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Showing posts with label Italian/Other European. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Italian/Other European. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Trader Joe's Organic Red Lentil Sedanini


One comment/question/criticism about this blog that we've seen a few times throughout the years is: Why do you spend so much time on products that are somewhat lackluster or mediocre? Just come out and tell us what's GOOD at Trader Joe's. It is the name of the blog, after all.

It's a fair point to make. And to the folks that ask it, I generally just refer them to the "Pantheon" and "really darn good" links in the right side bar of the blog. Those are the links that answer the question: "What's Good at Trader Joe's?" at least in our humble opinions. And the "blahhh" and "not so great" links answer another frequently asked question: "What's NOT Good at Trader Joe's?" Again, in our minds, anyway. Your mileage may vary.


There are now over TWO THOUSAND reviews posted on this blog, many of which cover more than just a single TJ's product, so logically a lot of those items are going to fall somewhere in the middle of the pack. It's just the nature of the beast. We try to cover products objectively and accurately enough so that even if we don't love something our readers might get a hunch if they would like it, or vice versa.

All that to say that this is yet another fine product and should be a hit with folks who do the organic thing or the gluten free thing, but it's pretty much middle-of-the-road pasta in other respects. Three bucks gets you six servings of red lentil pasta imported from Italy. It's easy to make and goes fairly well with basic marinara sauce and parmesan cheese. I'm sure you could serve this sedanini any way you'd serve regular pasta.

It tastes very similar to Trader Joe's Risoni, also made with red lentils. It's an earthy, legumey flavor. Texture-wise, it's not quite a dead ringer for wheat-based pasta, but it's close. It might be a little firmer and less stretchy, if that makes sense.

Probably wouldn't buy again unless we were entertaining guests with dietary restrictions, but then again, it might be a nice break from regular glutenful pasta once in a blue moon. Three and a half stars a piece from Sonia and me for Trader Joe's Organic Red Lentil Sedanini.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, February 9, 2024

Trader Joe's Organic Italian Artisan Gigli Pasta


When I see the word "Gigli," all I can think of is that 2003 masterpiece starring Ben Affleck and J. Lo. Man, that was the golden age of cinema, I tell ya. They don't make rom-coms like that anymore.

Likewise, this pasta is similarly memorable. They're shaped like little flowers. I guess "gigli" is the Italian word for "lilies." How cute. They're pretty and dainty, but there's enough dough there that you've got something to sink your teeth into. It's a fun yet practical shape for pasta. Also known as "campanelle," the shape resembles bells as well as horns or trumpets, or "trompetti."


The product is organic and kosher, but it won't break the bank at about three bucks for nine servings. We've had it tossed with extra virgin olive oil, parmesan cheese, and Italian Style Sprinkle. We've tried it with marinara sauce and ground beef. We made some pasta salad with veggies and Italian dressing. And it's absolutely delightful with the Limone Alfredo Sauce.


The "best by" date on this bag was marked as September of 2026. That's quite a long shelf life. We'll be keeping some in the back of the pantry for sure. Boil for 5 to 7 minutes and you've got the base for a tasty meal. Imported from Italy.

Three and a half stars from me, four stars from the beautiful wifey for Trader Joe's Organic Italian Artisan Gigli Pasta.



Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, January 26, 2024

Trader Joe's Portuguese Bacalhau Tartelettes


These aren't the first Portuguese tarts we've tried from TJ's. We had some desserty, breakfasty custard tarts a few years back. I thought these might be similar. And in some ways they are, of course, but these are actually fishy, dinner-ish tarts, rather than dessert ones.

If you didn't know that "bacalhau" was the Portuguese word for "salted cod," well you're not alone. I guess Trader Joe expects us to be multilingual now. I've nearly worn out my Duolingo app with a 1,365 day streak going on, which I'm very proud of. But I'm learning español and brushing up on Deutsch, but alas, not Português.


