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

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Trader Joe's Beef and Pork with Cracked Pepper Snack Stick

My toddler, 21 months old, is completely irrational and makes no sense. Surprise!

I mean, M (as I'll call her) will happily eat long as Sandy and I don't make it or give it to her. My dad makes her bacon? Right down the hatch. Go over to my brothers to grill some burgers or hot dogs? Yumz. Even the sketchy-lookin' chicken at her school? If given the opportunity, yes. Heck, she even happily munched on some Spam my folks gave her last summer on vacation as Sandy and I took off on a date night. We make her anything meatlike at all? With only one notable exception, she won't touch it and will make a grimacing, pouty "meat face" as she turns her head away and firmly says "NO!!!"

That's pretty unlike me. I'm casually working on a spreadsheet for all the different animals I've consumed, and part of me is jealous of Nathan's situation growing up. Give me meat whenever I can get it, and if it happens to be in some sort of snacky, shelf-stable form, I'm all for it as well. Kinda hard to grill a steak at the cubicle, y' know.

Enter Trader Joe's Beef and Pork with Cracked Pepper Snack Stick. Ay yi yi, that's a mouthful. Imagine, in another world, how different those old Randy Macho Man Savage commercials would be with this name. Seems like a brand new product, costs a buck, lacks the usual TJ ampersand, and looks like yummy snacky meat to try out at work, so made for a natural pick up.

Pretty good, if you ask me. It's more the "summer sausage" style of meat stick versus the beefy mush of a Slim Jim (not hatin', just sayin'). It looks like about the normal snack stick size of about 8 inches or so. And listen, I'm not gonna sit around and make the argument that this is a healthy snack, because it's not exactly. But, for the relative world of snack sticks, it does seem like a healthier pick up than the ol' gas station standby - less fat, less calories, less sodium.

And the taste doesn't suffer much for it, depending on how much cracked pepper is in your stick. I've had two - the first one I sampled, there wasn't a lot, so it seemed like an okay, not great, couple of bites. Stick No. 2 had much more pepper, which not only added a healthy amount of spice but kinda wakened the rest of the flavors too, like the salt and garlic. For a little satiety staying power, grab an apple or a cheese stick and some water - before consuming, I was pretty hungry, and this helped hold me over for a couple hours. Might be good to toss in a backpack for a light hiking trip.

Sandy's not big on these kinda snacks, so again I'm turning to my coworker Alan, who apparently is honing his TV pitchman skills when he stated this: "A meat stick overflowing with juiciness…this meat was good! The casing had sea salt brine that gave excellent flavor that one would seek from a meat stick, the cracked black pepper provided a nice subtle spice, add some garlic and you have one tasty piece of meat. I thoroughly enjoyed eating my meat as I am sure you will too!" He added more cracked pepper would be his only request. We're both wavering between a 4 and 4.5, so here's one of each.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Beef and Pork with Cracked Pepper Snack Stick: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Trader Joe's Sukiyaki

Although some might argue that it's not fair to compare a pre-packaged frozen dish purchased at a grocery store to similar food served in a restaurant, I think there comes a time when one should go ahead and make that comparison. In particular, when the price tag of a pre-packaged frozen food item starts getting up into the range of what you'd pay while dining out, then I say compare away. This bag of sukiyaki was $6.99, and the portion size was just about what one might expect from a restaurant. Sure, it was enough dinner for both Sonia and I, but most entrees we buy at restaurants turn into two meals for us as well. And while you might pay an extra dollar or two for this type of thing at a Japanese restaurant, you're also having it prepared and served by someone else, and there are usually some extra bells and whistles like rice or miso soup on the side.

So the question I'm asking myself is, "Was it restaurant quality?" 

Yes and no.

First, I'll start off with something positive: the sauce. The sauce was amazing. Excellent. Delicious. It was savory, thick, rich, and slightly sweet. Containing real sake rice wine and mirin, it was bursting with flavor. I've never had anything quite like it. The dish wasn't spicy at all, but I didn't find myself wanting to dump sriracha all over it like I usually do with non-spicy Asian foods. I don't think a bit of sriracha would have ruined it, but I didn't want to upset the flavor of this amazing sauce. It permeated all of the ingredients and added to their natural tastes. The veggies were plentiful and had nice textures. There were big pieces of carrots, napa cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, and something called burdock. 

