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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Trader Joe's English Cheddar with Carmelized Onions

If I were a better writer, I'd be able to write this review in such a way that you could imagine John Cleese of Monty Python fame narrating it. If I were oddly endearing and full of witty banter, and could make some cheesy special effects and have Sandy put on an alien costume, I'd make a video and add it to Nathan and Sonia's YouTube thing they have going, and it'd make you laugh and cry as from the David Tennant era of Dr. Who. And if I wanted to bore you to tears with stuffy British aristocratic handwringing, well, I could attempt to write something like another popular BBC show (I much prefer Downton Arby).*

Great, I think I just alienated half our audience with that last line.  And from what I understand from the last episode, it's poorly timed.

Moving along, for those of you who are left, I'm obviously none of those. I'm just a guy with a mouth who writes things about the stuff he shoves into it. In my world, that qualifies me to write about cheeses like Trader Joe's English Cheddar with Caramelized Onions.

I've been hearing pretty much since the advent of this blog about how amazing this particular chunk o' cheddar is. I never once picked it up until my last stop. I've been burned by some cheesy choices in the past, so don't blame me for being a little shy.'s interesting. I'm not sure in which way I mean that. Just....interesting. It was and was not what I expected. What I expected: Sweetness from the caramelized onions, with good mild cheddar flavor. What I didn't expect: That sweetness to permeate every little bit, with the cheese itself being so soft. Seriously, right out of the fridge, "cold and clammy" are the two words that come to mind (which is, incidentally, how I envision much of England to be). My tasters aren't sure what to think. It's good to warrant more bites, but in the end...I simply don't know. By the time we finish off our remaining cheese, we may decide this s worth a repeat purchase. Then again, maybe not.

Overall, being honest, the caramelized onions are the standout part of the cheddar. They're much like the ones Sandy and I had recently at the local Irish pub atop our bangers and mash before our night of Ceili dancing, so that's a good start. Maybe I'm just too acclimated to the cheddars from our side of the pond, but if the rest of the cheese were more like a good, firm sharp cheddar that didn't seem to get so sugary from the onions, I'd enjoy it more. Seriously, "cheese candy" is what comes to mind, and whether that's a good or bad thing, who knows.

"'Cheese candy?' I wouldn't phrase it like that," Sandy said, though she noted how much she liked the overall sweetness and cheesiness. She also liked how soft it was, too. For her grade, though, she seemed as much on the fence as I am. "Ehhhhhh....I'm not a really cheese connoisseur, so I don't know....let's say a three." Playing it down the middle always seems a safe bet, so likewise for me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's English Cheddar with Caramelized Onions: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons
* The only thing I can enjoy about "Downton Abbey" is trying to spot all the actors who've been in any of the Harry Potter movies or on "Dr. Who." In one episode, paying only half attention, I spotted five. Five!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Trader Joe's Aloo Chaat Kati Pouches

Anything I can say about Hot Pockets, Jim Gaffigan has already said much better. As if I needed to remind myself, for whatever reason, a few months ago I was at Target and saw some pretzel/turkey/bacon/cheese montrosity that somehow looked, well, "appealing" isn't exactly the right word. It was more a word that somehow means "If such a thing as tasty Hot Pocket is possible, this would be it." Nope. Fail. Gross. Pretty much the cheese's fault. Maybe Archer Farms could take a better crack at it.

Anyways, despite the name of this particular product being Trader Joe's Aloo Chaat Kati Pouches, I will refer to them the rest of this post as being Trader Joe's Indian Hot Pockets, because you cannot tell me that they're not. They even come with crisping sleeves. They even call them "crisping sleeves." This is a Hot Pocket, through and through.

