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Showing posts with label beef. Show all posts
Showing posts with label beef. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Trader Joe's Mini Cheeseburgers


Since it's almost 300 miles to the nearest White Castle, once in a blue moon, Sonia and I will pick up those frozen White Castle sliders that can be found in most grocery stores and dollar stores in our area. White Castle burgers aren't the best to begin with, but there's a novelty and uniqueness about them that's hard to replicate. And of course the frozen, non-restaurant sliders are just a little less delicious than the originals, but as far as cheap and easy comfort food goes, they aren't bad once in a great while.

I was wondering if Trader Joe's was going for a White Castle vibe with these Mini Cheeseburgers—if the popularity of White Castle's frozen offerings inspired TJ's to offer a similar product. After tasting these for the first time, I'd have to say "NO." Trader Joe's went top shelf in terms of quality meat, cheese, and bread. These burgers are larger than your typical frozen sliders and there's more meat, and everything is a notch higher in terms of quality.


The bread is actually sweet Hawaiian Aloha rolls. There's a small amount of ketchup and relish in a "sauce" mentioned in the ingredients. It's subtle. At first I couldn't even tell there was anything on the burger other than cheese, but the flavors all seemed balanced pretty well. I'm glad I didn't put on any extra condiments before trying the cheeseburger as is, because it honestly didn't need anything. Everything from the seasoning on the meat to the creaminess of the cheese was beyond my expectations.


$4.49 for three small burgers seemed kinda steep at first, but now that I see they're really not that tiny, I think it's a pretty decent value. I can't imagine even the biggest appetites not being satisfied by all three cheeseburgers. Would buy again.

Four stars from me. Four and a half stars from Sonia for Trader Joe's Mini Cheeseburgers.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.


Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Trader Joe's Beef Pho Soup


I hadn't had a decent Asian meal in quite a while, so I thought, what the heck? Let's try some Trader Joe's Pho to see what they've done with the classic Vietnamese noodle soup.

It heats in the microwave from frozen in just six minutes, and unless you wanna get fancy, you can just eat it straight from the plastic bowl for a quick lunch. As the product emerged from the microwave, I detected an unusual potpourri-esque smell. Was that cinnamon and nutmeg in there? I haven't had real pho in a hot minute, but I certainly don't remember the soup smelling like a pumpkin spice candle.


The taste of the soup wasn't as strong in terms of the spices. In fact, it was fairly bland, although there was a hint of fennel. The noodles were slightly chewy, stiff, and mostly flavorless. The meat was excessively fatty for my taste. In a way, the veggies were the best part of the soup, but they were far and few between. I wouldn't have minded more bean sprouts and onions in the mix.

Something spicy was in order. Lacking freshly-sliced jalapeños as the "serving suggestion" depicts, I opted for sriracha sauce. Can't go wrong there. But even generous dollops of my second-favorite condiment couldn't completely redeem this Asian-inspired soup.

I hadn't remembered at the time of purchase, but we did look at a previous iteration of Trader Joe's Beef Pho Soup about 12 years ago. It was packaged differently back then and was likely from a different supplier, as this current cover boasts "Product of Canada" on the box while the previous version did not. We weren't completely bowled over by that last beef pho, but if anything, this rendition is a step in the wrong direction.

Sonia doesn't think this soup is that bad, but then she's never had real pho. She wasn't a fan of the chewy beef either, but she enjoyed the broth and noodles more than I did. Her portion sat around for 5 or 10 minutes longer than mine did, thus causing the rice noodles to soften a bit.

$3.69 for the single serving bowl. I would not buy again. The beautiful wifey is on the fence. Two stars from me for Trader Joe's Beef Pho Soup. Three from Sonia.

Bottom line: 5 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.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Trader Joe's Middle Eastern Style Kebabs


I don't know what made me pick these up on our last Trader Joe's run. They're not Christmassy or festive at all. I mean, I guess you could argue that the bag is red with green trim. That's sorta holiday-ish, no?

I probably picked up these Middle Eastern Style Kebabs because I love me some Middle Eastern and Mediterranean foods. Also, maybe subconsciously, I knew I'd be watching the World Cup in Qatar and imagining I was there. Apparently, kebabs wrapped in pita are a popular type of Qatari street food. Yum.

And if they're half as good as this offering from Trader Joe's, then they'd be worth a purchase or two. Sonia's definitely a bigger fan of these ground beef kebabs than I am, but I'm not hating on them, either. Let's dig in.


Trader Joe's Middle Eastern Style Kebabs are made with seasoned ground beef, rather than lamb or a combination of both beef and lamb. That's a plus in my book. There are six long, skinny slabs of beef, almost like elongated hamburgers. We used the air fryer to heat them and needed an extra two minutes above what the heating instructions asked for.

Sonia repeatedly remarked that she couldn't believe that the meat had been frozen just a few minutes earlier. It had a texture very similar to that of an American burger, with some bread crumbs mixed into the ground beef. She also adored the peppery, garlicky spice blend. I was thinking they needed just a tad bit of help to put the flavor on par with something close to restaurant quality.

We plated them up with salad and hummus, along with authentic Middle Eastern pita bread. Okay. You got me. It's not even pita. It's a low carb Mission flour tortilla there in the picture. But it served the same purpose and worked remarkably well. I added a piece of havarti cheese to my kebab pita tortilla sandwich thing and made a tasty Latin-Scandinavian-Middle Eastern fusion dish.