The noodles were made of mung bean flour. They were flat, long, and clear. I've had similar noodles in Asian dishes before, and each time I have them, I'm surprised how chewy they are. I usually wind up gnawing on them for a bit before I get so frustrated that I simply swallow and wind up taking down a much longer strand of noodle than I intended to. Surprisingly, there wasn't a lack of meat—one of the more common problems we've found with TJ's frozen food bags. The worst part was that the beef was much more chewy than the noodles. It was fatty, too. There were big chunks of white fat all through the meat, and it was quite rubbery. In this case, I would have preferred tofu chunks—or at least very lean beef. The meat tasted fine, especially once it soaked up all that yummy sauce. It was just too chewy. I ate the food with chopsticks, and I found myself attempting to bite a piece of meat in half with my teeth while yanking on one end with the sticks a couple times. As I stretched and pulled on the beef, sauce dribbled down my chin, and I even lost my grip on the chopsticks at one point—allowing the slab of meat to dangle from my lips like a dog running off with a piece of raw bacon. It almost ruined the experience for me. Almost.

But I'll be danged if that's not some deeeelicious sauce. I give this product 3 stars. It would have been much higher had the meat and noodles not been so rubbery. Sonia gives it 3 stars as well for the same reasons. She also thinks there are too many onions in the mixture. I guess I'm just a bit more into onions than she is, because I disagree on that point. But double 3's it is.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Trader Joe's Grass Fed Angus Beef

Given the virtual cornucopia of fake meat products we've reviewed, up to and including the challengingly named Beefless Ground Beef, it's only fair if we review some real actual meat every once in a while, lest you start believin' we're some sort of rogue vegetarians trying to clobber you into our way of living or something. That's not how we roll.

Truth be told, Sandy and I don't eat a lot of meat, particularly, and when we do it's usually chicken or fish, and not red meat so much. It was a pretty rare treat (more so for me) when I picked up a pack of steaks to grill up the other week in a last ditch effort to get her iron up before our kid makes his/her grand debut literally any day now. Other than that, other than the occasional dinner at a place like Burgatory or the sporadic cook out burger, beef just isn't one of our usual purchases for whatever reason.

So anyways, for the reason mentioned above, last trip we picked up Trader Joe's Grass Fed Angus Beef to slap on the grill for some burger lovin'. There's plenty of grass-fed vs. corn/grain-fed debates you can read elsewhere on the Interwebs, so I'm not really going to be delving into those here. Instead, as usual, I'll be focusing on taste. Tell ya what: it makes a darn good burger. I molded four good sized patties out of the one pound hunk we bought for $5.99. Sandy needs her burgers well done (or at least not one speck of pink in them), while I tend towards more of a medium, juicy burger. This beef gave us the best of both worlds. Our burgers, while cooked them all the way through and even a little charred on the outside, were still juicely dripping with every bite. And they tasted like good, solid, honest beef, too, with a nice beefy texture. In all, it worked well with the garlic salt and pepper I mixed in, and tasted great alongside the grilled green beans (slathered with chipotle olive oil and sprinkled with kosher salt) for a classic summer time dinner. Good stuff.

There's one thing kinda nagging me about it, although it isn't necessarily fair. Trader Joe's by in large does well by me, but I've gotten enough produce that spoils way too quickly from them to fully trust it (hence going to local farmer's markets for that) and more times than not, the milk we buy from them goes bad well before the date on it (hence us always getting our milk at Target). We haven't had that issue with meat from TJ's as much but....see the top right corner of the package? "KEEP FROZEN," it says. That suggests to me that perhaps this isn't the freshest of meats if you have to buy it frozen and keep it frozen. I'm pretty sure that's one of the TJ's keeps their prices low - buy food that's close to it's expiration date and sell it for a discounted cost. For the beef, that's not as much of a hang-up for us, but I know that can be for some out there. That does, though, put folks like my wife and I in a bind where we have to cook the whole thing at once even though it's way too big for one meal. We now have two burgers in the freezer waiting to be reheated. That may be handy within a couple weeks. I'm just glad that there's official word from TJ's about their complete lack of pink slime offerings, thus to me making it worth ponying up a lil' extra for some at least semi-reputable meat.