It does say "cod" on the box, too, to be fair. But some of us have attention deficit issues here, TJ's. Sometimes your product names are lame and boring, and other times I wish you'd just stick with English. "Cod tarts" would have worked here. But I digress.

Air fryer instructions? Check. Eight tiny frozen fish apps, each with its own little pie tin? Check. Twenty minutes later, it's time for our mid-day meal.

Butter, eggs, potato, and salted fish never tasted so good. Sonia and I demolished the whole pack in a matter of minutes. The tartelettes smelled and tasted similar to New England clam chowder to me, but with a buttery, flaky croissant thrown into the mix instead of crackers or croutons. I never had cod that approximated the taste or texture of clams before, but that's what I got for ya. Fortunately, I love almost all seafood including clams.


The mixture is approximately 50% crispy, flaky, bready shell and 50% soupy, chowdery, fish filling. I was tempted to try to eat mine with my bare hands, but I wound up using a fork. They can be a tad messy.

$4.99 for the pack. Product of Portugal. Another exotic, restaurant-quality appetizer from Trader Joe's. Would buy again. These made a great stand-alone meal for us, but I bet they'd be even better as an appetizer. Four stars from the beautiful wifey. Four and a half stars from me for Trader Joe's Portuguese Bacalhau Tartelettes.



Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Trader Joe's Italian Artisan Heart Shaped Pasta


Well wouldn't you know it? Trader Joe's Heart Shaped Pasta is back just in time for V.D. season! What's V.D. season, you ask? Valentine's Day, of course. What were you thinking? Get your mind out of the gutter.

Anyhoo, it's real Italian artisan pasta that's shaped like little hearts. Apparently, it's fairly difficult to find heart-shaped pasta for under three bucks..? I don't know, personally. It's not like I was seeking it out. It was just there on the shelf at Trader Joe's screaming, "Review me! Review me!" So here we are...


I mean, the pasta is decent. If boiled correctly, it comes out tender but firm, you know—al dente if you wanna get all authentically Italian and stuff. Of course, you'll need some sauce and maybe some grated parmesan to make it a meal. If you want to go the whole nine yards, you might throw in some meatballs or garlic bread and maybe a nice bottle of cabernet. Whatever floats your boat. I'm sure this isn't the first time you've made pasta for dinner.

I don't find this product to be head and shoulders better than any other ordinary pasta. I mean, it's pretty normal in the flavor department if you ask me. The colors are kind of pinkish and off-white. They're not particularly vivid, especially after cooking them. But if we wanted neon pink and red food, we'd be shopping somewhere other than Trader Joe's and buying stuff with chemical dyes, right? This stuff is colored with tomato and beet powder.


It's cute I guess. Pick up a pack, gentlemen, if you want to keep your ladies happy for the Hallmark holiday. Or if you're single, make some for yourself. Your tears of loneliness can salt the boiling water.

$2.49 for a pound of V.D. pasta. Product of Italy. Three and a half stars a piece from Sonia and me for Trader Joe's Italian Artisan Heart Shaped Pasta.



Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Monday, January 22, 2024

Trader Joe's Baked Pizza Flavored Pillow Crisps


These are just crispy little bite-sized snacks...with absolutely nothing inside. I mean, I wasn't expecting a filling per se. I just thought there'd be more to them. The outer shells are super duper thin and crispy, and inside there's nothing but air. They're totally hollow.

Despite the crispness and crunchiness, both Sonia and I thought the product tasted and felt stale. Something about the durum wheat felt stiff in an off-putting way—almost like plastic—and the little pillows tended to shatter in such a way that sharp, angular pieces wanted to break off and stab the inside of our mouths and lips.


I was okay with the flavor, although the pizza coating could have been a lot stronger. Sonia felt they were bland overall, lacking the taste of Italian spices or cheese. We both agree there's very little that justifies putting the word "pizza" on the label.

In summary, Trader Joe's Baked Pizza Flavored Pillow Crisps are an odd whisper of tomato powder and salt on a hollow tube of stiff semolina and most definitely will not be on our list of repeat purchases. Trader Giotto would never have let this happen. $1.99 for the bag. Product of Italy. Two stars from Sonia. Two and a half stars from me.

