocolate shell on the sides, which is not nearly as enjoyable to break with a spoon.
It's a silly complaint, but I feel like I should just warn you all that if you really have a hankering for some real crème brulée, you should just go out to a pricey restaurant and shell out whatever they're asking, because I really don't think anyone could do frozen crème brulée well.

That being said, if you're looking for a creamy, sweet, and chocolatey dessert that's not necessarily crème brulée, this stuff is excellent. The richness of the custard is reminiscent of the other crème brulée dishes I've tried, and it's pretty darn satisfying. I recommend following the thawing instructions exactly: take out of the freezer, leave it at room temperature for one hour, and then eat it immediately. We ate one each that way, and it was really amazing. The following day for dessert, we ate ones we had left in the fridge. Definitely not as good.

Sonia gives them a 3.5, also citing the non-crunchable top as her primary criticism of the confection. Because they're really tasty nonetheless, I'll give 'em a 4.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Trader Joe's Seafood Blend...and More

Hello everyone! Hope you don't mind the slight break we at the WGaTJ's team took last week with Thanksgiving and all. Sandy and I did a quick run out (left kinda late Wednesday, came back e-a-r-l-y Friday because my cubicle apparently missed me) to the Philly 'burbs where my folks live to go the annual turkey day get-together with oh, roughly 70 or so family members at a campground. That's considered an average, maybe even slightly small, year...yup, there's that many of us, and we're constantly growing. Needless to say, there was lots of great homemade food, from everyone from my mom to my cousins to my great aunts to the folks I can't remember who they are but dang they made a good pie so they're always welcome. Between stomach prep and food comas, between Sandy and I, we just didn't eat all that much TJ's last week. That's a nice change of pace. We truly hope you enjoyed yours.

Anyways, by Saturday night we had almost recovered and were kinda tired of turkey for the time being, felt kinda lazy (driving 300+ miles then working a full day the day before then a long day of plaster wall work does that to you), but still were in the mood for something that could almost pass as homemade-ish and definitely comforting. And no turkey or potatoes, please. We decided on a simple, easy to make dish of some seafood alfredo pasta, just hoping it'd hit the spot. Fortunately for us, TJ's sold the main three parts needed for our dinner, so let's review how they did.

First, the seafood. We used Trader Joe's Seafood Blend for this. Honestly I haven't spotted this at our usual store, but the weekend before last, Sandy and I checked out the new South Hills shop (inside a former Pier 1) where we saw it and picked up. Man, South Hills, not only do you have more stuff, but nice, wide aisles, too. The East Lib store's jealous. Anyways, the seafood blend is pretty basic. It's just frozen shrimp, calamari rings, and bay scallops. Out of all of them, the shrimp kinda stands out as being the best to me, but then again, I'm usually a shrimp guy. All the bites I had seemed to be about right - the shrimp was definitely firm yet tender, and the calamari was kinda chewy and tough, and somewhat reminiscent of when an old high school buddy tricked me into eating one at the Italian restaurant from the movie "Big Daddy"on a field trip to NYC back in my junior year.* Truth be told, I haven't had scallops more than once or twice that I can recall, and they were a little mushy/ever so slightly gritty, but I presume they were on-target enough and were palatable. As a whole, the seafood blend wasn't salty or mushy or just kinda crappy like other times I've gotten frozen seafood at other stores, and I presume the blend is versatile enough for a variety of dishes.

Next, the alfredo, as in Trader Giotto's Alfredo Pasta Sauce. When I think alfredo sauces, I usually think pretty mild, kinda bland, slightly cheesy white sauce. Yup, well, that's what this is, a fine example of the genre. The sauce has all the typical ingredients like romano and parmesan cheese, a little garlic, so on and so forth. I could kinda taste it, but it seemed to just cover everything with white stuff and not do much else.Although I'm not an alfredo aficionado, I'm not saying this as a negative. It's just that, I wish alfredo sauces had more to them in general, and TJ's wasn't an exception. That being said, the alfredo sauce definitely added the needed "comfort" to our dinner and help tie everything together pretty well.

