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Showing posts with label Indian. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Indian. Show all posts

Friday, July 25, 2014

Trader Joe's Lamb Koftas

"Kofta." Now that's a cool word. I've never heard it until stumbling across Trader Joe's Lamb Koftas on my latest trip. Basically, a kofta is a Middle Eastern/Indian/ Mediterranean meatball, with different variations from different regions. Sounds good, and I was interested.  My wife Sandy, though? My goodness. She's not usually not one to get too excited about most meats - she's on record on saying she'd be vegetarian if she only liked vegetables more, and I've seen her be indifferent towards bacon, of all things - but lamb anything she's all over it. "I've just never have had any bad lamb," she explains. Granted, me neither, but most of my exposure to the gastronomics of the wooliest of farm mammals has been limited to gyros at Greek food festivals and an occasional dish here or there from either TJ's or occasionally out. I recall us making lamb roast a year or two ago for Easter, and being relatively unimpressed but not overly dismayed by it. Regardless, since I said before we go in it was her turn to find something tasty for dinner, once these koftas were spotted, there was no question what was going on my dinner plate that night.

Like most of TJ's Indian-inspired dishes, the real highlight to me was the masala sauce. It comes frozen in a side packet that you swish the meatballs around in once they're heated up. It was so good - a little heat, a little creamy, but so much flavor - I think I got a hot dog bun out to grab every last drop I could. If you've had their masala sauce on other dishes before, you know what I'm talking about. It's gooooooooood. I think I could put it on anything.

As for the lamby balls me, eh. Without the masala, they tasted like a meatier-but-still-tender sphere of gyro. That's not a bad thing, but it was kind of unexciting in of itself. Heating them was a cinch - a couple minutes on the stove top while steaming in a little water was all they really needed. Other times we've gotten frozen meatballs, I've had to cut them in half mid-cooking so the insides would thaw to a less than rock-solid state without blackening the outside. No such issue here. Neglected to take a picture of the finished product, but each kofta was a couple bites each, with ten in the package (so about 50 cents each), so it seemed like a decent value to me.

Sandy, though? Score this as another big winner for her, enough that she unequivocally gave them a perfect five. For me, I'm not as impressed, but when (not if, "when") these come back to my place for dinner again, I won't be disappointed. Sandy gets some more lamb, I get some more sauce, and we're both pretty darn happy then. Definitely a winner dinner.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Lamb Koftas: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Trader Joe's Vegetable Biryani

Up until Mr. Shelly's recent review of uttapam, it had been quite a while since we checked out any Indian food on this blog. So, to make up for lost time, here's a look at yet another Indian dish: Trader Joe's Vegetable Biryani. We saw it on the frozen section shelf, right next to the uttapam, and it looked too good to pass up. 

I've been to a handful of decent Indian restaurants, but I've never heard of biryani before I saw this dish. Maybe I just wasn't scouring the menu hard enough—I have a bad habit of sticking with my old standby's all the time: chicken tikka masala or some kind of tandoori. Although it often pays to venture outside of your comfort zone, you can never go wrong with the classics. So now my habit is to try the very inexpensive version of each new-to-me Indian dish at Trader Joe's, and then if it really wows me, I might dare order it when I'm out livin' large, spendin' G's at a fine dining establishment.

Note to self: order vegetable biryani next time you eat out at an Indian place.

Because this stuff is pretty awesome. For $2.49, we're looking at a dish that's in the same price range as a typical Lean Cuisine or Healthy Choice meal, with similar fat and caloric content, but with way more uniqueness, flavor, and satisfaction. This meal is super-filling—but not uncomfortably so. It's packed with beans, peas, basmati rice, and meatball-sized vegetable dumplings. The dumplings and rice have the perfect amount of flavorful Indian spices. Nothing's too dry, nothing's too hard. It even has plump raisins to give it a nice sweet zing. The textures and flavors blend together beautifully, and the veggie and bean content is hearty enough to make up for the lack of meat. This entree is vegetarian. Not sure why it's not vegan, but it doesn't have that happy little "V" on it like some other Indian products from Trader Joe's. I'll let you vegan peeps read through the ingredients and tell me why it's just "vegetarian."

This dish is special enough to garner double 4.5's from the Rodgers clan. We're fans. Unless you hate Indian for some strange reason, we can't imagine you won't like this. And for the price, there's not much lost if you don't.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Trader Joe's Four Uttapam with Coconut Chutney

There's been a lot of back-and-forth out there in the wild webby west the past few weeks about the merits of a gluten-free diet for those who are not diagnosed celiac sufferers. I'm...not going to add much to that discussion, other to say that I know enough good, honest folks who go to great lengths to avoid gluten because of how they believe gluten affects them, so there's probably something to it that science (and the rest of us who don't deal with what those others do) may not fully understand as of yet. Can't find the link, but there was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal last week that detailed how, in response to increased consumer demand over the past few years, many food manufacturers are now either focused on making gluten-free versions of products, while openly admitting they sacrifice nutritional quality for taste and texture. Yummm those extra calories!