Bottom line: 4.5 out of 10.

Friday, November 10, 2023

Trader Joe's Italian Tomato & Burrata Ravioloni


Apparently "ravioloni" is just a larger version of ravioli. They just made the word longer so you'd know the pasta is bigger. Although, "ravioletti" is the smallest version of all, so...never mind. At first glance inside the packaging, they don't appear to be any larger than normal ravioli, but I must admit they about doubled in size while boiling in water.

These reminded me quite a bit of the recently-reviewed Vegan Italian Bolognese Ravioli, and they were similarly, you know, not bad-ish. I think the flavor of these square pasta pieces was a tad tastier than their round vegan counterparts, thanks to the presence of real burrata cheese.


There were sort of off-yellow colored pieces and orange colored pieces, representing the limoncello and mango flavors, respectively. Just kidding about the fruit flavors. They're just pasta flavored. Once again, tomato is pretty dominant, but cheese rounds out the dish nicely, especially if you add a touch of parmesan to the finished product.

There still wasn't a ton of filling in these oversized raviolis, and the pasta itself was on the thin side, but it's a step in the right direction from those Bolognese fellows. There are only about a dozen pieces of pasta in the whole package, too, which is a bit stingy if you ask me, but I guess four bucks isn't exactly breaking the bank, either. The package is supposedly three servings, which would amount to about four pieces of pasta each. Sonia and I did six for her, six for me, and it worked out nicely for a moderately-filling lunch.


The wifey says she'd buy again. I'm on the fence. Something like four stars from Sonia and three from me once again for Trader Joe's Italian Tomato & Burrata Ravioloni.



Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Trader Joe's Vegan Italian Bolognese Ravioli


For those of you unfamiliar, bolognese sauce originates from Bologna, Italy and is traditionally made with beef or sometimes pork, and it's rich and hearty and commonly served on pasta. Some versions contain red wine, while most contain herbs and spices like rosemary, fennel, and/or oregano.

Here we have Trader Joe's Vegan Italian Bolognese Ravioli. Seems pretty straightforward: little round ravioli pasta pieces filled with that vegan bolognese sauce that we reviewed a few years ago? We liked that sauce okay, so filling ravioli with it will probably make a passable meal. Let's just dive right in.


The ravioli is very dainty here. Like each piece is simply two paper thin layers of pasta with a spoonful of a relatively thin tomato and lentil-based sauce inside. It has a pleasant, though not particularly pungent, array of spices. Tomato is far and away the dominant flavor.

Sonia wishes there were more of the sauce within each pasta round. I don't disagree, but I'd rather have a thicker, more robust sauce. It doesn't need to have meat, but even the lentils and tomatoes are crushed into oblivion and feel nearly liquefied. There's very little to chew on in this dish.


We actually wound up finishing the package by dumping Trader Joe's Calabrian Chili Spicy Pasta Sauce on the remainder. That stuff completely drown out the comparatively subtle flavors of the bolognese sauce and made the pasta much more flavorful. Everything's more exciting with that sauce on it.

There's nothing unpleasant about this pasta product, but it could be improved with greater quantities of the bolognese sauce and/or making it thicker, and even bulkier pasta on the ravioli would help.

$3.99 for the package, which Sonia and I easily finished in a single sitting. Three out of five stars from yours truly. Three and a half stars from the beautiful wifey for Trader Joe's Vegan Italian Bolognese Ravioli.



Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Trader Joe's Butternut Squash Lasagna


Of the "big three" fall foods—pumpkin, apple, and maple—at least one isn't really a fall food at all, at least not in terms of its peak harvest season. I'm talking of course about maple syrup. It's easiest to acquire in February and March, so some argue it should be a late winter flavor rather than an early autumn one.