Anyways, I liked our beef-full beef. Sandy did, too. I won't be able to quote her directly, but she said something along the lines of "Oooh man it was good, it was just what a pregnant woman needed, a big ol' chunk of CARNE to bite into that was all juice-going-everywhere-and-down-my-arms and delicious and stuff." Umm, okay. She went ahead and gave "about a four," noting that while way above fast food standard, she's not enough of a beef connoisseur to tell this TJ in-carne-ation apart from the truly great stuff. I don't know, it's pretty decent, and I'd say it's in similar quality to the beef we had in our tacos at my brother and sister in law's tonight. They get their beef from some free range hippie cow-huggin' happy farm kinda place, I think. Something around a four works for me, too.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Grass Fed Angus Beef: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Trader Joe's Organic Whole Wheat Penne Pasta...and More

Sundays usually are my favorite day of the week. I really don't care that the day after Sunday is Monday, meaning a whole new work week. My take on Mondays is, they make up 1/7th of your life, so you may as well enjoy them. Thursday, though? If I had to say I didn't like one day of the week, I think I'd pick Thursdays. By then, I'm usually ready for it to be Friday, but it isn't yet. That's really not Thursday's fault, as I'm guessing it just drew the short stick in the days of the week rotation, but tough noogies. Anyways, Sundays. Love them. Like this past Sunday, it meant a little sleeping in, church, lunch with my folks who were visiting from out of town, a run out to get a crib on sale and to make a stop by the used bookstore before visiting a friend who just had a baby, and some Rita's before finally heading home to relax with some Netflix and our puppy. All in all, it was a good day, and despite some of the busy-ness, it was pretty relaxing, too. In fact, it was so relaxing that it took a couple episodes of "Bizarre foods" to realize how hungry we were. It was time for dinner, and both Sandy and I needed something good and easy.

I quickly thought to myself, "Okay, we have Trader Joe's Organic Whole Wheat Penne Pasta.... a bag of his Party Size Mini Meatballs...and some of that Giotto fella's Three Cheese Pomodoro Pasta Sauce....voila!" Pasta and meatballs are such a good comfort food, yet so simple, so let's run thru these one at a time here.

First off, we have the whole wheat penne, which in the gluten world is the complete opposite of these a-maize-ing noodles. Both Sandy and I really like the corn pasta (pretty happy there's a widened selection at our usual shop!) and to be honest, we should have stuck to it. The corn pasta tastes pretty close to regular noodles, whereas these, not so much. Simply stated, these are too wheaty, in all the wrong ways. Appearancewise, these boil down to this very drab, unappetizing watery colorless grain tube. The penne itself is thicker and chewier (think of the difference between homemade bread made with and without wheat flour, and you got an idea), while tasting kinda grainy. I guess we should've expected that. I liked them a little bit, which is more than poor Sandy did. "Blah," she said. Yet, we plowed on thru them, because it's not only bad to waste food, but also we had...

...a good helping of Party Size Mini Meatballs to go on them! Whoo-hoo! Party on, Wayne! Well, okay, they're not so spectacular. But that doesn't mean they're not good. Each meatball is made of both beef and pork (two animals = bonus) with whatever the usual kinda meatbally spices are. They're pretty well seasoned, for sure. I also like them because, as opposed to regular-size frozen meatballs, these mini guys defrost all the way thru while cooking them. Unless I cut them in half, the bigger ones tend to scorch on the outside while remaining tundrified in the middle. I figure these are a good option if you're the type who likes to fancy-glop up some meatballs on a toothpick for a party hors d'oeuvres, too, but for the two of us, they work for a regular ol' dinner. Both of us, despite the shortcomings of the pasta, enjoyed pretty much every bite that had at least a little meatball action on t, particularly if also smothered by....

...some of Trader Giotto's Three Cheese Pomodoro Pasta Sauce! To be honest, I'm not a fan of most of TJ's pasta sauces as they come in a jar. I find I have to doctor them a little bit to make them palatable to me. Not this. There's not a thing I would either add to or subtract from this sauce. It's light and mild, certainly not acidic, and has plenty of cheesy goodness to it between the romano, Parmesan and asiago cheese. I'd venture to say that unless you're a shaker cheese addict, it's fairly unnecessary for this sauce. There's also little bits of diced onion and garlic in there. It's just good. The only thing is, there's occasionally a medium-ish chunk of onion or cheese or some other ingredient that get's mixed in. I've noticed that in a few different jars we've bought, and poor Sandy (who's chunky-cooked-veggie adverse enough as is) pulled one out of her bowl much to her displeasure, and looked at me quite incredulously as I first inspected then ingested it. "Weirdo," she said. She certainly got that part right.

Anyways, so that's that, except for ratings. I don't recall the exact prices on these, but think the pasta was around $2 for the package, whereas the meatballs and sauce were more in the general $2.50-$3 range. Put us down for low marks each for the wheat pasta (say, a 1 for the Mrs. and a 2.5 for me? Not gonna argue.). For the meatballs, let's say a 4 each, and for the sauce, a 5 for me and 3.5 for my beautiful wife. I'm guesstimating her marks based on reaction and a couple things she said. Clearly, her favorite part of our dinner was the meatballs. I should have been more of a gentleman and offered her some more of mine, and even pull out the whole "Lady and the Tramp" routine, but I liked them too much myself, especially with my favorite TJ pasta sauce so far. I'll save the wheat pasta for a night when I can choke them down as she she usually does on Thursday nights when I rarely see her much...hmm, coincidence?

Bottom lines:
Trader Joe's Organic Whole Wheat Penne Pasta: 3.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Trader Joe's Party Size Mini Meatballs: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Trader Giotto's Three Cheese Pomodoro Pasta Sauce: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, September 12, 2011

Trader Joe's Meat & Potatoes

On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, in addition to a corporate prayer at church and a little personal time reflecting on the events of that day, Sonia and I decided to watch the season opener NY Giants vs. Washington Redskins, have a drink of our favorite beer from America's oldest brewery and eat some steak and potatoes. It doesn't get much more American than that. That was our way of being patriotic.

We were pleasantly surprised with the flavor of everything. Neither one of us is really a red meat type, except for the occasional craving. The potatoes were seasoned pretty well, and the meat had a good taste, although it could have used a fixin or two. In the absence of steak sauce, we dipped it in a leftover packet of Chick fil A barbeque sauce, which worked out quite nicely.

Our number one complaint was, predictably, a lack of beef. The bag was just barely enough for both of us, and the majority of that was potatoes. I know the average American doesn't need any more red meat in his diet than he already has, but if you're buying a bag of food that says "Meat & Potatoes" real big on the label, there's a good chance you have a hankering for some meat. That's been a recurring issue with many of TJ's frozen foods. Maybe that's one of the ways they keep their costs down, but at $4.99 per bag, I would think they could sneak a few more pieces of beef in there. The bag isn't unreasonable at that price, but I wouldn't call this one a bargain, either.

As tasty and tender as most bites were, I did discover one large piece of beef that was riddled with gristle and fat. There's just something about fatty beef that I find revolting. I chewed and chewed the rubbery meat, but I just couldn't get around to swallowing it. My gag reflex kicked in and I had to spit it into my napkin. But just to reiterate, that was only a single piece. The majority of the sirloin was soft and tender and not at all rubbery.

It's kind of hard to screw up meat and potatoes. Trader Joe certainly didn't do anything terribly wrong, but he didn't really do anything transcendent or innovative either. If Sonia and I had red meat dinners more often, this might have made our regular rotation, but as it stands, we probably won't revisit this one for a while. But if you're a red meat kind of guy (or girl) by all means, give it a shot and leave us a comment with your dissenting opinion below.

Sonia was most disappointed by the lack of sirloin beef. She gives it three and a half stars. I agree with her assessment, but I'll have to take off another half a star for that one big bite of freaky rubber meat. Three stars from me.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Trader Joe's Beef Pho Soup with Rice Noodles & Vegetables

Well, friends, today is the one year anniversary of the inception of this blog. Thank you all for reading, for joining our blog, liking us on facebook, and following us on twitter. We do appreciate your support. Also, stay tuned for our next great reader contest winner announcement!