And, in stark contrast to most of our TJ's Indian food experiences whether current or past, they're a major disappointment. Chief reason: Look at the picture on the box. Looks like crispy, buttery, samosa-inspired crusty-carb incarnation. Then look at this picture, taken of my Indian Hot Pocket, after a few strategically placed bites:

Looks nothing alike. Furthermore, this particular crust? Uggggggggh. What comes to mind is stale Chuck E Cheese pizza crust flattened via steamroller. It's tough and chewy and not even remotely crusty. It's nasty. Granted, it could be better if baked, but I'm not going to eat these at home where I'm trying my best to eat meals without barcodes.

The rest of the filling is okay, I guess. To be honest, I wasn't much of a fan. Between my two IHPs there were about three discernible chickpeas, a whole bunch of mush, some typical Indian spices, nothing that really said "chaat masala" or "tamarind chutney" to me, and whole bunch of big ol' chunks of onions. Now, I like onions, quite a bit actually, but there were too many of them and too little of the other stuff. It was enough that my breath literally and tangibly felt funny until I could come home and brush. Plenty hearty and filling, though. It wasn't enough to dissuade me from being interested in an aloo chaat dish the next time I go to an Indian restaurant, especially if they look something like this, but I won't be running back to these, especially after gandering at the nutritional info. Forgive the Frankenstein Photoshop job, it's been years since I've messed with it.

Wisely, Sandy avoided these. Sometimes she misses something great, but other times she's absolutely right. I cannot even imagine her reaction if she tried one of these, but if the uncrusty crust wouldn't turn her off completely, the filling would. Fortunately, I made a call to the bullpen, and one of our Facebook fans, Martha, gave us a pretty complete rundown, which I'll copy here in its entirety: "I have tried them. The filling is delicious (and vegetarian, for the person who was asking). The crust, however, leaves a bit to be desired. I wanted the pastry to be delicate and buttery like a samosa, because that's how it looks on the box, but it's actually more like the crust on a hot pocket. If it had a better crust it would be an 8 or 9, but I have to give it a 5. Too bad." So I read that as her giving it a 2.5. That's more generosity than I can spare. There's just not that much good I can say here.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Indian Hot Pockets...err, Aloo Chaat Kati Pouches: 3.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Trader Joe's Danish Pancakes

People eat spherical pancakes in the merry land of Denmark. How delightful. How novel. How delicious. 

Why pancakes would taste better in the form of balls, I haven't the foggiest clue. They just do. Why "Munchkins" taste better than regular Dunkin Donuts, I'm not sure of either. Why "balls" sounds so much more vulgar than "spheres," well, I do have a clue why that's the I shall strategically avoid that terminology for the rest of this blog post.

A few years back, I visited a touristy Danish village in Southern California known as Solvang. It means "sunny meadow." It's cute and quaint, full of wine-tasting establishments, four-seater quadricycles, and German-looking fachwerkhäuser. Along one of the picturesque side-streets, an unassuming hole-in-the-wall consistently attracts a crowd of people waiting to try what the Danes call "aebleskivers" (eh' bil skee vers). Sonia and I took a gander at the plates of some of the patrons. They served the pastries with a raspberry sauce and an optional scoop of ice cream. We immediately decided to brave the long queuing line and get a plate for ourselves. The aebleskivers were amazing. 

When we first saw these Danish Pancakes at TJ's, we thought, "Hmmm, I wonder if those are similar to aebleskivers?" Upon closer inspection, we noticed that Trader Joe's writes on the packaging, "aka aebleskivers." Score!

Trader Joe's Danish Pancakes are every bit as good as the aebleskivers from Solvang. They were slightly crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. We heated ours in the oven, and we can't imagine them turning out nearly as well in the microwave, although they list that as an option on the packaging. My biggest complaint about these confectionery spheres is the lack of "fixins." If the product had come with powdered sugar and raspberry jam, these might have been real candidates for our Pantheon of Great TJ's Foods. Of course, we used our own powdered sugar, and fortunately, there's not a lot of variation from one brand of powdered sugar to the next. That raspberry jam from Solvang, on the other hand, would be very difficult to replace. It's very unique. We used some of our Welch's grape jelly instead, which actually wasn't as bad as I expected it to be. We also tried them with maple syrup. No, sadly it wasn't Trader Joe's Organic Grade B Maple Syrup, but maybe we'll try them with that next time. Homemade whipped cream goes well with them, too.