Another tactic, and more pertinent to Trader Joe's Four Uttapam with Coconut Chutney, is many food that never contained gluten to begin with are now slapped with or marketed under being gluten free. For example, read this about Heinz Ketchup. Now, an average consumer may not know what an "uttapam" is (I sure didn't) but once the first two words of the little subheaded description are read ("rice breads")...well, that's a pretty significant hint it's gluten free. Rice is a pretty common substitute grain (with varying results), so unless so gluten would reach its wheaty tentacles in through some ultra-nefarious means, the "gluten free" at the top of the box is really as useful as a "cholesterol free" label on a box of Cheerios.

Enough about all that, let's talk uttapams. They're fun. They're funky. And Trader Joe's may have helped Columbus them, because I've never heard of them or had one, but now I'm kinda intrigued. If made from an authentic Indian recipe, as the box claims, that means the lentil/rice mixture that makes up these pancake-like yum-yums was fermented for a while. That's probably the case, as there's this lingering kinda sour/kinda sweet/kinda sharp/kinda acidic taste to the batter that's the base flavor. Not sure of the best words to adequately describe, but it sure was unexpected upon first bite. Texturally these uttapam seem to be a cross between mashed potatoes and pancakes, while the undersides of these cakes crisp up nicely when made in the frying pan. Can't imagine microwaving them as alternate directions suggest...ugh. The taste of the batter is balanced out nicely by a certain spiciness - it's not spicy in a hot, peppery way, but in a more herbaceous sense from the abundance of onion tidbits and cilantro choppings. And for a little added subtle sweetness, the coconut chutney up top helps bind the whole dish together. There's no taste that's too scarce or too prevalent - it's perfectly harmonious.

And for those out there who may want to try these out but no desire or capacity to have them four at a time - no fear! Not only do the uttapam (uttapams?) come in a resealable plastic baggie, but also the chutney comes frozen in two separate packets. Making two one night and the other two another night, like Sandy and I did, was a cinch, no creative repackaging needed. That's a nice touch.

If memory serves me right, these "Indian pizzas" (as they're sometimes referred to, apparently) were in the neighborhood of $3 for the box, and honestly, if I were to go out to an Indian restaurant, order some uttapam, and get something approximately like these, I'd be pretty happy. Let's be positive and say that means more about the overall quality of this product versus anything else. Both Sandy and I thoroughly enjoyed them and can see them as a great appetizer for any Indian-themed meal. Nicely done.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Four Uttapam with Coconut Chutney: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons   

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Trader Joe's Indian Fare Madras Lentil

If you like veggie chili, I can't imagine you not liking this dish. It's another winner in TJ's "Indian Fare" line. At a mere $1.99, this product's an incredible value in my opinion.

It's tomato-based, with some kidney beans, lentils, and subtle spices. It goes great with rice, and I'm certain it would pair up nicely with Indian naan bread. It's not particularly chunky other than the beans, and unlike other veggie chilis, you won't find big pieces of tomatoes or other vegetables, but the lentils add a welcome heartiness that adequately fills that void.

The box suggests using it as a burrito filling, in case you're going for that "Indi-Mex" vibe. And I think it would work fine in any context you might use plain old American chili, too. You could put it on baked potatoes, create an interesting dish of international chili fries, or make your own Indian-American chili dog.

But at least part of the fun of dishes like this one is experiencing a small taste of another culture. You can be adventurous without breaking the bank at a fancy Indian restaurant. Apparently, Madras Lentil is also known as Dal Makhni, and it's usually "cooked on special occasions," according to the packaging. Click here to take a gander at other Indian-inspired product reviews from the WG@TJ's gang.

Like the Punjab Choley, this product requires no refrigeration, and like the Indian "hot pockets," it can be prepared in the microwave. It is, of course, vegetarian, but not vegan, as it does contain some cream and butter. It's not as hot as I would have liked it to be, but I guess not every Indian dish is supposed to be a spice-fest.

Considering the low cost, the ease of preparation, and the no-maintenance shelf-stability, this is one of the most hassle-free items we've come across at TJ's—or anywhere for that matter. Sonia and I are both impressed. 4 stars from each of us.

To see the prepared product close up, check out our video review on YouTube.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Trader Joe's Indian Fare Palak Paneer and Trader Joe's Malabari Paratha

This whole week I've been crazy sick. My wife and I both got hit with what I'm assuming is H2N4, or "warthog fever" as I've been calling it. It's the latest mutation of the swine flu. I figure if the first strain had something to do with swine, then there was a second mutation that might have been named after potbelly pigs or something, and so on, up through boars and such, until they arrive at this horrific version which will logically be named after warthogs. Furthermore, when Sonia and I cough, it rather sounds like the grunting of a wild warthog. So there you have it: warthog fever.