Perhaps it's fate that we should be reviewing this Vietnamese style pho (pronounced "fuh," like you were going to say a dirty word, but then quickly and wisely changed your mind) on our birthday. In Vietnam, it's traditional to eat a bowl of beef pho on your birthday.

Actually, no, I just made that up. According to this site, in fact, there are no actual birthday traditions in Vietnam, but rather, all birthdays are celebrated on New Year's Day. So...this is sort of an inappropriate dish to review on our birthday. Oh well. Such is life. Did you know, however, that we share our birthday with James Cameron, Madonna, Angela Bassett, Kathie Lee Gifford, Frank Gifford, and Eydie Gorme (whom my mother-in-law worked for some years ago) just to name a few? It's true.

OK, enough intro. On with the food review. For starters, based on TJ's track record, I was fully expecting there to be a lack of beef in this dish. They have a tendency to skimp on the meat in dishes like this one. But I've gotta say, that was NOT the case here. Now I'm certainly not saying there was too much beef, but I was pleasantly surprised that the soup had plenty of meat bits that lasted until the end. Although, that being said, I must unfortunately point out that another basic ingredient was in short supply: the noodles! Not sure how that happened really, but I ran out of noodles way before beef. And, the noodles seemed really tough to me. I followed the instructions, but it felt like I should have allowed the noodles to soak in hot water for another five minutes or so.

The broth was light and slightly savory, like a good pho broth should be. I've only had restaurant pho twice, and both times, I am told, I had it from average-at-best pho restaurants, but I must remind you that Russ and I are self-proclaimed foodie-hacks, not true licensed foodies. And I'm willing to bet that many of you have eaten even less pho than I please bear with me. The veggies were fine: chopped up into little pieces and evenly distributed throughout the soup. Like the beef and broth, I had no major complaints about the vegetable bits.

The overall effect is a nice, delicate Asian meat and vegetable soup. The biggest let-down by far was the lack of noodles, and their slightly-stiff texture. I'd try this product again, but I'd heat the dish an extra minute and allow it to sit for an extra five. I'll give it three and a half stars. Sonia agrees.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Trader Joe's Boeuf Bourguignon

Boeuf. I like this French word for beef. It reminds me of Saturday Night Live's Stefon talking about "New York's hottest club, Booooooooof...that's right Booooooooof, with nine o's."

We'll have to settle for one o, but our amis les Fran├žais have thrown in an e and a u as bonuses. And whether or not this item is Trader Joe's frozen section's hottest item remains to be seen...

I'm not even going to grumble about TJ's inconsistency with their international characters anymore. There's no reason this shouldn't be Trader Jacques' Boeuf Bourguignon (like the Ham and Cheese Croissant Sandwiches).

And before we get down to the actual food review, let me remind you that, as Russ stated in an earlier post, we're not food experts, nor have we ever claimed to be. But that's our angle. We're average "everyman" types that like to eat, and we'll give you our honest opinions. We are self-proclaimed "foodie-hack bloggers." After Yahoo's main page linked directly to The Daily Meal's article about us, I decided to promote us to "prominent foodie-hack bloggers." And as one critic who apparently critiques other critics' reviews so delicately pointed out, our blog entries are extremely self-indulgent and often contain several paragraphs that have little or nothing to do with the actual food (such as this and the three paragraphs preceding it). For that particular gentleman's highly accurate, yet mostly irrelevant observation, I amend our standing title to "prominent self-indulgent foodie-hack bloggers." If his observation is mostly irrelevant, then why include it in your title, you ask? Sheerly for the sake of comedy, my friends.

I've got at least a couple more paragraphs of non-food-related material that part of me wishes to insert here, but for the sake of the people who actually care what I think of this product, let's get started: The flavor of the delicious sauce is the highlight of this dish. I've honestly never had boeuf bourguignon before, but the sauce reminded me of a really good, really thick au jus from a French dip. The beef is tasty as well, but as usual, this entree could use a bit more of it. I was quite happy with the quality and the amount of vegetables, but Sonia didn't even think there were enough onions, etc. in the mix. She reminded me that the meal cost something in the ballpark of 6 or 7 dollars. Less than you'd pay in a gourmet restaurant, but still not cheap—certainly enough to buy us a belly-full of meat and veggies, we thought.