I was more than pleased with the overall taste after the cheese and hummus came to the rescue. The kebabs would have been even more delicious with tzatziki sauce. Or maybe some garlic spread. Perhaps zhoug sauce? Any or all of those would have been very welcome in my international meat wrap creation.

Sonia likes the kebabs just the way they are. She has promised to buy more on her very next visit to Trader Joe's. I don't blame her. They're good. I just can't quite muster the same level of enthusiasm for some reason.

$6.99 for six kebabs. Two patties each was more than enough to fill both Sonia and me up for dinner. Four and a half stars from the beautiful wifey. Three and a half from me for Trader Joe's Middle Eastern Style Seasoned Ground Beef Kebabs.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Trader Joe's Loaded Potatoes

 Meat and potatoes. Potatoes and meat. Classic pairing, often done in various forms, almost always tasty and tough to argue with, and comes thru in a pinch. 

Please pardon the partially crinkled box of Trader Joe's Loaded Potatoes we have for this post's model. It had been lurking in the bottom of our freezer for who knows how long - few weeks minimum,  maximum of...well....I don't know. 

What I do know is the final form of this product doesn't look much like the box pic. In my state of heightened crankiness and bad hangritude (that's be hungry/angry/attitude all in one) I totally neglected to take a pic. Just imagine bigger, more starkly white potato chunks, without nearly as much sauce to cover and immerse. The pic almost looks like a tasty homemade concoction, whereas the real deal was pretty adamant it was, in fact, a freezer one. 

But no mind. It's meat and potatoes! So it's almost by default tasty. A little ground beef, a handful of tomatoes and scallions, almost enough creamy cheese sauce (nothing fancy, it's a mozz and cheddar combo with cream), coupla jalapenos and boom. Nothing fancy, and something almost like what I'd make as a 'Dad meal" from whatever I had in the kitchen. Except....no work involved. Just nuking a tray for eight-plus minutes. I'm not sure if that's a weak microwave we have or if we just had a radiation resistant batch, as directions call for five but was cold enough when pulled out that my lovely bride had to spit out her initial bite. 

What did this cost? $3? $4? Something like that. It's really not big enough to share, but is somewhat nutritionally advantageous to do so. Get some veggies on the side to fill in, as man, this wasn't close to enough. But it was tasty. Another serving idea: heat some up then scramble in a couple eggs to make some sort of cheesy breakfast kinda hash. I'm positive that'd work and be more filling too. there's not much spice to be had here, so if hot sauce is normally your kinda thing, you'll want some on hand. 

Not amazingly awesome, but not bad at all either. Meat and potatoes. Always dependable. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Loaded Potatoes: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Trader Joe's Beef Birria

Like any good dad, I could mumble under my breath about any number of things my kids have done. Leave their wet swimsuits on their bedroom floor? "Forget" to feed the cats again? Take my cell phone charger and knock my pillow right from it's perfect spot, all in one swoop?

Yes, to all those, almost every day. 

And man, to top it off this past week, none of my kiddos left Dear Ol' Dad any tortillas, so when I finally had a few hours to myself one night and wanted to make tacos with Trader Joe's Beef Birria, alas, I could not. 

At first, I'll admit, I was fairly sad about about having to make the birria as more a stew then a taco. The first few bites, with that amazing warm, welcoming sauce (or perhaps more aptly here, broth)....man. I just wanted something carby to help soak all that up. If we even had some rice (did my kids eat everything...again...did they eat uncooked rice???), it would've been welcomed. Mildly spiced, but just pleasant overall, until....

Eating the TJ's beef birria this way, no sidekick style, made me have to really focus on the quality of the broth. And unfortunately, this stuff suffers tremendously from the law of diminishing returns. The more of it I ate, the less I liked it. It still tasted "good" in some ways, but was increasingly one-noted, kinda flat, and as you can likely guess, incredibly salty. There's so much good flavor in the world, why does sodium overloadium have to be so prevalent? It's not like I have much authentic birria exposure, but I'm reasonably confident that most quality iterations have complexities and layers to their flavor profile. Here, it's not so much. It's just...salt. Red salt, I guess, with some scant notes of chili and garlic or whatever else, but really, it's almost all salt. If my newly established cardiologist would have seen me chowing down, I'd hope she'd properly slap me. 

Obviously, that's the biggest detriment. Everything else seems alright. The beef is a little mushy, as one would expect from a frozen entree, but still had a good quality to it. It wasn't too stringy or fatty or anything, and had a decent pot roast kinda feel to it. It was a good sized portion, but for the price I paid ($7.99!), I'd hope for a few bites more. That'd make it a more feasible tacos-for-two kinda dish. 

And, well...that's about all there is to it. 

My lovely bride didn't have a chance to try, as she was out wrangling those kiddos. When I made my dinner report to her, there was some initial disappointment, but assuredly, love, you're not missing much here. This will be hard pass from here on out. Not a fan. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Beef Birria: 3 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, July 22, 2022

Trader Joe's Layered Beef Tostada


 Fast food cravings are pretty infrequent these days. 

Chick-Fil-A? Maybe once every couple months, and somehow, somewhat ironically, mostly on a random Sunday. Wendy's? About on the same schedule, but also rarely/ The fabled golden arches, or as my four year old likes to say, "Mick-ell-Donnells'? Maybe once a year, if only for a breakfast sando, or if the kids are hangry on a road trip, I'll consider. 

Taco Bell? Practically never...like once a decade...which is a lot more often than Burger King...but anyways....

If I were more of a Taco Bell fiend, I'd likely be more familiar with the "Mexican pizza" that's not on the menu rotation any longer from what I gather, and that the new Trader Joe's Layered Beef Tostada at least somewhat emulates and may serve as a somewhat suitable replacement for. 

Where do we start with this near disaster, though?

First, I guess, the basics. There's a beef and bean paste-like substance sandwiched between two tortillas that serve as the base of this offering. It's bland and nondescript without anything to it. Atop the top tortilla, there's a handful of cheedar cheese, some diced poblanos, sliced black olives and green onions all kinda haphazardly strewn about. It's as sloppy looking as once can imagine.

No matter, bake it up and it'll taste great, right? Well...no. Everything (and I mean everything) is pretty much devoid of anything resembling flavor. It's...so uninspirational. Just tastes like soggy cardboard. Oh, there's the word, soggy. Baked up at 425 for slightly longer than the recommended 18 minutes, it's still a wet, jumbled, not crispy or crunchy anything. It's a soggy jumbled mess. 

How can something go so wrong? Poblanos (or perhaps more aptly, poblandos) just aren't a pepper worth featuring in a dish. In a school play, they'd be a tree, not Snow White or one of the dwarves. And everything else just doesn't have anything to make up the slack. There's no spice, ni pizzazz, no flavor...just bland mush. Which, come to think of it, is exactly how I consider most of my Taco Bell experiences to be, so perhaps this is the perfect pizza to compare them with. 

If I were to ever eat this again, i'd need to bake longer and load up on some salsa or some sauces or something. But more likely than not, I'm just gonna skip it from here on out. 

My lovely bride was a touch more forgiving and said she'd try again as part of a snack or something. But she shared much of the same observations, so good to know it wasn't just me. 

So disappointing. It's an airball that shoulda been a slam dunk. Awful stuff. Just skip it, and hopefully that freezer aisle real estate can be reallocated soon enough to something much more worthwhile. One spoon from me, two from the Mrs.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Layered Beef Tostada: 3 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Trader Joe's Cheeseburger Burrito

I've always had a dicey relationship with condiments. Whereas barbeque sauce, hot sauce and salsa generally get a free pass, others are generally a nope when given the option. Mayo? Hard no. Mustard? Well, okay, maybe sometimes, but usually no. And ketchup? No. No no no. Hate that stuff. Even as a kid, even now as I'm approaching 40. Can't stand it, and don't even think of shaking a ketchup bottle near me. 

See the key words though? "When given the option"? Essentially....on the rare occasions I'd grab a fast food burger and one of those condiments is a default topping, I'll just for it and eat it. I'd never subtract them, yet never add them either. Make any sense? No, not at all. But such as it is. 

So, with Trader Joe's Cheeseburger Burrito, at first glance I was relieved to not see any of those aforementioned sauces as present. I can handle an okay relish, maybe. But then, in the ingredients, they there were, lurking. Mustard. Mayo. Ketchup. And unfortunately not in little side packets I could skimp out on. 

As it is, that unholy trinity is melded all together into some somewhat oily, creamy, sweet, vinegary, tangy, oddball sauce that's not distinctly different from the melted cheddar cheese. it's just all mixed up and, to my taste, just isn't that delicious. It's...just kinda like glop. With the pickles and onions, the end result isn't all that much different than a fastfood burger - maybe slightly more towards Wendy's than McD's - but in all it's kinda a mess of a sauce. 

As for the beef? Here's some further crumbling. Ha, get it, because it's "beef crumbles? A singular oblong patty or two would have been a better choice, except I'd guess that'd veer everything more towards snack wrap than burrito...but anyways. There's enough meat in here for sure. Not any skimpage, which is always appreciated. But there's also not really enough to get a full handle on the quality. It's not like mushy el cheapo carne, but instead is...chewy? A touch rubbery? A bite more to the bite than expected? Sure, it tastes fine enough, but also just doesn't quite have the right feel. 

All together, the TJ's cheeseburger burrito makes an okay grab, if burgers that try to outplay their hand are your kinda thing. Not delicious, not awful, maybe could use another little something, or maybe less of those pesky condimental conglomeration...and yeah, it's a nutritional abomination. Whatcha gonna do? I'm not 100% on the price but I figure is in the $4ish range. My lovely bride saw it and kindly noped her way out - all this "trying to not garbage" nonsense she's always talking to me about. Likely the burgerito won't be another pickup for me. Thanks, though, to Debi at the Pittsburgh North Hills TJ's for suggesting giving it a try when asked about anything new in this particularly slow time of year for new TJ's stuff. You're always appreciated! This particular thing, not so much. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cheeseburger Burrito: 4 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, May 24, 2021

Trader Joe's Carne Asada Burritos


A lot of my gringo friends think I must be eating things like tacos, nachos, and carne asada burritos on the regular since I'm married to a Latina of Mexican descent. While I am treated to an authentic dish from time to time, courtesy of the beautiful wifey or possibly her mom, it's usually a dish native to southern Mexico, specifically the state of Oaxaca. We're talking stuff like salsa de queso and tlayuda topped with quesillo cheese. Yum.