I've been delirious these past five days from a high temperature and lots of medication. I take this generic NyQuil that makes me hallucinate so heavily that I believe that I've fully recovered overnight and then once it wears off, I realize that I'm still sick as a dog. It's a great scam: one becomes so attached to thinking that one is well, that you go ahead and take some more, even if there's little or no evidence that the medication is actually helping you fight off the flu. Er, but anyway, that's all just to say that if this blog post doesn't particularly make sense, it's probably because that cat got my girdle.

Oftentimes when ill, I like to eat spicy foods when I have enough of an appetite, as I find that the spices help clear my sinuses and charge up my body with a little energy and liveliness. Now, I don't keep track of what or how often I eat very well, unlike Russ who wisely keeps a detailed log of his daily intake, but I feel like I ate very little during this sickness. It's possible that I ate multiple meals during some of my NyQuil blackouts and I simply can't recall, however, I would think there would be evidence in the form of dirty plates and crumbs, etc. But again, I digress. All that to say that I was fairly hungry and ready to eat when we heated up these Indian dishes from TJ's.

Even though Mr. Shelly wasn't a huge fan of his most recent product like this, my last Indian dish from Trader Joe's was yummy, as was, incidentally, my last Indian snack from Archer Farms. However, all good international cuisine streaks must come to an end. And come to an end it did. The appearance of the palak paneer is as unappetizing as anything I've ever seen from Trader Joe's. It's a deep green mush, not unlike freshly juiced wheatgrass, but thicker and slightly darker. There are a few chunks of cheese throughout it, but by and large, it looks like...well, you know—something I've vowed not to talk about on this or any other food blog.

The taste is heavily vegetabley. And the "green" flavor as I shall call it overshadows the taste of the cheese bits. It's sort of bitter, although it's also kind of hard to describe, because it is a unique bitterness, if that makes any sense. There are some Indian spices, which did help clear my head for a moment, but they're not strong enough to make this dish worth trying simply out of love for hot Indian spices. Now, it might be the medication talking, but green sadness always makes the heart get grumpy.

Instead of eating this paneer with naan bread, we ate it with malabari paratha—an Indian food I've never heard of before. They're like little Indian pancakes. I really can't complain about these too much, but it's hard to separate them from the paneer, which I was definitely not a fan of. We cooked the paratha on the stove, and they came out rather oily...but maybe that's because we used too much oil when we pan fried them...? I didn't think we used that much, but who knows. In the state that Sonia and I have been in, it's a wonder we didn't pan fry them in TheraFlu. They're soft, white, and you can tear pieces off to dip in your paneer or whatever you've got. They don't have a whole lot of flavor, but I don't think they're meant to be a stand-alone item. 

Sonia gives 2 stars to the palak paneer. I'll be merciful and give it 2.5. Sonia gives 3.5 stars to the paratha, and I give it 3. It's been a sick, foggy week people, so everybody keep track of the sunshine, because the leprechauns are on the go this year.

Trader Joe's Indian Fare Palak Paneer. 
Bottom line: 4.5 out of 10 stars.

Trader Joe's Malabari Paratha. 
Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10 stars.

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

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.

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.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Trader Joe's Vegetable Masala Burgers

Last night, quite accidentally, Sonia and I participated in our first Meatless Monday. Have you heard of Meatless Mondays? Supposedly cows, pigs and other tasty, meaty animals use up way more resources to produce a comparable amount of food than a simple vegetarian meal. I guess it cuts out the middle man—or middle beast, as it were. Instead of growing grains and then feeding them to animals and then eating the animals, you just grow vegetables and such and eat those. Much simpler. Also, cow farts deplete the ozone, or so "the science" tells us.

So each day Trader Joe whips up some new vegetarian delight to make Meatless Monday that much more enjoyable, affordable, and accessible. These masala burgers are certainly worth a try, especially if you're craving Indian on Meatless Monday.

The patties look rich with exotic plant matter—and they are. They're dense and filling, but not excessively so. Their texture is not unlike that of a traditional veggie burger, but these feel even less like real meat somehow. In some cases, that's bad. But in this case, it's a good thing that these burgers aren't trying to be something that they're not. They are their own unique delicacy.

Flavor-wise, they capture a good bit of those happy East Indian spices that lovers of fine ethnic foods have come to know and cherish, but they can still be covered in mustard and mayo, dressed in lettuce and cheese, and served in the way of a classic American burger. It's Indian-American "fusion" food, although I'm quite certain you could dish them up with naan and chutney and make something a bit more authentically Indian if you wanted to.

I'm a fan. No major complaints. I'll throw out 4 stars for these puppies. Sonia will follow suit.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10 stars.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Trader Joe's Vegetable Pakoras

Reminiscent of Trader Joe's Heat and Eat Falafel, these happy little balls of Indian food are nearly as unique as their name. I've been to a good number of Indian joints, but I don't believe I've ever heard of pakoras before.