Click here to watch 52 seconds of aebleskiver madness on YouTube, featuring my repulsive attempt at a Danish accent!

Sonia and I each give them 4 stars.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Trader Joe's Light Coconut Milk

Clickety click click click. Click. Click clack moo.

"Whatcha doing over there?" asks my wife, laying on the other couch, relaxing after dinner with her Nook as Baby M snores away n her car seat (She's been asleep since we got home, and don't you mess with a sleeping baby).

"Uhhh..nothing" I say. "Really, not much at all."

"You're typing something. I can tell by that fourth-grade style hunt and peck you do. You're thirty, learn how to type like an adult. Typing something up for your TJ's blog or that other one you do?"

"Like, I said nothing really. Go back to your Nook."

"Nah, you're typing something. I'm going to guess it's your TJ's blog. Whatcha reviewing? Aren't you gonna nag me again for your Golden Spoon rating? You and your spoons, thinking you're so clever...."

"Okay, fine, I am writing a TJ's review."


"Uhhhh......Trader Joe's Light Coconut Milk."

"What the heck can you write about a can of friggerin' milk?"

"I don't know, but we seem to pick it up pretty often. I mean, every time you make your Tres Leche cake, you add some in to make it a 'Cuatro Leche' cake. You really need to make that again sometime, and by that, I mean, like right now. Or last night, when I used a can to make some Thai-style coconut and chicken soup. Even with all the spices and stuff I put in, you still tasted the coconut, right? Or didn't we use it that one time with some mango and make that really good coconut-mango rice we both really liked?"

"Yeah, but, it's still just a can of milk."

"Well, no poop, but...everything at TJ's can't be cookie butter and impossibly good ice cream and candy bars. It's a grocery store, and they got to get some of the staple stuff right, or they'll just be some sort of store all full of gimmicky stuff and not much else. Sometimes I want all the gimmicks, but I still need me some groceries too. It can't hurt to write about those every once in a while, too. Like the maple syrup last week. Right, my dearest of loves? Right?"

"....Sure, you're right. I guess. Have fun. I'm just going to lay here and read my Baby Sitter's Club book for the 693rd time. This one is one of my favorites. It's the one where Mallory has to try and beg and plead her parents to get her ears pierced. It'!"

"Well, you know what else is good? I'm pretty sure we've picked up both the the regular and light versions of this coconut milk, and kinda like regular and Diet Dr Pepper, it's hard to tell the difference. Well, it's not impossible, the regular has just a little more coconut richness but, they're both good, and get enough coconut flavor in. I think the difference is the light version because it's made from coconuts that were jumped on their way out of a Weight Watchers meeting. Ha! That's a funny line I need to remember to put in. Nah, seriously it's because it's the second time they press the coconuts and the first time all the...."

"Excuse me, I'm trying to read here. What are you prattlin' on about coconuts about?"

"I'm just thinking out loud about how smokin' you'd look in a grass skirt and coconut top...."

"Errr, no. And don't put that in your review. Or the line about coconuts going to Weight Watchers. That's stupid."

"I thought you weren't listening."

"I wasn't. Mallory almost has them convinced!"

Ladies and gentlemen, this conversation, which completely did not happen, is why when you choose for whatever reason to write a review about a can of coconut milk, you just go and write it, and leave your better half alone. That said, both Sandy and I like the canned coconut milk and heartily recommend it for all of your coconut milk needs.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Light Coconut Milk: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Trader Joe's Speculoos Crunchy Cookie Butter

Well, if you want the short story, I'll just say this: if you like the original cookie butter, you'll like the crunchy stuff, although you shouldn't expect the crunchfest of the century. This product is still pretty smooth.