While similar to the cuisine of northern Mexico, the food my wife's family makes only occasionally contains red meat and is virtually never presented in a burrito-type format. All that to say, we're not really carne asada burrito experts or connoisseurs, although living in Los Angeles for seven years and thirty-one years, respectively, might mean we've had more decent Mexican food than the average American. If I have only one good thing to say about SoCal, it's that there's plenty of well-above-par Mexican at surprisingly affordable prices, if you know where to look.


After resisting the urge to heat the burritos in the air fryer, I opted for the oven. 20 minutes at 450 degrees as per the heating instructions yielded a warm outer shell and a nearly-still-frozen center. So I continued heating.

Another ten minutes at 450 seemed to do the trick. I tried the burrito plain at first. The meat was a little gristly. If I'm going to eat beef, I prefer it ground. If it's steak or carne asada, I'm not a big fan of wads of fat and sinewy textures. There was definitely a bit of that here. If you don't mind your meat a tad chewy, at least I can tell you there's plenty of it—at least one or two chunks of carne in every bite. 

Taste-wise, the blend of onions, chiles, and cilantro was underwhelming. There's a very mild heat and just a moderate amount of extra savory flavors. The product needed cheese, salsa, and sour cream to be truly palatable for either of us.


In the end, we each finished our burrito in one sitting, but we wound up giving any beef chunks that floated out of the crispy shell to the dogs, who didn't mind the bit of gristle at all.

$4.99 for two burritos. Two stars a piece on this one. Not a repeat purchase.

Bottom line: 4 out of 10.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Trader Joe's Korean Inspired Bulgogi Beef Fried Rice with Kimchi


I've had bulgogi beef a couple times from some pretty legit Korean barbecue restaurants before. Granted, I haven't been to one in a number of years, but I still remember that bulgogi-style beef being among the best red meat I've ever consumed in my life. I'm not sure exactly what it was marinated in, but man, that stuff was tasty.

It'll be hard for any grocery store frozen product to compete. Also, I guess I'm on record on this blog saying I'm not really into the whole fermented vegetable thing, i.e. kimchi or even sauerkraut. However, I don't think this dish is full of the rotted cabbage that I'm familiar with—just scant bits of the stuff distributed throughout. There seem to be some green beans and maybe some scallions or green onions, vegetable-wise, too. I'm not sure if they're a type of kimchi as well. I know there are more kimchi varieties than just the cabbage one that's most famous. I'm always ready to give most foodstuffs a second chance. So kimchi, here we come.


Anyway, I cooked the bag of rice, from frozen, in a big pan that I insist on calling a "wok." Sonia always corrects me and tells me it's just a big saucepan. Hmmm. Looks like a wok to me. Although, I'm sure Sonia is technically right. In true Trader Joe's fashion, the heating time took nearly double the suggested 7 minutes listed on the instructions on the bag. But heat it did eventually, nice and evenly.

The kimchi flavors here are subtle. For that matter, the bulgogi flavors are subtle, too. I'd say there's a decent amount of beef in the product. There's not enough that you'll get a piece in every bite, but not so sparse that you'll run out before you finish, either. Some of the meat tidbits are gristly. One slab even appeared to have a large vein or artery sticking out of it. Gross. Most pieces are pleasant, though—not super chewy or tough—but as expected, they lack that melt-in-your-mouth quality that I remember from my previous encounters with Korean barbecue.

If anything, I'd probably want more of the green onions and green beans throughout the mixture. As it is, it's mostly just rice. And it begs for some soy sauce and/or sriracha. Fixins help it a lot. I even tried some K-Mex fusion, adding Cholula hot sauce in place of sriracha, yielding moderately agreeable results.

At $4.99, this dish is vastly more accessible price-wise than an authentic Korean restaurant meal. Those aren't usually cheap. Not surprisingly, the quality isn't quite on par with restaurant quality, though, either. We probably won't pick up this particular item again, but if Trader Joe's offers similar Korean meals in the future, we'll definitely sample those as well. Maybe some Korean folks can share their opinions here, or maybe they have some tips on what sauces and condiments they use to doctor this dish up.

I give it three out of five stars. Sonia gives it three and a half.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Trader Joe's Kibbeh

Although I haven't been there myself yet, I've known numerous people who've either lived in or visited Israel throughout the years. At least one of them referred to falafel as "Israeli hamburger" with a smidge of disdain. I, personally, could replace hamburgers with falafel and be perfectly happy. But I've often wondered if the reverse were true: if any Levantine people, upon being presented with beef or hamburger, thought, "Oh, this is that American cow falafel I've heard so much about."

That's probably a silly notion, since Middle Eastern diets do include beef. It might not be as ubiquitous as it is here in middle America, but there are a number of Mediterranean dishes that involve red meat. Kibbeh is apparently made with lamb just as often as beef, if not more so. I'm not a huge fan of lamb, so I'm glad this Trader Joe's offering went with another option.

The kibbeh are roughly football-shaped. That's American football-shaped, just to be clear, not futbol internacional...in case you don't speak 'Murican. They're so close to football-shaped, I'm actually wishing we'd broke these out a few weeks ago for the Superbowl. Ah well, there's always next year.