And I mean, don't get me started about apples. Even though apples are harvested in September around these parts, apples are pretty much available all year round to us spoiled Americans. Apple pie on the Fourth of July? Yes, please.

So really, butternut squash is much more autumnal than some of these other "fall flavors," and it rarely gets its due. We saw some pretty decent butternut squash macaroni and cheese not too long ago, which I believe is still available seasonally at TJ's, but unfortunately I have not seen that butternut squash parmigiana in quite some time.


Ah, well. Let's make do with what we have. As far as I know, this is a brand new product. Never saw it around TJ's before this year. How bad could it be? I never met a lasagna I didn't like.

Actually, that's not true. The very first post on this blog, written over 13 years ago, was a review of a lasagna I didn't like. Let's hope history doesn't repeat itself...

After 45 minutes at 400°F I can wholeheartedly assure you, history did not repeat itself in this instance. From first bite, this pasta dish delivers. It's creamy and cheesy inside, crispy and crusty on the outside, and it's got a nice cozy Italian vibe without being over-the-top heavy or rich.


Butternut squash is a fairly subtle flavor, and here, it's balanced expertly with the cheeses, herbs, spices, and layers of egg pasta. The crunchy bread crumbs and pumpkin seeds on the top just sealed the deal for me.

I can't vouch for this product shining quite so brightly if heated in the microwave. It does include nuking instructions on the box, so I guess Trader Joe's thinks it's legit.

If you're expecting a super bold flavor or traditional tomato-laden lasagna or anything remotely resembling pumpkin spice, then I guess it's conceivable you might be disappointed or unpleasantly surprised. We've got a smoky bechamel sauce in this instance, rather than typical marinara or spaghetti sauce. I liked it. It think it worked.

$4.49 for 2 servings. Sonia enjoyed it as well. Put her down for four stars. That sounds about right. Would buy Trader Joe's Italian Butternut Squash Lasagna again.



Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Trader Giotto's Italian Style Meatballs


To my surprise, there were at least three or four different varieties of meatballs in the frozen section at Trader Joe's during my last run. It's been a hot minute since we've reviewed any kind of meatballs on this blog, so I thought: what the heck?

I chose this bag for two reasons: these are all beef meatballs, unlike the others which all contained pork. And it's brought to you by none other than our old Italian friend Trader Giotto. Buongiorno, Signor Giotto! Why they don't call you Trader Giuseppe, I'll never know. But whatevs.


I got lazy and opted for the microwave heating instructions. Ready in four minutes from frozen? Yes, please. 

The texture was still quite pleasant after being nuked for a spell—not unlike fresh-made meatloaf. It was just a smidge chewier than your average melt-in-your-mouth hamburger, but still very pleasant.

The spice blend wafted out from our magical radiation machine as the meat reheated, and it made our kitchen smell like an Italian restaurant. I tried the large meatballs just by themselves, no fixings. Delicious. They tasted just like they smelled: rich, meaty, and full of peppers, garlic, onion, and parsley. I'd have happily eaten four or five meatballs by themselves for an easy protein-rich lunch.

But in the end, we heated up some pasta and marinara sauce and topped the whole thing with parmesan cheese. Perfetto!

I'm far from a meatball connoisseur, but I've gotta give Trader Giotto's Italian Style Meatballs a fairly enthusiastic thumbs up. About five bucks for a dozen full-size meatballs. Four and a half stars from me. Sonia will go with four.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Trader Joe's Pesto Rosso

I'm not a fan of traditional pesto. For years, I thought it was one of the spices used in the mixture that turned me off, but some time ago, I realized that most regular pestos use pine nuts as a base. Pine nuts have always revolted me for some reason. Sure enough, every non-pine nut-based pesto I've tried since has been a thumbs up for me, this one included.

It's tomato-based, and there's parmesan cheese, cashew, and carrot puree in the mix. The spice blend includes basil, garlic, and lemon juice. It's an interesting flavor—sorta tangy, savory, and acrid, with hints of nuttiness and earthiness underneath. Goes well with pasta. There are some other serving suggestions on the jar that we haven't tried yet, including pizza and soup.

