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

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Trader Joe's Papas Rellenas


A reader recently reminded me of Porto's Bakery's potato balls, a legendary treat from an amazing bakery that Sonia and I would frequent when we lived in Los Angeles. We even still order them once in a while since Porto's delivers nationwide...<cough cough> unlike Trader Joe's <cough cough>. Talk about delicious, man, I swear those things are where the term "amazeballs" originated. Anyway, the same reader said she thought these might be TJ's take on the same concept and wondered if they were anywhere near as good. Good question, April. Thanks for the idea to compare the two. Porto's has set the bar exceptionally high, I must say.

There are four of Trader Joe's Papas Rellenas (stuffed potatoes) in the box with two cellophane wrapped packs of two balls each. Thankfully, they come with air fryer instructions, which were adequate, for once, erring on the side of overcooking this time if anything.


Our spud spheres came out extra crispy—perhaps a tad crispier than Porto's. I guess we can attribute that to heating them in the air fryer as opposed to the conventional oven. Something else I noticed right away is that Trader Joe's tater treats weren't as structurally sound as Porto's potato balls. You can basically eat the Porto's offering with your hands if you want to, but Trader Joe's fell apart as soon as I dug in my fork. Again, at least part of that might be attributable to our chosen heating method.

They're very similar to Porto's in terms of taste and texture. I'd say there's a little less ground beef in TJ's. Come to think of it, I'd say there's less onion and pepper, too. It's mostly just crispy crust and mashy potato in these. There's definitely some beef, but it's not quite enough IMO.


Sonia and I agree these tasty taters are worth a pick-up if you're in Trader Joe's and need a simple comfort food fix, but they're not quite as good as Porto's Bakery. Of course TJ's are a little cheaper and they're optimized for throwing in your freezer and consuming at your own convenience, so they definitely have their advantages.

$4.99 for the four round rations. While Porto's potato balls would receive a near perfect score from us, these get four stars a piece from Sonia and me. They won't take home the title, but Trader Joe's Papas Rellenas are still really darn good.



Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Trader Joe's Beef Bulgogi


It's been a minute, but we've seen bulgogi beef on this blog before. And even that wasn't my first bulgogi rodeo. Although this is a step in the right direction, my beef with this beef is similar to my beef with the last beef.

But let's start off with some positives first. For one, the flavor of this meat is utterly superb. The sauce is amazing. It's sweet, savory, and succulent—made with soy sauce and onion, and there's even a few fruit juices and purees in the mixture: apple, pear, and pineapple. The meat itself is rich and delicious. No complaints in the taste department whatsoever.


Thirteen bucks might seem steep for this type of frozen product, but there's a full pound of beef here. You could easily feed a family of five or six with this single product, provided you had rice or veggies to supplement the meal. So the price and quantity of this item seems reasonable to me, too.

The only thing preventing me from giving this product a perfect score is the chewiness and gristle present in some of the bites. I'm super picky about the texture of meat for some reason. Always have been. The bulgogi I had from Korean restaurants was melt-in-your-mouth perfect in every way. This just isn't. Overall, it's extremely tender like bulgogi is supposed to be, but just about every other bite—particularly in the larger slices of meat—there'd be gristle I not only felt in my mouth...but could hear when I chewed it. Ugh. Such a shame. I really wanted to love this stuff.


As it is, I'll throw out three and a half stars for the overall flavor and non-gristly bites. Sonia was similarly impressed with the flavor and displeased with the texture, so three and a half stars from her as well on Trader Joe's Beef Bulgogi.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, January 12, 2024

Trader Joe's Empanadas de Ropa Vieja


So...I speak a little Spanish, but I'm not so confident to be 100% sure I'm translating everything I read or hear correctly. Glancing at the title of this product, I thought it meant something along the lines of "hand pies made of old clothes." Well that's obviously wrong, I thought. So I asked my wife, fluent in español, where I'd gone wrong. "No, that's correct," she explained.

She'd heard of the dish before but didn't grow up eating it. Apparently, it's more of a Caribbean and Central American thing than a Mexican thing. Her Cuban co-worker, very familiar with the traditional meal, explained that there's a legend that an old homeless man with no food began tearing up his own clothes in lieu of meat and heating them on the stove and they magically turned into beef—hence the name. Thanks, Julio, for that anecdote.


But enough about the name. How does this offering from Trader Joe's taste? Shoot. It's REALLY good. I'm surprised I haven't heard more buzz about this product. Both the wifey and I found it muy delicioso.

Nine minutes in the air fryer had these puppies piping hot and crispy golden brown on the outside. Pretty sure the traditional dish is made with actual bread rather than cassava—a root vegetable—but this product didn't suffer at all for the substitution. It's not the first empanada with cassava crust we've seen from TJ's. It lends a faintly nutty flavor to the "breading" part of the empanada.

The filling is soft, flavorful shredded beef with tomato, onion, and bell pepper. It just melts in your mouth. There's a spice blend including garlic, salt, oregano, and coriander that rounds out the taste perfectly.


I could have sworn there was a layer of mashed potatoes just inside the crust, but I think it was just more cassava. It made the meat pie feel even more like comfort food. So, so good.

The beautiful wifey and I plowed through the pack in a single sitting for lunch. We'd absolutely buy it again. About $6 for eight mini empanadas. Restaurant-quality appetizers. Four and a half stars a piece for Trader Joe's Empanadas de Ropa Vieja.



Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

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

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