For those unfamiliar with cookie butter, I'm gonna go ahead and tell you it's awesome. And then I'll continue to overuse the word "awesome" for the rest of this blog post. How awesome is cookie butter, you ask? So awesome that our review of cookie butter is by far the most read post of all time on this blog...out of 362 posts! That's partly due to Russ' epic write-up on The Daily Meal and partly due to the fact that cookie butter is just friggin' awesome.

And this crunchy stuff is automatically friggin' awesome by association. In my review of the smooth version, I mentioned that there was really no evidence that the product was ever actually in cookie form. It's "smooth like butter." But the crunchy variety actually feels a little like biscuits—pulverized well beyond recognition.

So it's still pretty smooth in my opinion. There's a much greater difference between smooth peanut butter and crunchy peanut butter, if you ask me. And I guess I was expecting the cookie butter equivalent of crunchy peanut butter, which I certainly wouldn't have minded. But considering I don't have a dental plan at the moment, I suppose it's a blessing in disguise. I wouldn't want to chip a tooth on a giant chunk of speculoos biscuit while devouring a piece of toast slathered with crunchy cookie butter.

And if you're wondering—yes, the taste is exactly the same. It's that same sweet, scrumptious, gingerbready deliciousness that we've come to know and love. Someday I'm going to fill the bathtub with cookie butter and jump in and put it on our YouTube channel. Stay tuned.

Since this product could have been a tad crunchier, I'll have to dock it half a star. Other than that, it gets the same score as the original cookie butter. 4.5 stars from Sonia. 4.5 stars from me.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10 stars.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Trader Joe's Organic Grade B Maple Syrup

Interesting info-burst: Did you know it takes approximately 43 gallons of maple sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup? That's amazing to me. According to this website from the University of Vermont, a single tree produces about 10 to 20 gallons of sap per season, depending on all sorts of factors, and, well, if you're all that interested and want to learn all about, click the link and knock yourself out. We'll be here when you're done. Anyways, using very rough math, this 12 oz bottle of Trader Joe's Organic Grade B Maple Syrup is the byproduct of about 4 gallons of maple sap evaporated/boiled/steamed (everywhere I look uses different terminology), which is a sizable proportion of a tree's given annual yield, no matter how you cut it. There's two thoughts that come to mind: 1) Whoever came up with the process that makes maple syrup is an absolute genius and 2) the $7.99 price point for this bottle is put into a little better perspective.

And then there's all this info out there about maple syrup grades. A lot of it I saw refers to Grade B syrup, like this bottle, as best for baking, and Grade A best for your pancakes and waffles. Despite the allusions to your report card, A vs. B isn't really meant as a judgement on quality but rather on the color and sweetness. Grade B, harvested later in the season, is darker and less sweet but more maple-y than Grade A. To make a rough analogy, think of Grade B as dark chocolate and Grade A as milk chocolate - both are great, and whichever one you like better, go for it.

Okay, that's enough of that. How does it taste? Deeeeeeee-lish. I cannot tolerate any of the crap like Aunt Jemima masquerading as maple syrup, but man, the real stuff? Love it. This particular TJ's find is thick and rich and uber-maple-y. Sandy cooked up some homemade blueberry almond wheat pancakes last night while I made us some sausage patties from a pretty decent local farm. The syrup was amazing on both of them. It was so good, in fact, I had to refrain from channeling my inner Super Trooper, but I couldn't resist pouring out just a little into a shot glass and sipping it down, just for a little unadulterated taste. This is the strongest maple-tasting maple syrup I've had yet, and I love it. For the money (there's a Grade A that Trader Joe's carries, but for $9 more a bottle), it's tough to beat, at least on the local grocery shelves around Pittsburgh. It's certainly better than that weird MexiCanuck concoction TJ's had a while back. Much better.