The "shell" is a firm, bread-like crust. I'm guessing that's the bulgur wheat mentioned on the box. It's not tough or chewy at all, but it has a much firmer texture than the ground beef within. The meat is tender and slightly juicy, but not oily or greasy. It's very lightly seasoned and flaunts a mild flavor profile.

It's so mild that it begs for some fixins, in my opinion. My instincts told me to throw a big slab of cheddar cheese on the kibbeh and slather it with ketchup and mustard, but then I came to my senses. 

I just had some beans and veggies on the side and added some extra seasoning. But what I really wish we'd have had on hand to pair with this dish is some baba ghanoush, garlic spread, tzatziki, or zhoug sauce. Even hummus might go well with these Middle Eastern meatballs.

It's another unique selection that I'm glad I got to try. Thanks for broadening my horizons again, Trader Joe's. I'd consider a repeat purchase, but next time, I'll be sure to pick up the appropriate condiments. They're nothing to complain about on their own. $4.79 for six beefy footballs. Three and a half stars from me. Four from Sonia.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Trader Joe's Uncured Pastrami

Some years ago, on a whim on some post on here that I can't seem to find right now, I referred to myself as a "meatatarian." Obviously it's a dumb word, and normally such an offhand statement would be shortly lodged in the memory and forgotten, much like the balance on the last ATM withdrawal. But it kinda stuck, I think a person or two called me out on the stupidity of the word, saying I should have used other more commonly accepted and appreciated nomenclature like "carnivore" because apparently the wide expanse of the English language has only enough room to allot one word for one's affinity and/or love and/or fondness and/or general pleasantry towards and/or preference and/or infatuation and/or passion and/or craving and/or enthusiasm and/or fancy and/or favor for meat.

I digress. I still love me some meat. And for Christmas I got a shirt that has a sectioned-up hog with the word "MEATARIAN" proudly displayed up top. It's a word now, haters. I may have lost any royalty-rights battles but I won the war.

One such way I show my love: on occasion, for any easy, tasty, just for me lunch, I'll get something like Trader Joe's Uncured Pastrami and just have me a go with it for lunch. Especially at work. No one there judges me, especially not the dude who eats Spaghetti-O's straight from the can unheated. Ugh.

Is TJ's pastrami the best pastrami in the world? Hard no. I'm quite partial to my dad's homesmoked, and have had some out at various smokehouses. I'd love to smoke my own but have been too intimidated as of yet - this shall change once weather warms, I hope.

But it's there, easily accessible, reasonably priced at $4.99 for a half poind of thin sliced goodness, and when there;s an itch that only a few cuts of pastrami can scratch, it'll do for sure.

Smoky, a little garlic, a little peppery...all the goodness, all the usual spices. It's pretty much a textbook pastrami. I mean, what else can be said? The goodness of the beef shines thru and is well accentuated by the spices and prep, and it's so easily and convenient to pick up. If it weren't any good, it'd be shuffled out of the TJ's rotation by now, right? Can't argue with that logic.

Be like me and eat straight up. Or put on a sammy with a little mustard if you will, or sneak into an almost Reuben. Still gotta go corned beef for that but life it short and it's close enough.

 P is for pastrami and this one's good enough for me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Uncured Pastrami: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Trader Joe's Philly Cheesesteak Bao Buns

Happy Halloween everyone!

Hope yours is less rainy than here in the Pittsburgh area. Trick-or-treating got bumped back a few days. My lovely bride and I will probably have to figure out some fun evening plans for the kids to make up for not tramping around the neighborhood including up the hill to the "good street" where every house gives out full sized candy bars. I think we'll manage. Maybe we'll make some mummy hot dogs for the kiddos, but for us we're gonna need something else. Something spooky and seasonal...

Hrmm, maybe another box of the Trader Joe's Philly Cheesesteak Bao Buns.

 What? Huh? Seasonal and appropriate? How the heck is that?

Oh, you of little imagination. Just look at them.

Obviously, it's little cheesesteaks wearing ghost costumes! And maybe we'll get goofy and call them "boo buns" too.

These new TJ's snackitizers are definitely kinda interesting. On first impression, the bao buns sound like some crossover gimmicky food truck type deal - the crosscultural mixup of an American and Asian classic. Intriguing idea, for sure, but how does it work?

On one hand, surprisingly well. If you've had a true Philly cheesesteak - I'm talking a "wiz wid" versus  an "authentic Philadelphia-style steak-and-cheese" - it's been on an Amoroso roll. They're tough but doughy and chewy and perfectly made for holding meat, cheese and onions and whatever else. Obviously, there's nu such bun here, but the bao dough does a surprisingly decent job of mimicking the taste and feel. No, it's not spot on, but reminiscent enough, especially if steamed for a tad bit longer and browned.

On the other hand...out of all cheeses TJ's could have used, they chose AMERICAN? What the what? No. No no no. It's either Cheez Wiz or provolone, not American cheese. Also, bell peppers? Kinda weak. If you're gonna put peppers on your steak, they gotta be the spicy type.

Every thing else is decent enough. The meat is well seasoned and feels about right, being chipped and all. Bites that are more dough-heavy tend to be a little more towards bland, but the meaty bites are close with the exception of the wrong cheese and other fillings. There's a little onion and garlic and spices and whatnot.

All this being said, we liked 'em but there's something amiss. The cheesesteak bao buns seem to be two different things mixed into one without really being any of them, if that makes sense. Some key details are off for the cheesesteak, as already covered...but other than the form, what's the bao element here? A couple Asian spices could have spiced it up and made the crossover more apparent.