The sauce is thick and dense. Just a few spoonfuls are enough to coat a surprising amount of pasta. It's mostly smooth. No chunks of anything in there, although it's somewhat lumpy until you distribute it evenly across many pieces of pasta.


$2.49 for the jar. Would go great with crackers and cheese. We'd maybe buy it again to have on standby with a charcuterie board or something fancy like that, but I don't think it would ever be a day-to-day go-to kind of condiment for me. Although, I kinda wanna make grilled cheese with fontina, gruyere, or havarti and pair it with this. Maybe goat cheese?


Product of Italy. Three and a half stars a piece from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Trader Joe's Cacio e Pepe Ravioli

 


For whatever reason, I've found myself watching a lot of Gordon Ramsey snippets recently, like little three or four minute blurbs from Kitchen Nightmares or whatever. Don't know why, but man, watching and listening to him rip and bleep something apart is so satisfying on some level at times. 

If at a subpar Italian restaurant that was likely to be visited by good ol' Chef Ramsey, if some Italian cheese and pepper stuffed pasta was on the menu, I'd suspect it'd be a lot like Trader Joe's Cacio e Pepe Ravioli.


Is it fair to compare a frozen prepared product to a dining out dinner? No, probably not...except when other TJ's products have risen to the occasion it's been pointed out, so here's the flip side. 

This...just isn't good ravioli. The noodles are limp, soggy and bland even by a noodle standard. There's nothing to them, at all. Just tasteless and there, and barely contain the namesake filling. The cheese tastes okay - mild, a touch tangy - with a nice little dose of pepper to season it up, but it's also kinda gritty and not as creamy as hoped. The end result is kinda a letdown. 


Ramsey would be tearing this up, bleeping up a storm, maybe some crack about diapers, and storm back to the kitchen or have the server dump them in the trash. Good thing he wasn't at my table the other day when I served 'em up, because even when it's not that great, that's not something we do in my house. I'd have to put his butt in timeout. 

But yeah...subpar, even by frozen pasta standards, Perhaps a little included sauce packet could help liven it up. As is, it's take a bite and shrug. Just meh to not quite blah. DOuble twos here. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cacio e Pepe Ravioli: 4 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, December 13, 2021

Trader Joe's Organic Taralli and Friends Crackers

Wikipedia describes a taralli cracker as a "toroidal Italian snack food." For those of you who neglected to snag your masters in geometry from a prestigious university, a toroid is basically a donut shape.

The toroidal taralli crackers in this bag are kinda like Italian wontons I guess, at least flavor-wise. There's a vague sourdough vibe, too. Some people say you can dip them in sweet stuff. So if you dunk wontons in duck sauce as an appetizer or snack, you could dip these in...I dunno...cream cheese and fancy Italian marmalade?

I guess there are many different kinds of taralli crackers? Some get dipped in wine, some get paired with cheese, and others get dunked in spicy stuff. I need some Italian folks to weigh in on these because I clearly have no background with this fare.

The straight sticks taste very much like classic garlic croutons, but maybe a little softer. They're tasty, with a complex spice blend. There's a melt-in-the-mouth quality that most croutons lack. But I would totally throw these into any savory soup and I'm sure they'd enhance the taste and texture significantly. Both Sonia's and my favorite.


The square crackers are like sesame sticks kinda. But they're crackers instead of sticks. If you like sesame sticks, you'll like these. There are actual sesame seeds listed in the ingredients, so my tastebuds must be working today.

The twisty sticks are probably my least favorite of the bunch. They're a bit like plain saltines but puffier. And twistier. Fun shape, boring flavor. Could make a decent vehicle for a cheese dip I suppose.