Lastly, the pasta noodles themselves. I'm not a resident pastalogist, so I'm not entirely sure if Trader Joe's Egg Pappardelle Pasta was the most appropriate of choices for a seafood alfredo, but it's what we had and truth be told, they worked just fine. Sandy and I love our carbs (not pictured above: the garlic bread we demolished as well) but a package of these, about half the seafood and half the sauce seemed to make two generously sized dinners that slid into our over-expanded tummies pretty well. The noodles were a big part of it. They're big and thick and not wimpy at all...I might actually fear taking lashes from a wet one of these. Okay, well, probably not, but they're not weak, but firm with a bite to them. I can easily see using these to make different soups and all sorts of pasta dishes.

Altogether, they made a pretty good pairing. I kinda misplaced the receipt for this** but I think the seafood blend either 7 or 8 bucks, the sauce was $3-something and the noodles were probably $2 or so. I'd put the dinner about on par with something you'd get at the Olive Garden (just without the fresh ground pepper), so $13 for two good dinners at home plus some reserve supplies is a decent win as opposed to more than twice that out somewhere. I think it's kinda silly to rate each item separately, as we enjoyed them all tossed together, and it's kinda hard to single out just individual items as they're not made to be enjoyed alone. Sandy, who cooked it all up for us, was pretty pleased and made some nice friendly "mmm"s throughout the course of our meal. I was mmming right along with her. We'd both brandish our dinner with a good solid 8, so that's what each of the components will get.

Bottom lines:
Trader Joe's Seafood Blend: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Trader Giotto's Alfredo Pasta Sauce: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Trader Joe's Egg Pappardelle Pasta: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons
* Jerk told me it was an onion ring.
** Let's hope the IRS doesn't audit....:)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Trader Joe's Peppered Uncured Turkey Bacon

Nathan's right. It s kinda silly that leading up to Thanksgiving we've featured Thai products two posts in a row. So let's talk some turkey, shall we? Chances are, in just a few days time, you'll have more turkey leftovers than what you'll know what to do with - too good to throw out, the food pantries won't take it, but before too long you'll be sick of it. Never fear; there's some okay looking recipe websites out there that'll give you plenty of tips (although some look a little gross. Like Thanksgiving in a Cone. Blecch).

Not a single one of these sites will tell you how to make turkey bacon, though I can presume how it's made: mix and mash up all the random turkey bits you can, process them down with a couple random spices, form into a thin loaf-like shape, put a heavy coating of pepper on the outside, and cut into thick strips. To cook, drizzle some oil in a pan and cook to either it's limp, greasy and heated, or burn the crud out of it and hope for the best.

If that doesn't sound so great, well, there's a reason: it isn't. I've extolled my love of bacon before so I'm not going to go over that all over again. But dangit, bacon is either pork, or it isn't bacon at all. Trader Joe's Peppered Uncured Turkey Bacon is no exception. It tastes just like how presume it was made, which kinda left me with the impression it was Turkey Spam. For cooking, we went the "blacken and pray" route, and while the outside got burnt and semi-palatable, the insides were left chewy, kinda funky, and Turkey-Jerky-esque. The cooking instructions say to heat for a couple minutes on both sides but all that produces is the aforementioned big floppy greasy strip of meat. The directions also ominously say "results may vary." Tastewise, it's mostly pepper, though the meat is a little sweet from the applewood smoking it undergoes. It's okay, but it doesn't taste enough like bacon to either one of us. I should've guessed that before buying, with poultry being such a lean meat and fat being such a key part of the bacon equation, but the thought didn't cross my mind. I just saw cheap ($2.99) bacon and decided to try it out.

I can understand people liking it though. Nutritionally, it's a bazillion times better for you. Almost no fat or calories, no nitrates, yada yada, all that good stuff. And perhaps things like turkey bacon are an acquired taste, and perhaps this is good for the aficionados out there, and if it is, go enjoy. For Sandy and I, we're just a little confused that while TJ's can consistently offer a reasonably good alternative meat products like soy chorizo, veggie sausage, beefless ground beef, or heck, even a meatless corn dog, they can't do the same for one animal stepping in for another one. I made us a panfull for breakfast over the weekend, and for once my scrambled eggs were the highlight on the plate. Sandy, who I thought would be in a better place to appreciate this TJ product, actually had much the same thought as I did. "It just doesn't get crispy, which I like, and it tastes kinda weird," she said. I concur. She went with a 2.5 for it, while I'll knock it a half-spoon down from there.

Bottom line: 4.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons