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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Trader Joe's Zucchini Spirals

Like many children, when I was very young, I was turned off by most vegetables. I ate the basic stuff kids ate—peas and carrots, maybe some steamed broccoli here and there. But I remember being terrified of zucchini. I'd heard of zucchini bread and wondered what kind of sick person would ruin something as delicious as bread by baking a vegetable into it. After eating pan-fried zucchini from our garden once or twice and being relatively impressed by it, I got brave enough to try zucchini bread, too. I thought it was scrumptious. It works for the same reason pumpkin pie works: it's a unique vegetable surrounded by bread and sugar. 

On its own? It may not be quite as dessert-like, but as long as there's some oil and seasonings involved, it's certainly not bad.

Some of you might remember the carrot spirals we looked at last year. Same concept here, except with—you guessed it: zucchini!

I didn't feel like the zucchini was quite as versatile as the carrot, quite honestly—at least in terms of the product pairing with pasta sauces and that sort of thing. When I first heated the zucc spirals per the instructions, I felt the result was a bit too chewy. There was a subtle crunchiness to the vegetable, but there was also a slight stringiness. 

You can see in the picture above that the zucchini maintained its green and white colors after heating on the skillet for about nine minutes, as per the instructions. It still appeared essentially the same as when it's raw. Sonia pointed out that zucchini is a much fleshier vegetable than carrots, and for that reason, she thinks the carrot spirals are the superior product. 

When I fried the zucchini spirals in olive oil, they browned up nicely and got a bit more crisp and flavorful, in the manner of zucchini fries, albeit much longer and thinner. At that point, I was fine eating them with just 21 Seasoning Salute and a bit of extra sea salt, although I'm sure there are plenty of other sauces, dressings, and maybe even grated cheeses that might go with them.

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

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Trader Giotto's Organic Spinach & Ricotta Pizza

"Pizza night."

Oh goodness, I love those words.

There's so many things that those words signify. For our family, that almost always means it's Friday night, after a long week of work, and right before a weekend full of familial nonsense like Costco runs (more pizza!) and stuff like kid birthday parties (usually even more pizza!). It means it's time to kick back and relax a little, and chow down on some comfort food. I mean, it's tough to beat pizza. Ask my kids - it's one of few foods we don't have to beg, borrow, and deal with them about. They'll happily chomp it right on down. Easiest dinner this side of mac and cheese, or ice cream sundaes. Eat pizza, pizza yum. Good times.

Yes, we love pizza and what it means...but when I think of pizza, I don't think of pies like Trader Giotto's Organic Spinach & Ricotta Pizza.

I mean, organic? Spinach? That sounds...kinda healthy. I prefer stuff like buffalo chicken or pepperoni or sausage or basically any kind of meat. I want me greasy comfort, not healthy freshness. And ricotta? I have a love/hate with ricotta. Mostly, I love avoiding big globs of it, because I hate big ol' chunks of it. It's one of those "less is more" type deals for me, for sure.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed this particular pie, though. It's not a new favorite, by any stretch, but it works. The key seems to be the sourdough crust - first of all, it tastes fantastic. It's not overly sour, but has just the right touch to offset the thin coat of marinara and play off it a bit. It also helps that the crust is thick and doughy and a little chewy while still getting a little crispy on the bottom. Sandy says she wishes she baked it a little longer than the box instructions dictated to be a little crispier, but nah, was great as is.

And as you can see, there's plenty of spinach atop as well. Nothing too overly special about that - I mean, it's just spinach, but I was pretty happy with how much there was. It helped hide the ricotta a bit. I guess if you're a ricotta aficionado, you may be disappointed with the small crumbles here and there. But for me, I was happy. With the ample mozzarella, it seemed to be more a light creamy touch here and there, without overly affecting either the overall flavor or feel of the pie too much. That's a plus.

Both Sandy and I had to shake a little red pepper flakes to liven up the spinach ricotta pizza a little, which worked great. As you can imagine, without the flakes it was a little plain tasting overall. But in all, it's a solid pie, if not my ideal version. Bonus points for it being a Giotto product - I miss all the different names, and they seem so few and far between these days. It'll be an occasional pick-up for our many pizza nights, I'm sure.

Bottom line: Trader Giotto's Organic Spinach & Ricotta Pizza: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, February 23, 2018

Trader Joe's Mexican Style Corn & Quinoa Salad

One of the best parts of being in an intercultural marriage is coming to understand and appreciate the other culture just a little deeper than one might have been able to otherwise. I still don't embrace things like feeding dead relatives on Dia de los Muertos—but then, Sonia never did either. But the food? Mexico has some of the greatest culinary traditions on the planet. And in Sonia's own words, "Mexicans don't eat bland food." She's not claiming that every dish has to be scorchingly spicy, but that it should at least boast bold flavor.

We see plenty of ingredients here that one might find in dishes from south of the border: cotija cheese, corn, cilantro, poblanos, jalapeños. But the overall effect? Not particularly flavorful.

The salad was fresh, and there was a good mix of cabbage, quinoa, rice, and corn. They were a bit stingy with the cotija cheese, as we've seen in at least one other TJ's product.

There was a narrow tube of dressing included with the salad. It was thick and green, quite similar in appearance to the Green Goddess we just looked at. It tasted like creamy cilantro, so...if you like cilantro, I guess that's not bad—but for a dressing that supposedly included poblano peppers, jalapeño peppers, green onions, and garlic, it was shockingly tame. Not only was there no detectable heat, but there was very little flavor overall. I understand poblanos aren't super hot, but jalapeños have a bit of kick to them. Onions? Garlic? Not even enough in there to sully your breath before a business meeting—which could be a good know, if you had a business meeting...

Five bucks for this salad, which allegedly includes four servings. 560 calories and 28 grams of fat in the whole container—significant, considering the subtleness of the flavor. And one more complaint: I found it very difficult to mix the salad around in the container without spilling elements out of the tub in every direction. It's not the end of the world, particularly if you're eating this at home. But on the go? At work? Might be a little inconvenient.

There's plenty of roughage and fresh, quality ingredients in this product. There's nothing particularly wrong with it. This salad's just not tasty enough to call "Mexican Style" or to warrant a repeat purchase. Two and a half stars from Sonia. Three from me.

Bottom line: 5.5 out of 10.