Sandy's a fan too. "Better than Aunt Jemima, and Log Cabin, too," she said, as if it were a bold statement. Well, yes, love, this is the actual real stuff, not the high fructose corn junk that actually cannot legally be labelled as "maple" syrup. We're planning a Vermont vacation this year (I've been there a few times, she's never been) so hopefully she'll broaden her maple syrup palate soon. This is far from a bad start, though, for sure. She gives it a four. I'll up that by half a spoon.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Grade B Maple Syrup: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, January 14, 2013

Trader Joe's Dolmas

Generally speaking, the month of January in Pittsburgh sucks. It's even worse this year, with the Steelers woofing the regular season and missing the playoffs, while the band of thugs formerly known as the Cleveland Browns are going to the AFC Championship Game. Ugh. I'm not talking any more about it. It's too depressing. And usually, that's what the weather's like in January out here - gray, cold, windy, days and days go by with no sight of the sun. Usually, it's pretty bad. Seasonal affective disorder? I totally buy into it.

Fortunately, though, Mother Nature cut us some slack this past weekend - sunny, clear skies. Temps in the 60s. Downright springlike, anyone reasonable would say. One of the best things about spring in Pittsburgh is the plethora of Greek food festivals around (lots of Greek Orthodox churches), so the warm weather started me thinking about them. Anything to give you hope, I guess.

So while there were none of those going on, I had to settle for one of my favorite Greek treats, TJ's style, with some Trader Joe's Dolmas. Normally, "settle" is a bit strong of a word, as they've done well with other Hellenic delicacies. But "settle" seems to be about right for these stuffed snackies. There's a lot that's good about them - the leaves are right; while a bit oilier than I'm used to, the texture's also about right - but, I don't know, they lack a little something. Particularly, it's a little lamb. Perhaps I'm a bit spoiled, but I'm used to having lamb meat in my stuffed grape leaves, and these have none. Interestingly, though, the package isn't marked "vegetarian", yet the ingredient rundown lists no meat product, except for potentially in the very vague "spices", which I presume means something like chicken broth in this case. It's an okay attempt - the rice tastes fine, with the right flavorings, albeit without pine nuts - but the word "okay" is about where I start and end.

I could offer Sandy a million drachmas, and she still wouldn't eat one of these, ever. The cold grape leaf wrapper just gets to her and she can't get past it. I hate doing the solo judge schtick, but she'd just give these a zero, and that's not even remotely fair. So, sorry, this is all on me. I'd buy them again for the $3 or so they cost for the teeny bucket of eight, as they taste alright enough and make a decent enough little snack that's relatively healthy enough. They certainly are filling for the two bites you get from each. But, in the end, they just make me a teensy-weensy bit more anxious for spring to arrive with all of its food festival glory. Something like a three sounds about right to me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Dolmas: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Trader Joe's Indian Fare Punjab Choley

For $1.99, there's not much more you could ask for from this product. It's super simple to store: no refrigeration or freezing necessary. "Put it in the pantry with your cupcakes," to quote Simon and Garfunkel...and to date myself terribly. It's very easy to prepare: just microwave or boil for a matter of minutes. And it's delicious. The smell of Indian curry will knock you over before you even taste it.

It's spicy, hot, flavorful, and very easy to serve, too. They recommend it with naan bread, pita, or basmati rice. Lacking any of those, we served it with brown rice, and it tasted delicious with that as well. If you'd like to watch us trying it for the very first time, or if you'd like to hear my really bad Indian accent, check out the YouTube clip here. You'll also get a very nice close up shot of the product as it looks outside the packaging, as several readers have been requesting.

It's not quite a main-course dish like the Chicken Tikka Masala or Lamb Vindaloo, but it makes a tasty, filling appetizer. It's chock full of chick peas, and there are little vegetable bits, and it all comes covered in an amazing Indian curry sauce. I did get one or two bites with a tiny piece of something rather crunchy, which turned me off slightly. Sonia thinks it was a chunk of Indian chili pepper, though it didn't seem hot enough to be that. It was almost like a bit of celery—which wouldn't have been bad at all if I had been expecting it. Otherwise, the texture is smooth throughout, and the chick peas taste and feel fresher than I'd expect them to.

I can't really think of any other complaints. Sonia loved it. We ate the whole package very quickly, and enjoyed every bite. We both give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Trader Joe's Kettle Corn Cookies

I like kettle corn ok, but I'm not a fanatic. I like crispy cookies ok, too, but again—not really a fanatic. However, there's something about these cookies that makes them just slightly more than the sum of their parts—It could simply be the novelty of having popcorn inside a cookie. But let's explore that possibility, shall we?

In the past, we've reviewed Trader Joe's White Cheddar Popcorn and Trader Joe's Popcorn with Herbs and Spices, both of which garnered average-ish scores. But when they played it safe and simply offered plain organic kernels, they pretty much nailed it. So TJ's track record with gimmicky popcorn-things is not particularly noteworthy for good or ill, and yet if TJ's offers us something unique with popcorn, then we, intrepid TJ's taste-testers that we are, will go right ahead and buy it. We're always up for something new. And purchasing these colorfully-packaged snacks is rather like attending a cheap circus in a parallel universe where children snack on popcorn-filled cookies rather than on cotton candy or peanuts.

I'm not sure what I meant by that last statement, either. But rest assured, it has deep significance and needs to remain in this blog post. I think what I meant to say was that these cookies are new and novel, and yet there's something quite classic about them, too—there's a familiarity about them that makes them seem as if they could be an integral part of America's snacking culture, as common as hot dogs or bubblegum. Maybe they will become a new classic. I don't know.

They combine the buttery goodness of sugar cookies with traditional kettle popcorn. And the popcorn not only adds to the look and texture of the cookies, but it also adds a surprising yet welcome twist in the flavor department. You can actually taste corn. And it blends in very well. Someone should try making sugar cookies with corn flour. Trader Joe, I'm looking at you, buddy. I think they might turn out to be quite tasty.

On the down side, they're very crumbly. I hate getting crumbs everywhere. And you can forget about eating these in the car or on the couch. Unless you have mad crumb-catching skills. Which I definitely don't.

Sonia is on a diet of sorts, so I had to force her to eat a few of these cookies. I reminded her that she helped pick them out, so she was obligated to eat some. She couldn't argue with my profound logic, so she quickly ingested one. "They're pretty good I guess, for what it is," she said. "I prefer, like, regular cookies."

She gives them 3 stars. I give 'em 3.5.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Trader Joe's Crunchy Black & White Rice Rolls

I can already see all of the log-term readers of this blog rolling your eyes as I type this, but I'm going to try and eat healthier, and this time, I really, truly, honestly mean it. Scout's honor. Cross my heart and hope to (not) die. And I hear you thinking inside your head, "Oh, that's some New Year's Resolution that he'll give up on any day now, and before we know it, Ol' Chubbo will be back to doing stuff like writing a double review of chocolate potato chips AND pumpkin cheesecake in no time flat." Welllll....normally you'd probably be right. This time is different, though, I swear. I've decided to be a lot more intentional about food, in a lot of different ways, and if you're interested in such endeavors, scope out my new side-blog, Gruel Intentions. That'll keep me accountable, you'll see!

It's these new habits that both Sandy and I are trying to form that led us to our purchase of Trader Joe's Crunchy Black & White Rice Rolls. We saw them at the checkout lane, which was been the previous snagging hotspot for many fine grabs all chocolatey and sweet. Not this time.

And they're not bad. They're less like rice cakes but more like puffed rice. That's maybe a fine distinction to draw, but, well, there it is. I associate rice cakes with being more Styrofoam-y than puffed rice. Unlike rice cakes, these taste and feel 100% biodegradable. Other than that, there's not too much that's exactly special about them. I'm kind of skeptical of the claim of black rice because 1) I've never heard of black rice before 2) all of the roll is the same rice-y white and 3) black rice is one extra consonant away from being one of things I hate the most in the entire world and make a habit of trying to avoid, however impossible at times. It's a pretty uniform stick that's crunchy and munchy and a little sweet, and good enough plain, although some of my favorite TJ's peanut butter would be absolutely killer on it (killer, as in tasty, not in killer, as in still recalled because of salmonella. Sad panda).