In my opinion, the complex, gourmet gravy makes this product worth at least one purchase. It might not be a Julia Child masterpiece, but for frozen food, it's pretty dang tasty. The price tag and the lack of meat might mean this dish doesn't make regular appearances on your shopping list, but I'd check it out if you're at all curious. I can't go lower than a 4. Sonia gives a 3.5 to the bourguignon, docking a point and a half for a decided lack of boeuf.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Trader Joe's Bibimbap Bowl

Today, we got our Bibimbap on. Here's a link that should help you pronounce it properly. It sounds like it starts with a "p," and apparently the middle syllable is stressed.

Bibimbap is a Korean word that means simply "mixed meal." So basically, we've got rice, some sort of Korean barbeque-esque meat, some carrot-like vegetables, a bit of seaweed or kelp or kale or something, and a mysterious egg-like substance. It's quite an authentic recreation of a visit to a real Korean BBQ house. You'll recognize one or two of the items, and the rest of the foods...well, you might have some vague notion of what they could be, but unless you're dining with a bilingual Korean person, you're pretty much flying blind. You kind of just get in the habit of sticking stuff in your mouth and hoping for the best. It's kinda fun. Until you get a bite of something nasty. But then you can always go back to the meats. Korean BBQ meats are pretty universally tasty, in my opinion.

To my delight (but probably to the dismay of many others) there was no kimchi in this meal. I'm not sure which amazes me more: the fact that people actually enjoy fermented cabbage dishes, or the fact that more than one culture on our planet came up with the same idea. "Hey guys, let's throw this yucky vegetable in a barrel, let it rot for a while, and see if something yummy comes out!" Kimchi is kinda like Korean sauerkraut. It's spicier than sauerkraut, to be sure, but just as nasty.

Thankfully, the Bibimbap Bowl does feature some Korean beef. Absolutely delicious. It has an amazing tender texture and lots of flavor. Too bad there's only a couple bites of it in the bowl. In fact, that's my biggest complaint about this dish. I really wanted to give this a very high score, but I simply can't praise it as much as I would like to because of the lack of its best constituent part.

The second best part of the bowl? The sauce. It's red, spicy, and flavorful, and to me it tastes authentically Korean. I've only had Korean BBQ a handful of times in my life, but from what I remember, the best sauces are quite similar to the stuff included in Trader Joe's Bibimbap Bowl.

The other 4 ingredients are also pretty yummy, especially when coated with the aforementioned red sauce, but they're not quite as special as the beef. They're all reminiscent of things I've had in a Korean restaurant, and not one of them is gross or too strange to be eaten. I broke out some leftover chopsticks we had from our recent visit to Pei Wei. It helped to make the experience even more Asian.

In summary, my score can't be too high because of the lack of meat in the dish, but maybe that's just my typical American overenthusiasm for beef talking. I'm sure Koreans, health-conscious as they generally are, don't eat that much beef on a regular basis, but my visits to Korean BBQ spots would tell me different. Although, those restaurants I've been to are probably just catering to their "Viva-America" clientele. Conversely, I can't score this dish too low, either, since my natural inclination is to compare this Bibimbap Bowl with entrees I've had from relatively high-class Korean restaurants and homemade dishes. It didn't even occur to me to compare this to anything I've ever had from any other grocery store. And therein lies Trader Joe's genius: many of their foods, this product included, simply transcend the offerings of other grocery stores.

Let's go with a 3.5. Sonia was also annoyed by the lack of meat, but overall, she was truly impressed as well. She gives it a 4.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Trader Joe's Parmesan Pastry Pups

Cute li'l pups. Happily, they're made with beef, not puppy meat. I've met a few people in my day who've been like, "Who cares? I'd eat dog meat. It's just another animal!"