It's $3.49 for a box of four. Decent and filling, and a good enough buy. Sandy likes them a bit more than me, but she grew up right outside Pittsburgh and I grew up right outside Philly, so I'm a bit more of a cheesesteak snob than her. Four spoons from her, three from me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Philly Cheesesteak Bao Buns: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons 



Monday, October 21, 2019

Trader Joe's Angus Beef Chili

There's nothing quite like making homemade chili. I love it all...chopping veggies, browning the meat, tasting and adding spices while it simmers in a crock pot. It's so relaxing and one of my favorite cold day activities.

Unfortunately I don't make very good chili.

Or so I gather. No one else in my family touches mine. I've put forth a great amount of effort into various chili cook-offs over the years and have always come in last, or close to it. I don't know what anyone else's problem is, it's perfectly good...but it leaves a lot for one guy like me to eat.

Fortunately, when the chili bug hits me, I now have Trader Joe's Angus Beef Chili.

Oh, I'll still make my own, no doubt, if for no other reason than spite all you haters. But for a quick, ready to heat, no hours of preparation needed bite, this stuff'll do just fine.

Let's see, what's to like here....pretty much everything. Angus beef is the number one ingredient, so there's plenty of meat here, in small soft pieces. It's not quite ground or shredded...it's just pieces. And it's delicious. Lots of beans, beans, the magical fruit too to really fill it all out. And it's all a pretty smooth, go down easy blend, without any big chunks of anything. Most of the beans seem to have disintegrated into the final product which is alright by me.

The pepper spice indicator on the side says this is about medium heat. Seems accurate to me. It could be spicier, but I didn't need to add anything to enjoy the chili, either. There's plenty of peppery garlicky tomatoey spicy goodness as is, which blends well with any fixins like cheddar or cornbread. Heck, one morning last week when it was just me around I hard-fried a couple eggs and had this over top. Delish.

Plenty filling. Plenty warming. Plenty good. The tub says it's a two serving container....seems low to me. I could have made this into three or more meals. Good stuff. And at a decently reasonable price (either $3.99 or $4.99) it's a good buy for when I don't need a crockpot of literally my own jamming up the fridge for a couple weeks. It's just me here grading this, so I'll go double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Angus Beef Chili: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Trader Joe's Puff Dogs

"I want you to review these just for all the Puff Daddy references you could make."

Love ya, sweetie, but Puff Daddy/ P. Diddy wasn't my jam back in the day. I'm familiar enough with the work of Mr Combs, but enough so that I could off a bunch of references in relation to Trader Joe's Puff Dogs? Nah.

I mean, "Puff Dog" does sound like a mid-to-late-'90s rapper. Probably was one, or could have been like a super dup between the aforementioned Diddy and Snoop Dogg.

As the story goes, the only reason we bought these was at the behest of one of the local TJ's employees, who knows who we are and what we do, and we were strongly advised to buy them. Why that is, I'm not sure, as I wasn't there. I personally wouldn't have. I have nothing against a quality hot dog wrapped up in a buttery biscuit type deal, but...it's easy enough to do on your own if the mood hits. Which for us is pretty rare...I don't think I've done this since college. Maybe even before. Aside from micro hors d'ouevres, of course. Those are tasty.

And yeah...that's what these puff dogs taste like. A fully grown hors d'oeuvres. There's nothing special, unique, or all that interesting about them, to be quite honest. I mean, yes, there's quality to be had here - the smoky beef hot dog in all its uncured goodness is rather tasty, admittedly - but, there's not much to be had otherwise. The puff pastry is standard, run of the mill flaky and a little buttery, and that combined with the beef dog do have a little greasy comfort food vibe that would taste even better after a few beers, I'm sure.

But there's nothing else, really. There's no "Trader Joe's-y" twist to them, like an unexpected seasoning or fancy cheese or some other novelty to them. It's tough to even argue a convenience factor, and at a somewhat premium price ($4.99 for five dogs - a buck per pup), you can get more bang for your buck by buying a pack of frankfurters and a tube of crescent rolls seperately and get much the same result.

Plus - this is probably silly - I hate the picture on the front. That yellow stuff hanging off the bitten-off hot dog? Is that supposed to be nacho cheese or day old scrambled egg? Yes, I know, probably mustard as evidenced by the cutesy mustard bottle up top, but still...there's something unsettling about it to me. Especially with the word "buttery" in close proximity. Yes, I'm weird.

Can't nobody hold me down. It might not be all about the Benjamins, but for the mo' money for these, I don't want mo' problems. Come with me or I'll be missing you...ugh, I can't do this any more. Probably not a repeat buy. They're okay, but what they'd best for is what P Diddy was best at: Sampling.

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

Monday, November 7, 2016

Trader Joe's Traditional Pot Roast

Disclaimer: With everything I'm about to say here, keep in mind: I'm not a pot roast guy. Never have been. I was the kid growing up who would run back and forth between the kitchen table and bathroom, flushing one mouthful of pot roast at a time. And there's a good cahnce I never will be. Swampy, stringy, fatty meat? No thanks. I'll eat it, but it's not something I'll really enjoy.