Sandy's enamored with them. "They're crunchy and sweet, and not that bad for you at all!" she says. Our Weight Watcher app informs us that one of these is only one WW point. That's not bad for a light snack on the go. She's going almost all out with a 4.5. Me? I kinda wish they had some more flavor, or perhaps some variety - like, say, have a wasabi seaweed variety? Why not? Also, I kinda wish the dimensions of these were a little smaller, as they're way too big to take a full bite of, at least for me. No matter. I like them just enough to say a 3.5.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Crunchy Black & White Rice Rolls: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Trader Joe's 10 Minute Bulgur

It's very easy to get all caught up in all the unusual goodies that Trader Joe's offers that it's pretty easy, at least for me, to overlook some of the wholesome, down to earth, deliciously good stuff they carry without all the fanfare. I'm talking about things like an inexpensive alternative to a cereal classic, or a versatile bread that has 513 different uses, and things of the like. I mean, sure, it's easy to get all excited about this or that or these, but you can't (at least you shouldn't) compose your diet of just those. Trader Joe's, despite not quite being a complete grocery store, does a pretty adequate job of filling in the margins, and more times than not, in unexpectedly surprisingly good ways. It's nice to know that for as many of the "big things" they do right that get all the attention, all the small stuff doesn't get overlooked.

I kinda thought about that when Sandy snatched some Trader Joe's 10 Minute Bulgur on a recent trip. Honestly, I've probably always been too mesmerized by everything else to ever notice the bulgur there before, so it's probably been around forever. But, really, this is a pretty good find, even before trying it. Around our area, bulgur's usually only available in ethnic Turkish groceries, which while fun to go to, aren't always necessarily convenient.

If you're not familiar with bulgur, think of quinoa, only a little denser and a wee bit chewier. A great way to try it out is to make some bulgar pilavi, which is exactly what Sandy did. She's made it before, but not in years, so it's hard to make a direct comparison using TJ's bulgar as the key difference. No matter, the end result was pretty tasty. The bulgar did seem perhaps a little drier then we've recalled, but for all we know that could've been more Sandy being a little out of practice than on the bulgur. Prep-wise, Sandy had no complaints, as it certainly cooked up a little quicker than regular bulgur. Overall, it made a delicious little dinner along with our salad and turkey meatballs - no complaints here whatsoever from me.

Sandy wasn't quite as happy as I was. I'm guessing something in the texture was a little off for her (it takes a little getting used to), but she'll be ready enough to give it another try the next time the hankerin' for some bulgur pilavi hits. As an alternative to rice or pasta or potatoes, I'm hoping that'll be soon. She gives it a three. I'm willing to give the bulgur a little more of the benefit of the doubt and say a four.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's 10 Minute Bulgar: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Trader Joe's Salted Caramel Chai Tea Latte

I already used a clever "tai chi and chai tea" line in my review of Trader Joe's Spicy Chai Latte. So what should I say at the opening of this review? Hmm. How about this? A quote from Angel Taylor: "On a get some chai tea lattes. You open the door for me always."

I'm not sure if she's referring to her date being a gentleman and opening the door for her, or if she's referring to the chai itself, which might open a figurative door to India for her...or something like that. But either way, I think she and her bf should swing by TJ's and check this stuff out.

When Trader Joe's puts the word "salt" or "salted" in the actual title of one of their products, they usually want to draw special attention to it. And in most cases, at least for me, it makes me raise an eyebrow. But after successes like Sea Salt and Turbinado Sugar Dark Chocolate Almonds and the Dark Chocolate Caramel with Black Sea Salt Bar, I'm usually curious and optimistic about their "salted" products.