$3.29 for the bag, imported from Italy. A sack of crackers with no chocolate or toffee or dipping sauce packets doesn't seem super Christmassy or exciting to me, but then I'm about as Italian as a spot of tea and crumpets. How do you serve these? How does TJ's offering compare to what Nonna used to make? For now, I'll score with a very neutral 3 out of 5 stars. Sonia will go with three and a half.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Trader Joe's Portuguese Custard Tarts


Ah, the Portuguese. First they gave us the man o' war, then they gave us Fado music, later Cristiano Ronaldo, and now these custard tarts. That's quite a legacy.

We have a couple of firsts here. The first first is that, at least as far as I can recall, this is the very first Trader Joe's product we've tried that's actually imported from Portugal. Sweet. I had an opportunity to go to Lisbon once, via train out of Madrid, Spain. I opted for Paris instead. Ah, well. Next time.

The second first is that, at least as far as I'm aware, TJ's is actually giving us air fryer heating instructions on the back of the package. About time. Sonia and I have been rocking a Ninja since Christmas time. You know that if Sonia and I, still attempting to live somewhat minimalistically, have jumped on that bandwagon, that it's high time you do too if you haven't already. Air fryers are friggin' awesome. I won't say this is the first Trader Joe's item we've heated in the air fryer, but I will say that it's the first time we're not just guesstimating times and temperatures and are actually following some real printed instructions...so we can blame Trader Joe's if it doesn't turn out all right.


I'm excited. Let's eat some tarts.

After heating, the tarts were just slightly darkened on the top, near where the custard intersects the breading. The smell wasn't very pungent. It was almost like a faint quiche type smell, by virtue of a very similar crust.

They were incredibly crumbly. The tarts seemed to want to fall apart upon taking a single bite out of them. They were almost explosive the way they flaked apart and spread crumbs all over the plate and surrounding tabletop. I wasn't sure whether to try eating them with a fork, pulling the tart from the little aluminum tray bite by bite, or whether I should just yank the whole thing out to attempt eating it by hand. Neither method was particularly successful at minimizing the crumb carnage. These are definitely not something to eat on the road while driving.


The custard was thick and surprisingly not too sweet. It was much more creamy and eggy than anything else. There's a warm, hearty, homemade quality to it. I'm sure if it were ever Americanized, they'd make the custard much sweeter. Not saying I'd prefer it that way, just pointing out that it's much more buttery than sugary.

$2.99 for four tarts. These would be pretty decent for either breakfast or an after-dinner dessert. They're like a little piece of Portugal right in your own air fryer. Four stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Italian Panettone

Sometimes I wonder if I wasn't supposed to be born into a big Italian family. I'd never even heard of the Feast of the Seven Fishes until a couple days ago, after watching the 2018 indie film by the same name. Seven types of fish and seafood all on the same day? Yes, please. I like the way you Italians roll.

Likewise, I'm becoming more and more fond of the panettone each year, thanks mostly to Trader Joe's. This is the fifth type of panettone product we've reviewed on this blog, and I don't think I've disliked any of them. They're tasty, festive, and Christmassy. Look, you can even hang this one on your tree. It's an ornament and a snack all in one.


Like the other panettones I've tried, this one is made with soft, supple, lightly sweet, slightly buttery bread. But this one's gluten-free! Goodness. I'm almost always stating that Trader Joe's gf products taste great but have a weird texture. Not this one. The texture here is amazeballs. I probably wouldn't have even guessed it was gluten-free if I hadn't known any better.

There's a good bit of packaging around the product. Maybe it's overkill, but it keeps the bread remarkably fresh. There's the decorative outer cardboard box, then there's a cellophane wrapper within, and finally, there's a cupcake-esque muffin liner on the bottom and sides of the panettone.


The product is spongy and pleasantly moist. The bread alone would make a great little treat, but there are "golden raisins" and teensy bits of candied orange peel scattered throughout the loaf to make it even more interesting. The sweetness level is probably on par with a breakfast muffin, rather than a dessert like cake or cupcakes. In fact I had my panettone for my breakfast yesterday, and it was the perfect size and density to serve as a morning meal.