Like falafel, they're made with chick peas, but these also have potatoes, peas, carrots, onions, and some Indian spices rolled up and fried to perfection. To heat, you just pop these frozen puppies in the oven for 15 minutes. They come with a sweet tamarind sauce—which became a topic of hot debate in our household.

This tamarind sauce not only defied our expectations, but apparently defied several universal laws of nature as well. First of all, when something from Trader Joe's is supposed to be sweet, it's a universal law that I'll be the one complaining that it's not sweet enough, and Sonia will say that it's either perfect or maybe even too sweet. Of this sauce, she said the opposite. And I was quite happy with it's sweetness-level—but then, I was expecting sweet as in tangy, spicy, Indian sweet; not sweet as in fresh orange marmalade sweet. Not that Sonia was expecting the latter, but she did somehow seem very disappointed, and said "I wasn't expecting it to be so bitter." Bitter is one of the last words I would use to describe it. She also called it sour. It was tangy, but I certainly wouldn't call it "sour" exactly. It was good if you ask me, and including it in this package definitely impacted my score of this product for the better. Also, strangely enough, Sonia loves everything made with tamarind. Maybe she thought the sauce would be sweet because "tamarind" to her means a flavor of Mexican candy or the Jarritos brand Tamarindo flavored soda. That particular flavor of "refresca" is the only Jarritos I can't stand, and I think the candy is even worse.

As for the pakoras themselves, we were both fans. I personally think the heat and eat falafel is just a tad tastier. I can't put my finger on why exactly—I think the falafel just seems richer and nuttier somehow. The texture of a falafel ball is denser; thicker than these pakora snacks. More filling in a way—but not by much. Although with significantly more ingredients, the taste of these pakora balls is a bit more complex, and perhaps just a little lighter. I felt the sauce complemented their flavor and added a welcomed flair, but Sonia preferred them dry.

Sauceless or not, we both came to the same conclusion. These pakoras are worthy of 4 stars from each of us. Vegans, go nuts. Fans of cheap foreign foods, rejoice. Trader Joe's adventurers, dive in.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Trader Joe's Lamb Vindaloo

I'm sorry. I think lambs, in general, are very fun, cute, little animals. I, however, don't have any fun, cute, little stories about them whatsoever. So let's just get on with the business of talking about eating them, shall we?

Trader Joe's Lamb Vindaloo. As you can see, it's another frozen Indian entree that Trader Joe's has concocted for us. That means one thing if you want to eat it for lunch: a microwave. Hmm, microwavable lamb. As one of our fans aptly said, that's kinda a scary notion, so it was with a little bit of trepidation that I bought this for myself. Sandy though? She was all about giving it the old college try. Nuked peppers scare her off. Nuked lamb bits don't. Go figure. Lamb might be her favorite meat after bacon, so I'm sure that has something to do with it. We've tried pretty much every other Indian offering fom Trader Joe's, so we were hoping it'd be good

Tell ya what: it's different from all the other Indian dishes, and that's a good thing. As much as I'd enjoyed the different curries and tikka masalas and all, to me, after a bit, they began to taste very much the same with only a little differentiation between them all. Not the lamb vindaloo. I love spicy foods and have a higher tolerance for capsaicin-driven cuisine then just about anyone I know; where most of the other Indian dishes registered maybe a four on my 1-to-10 spicy scale, this registered a good solid 8. It didn't make me misty or anything, but it did my nose run a little, and had me plenty thirsty at the end. The sauce was red and rich and savory and had a good burn to it. This is definitely the spiciest thing I've bought yet from Trader Joe's. Loved it. The rice on the side, of course, was nothing special until some excess sauce (of which there was plenty) got involved.

The lamb, though? For what was there, it was surprisingly good, I thought. I got three decent sized chunks, and each bite wasn't fatty or stringy or gristly at all, but instead tender, juicy, and roasted to just about right. I haven't had much lamb in my life, but still, it struck me as good lamb. The down part? Well, just like pretty much every other Trader Joe "meat and something else" product, there wasn't enough of it. I've heard it said that a serving of meat equals something the size of a pack of playing cards (standard ones, not, as much as I would like it to be, those mega ones I swear Bob Barker had but couldn't find a picture of). The three bites I had, judging fairly, equaled maybe 2/3s of a deck. C'mon, I had an afternoon of insurance fustercluck solving ahead of me, I need me some more red meat than that some days, TJ's.

Anyways, before we get to the final wrap-up, you may notice the second picture I have put in this review. Some fans have requested nutritional info on the items we review. As a pharmacy employee (i.e., someone with a vested interest in having as much of the population on Lipitor as possible) and not a nutritional expert by any means, I don't feel too qualified to break it all down. I can, however, take a picture of the nutritional label and have you, the reader, decide if it's something you'd want to try or forego, figure out Weight Watcher points, rally against sodium, etc. I'll make it a point to include a picture of the label in all my posts going forward, and as I have time (and as I repurchase things), update some of the older posts, too.