But here goes....a microwave? For pot roast? That's how you're going to tell me to prep this, Trader Joe's, with your Traditional Pot Roast!?!?!? What??? No! Listen, I don't care that it's fully cooked so it just needs to be warmed up - that's wrong. Pot roast comes from the one kitchen appliance that's even easier than a microwave - a crock pot. There's nothing complicated about about a crockpot - only three settings, set it, forget it, almost impossible to screw up. Microwavable pot roast is just bizarre to me - there's nothing difficult or time consuming about crock pots - did we really need to take something simple like a pot roast and make it zap-able?

So, naturally, we made ours in the crock pot, for tradition's sake, and also because we apparently have a compulsion to freeze every piece of meat that comes into our house. Doesn't matter if we're going to eat it in three hours, three days, or three years - into the freezer for you! Ain't no nuking a frozen meat lump properly.

So, pot roast. There's...not much else to say about it. There's nothing flavor or texture or anything wise that sticks out. Imagine a pot roast, and this is almost exactly what you'd get. I will say that the meat itself seems a little less fatty and stringy than the pot roasts I recall from growing up (no offense, Mom, but I always wondered what sins I committed when you served up pot roast), and is properly soft and tender. There's not much in the way of flavor except the natural savoriness of the meat and salt and pepper...

...and corn syrup solids? What....I don't even know what to say here. Except there are corn syrup solids on the ingredients list. I didn't think corn syrup was a thing Trader Joe's was into - well, apparently not, and out of anything, it's on pot roast? Can someone explain this? If some sort of sweetner is needed for whatever reason (you know, sugar and pot roast, BFFs), why not just do some honey or something along those lines? Corn syrup? I'm amazed.

Anyways, we have a split household on the TJ's Traditional Pot Roast. Sandy and B, our youngest daughter (almost 2!) really enjoy it. In fact, it was B's enthusiasm at the TJ sample counter that led Sandy to drop the $8.99 the pound package in the first place. I'm completely indifferent to it (which is actually a compliment from me to pot roast) while M, our four year old, went to bed hungry over the whole thing and ate it for breakfast the next day very begrudgingly. That's my girl. Take from all that what you will.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Traditional Pot Roast: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Trader Joe's Gyro Slices

Yes, they exist.

No, I'm not talking about cell phone batteries that don't die every five minutes, pens that don't stop writing with only half the ink used, or a Justin Bieber song that doesn't suck. It's a not that good of a world out there. But at least we do have Chuck Norris-approved roundhouse kicking jeans. Listen, with those hidden gussets not binding your legs, you got some full leg-swinging freedom there, partner.

Nope, I am talking about Trader Joe's Gyro Slices. They do exist. I know, because I just had them for dinner. But if you're searching the shelves for them, good luck...much like their distantly related riced cauliflower cousin, you're much more likely to spot that Bieber character in your local TJ's than this particular meat package. It's that popular with demand that far underestimated that warehouses are out, so get yourself on the waitlist, and if you see any, stock up and sell on eBay.

Are the gyros worth the hype, though? Ehhhh...debatable. Don't get me wrong - I enjoy gyros at local Greek food festivals just as much as anyone reasonably can, so I was pretty hyped up as well. But the TJ gyro slices just aren't quite as good as those - close, but not quite.

The reason? Possibly ignorance, probably perception bias. But I've always thought that the meat in gyros at the food festivals was lamb, or at least mostly lamb. Now, there's lamb in these guys too...listed as the last ingredient before the "Contains 2% or less of the following" part of the credits. So, there just might be as little as 3% lamb we're talking about here...probably more than that, but undoubtedly more beef than lamb. As a result, I swear these taste more beefy than other gyro meat, which kinda comes off as vaguely Steak-Umm-esque, but how accurate that is debatable at best.

That sounded like an insult. I didn't mean it that way. In every other regard these seem spot on, with the breadcrumbs adding the right mealy-meaty feel, and spiced appropriately with the pepper and garlic and whatnot. And I'd be danged if altogether both Sandy and I didn't enjoy a good made-at-home gyro that we'd be more than eager to do again, all for the fraction of the price of gyros out. It helped that when all the sandwich components were together, the perceived beefiness became a lot less noticeable.

For the requisite "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" reference, I won't vouch these are entirely authentic, but will say spraying Windex at them will certainly not make an improvement. If you see 'em, snag 'em. Double fours.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Trader Joe's Meter Long Beer Bratwurst

Alright, alright, alright. Let's be upfront and get this out of the way already here.Yes, there's a lot of jokes that can be made about a, ahem, sausage of this size. No, I'm not going to repeat any of them here. One of my buddies and I sure made enough of them on New Year's Eve when I brought over Trader Joe's Meter Long Beer Bratwurst, much to the annoyance of our two much more lovely, much more mature, and absolutely more sober wives. We had our meat, we had our drink, we had our fun, now it's time to get down to the business of reviewing this fairly significant feat o' meat...

Hrmm, "Feat o' Meat" - that has a nice ring to it. I like it. How about naming it that, or similarly, "Three Feet of Meat"? If you must stick to that silly, worldly, completely logical metric system. how about "Meat-er Long Brat"? C'mon, it's quite possibly the longest, most readily-commercially available meat product out there - have some fun with it!

Relatedly, I may have just blown any chance of ever landing a gig with the Fearless Flyer. Drats.