As was the case with previous "salty" products, you can definitely taste the salt. Rather than it just being another ingredient to blend in with all the other flavors, it somehow becomes a featured flavor. You can distinctly taste salt, caramel, and chai, no matter how you prepare this beverage.

The canister simply calls for hot water. We've even had comments on our Facebook page concurring that all you need to use is water when mixing up a "cuppa" this chai. Sure, it's drinkable that way. You can still taste the aforementioned salt, caramel, and chai-ness...but both Sonia and I agree that it's a hundred times better when made with milk.

We used 1%. It comes out thick, rich, sweet, and filling. When made with just water, the tea can still be hot—and still great for these chilly January days, but when made with milk, it's a hearty, dessert-ish, restaurant-quality treat. It felt and tasted like a powdered mix when we used water. But that's just our take on it. Tell us what you make it with in the comments below. I'm sure one of you has completely reinvented the wheel and used almond milk or something like that that will make us feel stupid for using cow's milk...but let us have it! I assure you that any pride that I project in this blog or in real life is simply part of an act—a cry for help, really.

But anyhoo, we really liked it with milk. We'd give it something like 3 stars a piece if we had only ever made it with water. But since we used milk, we'll give it 4 stars a piece.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Trader Joe's Perline Pasta & Prosciutto

Happy New Year!

No doubt, it's a pretty widespread tradition to have pork on New Year's. Something about pigs only being able to go forward. I'm not sure if that's really true, but then again, I've never seen a pig do the moonwalk...have you? Anyways, that's not exactly how us Shelly's roll. Last night, while everyone was no doubt ringing in the New Year with some champagne (or a reasonable facsimile), we were at home, on the couch, sipping on some iced tea and egg nog, content to watch the local telecast because let's face it, Times Square isn't the same without Dick Clark, despite, well, you know. Yup, we're apparently getting old and lame. At least Baby M was pretty ecstatic before passing out at right about 12:07am.

Anyways, despite our lack of pork today, at least we had some last night with Trader Joe's Perline Pasta & Prosciutto. Prosciutto is a mighty fine cut of meat, perhaps not as high up as pastrami on "meats that begin with 'P'" ranking, but when done well, certainly above pepperoni. And I love pepperoni. Sandy picked these up last week on one of her rare solo grocery shopping trips, and made them up for dinner with a little organic vodka sauce.

They're not too bad. I'm not sure if vodka sauce would be the right accompaniment for them, as it seemed to hide a little flavor subtlety that I could almost sense, but then again, I'm not sure what sauce would be. As is, the pasta kinda reminded me of little squid-shaped sacks with little balls of meat for its brains. The pasta part tastes pretty good - there's at least something that visually resembles rosemary in it, and it kinda tastes like it too - while the meat part took me a few bites to get into it. It's prosciutto kinda all ground up and mixed in with some beef and breadcrumbs and whoknowswhatelse to make a little meatball. To be honest, the first few felt a little gritty and smushy and I wondered where the flavor was. But then it kinda all started kicking in, and I could taste all the little different parts working together to make the filling a fairly unique concoction. I'm not sure I would make prosciutto, beef, breadcrumbs and whoknowswhatelse a regular meatball recipe, but I'm not sure I wouldn't try it out anyways. It works, but for me, just barely, at least in this iteration.

Sandy loves these little prosciutto pasta purses though. Loves them. When she brought out our bowls, she had that look on her face and tone in her voice when she said, "You're gonna hate these. I'll do you a favor and just eat them for you." That's a thinly veiled code in our house that we want something all to ourselves nearly as bad as Smeagol wants the One Ring. She gives them a four and a half, and stated the only thing that keeps them from being a full-handed five is the nutritional info (egads!  look at the sodium and cholesterol!). Me? Kinda like this other fresh pasta concoction, I could make do with or without them, but with the right sauce, maybe I'd be more on board. I'll say a three.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Perline Pasta and Prosciutto: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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