Okay, let's wrap ths up. Sandy absolutely loved this. She had it for a work dinner last week, and when I picked her up, she raved about it all the way home. Sandy said the lamb was on par with a lot of other times she's had it, and loved all the spices. Like me, though, she didn't love that there wasn't quite enough of it, which was what knocked it down to a 3.5 for her. That seems a little low to me, but yeah, there isn't enough lamb, which makes the $3.99 price point seem a little high. Knock a little off the price, or better yet, sneak in just a couple more bites of tasty lamb meat, and it'll do better than the 4 I'll bestow upon it.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, September 26, 2011

Trader Joe's Baingan Bharta

On the surface, I seemed like a fairly normal kid growing up in most respects.* Let's see...loved Nintendo, did alright enough in school, had a paper route, got skiddish around dogs ever since a German shepherd bit me hard on the buns on said paper route, like swimming and biking, got in a few fisticuffs with the siblings, etc. But deep down, I knew I wasn't like most other kids I knew and heard about. It wasn't just my charming good looks, expansive intellect, and abject humility but also...I liked veggies. A lot. And not just the typical ones like carrots and corn and all that. Peas? Green beans? No problem. Spinach? More please! Broccoli? Okay, let me put a lil' cheese on it and you got yourself a deal. I even liked lima beans on the very few occasions my mom ever made them. Still, there were two veggies I can recall from growing up that I can't remember ever having and being somewhat scared of due to the playground horror stories of my second-grade classmates: Brussel sprouts and eggplant. Never had them, and I wasn't about to go beg my Ma for them either. In the coming months I'll be confronting Brussel sprouts** for the first time when our home garden ones are finally ready to go (late bloomers and we got started late to boot) and kinda looking forward to it. As for eggplant, it's still a work in progress. I've had it only a couple times that I'm aware of it, and while not overly minding it, I haven't been the biggest fan, either.

I guess that's why I was a little apprehensive to try out Trader Joe's Baingan Bharta, aka "Authentic Indian Eggplant Curry." Both Nathan and I have had some great luck with TJ-themed Indian dishes, so it wasn't that part. It was that scary word "eggplant." I truly didn't know what to expect, and so this hung out in the freezer for a couple weeks until I finally worked up the gumption to stuff into my man bag before another day of living in my cubicle.

After zapping it for about five minutes, it was finally done, and it definitely smelled good. And man, is it aromatic. There's the usual Indian season suspects of turmeric, coriander, garlic and cumin that a lot of depth to the flavor and spice of this dish. Appearancewise, the Baingan Bharta pretty closely resembles a plastic tray of brownish mush with some little green things that I presume are teeny bay leave bits here and there. As for taste, it's pretty good, and it tastes like all those seasonings listed above and not much else. About the only things that made me remember it was eggplant was the squishy-squashy texture and the couple seeds floating around (sorry, diverticultis sufferers, another TJ treat you can't have). It was good enough that I made an effort to scrape out every bit I could without looking like too much of a lunchroom freak.

That's not to say it was perfect. In fact, there were two kinda major flaws. First, perhaps this is more my American sensibility than anything, but it coulda used some rice along with it. TJ's gives you some rice with other good Indian lunches, why not this one? Altogether, the Bharta seemed a little, well, incomplete. Secondly, hmm, okay, how to put this delicately...let's just say I had to take an additional short break that afternoon to answer a call, and it wasn't from the collections agency calling for the woman who used to have my cellphone number, either. I like to think I have a fairly strong stomach (after all, I ate these and was fine) but this caused a little mild tummy trouble. That doesn't bother me too terribly much, but that may for others, I presume.

I cannot vouch for its authenticity, as I really don't know what Baingan Bharta is "supposed" to taste like. That's okay, I think. Probably Trader Joe's didn't sign off on this dish thinking it was just like what is made right in's offered to the typical American consumer, you and I, to hopefully introduce us to a type of dish we may not otherwise try, and if we like it, seek out a better version. Next time Sandy and I go to an Indian restaurant, I definitely won't be so adverse to try it if I see it, thanks to this lunch. For a smallscale cultural awakening and an alright lunch, there's worse ways to spend about $3 somewhere, though I'm not sure how quick I'd be to run out and buy this particular version again.

Sandy's a little more veggie adverse than I, so she decided to sit this one out and leave this all to me. I'm thinking she'd like it if she'd try it out, but, eh, what can ya do. Based on the two issues above, but otherwise enjoying this tray o' goodness, I think something like double 3's may be in order...yup, sounds good to me. What about you?

Bottom line: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons
*Dear friends and family members reading this, please note I used the qualifiers of "seemed" and "fairly." Share some dirt on me, be sure it'll come back on ya :).
**Or, as my neighbor calls this huge honkin' plants manhandling our raised bed out front, "Russell sprouts." Haha, never heard that one before...he recommends roasting in the oven with a little olive oil and salt. Any other recommendations? We're gonna have a lot of them.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Trader Joe's Garbanzo Beans...and More

Yes, that's right, I'm going to write a review about a can of beans.