This one heckuva monu-meat-al achievement though. As in, it's a seriously good brat. As you can easily tell from my picture, my buddy Nick tossed it on the grill for about a good 20 to 25 mins, flipping halfway through, to get a good, charred, cracked casing. In my opinion, that's really the only way to cook such a thing. The end result was positively mouthwatering: hot, sizzly, juicy, like a sausagey siren bent on leading me and my diet astray. Like any bratwurst worth the name, TJ's beer brat is a good mix of both pork and beef - I can't say exact ratio, but noticeably more pork. It's a good blend, though - not too grainy or rubbery like some I've had, but even and intact inside the pork casing.

And, of course, there's beer! Due to silly Quaker-heritage Pennsylvania laws, I haven't had the pleasure of Trader Joe's Vintage Ale too very often, so had to look up what the experts have to say about it. Hrmm, okay, yeasty, bready, some "banana esters" (whatever those are)...okay, I kinda remember that one I had a couple years back. To be honest, I didn't pick up too much of the actual beer flavor in the brats, but I'm willing to bet that's more my palate's shortcomings, as I rarely can in any beer brat. I mean, there was some beery aspects, but not enough to make it super noticeable or give me pause. I more noticed the paprika and peppery aspects than any beer ones. That's all well and good, since the flavor is mild enough to make it prime for pairing with any of your favorite sauces or mustard or whatever, while still enjoyable enough to consume straight up..

All to say, I really enjoyed shuffling off this meat-al coil. I definitely ate more of it than I intended to, I think - my intake modulator wasn't working that night. Good thing it's a great deal - it's over a pound and a half, and costs only $6.99. I'm pretty sure I've seen it around for a while, so hopefully it'll continue to stick around for a bit. Both Sandy and I are wavering around a 4 to a 4.5, so let's call it one of each.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Meter Long Beer Bratwurst: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons    

Friday, April 24, 2015

Trader Joe's South African Inspired Biltong Beef Jerky

Conceivably, there's any number of ways to start off a review regarding beef jerky, so let's do something a little unexpected here: respect for vegetarians. No, seriously, I mean it. Can't speak for all vegetarians, for their any number of reasons for deciding to eschew meat, but for me, who's dabbled in it: it's tough. At least was for me. I've given meat up for a length of time during Lent, and for also about a six month period a couple years back (primarily for weight loss reasons - I was a big boy), but it's just kept bringing me back. Fortunately, I've figured out a way that works for me to incorporate mucho carne* into my diet and still lose considerable weight - namely, Paleo. I get the arguments for a plant-based diet and I know that going Paleo, in careless application,  can mean too much meat overall, looking at it realistically from an evolutionary standpoint, but...I needed to find something that worked for me to get me healthier, which primarily for me means losing a lot of weight (I've lost about seventy since last August). Vegetarianism was great, in a lot of ways, but in the end wasn't for me. Paleo, despite forgoing lots of former favorites like cheese and bread (oh grilled cheese, how I miss you - if you're in/near the 'burgh, check out this place), does. If you're on a similar journey, I hope you find what works for you and you stick to it - lots of hard work but it's so, so worth it.

All this to say: palatable portable protein is a must for my busy schedule. I don't get it often, but I love good quality jerky, so when Trader Joe's debuts some South African Inspired Biltong Beef Jerky, I gotta give it a try.

This isn't quite like most jerkies I've had. Instead of indiscriminate chunks or (shudder) Slim Jim style, the beef for the biltong is cut into neat little strips. The write up on the back says it's from the rump, cut following the grain of the muscle. I'm not all that up on my cuts of meat to know if that's different than most jerky, but I will say this style is noticeably tougher and chewier than most. There's also not nearly as much fat as would be expected from bovine posterior,not that jerky has all that much usually anyways, resulting in lean, tough meat that will get your teeth working to get through. Almost more venison like in some ways. This is a plus - while I can easily overdose on other jerky, this was too much to eat more than couple strands at a time.

The seasoning's a bit different, too. Instead of being marinated in a bath of whatever with little to nothing on the exterior, each piece of the biltong is liberally coated with a thick dusting of spices - lots of pepper and garlic, and yes, salt. To my recollection, the seasoning tasted pretty similar to what's on the South African potato chips, but it seemed deeper and fuller with its beefy base.

As with most jerky I try, I had my work buddy, Alan, give it a try too. Now, he's actually been to southern Africa and has stated he lived on biltong and Coca-Cola for about three weeks, so I'll trust his opinion more than mine. "Hrmm," he said, giving the first bite a chew. "The texture's just about perfectly right, but the seasoning...." He looked on the back of the bag. "I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that where I was, there wasn't Worcestershire sauce. Or apple cider vinegar." Probably true. "Not bad, just needs some bloodborne pathogens and the occasional maggot, and it'd be somewhat close enough to what I got from the market in Africa. But it's been a while."

Well, he liked it, I like it, heck, even the wife (usually ambivalent about things like beef jerky) liked it too. "Heck, whenever you'll buy it, I'll eat it," she said, which is about as ringing an endorsement I could expect from her. Like most TJ jerkies, the biltong was in the roughly $6 range for the quarter-pound package. It won't be an everytime pickup, but this will definitely be in the work snack rotation going forward.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's South African Inspired Biltong Beef Jerky: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons 
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* Sorta. Still learning the whole "portion control" thing - have gotten much better, but still.

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