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Friday, January 29, 2016

Podcast Episode 17: Favorite Healthy Products

Is your New Year’s resolution to eat healthier? In this episode we share our favorite healthy Trader Joe’s products.

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Trader Joe's Steamed Chicken Soup Dumplings

Ah, January. If you're anything like me, you know what this means: head cold season. Seriously, I've had one lingering for at least a week, and it's gotten to the point that I can't hear as great out of my right ear. Which wouldn't necessarily be an awful thing, given how my kiddos love to shriek incessantly. Except I have to spend a decent amount of time on the phone at my daytime job, usually with overseas call centers, so I have to ask them to repeat things a couple times, thus giving off even more of the impression that I'm the weird old guy at work to all my younger colleagues (including my boss, who's 26. 26!!!). I'm only 33. It's not my fault those young'uns don't know basic '80s movie references (inconceivable!), random ODB lyrics, or who Homestar Runner is.

Anyways...head colds. Fun. Even more fun when you have a newly reset high deductible HRA insurance plan that makes going to the doctor for routine stuff like this somewhat cost-prohibitive. So, as I can imagine my nonexistent Southern grandma saying, I just need to eat some chicken soup, dumplin'.

Or maybe my ears failed again, and she said "Eat some chicken soup dumplings." Well, either way, here's Trader Joe's Steamed Chicken Soup Dumplings, available in the freezer section for $2.99. Cool concept: Take TJ's mostly successful potsticker/gyoza line, cross it with classic chicken soup. So basic, yet kinda genius.

So how's it work? Not bad. These were ready to rip after about 10 minutes in the steamer basket on the stove top. There's also microwave instructions but I'm not that kinda guy. Anyways, the six of these puffed up fairly impressively during cooking (we have clear glass lids for our pots so I could watch) and they were positively puffing and pulsing. Yummmm. When done, on the advice of the box (and using a shred of common sense), Sandy and I waited a minute or two for them to cool down so biting into them wouldn't unleash a boiling gush of broth straight down our gizzards.

I won't say the dumplings tasted exactly like chicken soup. As kinda a duh-ism, there's a lot more noodle to it than usual. I will say the doughy parts straddled a good line between usual soup noodle and potsticker dough-type flavor. But there's also not a whole lot of broth, either. I mean, yes, it's there, but the box's claim of being "filled with a warm and savory broth" may be a slight overstatement. Also, the chicken...not sure what spices you all usually put in your chicken soup, but the stuff here, between soy sauce and ginger and garlic made the meat part taste almost chicken sausage-esque. Sandy agreed with that. Also, no typical soup veggies like carrots or celery. End result: The chicken soup dumplings tasted much more like a somewhat juicer version of the regular chicken potstickers than a large bite of chicken soup that inside-outted itself. 

Which, I really like those, and I'm not a huge fan of chicken soup, so overall, I'm happy. They're pretty filling and decently okay for you caloric content, etc wise - get some fresh veggies on the side for a good enough lunch on a cold day. I mean, yes, the salt content is somewhat horrific, but name something that isn't, and if that's the worst you can say about a frozen prepackaged meal, it's not that bad in my book. Not that much worse than chicken soup. I liked 'em, Sandy borderline loved 'em, so these will be a repeat buy, I'm positive.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Steamed Chicken Soup Dumplings: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Trader Joe's Molten Chocolate and Salted Butterscotch Macarons

Ah, macarons, macarons, macarons...and macaroons. Not the same thing. Here's a PopSugar article explaining the difference, which was undoubtedly inspired by ignorant blog posts such as this one, written by uninformed foodie-hack blogger types. And now that we know how to differentiate the two kinds of cookies, let's take a look at TJ's latest offering in the macaron—with one "o"—category.

If nothing else, the actual product looks like it does on the packaging. There's an attractive, well-formed flaky pastry with a soft, fluffy center. Plus, the molten part is really kinda fun. While peering into your microwave, you can actually see the pastry's gooey center liquefy and slide down the sides of the product just like a middle school science fair volcano. The only problem with that is, you have to time it right. The box suggests 40 seconds. Our microwave is a little on the old and feeble side, so it took about ten seconds longer. Leave it in too long, and too much of the center winds up sliding down onto your plate; not long enough, and there's nothing "molten" at all. But if you stand there and stare at the product, it comes out pretty well if you yank the microwave door open just as the filling starts to ooze. And even I have the attention span to stand and stare at something for 50 seconds or so.

The texture of the cookie part of the macaron was a bit stiff and crust-like. It wasn't altogether unpleasant, but also certainly not the finest example of macaron texture we've seen from Trader Joe's. The filling was more like the creamy center of a toasted marshmallow, and when eaten with the outer shell, helped to compensate for the comparative dryness of the other component.

Flavor-wise, the butterscotch version was a run-of-the-mill salted caramel kind of vibe, with an emphasis on the sweetness—just a hint of saltiness. And it wasn't a particularly complex flavor, either. To be honest, I'd be slightly disappointed if I were served this dessert in a restaurant. But there's usually some taste sacrificed in a product that goes from frozen to ready-to-eat in less than a minute. Sonia liked the flavor of this butterscotch one more than the chocolate variety since the butterscotch filling reminded her of cajeta, a Mexican caramel made with goat's milk.
As for the chocolate variety, the texture was identical to that of the butterscotch, as far as I could tell. I liked the flavor slightly more in this case, as it was very similar to a brownie. Sonia wasn't as impressed. In the end, she'd just rather eat a brownie.

Apparently Russ and Sandy were not fond of these cookies at all. I don't really blame them. I certainly wasn't as blown away by them as I thought I would be, but as they are, I think I'll score them somewhere in the "not bad" range. Let's go with three and a half for the chocolate version and three for the butterscotch from me. Sonia will throw out three stars for the chocolate version and a four for the butterscotch.

Bottom lines:

Trader Joe's Molten Chocolate Macarons: 6.5 out of 10.
Trader Joe's Molten Salted Butterscotch Macarons: 7 out of 10.