Mmm, yeah, OK, but no. First of all, I've heard that dog meat is really disgusting, and secondly, I believe that God in His infinite wisdom put each species of animal on this earth for a specific purpose. Dogs are so clearly meant to be man's best friend. Chickens, cows, or horses, though useful, will never catch your frisbee and bring it back to you. And, they lack the individual personality that dogs seem to possess. Horses are for transportation, racing, and riding, chickens make yummy eggs, and cows give great milk...and beef cattle, of course, yield delicious beef products such as these all beef pastry pup franks.

So let's take a look at this product in terms of its three constituent parts: the parmesan, the pastry, and the pup. First up, parmesan. What parmesan? Neither Sonia nor I detected much parmesan. There was some slight tang to the food, but it didn't strike me as being particularly parmesan-y. Not a bad flavor, just not so much like the parmesan cheese I'm used to.

Next, the pastry portion: good stuff here. It was flakey, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. It's just what I'd want in an oven-baked pastry puff bread-blanket. Not excessively greasy, and not too dry, either.

Finally, the pup: I liked it. Good, old-fashioned red meat mini hot dogs. They come out of the oven piping hot in 25 minutes, and they're flavorful beef, not pork. Pork supposedly has higher levels of bacteria, and for that reason, it is said to be worse than beef, health-wise. I'm rarely in the mood for hot dogs these days, but when I am, this is what I want them to taste like. Hot diggity dog.

Sonia was a pretty big fan too, and she eats even less red meat than I do. Though not as exotic as some of the offerings at TJ's, these pups make great hors d'oeuvres, and they're kind of a classic snack-food. If you're not so adventurous with your eating, these little guys are a pretty safe bet, even for kids. Other than a lack of parmesan, there are few surprises with TJ's Parmesan Pastry Pups. They're just a high-end version of pigs in a blanket...or in this case, I guess they'd be "cows in a blanket."

Sonia gives them a 4. I give them a 3.5. Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Trader Ming's Szechuan Style Spicy Beef & Broccoli

When we lived in Hollyweird, California, there was this little hole-in-the-wall joint people referred to as "Dollar Chinese," because back in the day, you could get any entree for $1. Then they changed the name and management like 8 times in 5 years, and prices gradually rose above the $1 mark, and recently they went above $2 per item I think...but you could always get obscenely cheap Chinese food there. For a while it was "Hong Kong Express" and then it was "Shanghai Surprise" or something (Surprise! There's cat-meat in your eggroll!) and finally "Great Wall Express."

When it comes to cheap Chinese food, for some reason orange chicken is the only dish that people can routinely get right. The orange chicken at Dollar Chinese was indeed palatable. However, if you chose anything else, it was generally understood you were taking your life into your own hands. The next-safest entree was considered to be broccoli-beef. At Dollar Chinese, for me anyway, it was a little too daring...I only tried it once and learned my lesson fast.

At a place like Panda Express, they can make a decent broccoli-beef, but I still think their orange chicken will beat it every time.

All that to say, I haven't had many broccoli-beef dishes in my day, and the ones I have had probably weren't the greatest representations of the dish, but I must say that Trader Joe's Beef & Broccoli is most definitely the best I have had so far. The sauce was amazing, spicy, and tangy. (Sonia actually thought the sauce was a bit too tangy). There were plenty of big, healthy pieces of broccoli, and overall, I was pleased with the beef. There were just a few pieces that were way too big. These huge, monstrous beef chunks wound up slightly unevenly cooked. But I'm probably nit-picking again. In general, the beef was crispy and well-done. I don't recall the other broccoli-beef dishes I've tried containing breaded beef, but TJ's brand was covered in a sort of thin batter not unlike the coating on the orange-chicken. I liked it, though.

We served it with Trader Joe's Brown Rice, which is always good, by the way. Sonia gives the dish a 4.5 out of 5. I give it 4.5 out of 5, as well. Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Trader Joe's Shepherd's Pie

On our last trip to Trader Joe's, Sonia and I decided to brave the high school cafeteria classic, Shepherd's Pie. This dish can be a big hit or miss kind of deal: if it's done right, there's a nice blend of textures and flavors, and a whole balanced meal all mixed together for you right there in one food item. If it's done wrong, you can get a nasty pile of mush that resembles a cross section of your backyard compost heap.