At $1.99, it's plenty affordable. If you've got anybody with a gluten-free diet on your Christmas list, this product has Sonia's seal of approval and mine as well. The original glutenful version is still available, but the taste and texture of this one doesn't suffer much if at all for want of wheat or gluten. Four Christmas stars a piece.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Trader Joe's Italian Style Soffrito Seasoning Blend

Some days are just potato soup days, aren't they?

This past Sunday was. First of all, it was a Sunday. Also: cool, rainy, all not-sure-if-November-or-March outside (in so many ways, actually). The kinda day that just made you want to curl up with a warm blanket and cats and books and movies while the crockpot did its thing all day to bring forth a warm, comforting meal that goes down easy.

One of the best things about potato soup is: you can make it taste however you want with toppings and mix-ins. In my opinion you gotta go with bacon, cheese and green onion at the very least, but then something else is needed. Something to give it a little more flavor, a little pizzazz, a little je ne sais quoi. Could go hot sauce or salsa, sure, but sometimes, that's not what I'm looking for.

Turns out it was Trader Joe's Italian Style Soffrito Seasoning Blend. 

Look at this stuff. It's beautiful. It looks very fancy and refined, what, with all the different rustic colors and flakes and crinkles all mixed up. That's just how it looks - but also, how it smells? Wow. "Aromatic" is an understatement. Crack it open and this warm, inviting scent of herbs and spices wafts everywhere. I kinda want to leave a jar open somewhere as an air freshener. If I were to open a fancy Italian restaurant, I think I'd pipe in the scent from this somehow to the dining room - it'd be an automatic five star review. 

Inspired by the "holy trinity" of onions, carrots and celery (or as the French would say, mirepoix), the Italian soffrito seasoning is very evocative of those elements without actually featuring carrots or celery. There's a lot of onion, for sure, which adds a little punch and really drives the overall flavor, but the rest of the ingredients like garlic or rosemary or crushed red pepper taste more like the seasonings one could put on those veggies instead of the actual veggies. Which works, because that's what one tastes anyway from a mirepoix/soffrito/onions, carrots and celery. I really wish we Americans had a cool name for all that. Still, a little dried carrot and celery salt could have been used, just to pay proper homage, but I'm not going to quibble too much and just run with it. It's just too good, with herbal warmth, the right amount of salt (neither too much nor too little), the smallest of kicks 

We love it in our house and have used in various ways already, not just on potato soup. Top of pizza? Check. Eggs? Yup. Grabbing a little pinch here and there? Absolutely. With holiday and soup season in full swing, I can see this in more soups, sauces, dishes like stuffing, atop a roast, most anything else...as always if you have ideas or favorite implementations please share! And only like 4 bucks max for an ample sized jar - I just bought a regular little guy of seasoning salt at a regular grocery store for nearly that much, so the price is definitely a good deal for what it is. 

Speaking of fours, we're gonna hit it with two of them and add a little more, because that's what you're gonna be doing once you give this a try. Boom.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Italian Style Soffrito Seasoning Blend: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Trader Giotto's Glaze and Trader Joe's True Belgian Brussels Sprouts


Here's a fun, exciting review to leave you with over the weekend: Brussels sprouts. Hooray. Joy. Elation.

Honestly, I don't think I ever had Brussels sprouts as a kid. My parents loved to make me eat weird stuff that I didn't like, so I'm not sure how I avoided these salubrious spheroids of sustenance. I truly don't think I ever ate a Brussels sprout until just a few years ago. In that first instance, I had them with a balsamic glaze that absolutely blew me away. Also, they were cooked to perfection—slightly charred and crispy on the outside; warm, dense, and planty on the inside.

Sonia grew up with a French family as neighbors. When she'd visit their daughter Natalie to play, her mother would often provide snacks or meals, occasionally in the form of steamed, salted Brussels sprouts. While Natalie would happily pop the sprouts into her mouth like candy, Sonia, secretly disgusted by the greens, would choke down one or two and then slip away from the table under the guise of not being hungry.