Why on earth would I do that? There's actually a few different reasons. First of all, Sandy and I like TJ's beans. The black beans are a staple in our diet for all sorts of tasty dishes. But we like black beans in almost any form (I said almost), so it'd be more of a challenge to be impressed by a different kinda bean altogether. Enter these Garbanzos (same thing as chickpeas, except much more fun to say). Secondly, with some good luck with some TJ's hummus, Sandy had the notion of trying to make some from home. Thirdly, when she didn't but instead spotted a recipe for fried chickpeas in the new I Love Trader Joe's College Cookbook, she insisted we had to try them out, and not ever ever ever being one to argue, I said sure.

Well, not one to give away the recipe for them, but they're real easy to make. Indeed, as the cover suggests, it can't be effed up. Within just a few minutes we had a pretty large, tasty batch that we popped by the mouthful. Good stuff, with the crispy battered outside contrasting the warm, beany, fleshy insides. This may sound a little weird (indeed, when I said it to Sandy, she looked at me as if I confessed to parading around in her clothes when she wasn't home), but it kinda almost sorta brought to mind a certain kind of peanut butter-y-ness with the texture of the bean, the plain saltiness of the coating, and the overall kinda toastiness to them. After I explained that, her face returned to its normal pretty self as she shrugged and kinda got what I was going for. Two things I'd like to mention about this dish: First, much better when hot so eat 'em quick (once cold, they're not nearly as good), and second, a decent variation would probably be to add a little spice to the batter if you like that kinda of stuff.

I'd say it'a decent can o' beans, as cans o' beans go. However you like to enjoy your Garbanzos, these aren't a bad option. Sandy and I would give them a 3.5 each for being semi-exemplary yet not outstanding, just like a good legume should be.

But wait, there's more. There's another reason we're reviewing these. We went grocery shopping at TJ's last night (word of advice: don't go on Sunday nights. Shelves are literally 2/3 empty then. Couldn't even buy a decent pack of tortillas) and, despite our limited choices, the mood hit for an impromptu, easy to make, semi-authentic Indian feast at low, low prices. Garbanzos are a staple of the Indian diet, so we had these for an appetizer. Here's a few more things we picked up:

First up, some Trader Joe's Masala Dosa. Sandy and I have had these before when we met up with Nathan and Sonia for our blog summit dinner a little while back. These are a pretty straightforward Indian concoction, and fairly tasty. It's basically a rice crepe with onions and chunky potatoes and the usual Indian spices of turmeric, cumin, curry leaves and the like. They're fairly generously sized (several large bites at least) and kinda filling, too As a very nice little bonus, it includes a small package of coconut chutney to complement these guys, which adds a little sweet and a little spice to the mix. Pretty good, though both Sandy and I kinda remembered liking them more the first time we had them, and we think it has to do with preparation method. Sandy and Sonia fried them up in a little bit of oil while Nathan and I drank beer, which made them a lot crisper than when we baked them in the oven. Still, not bad, and a welcome addition. Definitely fry them, though. Sandy gives them a three, while I'll go for a four for remembering how good they can be, and for the bonus sauce.

Next up, some Trader Joe's Paneer Roll Aachari. It's not our first go around with some TJ-style paneer, so between that and the picture on the box we had some high, high hopes. Well, it didn't fully deliver, but that doesn't make it bad. Instead of nice big tasty cheese balls wading in a microwavable kiddie pool of red curry, the finished product resembled more of an semi-chunky ill-defined stew. I'm semi-convinced it's a different product picture on the box altogether. But no matter. The curry sauce is complex and spicy and delicious, with little paneer strands going here and there for an occasional stringy chewy bite. Its state made it ideal for dumping over the rice we made on the side (alas, not TJ's brand), which I scraped up every last bit I could. There was lots of the sauce to go around, too, which definitely is a big plus in my book. My only disappointment was it seemingly not being what was pictured - I'm not sure what the darker stuff is supposed to be that's pictured. I would've liked for my taste buds to find out. Sandy went with a 3.5 for this, and I'll rate it a solid 4.

Last but not least, some good old tasty Trader Joe's Malabari Paratha. You must forgive me of being of the notion that Indian bread kinda started and ended with naan. I'd honestly never heard of malabari paratha before. I wish I have! This may have been the show-stealer of the night dinner-wise for us. So simple to make - fry in a lightly oiled pan for about two minutes on each side, and voila! Your reward is a nice big tasty warm circle of flaky, melt-in-your-mouth bread that I'd imagine you can do anything with (I didn't complain when some of the aachari mingled its way on over), but it's good enough to munch it on down plain. Sandy loves her carbs and almost any bread-type product, and this was right up her alley. I heard lots of "mmms" from her side of the couch for sure. Flaky, crispy, slightly salty, a little doughy, and almost perfect. She went with a 4, while I'd say 4.5.

In conclusion, for a quick, easy, inexpensive make-at-home Indian-inspired feast, this was pretty decent. All dishes were vegetarian, and in the case of the masala dosa, vegan and gluten-free. And yeah, go figure, all are fairly high sodium if that kinda thing is a strike in your book. But in all, they're all fairly tasty and recommended for a dinner feast of your own. It's not the most authentic stuff you could ever have, but it's more close than not, and tough to beat for the rupees.

To conclude, here are our bottom lines:

Trader Joe's Garbanzo Beans: Bottom line: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Trader Joe's Masala Dosa: Bottom line: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Trader Joe's Paneer Roll Aachari: Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Trader Joe's Malabari Paratha: Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Trader Joe's Butter Chicken with Basmati Rice and Trader Joe's Masala Tandoori Naan

Yay! More Indian food. So far, TJ's track record with Indian has been pretty well above, below par...wait: In golf, below par is good. But we know "sub-par" is bad. So I guess in things other than golf, one wants to be above par. But "par for the course" always means just average, or "what's to be expected."

Um, but yeah, TJ's makes pretty good Indian stuff.

I had never heard of Butter Chicken before. It certainly doesn't sound like an Indian dish to me. And the brownish, gravy-like substance in the picture on the box doesn't look like butter, either. It looks more like an Indian masala-type substance. Enigmatic, indeed.

We'll just get to the point here: the chicken was good, tender, and moist, but it didn't taste like an Indian dish to us. There's very little of the familiar Indian spiciness, and it certainly wasn't as good as the other TJ's Indian meals we've had. That brown sauce is apparently not masala sauce, and it brought very little to the table in the flavor department. And again, it wasn't bad. It just wasn't what we were expecting.

Fortunately, we decided to eat the chicken with Trader Joe's Masala Tandoori Naan bread. It's just naan with yummy Indian spices baked in. It's got a little more kick than the average naan, which is good, because it made up for the lack of spiciness in the chicken. Also, the spices make the bread a happy yellow color.

So, in the end, it tasted very similar to a chicken masala dish served with regular naan. Except in this instance, the masala came from the bread and not the chicken. This bread is definitely tasty, but its extra flavor can't quite make up for the lack of kick in the Butter Chicken.

So, for Trader Joe's Butter Chicken, it's not bad if you just want some run-of-the-mill chicken with sauce or if you're a spice-o-phobe that wants to try something Indian-ish. The Basmati Rice is good, as usual. Sonia and I both give it 3.5's. Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

As for Trader Joe's Masala Tandoori Naan, it's just like TJ's other naan, but with a little something extra. Double 4.5's. Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Trader Joe's Paneer Tikka Masala

So, my last review got me thinking about the whole classes of vegetarianism thing, and like any good, curious fellow in this age and time, I went straight to the infallible, omnipotent source of all knowledge readily available on the interwebs ... yup, Wikipedia (Nathan sure got our unspoken WGATJ creed right). Turns out there's a lot of denominations within vegetarianism, enough to make my head spin. There's the vegans, who are pretty simple to understand - no animal product of any type. Raw vegans take it a step further - only raw, uncooked fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, etc. Fruitarians go even more out on a limb and eat only such things that when harvested don't "harm" the plant (some of them don't even eat seeds because it "kills" future plants), but it's unclear to me if they can cook stuff or not ... maybe once it's fallen off the tree, do with it what you will? Going back towards the center, there's all the vegetarian classifications like pescetarianism, which allows for seafood, pollo-pescetarianism (seafood, poultry and white meat ... basically, Sandy's diet except the occasional burger), and so on. I kinda get all that, but then start seeing stuff like ovo vegetarianism (eggs okay, dairy not) and lacto-vegetarianism (dairy okay, eggs not), and think of all the label reading and care those following these diets must undergo to make sure they're not accidentally eating something that violates the tenets of their chosen food gospel ... I mean, I'm kinda just used to sticking whatever tastes good in my mouth and going with it. I'd like to try to pay some more attention to what I'm eating, maybe. Seems more purposeful somehow.

So let's start with this, Trader Joe's Paneer Tikka Masala. Okay, let's take a look at it ... I see cheese, rice, sauce and spices ... that's four of my major food groups right there that are good for me in moderation. Off to a good start. No meat ... no eggs ... hey, even gluten-free (like some other fine TJ treats) ... but it does have cheese. So this is lacto-vegetarian, then, right? Well, yes, but only because paneer (that's the cheese) isn't produced with rennet, an animal-byproduct enzyme that does something or other to pretty much every other cheese in the world. Apparently those lacto-vegetarians aren't down with that (also, no gelatin is given the green light ... c'mon, no Jello?). With all that and no eggs to boot, I can imagine it being tough to follow that kind of diet.

I'm sure it'd be easier if everything tasted this good.

Contrary to the picture on the box, the tikka masala comes in a compartmentalized plastic tray with the rice on one side, the cheesy saucy chunks on the other, with some plastic film on top that you poke a couple breathing holes in before nuking for about four minutes to heat on up from its normative frozen state. When taken out and film peeled away, the sweet-'n-spicy aroma will definitely draw the attention of your white bread coworkers, like mine who stare in wonder at my French press every morning while I make my coffee. It smells delicious and intoxicating and once the fragrance hit my olfactory receptors, my immediate thought was, game on. I tackled the paneer side first. The paneer comes in little tiny cubey chunks bathing in reddish-orangish creamy tomato sauce. I scooped up a couple and took them in, and was immediately pretty happy. The cheese bits were okay, nothing too special, kind of like the lovechild of tofu and soft, mild mozzarella in both taste and texture. But the sauce ... dare I say majestic? It was a little sweet and definitely creamy (enough to make me think there might be coconut milk involved - nope), light, and has a good little kick to it, too. The turmeric really stands out to me, at least. Though not exactly the same, it reminded me of some good Thai curries I've had. It definitely tastes warm and I could feel my taste buds dancing around when I slathered them with tasty spoonful after tasty spoonful. Really, really good - I wish TJ's or someone would bottle it, and I'd be tempted to put it on just about anything. The spinach rice was decent, too, but not all that noteworthy. Except when the sauce mingled its way on over, that is.

I'm a fan of this, and judging by the beeline Sandy makes for this when perusing the freezer section, she is too. Considering the first two ingredients are tomatoes and onions (two of her least favorite foods), that speaks volumes to its overall goodness. Sandy said she has to refrain herself from picking up the tray and licking out every last bit of the sauce every time she has it for lunch. I scraped out every trace I could with my spoon and wiped some more out with my finger when no one was looking. Just so good. Not sure how it stacks up overall compared to the chicken variation of the dish, but I was pretty well pleased.

The only truly negative thing I'd say about the dish is, although the paneer isn't all that spectacular, it's good enough that I wish there were more of it. I'm guesstimating there were maybe a dozen minute chunks of it in my lunch. Sandy echoed the sentiment and said she'd be lucky if she had that many. Because of the paucity of cheesy chunks I'd say it might be slightly overpriced at $2.99 but you can certainly spend a lot more on something else and not get something quite this good for a workplace lunch.

The two of us are pretty solidly in agreement that overall, this is one pretty darn worthwhile lunchtime pick up, especially if you enjoy Indian food. That sauce .... mmm. We love it enough to both grade the whole dish a sturdy four out of five, and award it a regular spot in our work lunch rotation.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons
p.s - Don't forget about our contest ... please don't let Nathan win!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Trader Joe's Chicken Tikka Masala

Loved it!!!

How about calling this Trader Jograj's Chicken Tikka Masala? It tastes just as authentic as the food from the best Indian restaurants I've been to. And that's saying a lot. I really like Indian food, and there are some killer Indian restaurants back in L.A., so my standard was set pretty high.

TJ's really went above and beyond with this dish. Everything down to the Basmati rice was phenomenal. The texture of the chicken is excellent, there's a good amount of sauce, and the real kicker is that they got the flavor right. The Indian spices that give Chicken Tikka Masala that unique taste were all present in the proper amounts and proportions. There might be some Indian restaurants in this country that can do slightly better with fresh ingredients and a hefty price tag, but if you're looking for better frozen, microwaveable Indian food than this, I think you're searching in vain.

Our side dish was Trader Joe's Channa Masala. This item is a noble effort on TJ's part, indeed, but I'm not quite as impressed with it as I was with the chicken. There's plenty of tasty masala sauce, and the chick peas are plentiful (or "Garbanzo beans," if you prefer), but they were a little too hard. They tasted fine, but they were just a bit stiff. I know I'm being pretty picky. It's a pretty tall order to ask for microwaveable Indian food that's on par with a gourmet restaurant. I think TJ's did the impossible with the Chicken Tikka Masala, and they came darn close with the Channa.

Trader Joe's Whole Wheat Tandoori Naan bread is in the same league as the masala dishes. It's almost too good to be true. Some huge Indian food connoisseurs might tell you the naan is better at their favorite 5 star Indian eatery, but again, we're talking about a grocery store product that's a fraction of the price that can be heated in the oven or microwave. I really can't complain. It's whole wheat, so it's good for you. It's a bit thicker than the naan I'm used to from Indian restaurants. I wouldn't say that's a weakness for it, though. It might not be identical to the most authentic naan's, but it's puffy and thick, and that gives it a heartier quality.

All in all, I'd say if you love Indian food, you'll love Trader Joe's, er, Trader Jograj's offerings. I highly recommend them...even if you're not familiar with Indian food, TJ's might be a good place to try out different dishes without making the same monetary investment you would at a fancy restaurant.

Trader Joe's Chicken Tikka Masala gets a 5 out of 5 from me. Sonia gives it a 4.5. Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

Trader Joe's Channa Masala, the Garbanzo bean dish, gets a 4 from me. 4 from Sonia. Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Trader Joe's Whole Wheat Tandoori Naan gets a 4.5 from me and a 5 from Sonia. Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

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