The TJ's brand winds up somewhere in the middle. It seems to follow the formula we've seen in many of the previous items we've reviewed: a frozen item that thaws nicely, has a decent texture overall, but winds up tasting a little bland for some reason. The item is moderately priced at $3.99, and it manages to avoid any weird aftertastes or sub-par ingredients. It might not look very big, but it was plenty of food for both of us.

Our two biggest complaints were lack of flavor and the choice to use shredded beef instead of ground beef. The meat wasn't bad, but really, I can't figure out how you could possibly get red meat to taste so bland. And it was just a bit stringy. I think ground beef works best for Shepherd's Pie. Somehow, none of the ingredients were flavorful. Peas, carrots, corn, green beans, mashed potatoes and beef should simply have more taste than this Shepherd's Pie offers.

But wait! Trader Joe's Jalape├▒o Pepper Hot Sauce to the rescue! Hot sauce helps anything. We figure this Shepherd's Pie must just be a shameless promotion for the TJ's hot sauce. We added salt and pepper, too, before we were really happy with the flavor. But, after the addition of said condiments, we really enjoyed our makeshift Mexican Shepherd's Pie.

We both give this a 3 out of 5. Shepherds are simple folk, and they might appreciate the lackluster taste of this dish. Cravers of more bold tastes might want to check it out to satisfy their curiosity, but they'll want to be heavily armed with hot sauce before they heat it up. Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Trader Joe's Seasoned Beef Sirloin Carne Asada

When Sonia made tacos last night, she chopped up little pieces of peppers to add to our carne asada. Don't let the package deceive you: there's nothing but meat in this $7 bag o' beef.

Overall, our taco dinner wasn't bad. But we dressed it up with tortillas, salsa, the aforementioned peppers, and some refried pinto beans, and we still found it slightly wanting.

The quality of the meat simply doesn't warrant its price tag. If you're going to buy carne asada, TJ's might not be the first place to do it. Again, it's not terrible, but for $7, I want something I can create a ficticious adjective for and put a few exclamations after ("Tastetastic!!!" or "Stupidelicious!!!"). "Not terrible" just isn't good enough. The texture of the meat wasn't really an issue for either of us, it was more its lack of flavor. Maybe the guy on the assembly line that was supposed to add the seasoning to the "seasoned beef" called in sick the day they packaged our bag. The poor cow that gave its life for last night's taco dinner died in vain. Rest in peace, Bessy.

To be fair, we should mention that the 12 oz. bag did provide well more than enough food for the two of us. There are still leftovers in the fridge.

The tortillas that served as the soft taco shells were decent. Trader Jose's Reduced Carb Whole Wheat Flour Tortillas are light and healthy, but again, I would complain that they're not super-flavorful. Some whole wheat products can really add a grainy, almost nutty taste. These didn't add or detract much in the flavor department, but their texture is near-perfect, they're a nice size for filling with taco ingredients, and they don't fall apart as you eat them.

The refried pinto beans are good. Sonia says a lot of other brands of refried beans have a bunch of preservatives and additives, but Trader Jose's Low Fat Vegetarian Refried Pinto Beans are all natural. (Please note: your meal no longer qualifies as vegetarian if you eat this with carne asada.) I like the taste. Just as good as anything else I've tried in the refried bean department.

And finally, we'd like to take a look at the sauce we used: Trader Jose's Habanero and Lime Salsa. The package says "Medium Hot" but Sonia and I both say it's mild. It's a tad vinegar-y for our taste, but it's got that dash of lime "sabor," and it's something different than the run-of-the-mill tomato-based salsa. It's got bits of vegetable matter, but it can't really be considered chunky.

So, let's review: First we looked at Trader Joe's Seasoned Beef Sirloin Carne Asada: Sonia gives it 3.5 Stars and I give it 3, for a bottom line of 6.5 out of 10.

Then, we talked about the Trader Jose's Reduced Carb Whole Wheat Flour Tortillas. They get a 4 from Sonia and a 3.5 from me, yielding a bottom line of 7.5 out of 10.

Next up: Trader Jose's Low Fat Vegetarian Refried Pinto Beans. 4 from Sonia, 4.5 from me. Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

And finally, Trader Jose's Habanero and Lime Salsa. Sonia gives it a 3, and so do I. Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

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