Her view on sprouts has changed dramatically in adulthood. She now loves them when prepared correctly and served with the right condiments.


Since these True Belgian Brussels Sprouts came frozen, we might not have left them in the oven quite long enough. They weren't raw or cold on the inside, but they might have benefited from another 10 minutes or so in the heat. I like my veggies well-done.

Still, the glaze made them pretty tasty, at least on the outside. Trader Giotto's Glaze is moderately sweet and has a fermented essence from the "grape must." It's not unlike a port wine, but a bit thicker in texture. It's less vinegary than a typical balsamic dressing, but there's still a hint of vinegar underneath the grapey goodness.

We found that the glaze wanted to slide off the sprouts and wind up on the baking tray, so we reapplied it a couple times during the heating process. The finished product was definitely more flavorful that plain Brussels spouts, but we both wished we had found a way to get more glaze to stick. We applied some post-baking, and it helped a little, but the portion that had baked on to the sprouts was more flavorful and beneficial to the vegetable within. All in all, the glaze paired well with the earthy, nutty bitterness of the sprouts. We'll probably try it with oil and bruschetta in the future, and maybe some tilapia, too.


We both liked the glaze and think the price is fair at $2.99 for the bottle. Sonia may have been even more enamored with it than me, as I feel like any old balsamic dressing would serve as a flavorful condiment in instances such as this. At 99 cents, the large bag of Brussels sprouts is an even better bargain. That's a lot of nutrition for less than a buck. Your personal score for a bag of sprouts will largely depend upon your feelings about Brussels sprouts in the first place. I'm well aware many people are disgusted by them, no matter their age. In our case, Sonia will give it four stars, and I'll give it three. Sonia will throw out the same score for the glaze, and I'll go half a star higher.

Trader Giotto's Glaze: Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Trader Joe's True Belgian Brussels Sprouts: Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Trader Joe's Brioche French Toast


Sonia and I have been working remotely since before our full-time travel days, and long before the covid-19 craziness. In fact, we've both worked from home since late 2016, in my case significantly longer than that.

We learned quickly that the whole "stay in your pajamas all day because you can" philosophy has a few distinct weaknesses attached to it, number one being weight gain. It's just too easy to think, "Ah my sweatpants fit me the same as they did yesterday. I'm not putting on any pounds." Throw on some jeans or khakis, and they'll tell you a different story. "Hmm. I must have left these in the dryer too long. And my belt...has obviously shrunk due to an excessive amount of humidity in the air. Yeah, that's it."


So obviously when you're not getting out as much, it's much easier to become... "pleasantly plump" shall we say? What to do? Exercise as often as you can whatever way you can. And watch what you eat. I'm no poster child for fitness these days, but I'm not letting myself go, either. I'm standing my ground in the battle of the bulge. Maybe some food shortages will do us all a bit of good. Or maybe we'll all starve to death. Time will tell.

All that to say that Sonia and I each ate two of these brioche French toast pieces for breakfast yesterday. They're filling enough, so one each might have sufficed, but we were both unusually hungry. And to put it in perspective, two of these incredibly indulgent carb-o-riffic breakfast breads contain fewer calories than a single package of two Pop-Tarts. And which of us has never eaten two Pop-Tarts in one sitting? Let him cast the first stone.

At any rate, Trader Joe's Brioche French Toast is delicious. It's sweet even before you put any syrup on it. There's a distinct eggy flavor, and lots and lots of fluffy white bread.

We made our first two toasts in the oven. They didn't come out as crispy as I thought they might, but not in a bad way. There was a firmness and density to the outer crusty layers of French toast, while the inner layers were super soft and light. The microwave yielded just slightly less delectable textures, with everything winding up just a tad in the direction of "chewy," but still scrumptious. Also, the microwave is 15 minutes faster than the oven, and that's not counting pre-heating time. In each instance, we ate them with butter and maple syrup, and they were amazing.

$3.49 for four thick pieces of scrumptious toast. Four stars a piece.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

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