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Friday, January 6, 2017

Trader Joe's Truffle Mac & Cheese

Truffles. Not the candy kind. The fungi kind. They fancy.  Super fancy. I mean, they can cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars for a pound of them...but as far as I am concerned, they're just hoity-toity mushrooms. That *might* because I don't have much experience with them. See: that aforementioned price.

But mac 'n cheese? Please. I got two kids under the age of four: we live on that stuff. I know mac 'n cheese. So do you. So, when high class fungus meets everyday toddler fare, what do you get?

You get Trader Joe's Truffle Mac & Cheese.

Welll....not quite. Let's start with the noodles. Ain't no elbows around yeah. Nah, it's cavatappi. Yeah, it does kinda taste the same...but not really. It's heavier, sturdier, bitier, firmer, and all around just, well, more fancy. These particular noodles are definitely more towards al dente too, which is perfect.

And cheese. Ain't no weird orange powder packets here. It's a blend of five cheeses -  gouda, sharp cheddar, asiago, parmesan, and romano. All primo cheese, and unlike other five cheese concoctions, I can actually taste all five - the smokiness of the gouda, the sharpness of the cheddar, the impeccable tastiness of asiago, the mildness of the other two. Which is fairly impressive, because with my first visual impression, it looked like a watery mess, but after stirring and letting it set for a minute after nuking, the sauce settled into a decently thick creamy base. Not like your Italian grandma's, but it'll do for a frozen entree. The crimini mushrooms added a little touch of fungus among us, which I didn't mind one bit - Sandy however avoided. More for me.

So for the truffles...it comes to us in form of "truffle extract" as the last ingredient. There's more rice starch and salt in here than any actual truffle substance. Is that like a drop or two...at most? I don't know. But, in perhaps a mind trick in trying to convince myself that this is some fancyish fare, there does seem to a little extra oomph to the cheese sauce that is otherwise unexplained. Perhaps it's some of that semi-mysterious umami  potency that truffles are purported to have.

In short: a good dish. It just may be the best frozen mac n cheese I've ever had. I just wish it came in the two separate white ramekin-type deals that are pictured on the front, instead of the typical black plastic microwave tray, because, you know, fancy. Regardless, you can feel free to raise your pinkie with this one, folks. And it won't raise your budget at only a few bucks ($3 or $4), so go truffle hunting...and dig in.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Truffle Mac & Cheese: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Trader Joe's Crunchy Cinnamon Squares Cereal

"Cinnamon Toast Crunch Light." Or "Diet Cinnamon Toast Crunch." Take your pick. That's what this is. I mean, sure, there's still a good bit of sugar and calories here—in fact, calories per serving is identical in both cereals. The TJ's version will save you from about a half a gram of fat, but it's basically the same concept as the classic name-brand cereal from General Mills, except Trader Joe's specifies "cane sugar" rather than the slightly more vague "sugar" in GM's version.

Taste-wise, though, this offering doesn't offer quite as much flavor as actual Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I was expecting a much greater difference in the ingredients and nutrition information just based on the taste of this product. It's not a bad flavor. It's just not as pleasant as the classic cereal in the opinions of both Sonia and I.

Like classic CTC, both wheat and rice flour are used in the flakes, and the texture is pretty similar as a result, although I feel like TJ's version might be ever-so-slightly less dense.

Sonia noted that the particles of cinnamon detach from the flakes and distribute themselves throughout the milk and around the perimeter of the bowl. This might have something to do with the perceived flavor discrepancy. Does General Mills know the secret to stably fusing cinnamon particles to cereal flakes? Has Trader Joe's research and development team simply missed this fundamental principle of cinnamon particle physics? 

Is this Trader Joe's cereal just the General Mills cereal in disguise, and all perceived differences and discrepancies are simply in our heads?  Are our taste buds just messed up? Are we being too critical of this cereal? Are you being too critical of our review of this cereal?

The answers to these questions may never surface on this blog, but one thing's for sure—both this cereal and classic Cinnamon Toast Crunch pair up well with a nice ruby port.

Three and a half stars from Sonia, three and a half from me as well. (Just as a reference point, we'd give Cinnamon Toast Crunch four stars a piece.)

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Trader Joe's Buenalba with Paprika Cheese

Well, somehow, we all made it to 2017. 2016 was kinda a doozy of a year, wasn't it? As far as anything I had some semblance of control over, it was good...but you can't exactly blame the sentiment behind things like this fairly believable fake move trailer. And if you're someone who's pretty glad to leave 2016 behind, just remember to take what's good and keep moving forward. It's all we can do.

Like...*scrambles for an example*...a ha! Trader Joe's Buenalba with Paprika Cheese! Sandy just picked this up, on the second day of 2017, yet this particular cheese was Trader Joe's spotlight cheese way back in October 2016. And, like Betty White, fortunately it has survived into the new year.

Coming to us from the exotic stomping grounds of Don Quixote (La Mancha, Spain), TJ's buenalba cheese with paprika is raw milk based, from both goats and sheep. I've had other cheeses of similar origins, and have a wide variety of experiences from soft and mild to bordering on what I'd call "viscerally pungent." Definitely place this on the milder, not wilder, side of that spectrum. It's soft yet a little waxy, with a fair amount of creaminess after a few bites that still leaves a little graininess. Almost like bleu cheese, but a little different. That makes for a pretty interesting bite, in my opinion, and one I had to try a couple times to try and get the hang of.

The vibrant orange hue, along with the promise of paprika, makes for a pretty spicy looking appearance. Let me assure you: not the case. It's smoked "sweet paprika" (whatever that means) which, honestly, I didn't notice at first, it's so mild. And, this is gonna sound a little weird maybe, but...instead of tasting it, I more felt it. yes, I felt the paprika. There was this soft, gentle warming I felt after maybe my second bite had gone down the hatch that really, on a decently cold winter night, was very welcome.

Sandy and I enjoyed our bites by their lonesome, without an accompaniment. We're not enough into the pinkie-raising crowd to be able to suggest a good wine pairing, but you're into that kinda thing, you're probably smart enough to not take whatever some goofball TJ's blog would say about it anyways. For $10.99 a pound, it's a pretty decent cheese to take a flier on if you haven't yet. It certainly won't be the worst cheese you eat this year.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Buenalba with Paprika Cheese: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons