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Showing posts with label dinner. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dinner. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Trader Joe's Calabrian Chili Tomato Dumpling Soup

Chances are, it's pretty cold where you are right now. It sure is here in the 'burgh. Cold enough that it killed our new battery in the family minivan out of nowhere, and naturally at a fairly inopportune time and place - as if there is such thing as a "good time" for that to happen. Cold enough to make being outside for more than two minutes worth questioning your sanity. And given the news stories and social media feeds we've seen from elsewhere, we're fairly lucky here in the 'burgh as other areas have been much more deeply impacted. 

Cold, cold, cold. Please, keep warm. If you can help others get warm too, please do. 

And maybe to help warm up yourself, get a big ol' jar of the new Trader Joe's Calabrian Chili Tomato Dumpling Soup. 

Listen: this ain't no ketchup water from a can. Warhol, when asked why he painted soup cans, said he wanted to paint nothing, and that soup cans were that - nothing. Given his choice of subject matter, in the famous red and white label, I can see why he said that. 

This ain't that. 

First: calabrian chili peppers. Even if you've only ever been to TJ's, you've seen them before, in probably my favorite product ever: the Italian bomba sauce. Mama mia! That's some hot stuff. The calabrese experience in the tomato soup isn't quite the same kick - it's not fermented or anything like the bomba, so a lot less kick - but still there's enough moderate spice and heat and warmth added. If you're staunchly spice adverse, it may be a bit much, but it's at a level that i think it'd be accessible to most folks. Then again I can eat an entire jar of the bomba with a spoon in minutes, so my scale may be off. 

And additionally: dumplings!

Man, who doesn't like dumplings? You can put some in my soup anytime! I love little bits of doughy dough floating around, in a form that's akin to but chewier and doughier than a noodle. Tasty. There's an extra heartiness imparted by the presence of the dumplings, that make the soup feel like less of a side and more of a meal. But there could definitely be more - I'm not asking for handful and handfuls, as the soup is actually pretty tasty and doesn't suffer without dumplings, but a few more would really fill it out more. 

All together, it's delicious, warm, hearty soup, with a little kick, with serious warm belly filling potential, in a convenient quick and easy glass jar, for like $3. Can't beat it. This might be my new favorite store brand soup. Gonna have to go get it a few more times, you know, if the car would start....

Wife and kids sat this out. My lovely bride doesn't like tomatoes, and my kids don't like spice. Oh shucks, more for me. Love it, with only the wish for more dumplings as a knock. So good, so warm on up with some yourself if I may suggest. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Calabrian Chili Tomato Dumpling Soup: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

 

Friday, February 12, 2021

Trader Joe's Vegetable Samosa Burrito

I'm not into globalism as far as politics are concerned, but I must admit, when international cultures entwine, some pretty interesting and enticing culinary combinations result.

I'm thinking taco pizza, curried chicken salad, or Chicano hamburgers...or the fact that you can put sriracha on anything American and make it better. Fusion food. The only thing finer than one tasty tradition is two or more combined in the same dish. And now they're doing stuff like sushi corn dogs, kimchi quesadillas, and pierogi poutine...? What the what? I'll have to try those things some day...but until then, I'm glad there's Trader Joe's.

So it's a samosa...in the form of a burrito. Sounds good. If you use the microwave, this happy little lunch item goes from refrigerated to piping hot in just two minutes.


Despite being a little stuffy from the excessive cold we're feeling here in the upper midwest, that familiar curry-esque samosa smell cut through the kitchen and piqued my appetite immediately. Sonia and I cut our burrito in half and ate it with some other leftover Indian food and rice. By itself, it would have been the perfect size for a stand-alone lunch or even dinner for one person.

There were big chunks of potato, cauliflower, and carrots, plus plenty of large whole peas throughout the dish. The texture of the veggies was just about perfect. The tortilla would have been a bit more crispy had we used the oven, no doubt, but we were fine with it being soft and supple. It's definitely a secondary element after the veggie chunks.


To me, "tomato chutney" doesn't sound particularly appetizing or exciting. But it tasted great. Just look at the ingredients list. There's onions, garlic, mustard, vinegar, white wine, ginger, paprika, turmeric and rosemary, just to name a few of the represented flavors. The taste was every bit as complex and bold as you might expect from those elements. It's a uniquely Indian flavor in the familiar format of a burrito. Would buy again.

$3.99 for the product. Four stars a piece from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Trader Joe's Misal Curry

I've always been fascinated with maps and geography. It's also interesting how places and groups of people got their names. I'm in awe that we can still refer to islands in the Caribbean as "the West Indies" based on the erroneous assumption that 15th and 16th century explorers found an alternate route from Europe to India.

"Man, I'm jonesin' for some authentic Indian curry. Let's try going in the opposite direction and see if we get to India faster." Great work, guys. You were only off by literally 15,000 miles.

Nowadays, we take frozen Indian food at the grocery store completely for granted, along with myriad other international cuisines. We truly don't know how good we have it. And I'm not saying that this dish or any of Trader Joe's other frozen selections are quite as good as anything you'd actually be served in India, or even a half decent Indian restaurant here in the states—what I'm saying is the accessibility factor along with the relatively authentic taste is something I'm truly grateful for, and it seems petty and frivolous to file any complaints at all about this miracle of modern convenience.


So for that reason, let's start with everything positive about this dish. It's vegan. That's good. I'm not vegan, but it's nice to not have to eat animals or animal products at each and every meal. It's actually spicy. Heck yes. So many curry products are totally lacking in the heat department. We're not talking five alarm fire type heat in this case, but there's definitely some kick to this curry. I'd put it just above half way on a spice-o-meter.

Finally, it's super easy to prepare. Six minutes in the microwave and you're good to go. It's not super fattening or calorific in the grand scheme of things, either. A lot of curry dishes can really pack a punch in that department.

The "brown rice" is kinda purple. I don't know if I've seen purple rice before. It tasted fine, although the texture was just a bit spongy. If you're not into beans, then the texture of the misal might not be your thing, either. Sonia thought the curry itself had too many "al dente" beans. Spongy rice and both squishy and firm beans made the texture my least favorite aspect of this curry. That might be a function of the beans used. There are "sprouted moth beans" and "white peas," neither of which I'm familiar with.


Some curries can be kind of sweet. This one isn't at all. It's earthy, beany, and spicy. Although there are multiple coconut ingredients in the product, I didn't taste much coconut at all.

It's actually a "product of India." I guess that makes it more authentic...? But also I'm not sure how we don't have the ingredients to make it in this country, or you know, at least in this hemisphere. For $2.29, it doesn't seem like the meal's cost has been influenced much by its trip around the globe. 

Score-wise, I think we're looking at something like double 3.5's.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Trader Joe's Roasted Garlic & Pesto Pizza with Deep Fried Crust

Having never been a Trader Joe's employee, I cannot confirm with absolute certainty if this would be the case or not, but as an avid shopper for years I can almost assuredly claim that it is: When checking out at the register, the employee running the register must absolutely see one product you're buying and exclaim "OMG have you ever had this? It's literally the best _____ I've ever had!"

Sure, maybe they're being super friendly brand ambassadors trying to make an easy natural conversation, but it's happened way too many times to be coincidence. Can any employee confirm? 

This is mentioned in reference to the new Trader Joe's Roasted Garlic & Pesto Pizza with Deep Fried Crust because while checking out, not just my cashier exclaimed this about this pizza, but two others I walked past as I was walking out. It kinda helps that they know who I am and want to say Hi and wondering what new thing I'm picking up for the blog...but when one of them, whose opinion you generally trust, exclaims "it's one of the best pizzas I ever had!", I follow with a clarifying question of "Pizza pizza or frozen pizza?" and she assuredly states "Pizza. Period.", well, it kinda gets a mind a-wanderin' and a tummy a-growlin'. 

The selling point here, obviously, is the crust. That makes sense. It's the single most important component of any pizza...by far. And I've heard  of deep fried pizza crust but have never actually had it, so I think this is a somewhat natural, unbiased opinion: the deep fried crust is amazing. I've grown so used to (and tired of) the usual frozen pizza cardboard crust that, to have something so light, so crispy outside, so soft and chewy inside (like chewing on a cumulus cloud) it was amazing. This...from a freezer box and my oven, with literally no effort on my part? Amazing! I love it!

However...

Making this only one time so far, I'm not sure if this is an everytime occurrence or not, but during baking the crust puffed up to deflated soccer ball size. Literally, I had a 5 inch tall pizza mound baking. Cheese and pesto slipped off, dropping to the oven floor, making the smoke alarm obnoxiously blare like some dumb kid with subwoofers driving down the street. Relatedly, the toppings also rearranged themselves, making them not quite as uniformly spread out as before. My lovely bride and I shared a pie, and we each only got about two, maybe three smallish bites of pesto on our portions. 

That's a shame, because it truly was the only downside to the deep-fried pizza. That classic pesto, beefed up with some cashews? Awesome, herbaceous, and lively. All four cheeses- burrata, mozzarella, provolone and parmigiano reggiano? All present and delicious, could use more of the reggiano, but then again I almost always think that. Plenty of good roasted garlic too, which coincidentally is our personal pizza topping of the month - we make homemade pizza almost every week and have ben plopping that atop our like mad. This stuff is great.

At $5.99 for a smallish pie, it's a good enough value. it says three servings per pizza, which sounds slim to me. Half a pizza and some veggies or side salad sounds like a much more appropriate dinner. And yeah, it's still frozen pizza, so there's much healthier things out there (looking at you, fat and sodium), but c'mon now. So happy with the pizza, it's definitely taken the crown of my favorite TJ's pizza. Still can't beat our homemade though. Double fours. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Roasted Garlic & Pesto Pizza with Deep Fried Crust: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons  


 

Monday, November 2, 2020

Trader Joe's Riced Cauliflower & Butternut Squash Risotto

Since Americans apparently like to "let their voices be heard" and stuff, I'm setting up a little referendum of my own. Voting is all the rage here in these United States as of late, so let's have a mock election for the president of the pantry...the culinary commander in chief...the premier of the palate. It's another Micropoll! Please vote down below.

Just assume that all variations of each answer are included under the broader category. For example, if you like "apple cider" or "apple cinnamon," you'd vote "apple." If you like "pumpkin pie" or "pumpkin spice," you'd simply vote "pumpkin." If your favorite fall flavor is something other than what I've included in this particular poll, then just leave a comment below.

In all honesty, I don't think butternut squash can keep up with those other choices, but hey, you never know. Likewise, Kanye West could be the next president of the United States. Wouldn't that be a trip? #BirthdayParty2020

In case that poll isn't displaying correctly on mobile, just click here to vote.


Fortunately, unlike American politics, we don't have to choose just one delicious flavor to consume all autumn long. We can indulge in all the many tasty treats fall has to offer. And I'm glad I got to try this unique "risotto" dish this year.

It's easy to prepare. Like most Trader Joe's products, the heating time went well over their estimation of 10 minutes in the pan. The frozen pellets of sauce had just barely melted at the 10 minute mark. I let it heat up a bit more and cooked off most of the liquid. The sauce eventually went from watery to creamy, if that makes sense. It was probably more like 15 minutes when all said and done, and it turned out pretty well. 

If anything, I think the riced cauliflower gets just a tad softer than the rice in regular risotto, but when consumed with the sauce and butternut squash, the consistency is very creamy and the overall effect is very pleasant, authentic, and similar to a traditional risotto dish. What can't they do with riced cauliflower?

The flavor here is subtle—it may be even verging on too subtle, as in...you know, kinda bland. It's a creamed veggie essence with delicate notes of garlic and cheese. There's earthy, planty, nutty flavors, and the light sweetness of butternut squash. We just wish the flavors were all just a tad stronger and richer. It tastes vaguely fall-ish, but I'd be happy to consume it any other time of year. Trader Joe's Riced Cauliflower and Butternut Squash Risotto isn't really a stand alone entree in my opinion, but it makes a great side dish for your choice of protein. We served ours with salmon and it paired perfectly.

$3.69 for the 16oz bag. We'd consider buying it again. Three and a half stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Trader Joe's Chicken Ginger Miso Soup

Got a meal rotation in your family?

We don't precisely...but we do have a fairly regimented meal concept rotation.

Monday is "breakfast for dinner" AKA "brinner" night. Wednesdays are "pack a dinner" night for the two hours of dance lessons we have the joy of being subjected to. Fridays are "jammie movie pizza night" and Sundays are generally leftover days. Conspicuously missing is Taco Tuesday, but tacos can work their way into all those themes easily anyways. Plus my kids are weird and don't like tacos. More for me. Shrug. 

As for Saturdays...now that it's officially crockpot season, it's gonna be Soup Saturday, and kicking us off, no crockpot required, is Trader Joe's Chicken Ginger Miso Soup. Hey sometimes we're low on groceries and have errands including a TJ's trip to do....skip leg day, but not Soup Saturday. 

Warming up on the stove, the aroma of the broth is nearly intoxicating with its promise of salty savoriness. That's the miso magic - who knew fermented soybeans could be so umami-fully delicious? Whoever invented that deserves a medal. But lay in a little lemongrass, gin up a little ground ginger, and boom! It takes off to another level. If this broth were sold separately as a warm sipper, I'd be all in. 

There's nothing wrong with the rest of the soup. There's ample pieces of white chicken that taste and feel just right, and all the veggies are that perfect not too firm/not mushy either. There's...just not quite enough of it. Interestingly, the chicken seems about right but the veggies feel skimped on. For instance, my lovely bride doesn't like mushrooms while i do, so she picked the maybe one or two max out of her bowl to give to me, which gave me like three total. Most of the soup seemed "empty" and was closer to that sipping broth than i would have liked right out of the package. It worked well for a lighter soup, but for something heartier, you may want to consider adding some rice noodles or something of the sort. 

Regardless, the soup tastes pretty great. It must be all that salt. It doesn't taste too salty, but it just is as part of the package deal with soups like these. You can find it in the refrigerated section for about $3 which makes this an easy, reliable, good option for Soup Saturdays or whenver the mood may hit. Double fours. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chicken Ginger Miso Soup: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Trader Joe's Grainless Cassava & Coconut Tortilla Chips and Trader Joe's Romesco Dip

Probably like a lot of you, a lot went by the wayside this year for us. Vacation? Nah. Day trips to Idlewild, our designated family happy space? Season pass went unused. Schools are still not back to "normal," whatever that means any more, and I spend at least half the week in pajamas because when you start work no later than 5am in your own basement, that's a perfectly acceptable dress code. As opposed to the one time on the weekend at the office, where wearing PJs with a couple work buddies raised some eyebrows but no HR complaints, thank goodness. 

It's been a weird year, to put it mildly. 

One traditional holdover, though, that has not quit nor will it ever is the idea of having a family "snacky dinner" as we call it. it's up there with our Friday night jammie/movie/pizza nights in terms of favorites. Simple enough - get some cold cuts, cheeses, olives, pickles, chips, dips, hummus, veggies, fruits, whatever and we all pick at whatever we want to do for dinner. Nobody has to eat anything they don't want to, as long as they hit the major food groups. It's terrific, and we're always on the look out for new/new-to-us components. 

So, while on a trip for snacky supplies and I saw Trader Joe's Grainless Cassava & Coconut Tortilla Chips and also Trader Joe's Romesco Dip, it was a no-brainer for something new to chew. 

Let's start with the chips. If anything, I'm impressed by how normal they are, as there seems like a lot going on from the bag's description. No grains. Cassava, which is kinda like a potato but not quite, and coconut, fried in avocado oil, with some white pepper and garlic. No flour. No corn. None of the "normal" comforts of a typical tortilla chip. But yet, in an eyes-closed test, they might almost pass as near-variant of a usual tortilla instead of a complete reinvention. The biggest difference, naturally, is the texture - a tad crunchier, a wee less crispier, and more of a dry to "sandy" feel to them. Without knowing too much different and if unaware of ingredients, I'd guess they might be baked, because there's much more that feel. The flavor by themselves isn't awful but not terrific either - there's just something about white pepper that makes things taste off to me. Maybe that's my lack of sophistication more than anything else. Regardless, the flavor quickly disappears when dipped into most anything if that's what you wanna do...

...and you just might wanna do it with the TJ's Romesco Dip. Granted, cassava chips likely aren't a traditional use of romesco - there's likely a Catalonian fisherman somewhere rolling his eyes - but that doesn't mean they can't be snacky buddies. This is some pretty dang good stuff. The base is mainly roasted red bell pepper and tomatoes which add a little sweetness but are tamed in by the olive oil/almond butter base, with some ground almonds in there to boot. The mouthfeel isn't offputting in the least - it's a bit soupier and softly grittier than hummus, but along those lines - but works exceptionally well. With some crushed chili pepper mixed in, there's the smidgiest smidge of heat, but the whole feel is warm, hearty, zesty and glowing, not spicy. Just...flavor. Lots of it. Lots and lots of yummy flavor, and it was an instant hit. I'm glad I got more than bite or two. 

Of course, there's plenty of ways to enjoy these chips and/or the dip. For the chippies, eat 'em plain if thats your thing, nab some nachos, grab some guac, swim 'em in salsa, whatever. It's a tortilla chip, it'll work. The romesco strikes me as very versatile - though I haven't tried it this way, I'd imagine with grilled fish or chicken, or with a little pasta, it'd be great! Always open to ideas you can leave in the comments as well.  

So yeah. Big thanks to TJ's for another snacky dinner success and a couple new usual snack time rotation members. The purchase price wasn't bad  on either but regretfully I once again misplaced the receipt. One of these times I'll actually remember to stick it to the fridge. Both will be repeat buys but as a fam we're all more ecstatic about the romesco dip as you'll see in our scores below. 

Bottom lines: Trader Joe's Grainless Cassava & Coconut Tortilla Chips: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons. Trader Joe's Romesco Dip: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons



 

Monday, October 5, 2020

Trader Joe's Turkey & Pumpkin Mole Burrito

I was actually exposed to mole (rhymes with olé) before I met Sonia. I had some co-workers that brought chicken in a mole sauce to a break room potluck lunch one time, and I loved it. I remember it had a nice peppery kick to it and it tasted rich, a little sweet, and a little nutty. There was something peanut butter-esque about it, and I asked what was in it. To my surprise, the base was actually peanut butter.

Since then, I've realized there are many different kinds of mole sauces, and people use everything from Mexican chocolate to almond butter as a base for it. There's red mole, mole poblano, mole verde...the list goes on and on. The one thing every mole I've ever tried had in common: they were bursting with rich flavor—that is, every mole I've ever had except this one.


The mole here was apparently pumpkin puree-based. I've got absolutely nothing against pumpkin puree, especially this time of year, but you can imagine expecting something with a chocolate or nut butter base and getting something with a veggie base was unanticipated, if not a little disappointing. There was a very mild amount of heat, but like 90% of Trader Joe's Mexican and Tex-Mex style foods, Sonia and I were both pining for much more kick.

That's not to say the overall flavor wasn't pleasant. The turkey pieces in this burrito were surprisingly plentiful, plump, and juicy. I found one or two specimens to be a tad on the gristly, chewy side, but those few bites were the exception rather than the rule. The combo of rice, beans, and sweet potato was nice, too, and the spice blend was appetizing, but it needed to be ratcheted up a notch or two or ten.


But our biggest complaint by far was the lack of richness in the mole sauce. This tasted like a diet mole sauce, for lack of any better or more universal comparisons off the top of my head. Sonia agrees, and her family is from Oaxaca, Mexico, and she's as close to a mole connoisseur as anyone I've ever met. I'm sure there were way fewer calories and less fat than in any other mole either Sonia or I have had, but we're heading into the colder months and we'll need that extra layer of fat to keep us warm anyway. 

It was an interesting idea with a lot of potential, but I doubt we'll re-purchase. It's not a bad burrito by any means, but it's not what we were hoping for in terms of mole. $3.99 for the single serving. Three stars from Sonia. Three and a half from me.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Trader Joe's Organic Spicy Pozole Verde

May 5, 1999, I was sitting in a now defunct Chi-Chi's restaurant in State College, PA with some friends and acquaintances after classes. We were celebrating Cinco de Mayo. I didn't know a lick of Spanish back then. "I wonder what Cinco de Mayo means..." I mused in my ignorance.

"Fifth of May," replied Stacy.

"I know when it is, but I mean what does the phrase 'Cinco de Mayo' literally mean?" I asked.

"Fifth of May," she persisted. "It's like Fourth of July for Mexicans."

My head exploded. "So it's the Mexican Independence Day? Whoa. I never knew that."

Many years later, I'd learn that it was not, in fact, the Mexican Independence Day. I'd also learn that the phrase "chi-chi's" is actually a slang term for "breasts" or "nipples" in Spanish. And here I thought it was a family restaurant. I always wondered what went on in that 21+ bar area.

The actual Mexican Independence Day is September 16, just over a week ago. There was a decisive battle against the French in Mexico on May 5, 1862, but the day they declared independence from Spain was actually September 16, 1810. I guess "Dieciséis de Septiembre" doesn't quite roll off a Yankee's tongue like "Cinco de Mayo."


At any rate, Mexican Independence Day is a good excuse to eat pozole, as are other special occasions like Christmas and New Year's. Sonia grew up with it. She explained that it usually takes a while to make, so it's often reserved for holidays and celebrations, not unlike tamales or menudo. It's usually served with pork or chicken, while Sonia grew up with a version with beef.

This variety is vegetarian—vegan, in fact, and doesn't suffer from want of meat, at least not in our opinions. There's a good bit of hominy and beans to give the soup a hearty texture. It's full of green chiles and onions, too. There's a nice, even, moderate spiciness in the mixture, as well. I'd put it at a 4 or 5 on the spice-o-meter, on a scale of 1 to 10.

Complaints: some of the onion slices are very long, spindly strands of onion that are a little difficult to eat. I found the plastic seal very difficult to remove and thought maybe the "onion" Sonia was finding was actually pieces of plastic that didn't stay attached to the rest of the covering. Upon further inspection, we determined that they were, in fact, pieces of onion. And I mean, we both love onions. Sonia also wanted more hominy. She's a big fan of the puffy kernels of corn. I don't know that I've had much hominy in my lifetime, but I really liked it here and wouldn't have minded a tad more of it.


The soup isn't much to look at. I think it resembles Eowyn's stew from Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers...minus the strand of hair. But hey, looks aren't everything.

You can put it in a pot and heat it on the stovetop or just puncture the plastic covering and put it in the microwave for 3 minutes. It's very easy to prepare. $3.99 for the 2.5 serving container—probably 2 servings in actual practice.

All things considered, this product gets a thumbs up from both a gringo who's never really had pozole before and a Latina who's been eating it her whole life. We're not vegan, but we're always happy when we find vegetarian and vegan products that have enough "meatiness" and flavor without the dead animals. Four and a half stars from Sonia. Three and a half stars from me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Trader Joe's Corn & Green Chile Pepper Quiche


I've been watching a bunch of 80's movies on Amazon Prime lately. What a weird decade. I mean, it was so carefree compared to today. Everything was loud and goofy, from music to clothing to hairstyles. It's such a stark contrast to 2020, which is why I've been finding it so refreshing to bask in all the gaudy glory of 1980's American cinema. Plus, there's not a lot I want to see in the way of new stuff right now, and it still costs $20 just to rent the third installment of Bill and Ted.

Also from the 80's: a book called Real Men Don't Eat Quiche. I mean, it's apparently satirizing the idea that certain things are more masculine to consume than others, but still...I must admit I don't know many dudes obsessed with quiche. In defense of my own masculinity: the three quiches I've reviewed on this blog represent more than half the quiche I've consumed in my entire lifetime. And so far, all of those specimens have fallen into a kind of "take it or leave it" status with me and the wifey.


As is standard for a quiche, this one's primarily made of eggs. I heated ours for 25 minutes in the oven rather than the microwave, and the insides came out surprisingly mushy, especially when one considers the outsides were extremely crispy. I know quiche should be soft, but I felt like the insides had an excess of moisture and the outsides were, if anything, a little too dry. 

Sonia pointed out that there was a decided lack of veggies, corn in particular, in the filling. We were expecting a whole bunch of corn kernels as well as more substantial chunks of chile, too. I guess we were pining for a sort of savory corn and veggie pie rather than a quiche.

Flavor-wise, it's eggy and quichey—not overly salty, sweet, or cheesy. It begs for a little help, honestly. Some salsa and/or hot sauce is definitely in order here. We had no trouble finishing it, but for two thirds of your daily saturated fat and 98% of your cholesterol, I was hoping for just a tad more piquancy. More green chile peppers would have unquestionably made it more memorable for Sonia and me.

$4.99 for the 9 oz quiche. Probably not a repeat purchase for us. Three stars a piece.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Trader Joe's Lemony Arugula Basil Salad Kit

Let's see here...

Arugula? Check.

Shaved carrot chips? Alright.

Crushed almonds? Ok.

Shredded Parmesan cheese? Yup.

What do all of these have in common, aside from being the base of the new Trader Joe's Lemony Arugula Basil Salad Kit?

A couple things, really, that are pertinent here. First, there's pretty literally nothing I can say about any of them. These ingredients, presuming they are fresh, are darn near impossible to mess up, and nearly as difficult to stand out in any way, shape or form. I mean, I suppose an exceptionally good Parmesan could, but when's the last time you had a noteworthy bite of straight up plain ol' arugula. I'll take the under on "never." So we're not gonna talk about them, because the second thing they have in common is I can almost guarantee that not a single of those ingredients is the reason why anyone would buy this salad. Nothing exotic. No fancy fixings. No nothin', really.

Nah, it's all about that basil lemon vinaigrette.

C'mon now, that just sounds good, doesn't it? Sounds light and fresh and summery and just perfect to drizzle atop on otherwise uninspiring heap of greens and stuff. If you're like me and like to see what's in something before eating it, you'll notice a lot of funky ingredients, too - lemon and basil, sure, but also white grape juice, honey, garlic, cayenne, turmeric, white wine, and so on. Sounds intriguing, and visually, if I didn't know what it was, I'd think it'd be a slightly soupy avocado dressing kinda deal.

Take a bite of the salad without it? Meh. Get some mixed in. Even just a light coat changes that to an "ooo." It's surprisingly light with it's medium-ish consistency, bright, and helps lighten up everything. There's the lemon hit, yet with it there's a taste of almost everything else, so there's a wee bit of complexity going on. If you're concerned about spice level because of that aforementioned cayenne, worry not - it's there but only slight, just enough to give the smallest hint of an edge but not much more. I mean, my kids devoured it, so it can't be that bad. It even made mouthfuls of arugula sound like an appetizing idea. Nothing against arugula per se, as it is a fine leafy green, and certainly above regular ol' iceberg lettuce, but it's definitely lower than spinach and kale in the cruciferous power rankings.

Yeah, yet another TJ salad where I'd imagine most of us wish they'd just sell the dressing separately.

Life gives you lemons, so make lemonade. Or you can make lobster. Or maybe now you can say a basil lemon vinaigrette for a side salad. Oooh all that sounds like a tasty dinner. Good stuff, good salad, good value at $2.99 for a large bag.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Lemony Arugula Basil Salad Kit: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Trader Joe's Pappa al Pomodoro


Well, we know that in the last days a loaf of bread will cost a day's wage. When that day comes, it's time to go Mad Max on your neighbors to obtain some at any cost, because this stuff turns ordinary slices of white or wheat into scrumptious tangy tomatoey sourdoughy delights.

Just kidding about going Mad Max on your neighbors. We need to stick together now more than ever. But you should totally get down on your knees and beg them for a slice of bread if you don't have any, because it pairs really, really well with this stuff.

At first, I thought the box might contain a few pieces of bread or breadsticks, because look, right there adjacent to the soup...is a delicious-looking breadstick. But then I looked closer, and sure enough it says "serving suggestion" in the upper left-hand corner. But then I read the ingredients. Look! "Sourdough bread" is right there on the list right after "vegetable broth." I was overjoyed...until I opened the box several seconds later only to be crestfallen by the lack of sourdough breadsticks.


Maybe Italian folks already know this, but apparently pappa al pomodoro is a soup that's made with bread. I had no idea. What a weird concept.

But it's a darn good one.

After heating the product on the stovetop and pouring it into a bowl, Sonia and I sampled the soup by itself. It was very thick, tangy, tomatoey, and had just enough basil to balance the other flavors. I dipped a slice of semi-stale wheat bread into it.

Man, I don't know if I was just really hungry or what, but that was the best piece of bread I've eaten in a long time. The sourdough in the pappa al pomodoro seemed to magically transform my cheap, old bread into a scrumptious sourdough breadstick with an amazing Italian pasta sauce. We finished the bowl in short order, alternating bites of bread with spoonfuls of soup. Sonia was even more impressed than I was.

This fantastic pappa al pomodoro would work well as a pasta sauce, a pizza sauce, or as a stand-alone soup. $3.69 for two 9oz pouches. We like that it comes frozen and you can save it as long as you need to. We think this will be a repeat purchase. 

Perfect five from Sonia. I just wish it came with a couple little breadsticks. Four and a half from me.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Trader Joe's Battered Halibut

Any other year, right around now, the most happenin' spots in Western PA on a Friday night are at the local Catholic church, school, or fire hall.

That's right, grab your pierogi tight and hold hope for haluski, we're talking fish fry dinners!

It's the best around here. So much fried fish, so little time. They're all over the place, with fillets so big it's questionable if it came from a regular fish or humpback whale. Mobbed with people, with long lines....

...so yeah, those ain't going on this year any more. We got to one, first Friday a few weeks back. See ya next year, we hope.

Doesn't mean you can't have a little consolation while hunkering down in fish fry-solation.

Is making a batch of Trader Joe's Battered Halibut the same as whatever Lenten sorcery that makes fish fry fish so good? No, of course not. There's certainly not the same ambiance, unless you happen to have a stash of cheap faded plastic lunch trays from the 1980s stashed at your house. Those definitely help.

But you know what? It's darn good fish. My lovely bride and I snagged a couple boxes for our at-home fish fry for our crew. Coulda baked them. Coulda put them in air fryer and baked the fries...or air fry the fries, and deep fry fish on our own in my trusty cast iron. Sacrifice tastes best when deep fried, so that's exactly what we did. If the Good Lord wants our hearts, He may as well have our arteries as well.

There's much good to be had here. Love the batter - it's neither too much with too many crunchies a la KFC chicken, nor too skimpy. It's just right, and crisps up nicely and evenly when fried, in a warm, happy glow. Tastes great too...and gluten free! Corn and rice flour, apparently. Whatever, it works, and works great.

The fish is pretty tasty too. The halibut is mild and fresh, and plenty fleshy. Admittedly there's not much flavor in the fish itself, as it seems mostly derived from the batter. That's no matter, it works really well, or can easily stand up to having a little hot sauce, or tartar, or squeeze of lemon, or whatever.

In other words, these halibut fillets are a perfectly good substitute for an at-home fish feast, and as bonus, there's no priest around asking for donations for the school AC that's been broke since 1975. No 50/50s either though.

And of course it should go without saying that you don't have to enjoy them the way we did. Fish 'n chips? Baked? Just eat 'em without thinking about 'em too much? Sure thing to all that and more!

There's seven fillets per box, each being probably four to five large bites, and a serving considered two fillets. At $8.99 for the halibut, it's not exactly cheap but enough for 3 folks, and the average fish fry dinner costs at least that much each, so for us there's some value there. In a rare move, it got a thumbs up from everyone in our little family. Nothing wrong with a little comfort in some trying times. Life is better when you focus on what you have and not on what you don't. Thanks for getting our backs, TJ's.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Battered Halibut: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Trader Joe's Kung Pao Chicken Mochi Balls

I've said before I'm an eater, not a foodie. This means I'm not necessarily all that well educated in different food terms. Longtime readers of this blog probably know that already.

So...mochi?

As far as I knew, mochi was only a term for ice cream treats! You know what I mean - those little rice dough covered balls of frozen deliciousness. A little chewy and odd on the outside, creamy and delicious in the middle, and once accustomed to them they make an awesome snack. That's all what I ever knew mochi to be without ever having much reason to look into it further. I knew I liked mochi already.

So imagine my initial reaction when I heard of the new Trader Joe's Kung Pao Chicken Mochi Balls.

Intriguing? Yes! But...how are they gonna incorporate ice cream into that?

Obviously, there's no ice cream here. Mochi is just a general term, more or less, for the rice dough balls which can be served in a variety of ways. TIL.

But anyways on to the mochi - oh goodness.

I can say that in relation to a lot of different factors here. That rice dough? It's a marvel, especially when cooked in an air fryer! Dry, dusty, crusty on the the outer shell, but that's just so, so shallow a layer that somehow hold plenty of crisp with a little crunch. The flip side (the innards) is completely different - wet, doughy, moist. Yes, I hate that word too. But it all suggest a slight bit of almost sauciness - that's the wrong word, but I don't know what else to use - when interacting with the rest of the set up. More on that coming up next paragraph. But really, for so thin a shell, the mochi is AMAZING with two very different, very enjoyable experiences. I'd suggest to maximize it use an air fryer instead of oven if you have it - about 10 minutes at 400 made 'em just right.

And the filling? Wow. It's HOT.

As in spicy? Yes. Kung pao usually has a couple heat notches. All the spices and peppers and whatnot combine into a pretty potent punch. It won't be the spiciest thing you'll ever eat, but I don't feel as though they're for the faint of tongue, either.  Despite that, I can still taste the chicken and garlic too. I love when spice enhances and doesn't overpower other foods, and that seems the case here.

But it's also HOT in the physical sense. As in, not cold. Those mochi shells hold some heat! I cracked one open and tried to let it cool for a few minutes before eating - still burned my tongue a little. Have a glass of water nearby, or prepare to let us sit and cool for quite some time.

I love 'em. My only complaint is I wish there was a bit more filling as the package picture implies - however I'm glad it's also not that magenta glow either. So there's that. The kung pao mochi has a fair price point too I'd say - it's $3.49 for a pack of eight golf ball sized dumplin's. My lovely bride enjoys them too, and they ought to be in the regular Asian-inspired dinner rotation. 4.5 from me and a solid 4 from her.

Save the ice cream for after!

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Kung Pao Chicken Mochi Balls: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, March 13, 2020

Trader Joe's Mandarin Style Orange Chicken Bowl


While Sonia and I were on the road, traveling almost every day sometimes for weeks on end, we'd often take advantage of Walmart parking lots for quick overnight stops. Most locations welcomed RVers with open arms for up to 24 hours. Many were adjacent to strip malls, mini malls, and occasionally classic indoor malls. And, of course, many of these malls had a Panda Express as part of their lineup of eateries and shops. 

At this point I should mention I've been referring to Panda Express as "Poison Panda" since college. No, I'm not racist against Asians. I have cute little nicknames for every fast food chain including Toxic Bell, Booger King, Pizza Butt, and Jack in the Crack. Anyway, the point I was trying to make is that, perhaps part of some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, not once but twice, Sonia and I fell ill after eating Poison Panda on the road. We had running water in our RV, but for those of you familiar with RVing, it's very limited. You can't take 30 minute long showers, use a gallon of water for each flush, and run the sink the whole time you brush your teeth. You have to dump your tanks and refill your fresh water often unless you're extremely frugal with your usage. All that to say, if you're sick in an RV, it's not fun, and I'm not a fan of Panda since. Maybe I should just stop calling them "Poison Panda," and I'll have better luck. Law of Attraction and all that.


Fortunately, now I can get my orange chicken fix without going to a restaurant. Yes, I know there are decent orange chicken offerings that come frozen in bags and can be made on the skillet, but if you're pressed for time or want a decent break room lunch-at-work type of deal, this selection is quite satisfying.

Prep is simple. 4-5 minutes in microwave, thaw sauce in warm water, mix, serve. It's pretty close to restaurant quality as far as taste, but it's pert near impossible to make any kind of breaded chicken come out perfectly in the microwave. It's on par with Poison Panda orange chicken after you reheat the leftovers. I was surprised how much food there was in the bowl. It was actually filled to the brim. Maybe it's because we eat way less meat these days, but we were also impressed with the plentiful amounts of chicken in the mix. I might ask for more carrots, peas, and broccoli in place of some of the rice, but it was still a decent ratio as it was.

The included orange ginger sauce alone is adequate as far as condiments are concerned. I wouldn't have minded a tad more of it, but there's enough in the packet to coat the pieces of chicken and even some of the veggies and rice. You could throw in some soy sauce or sriracha if you were so inclined. I added a clove of raw garlic to mine, because I LOVE me some garlic and it has tons of health benefits. Also, I hate vampires. Go Team Jacob.

$3.99 for the bowl. Four and a half stars from Sonia. Four from me.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Pizza Dough

So, what kinda pizza crust do you prefer?

Thin, airy, crispy, and crackery? Delicious.

That thin but incredibly flexible New York style, that somehow hold everything together though it defies logic? Noooommmmm.

Deep dish, with some burned edges, with a required tenacity to chew and chomp? Thinking about you, Chicago and Detroit. Oh goodness yes.

That typical cardboard stuff for half the freezer pizzas out there? Yeah, not so much.

My preference? When I was young, I asked my grandma which grandkid was her favorite. She simply replied "Whichever one I'm looking at." Similarly, my favorite pizza crust is generally the one I am eating, unless it's one of those aformentioned frozen pies that I wish were something else.

Well, the other night, for the first time and at the urging of the good peeps at the North Hills/McCandless Crossing (Pittsburgh) store, I had Trader Joe's Gluten Free Pizza Dough.

As you can see by the second photo, my lovely bride and I cheated a bit by making breadsticks with the dough to go alongside oour pasta dinner. Mmm, carbs with carbs. It's a successful enough business model for both Olive Garden and Panera, so don't judge.

Still...surprisingly, it worked. Texture and moutfeel is huge for dough, and gluten free stuff can miss the mark. Not so much here, on one condition: if you can be open to slightly chewy dough. That'd be the best word. Nah, it wasn't quite rubbery, and the edges that got hit with a little extra EVOO did get a litle toasty and crunchy, but really, the main feel was chewy, in a way that worked.

Other than that, this TJ's gluten free dough didn't particularly stand out in any way. That's kinda compliment, in its own way. The taste seemed right on, enough that I wouldn't have necessarily guess gluten free if I didn't know it was. Plain yet comforting. I like it.

The main ingedients are tapioca and rice. Well, that explains the chewiness a bit. A bit plain, for sure - a litlte rosemary or herb wouldn't be uncalled for, but not everyone likes that kinda deal either. The dough was simple enough to work with as well - it took a bit to flatten down and I have my doubts whether or not it's make a full 12 inch circle like the directions say it will. However, I didn't allow for ther full 30 minute warm to room temp time either, cuz man, on weeknights, who's got THAT kinda time? I sure don't.

Good dough, and good call from the peeps at my favorite TJ's. Overall I like this dough much better than the cauliflower crust kinda dealie TJ has. I'm not sure I could make it my everytime go-to pizza dough, but it can be in the rotation for sure. Double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Gluten Free Pizza Dough: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Trader Giotto's Gnocchi al Gorgonzola


Unfortunately, I've never had the pleasure of trying gnocchi from an Italian restaurant. Maggiano's, Buca di Beppo, Olive Garden—been to them all numerous times and I'm not even sure if they sell gnocchi, honestly. Probably better off trying it from a mom and pop's place rather than any of those chains, anyway. I would have sampled it long ago if someone would have drawn my attention to it. 

But as far as I can recollect, the only gnocchi I've ever had has been from Trader Joe's. Frozen grocery store fare is the extent of my experiential knowledge of the subject. To wit, I'm no expert. Sonia's got a slightly better reference point since she's had a gnocchi dish or two in some elegant Los Angeles eatery, the name of which escapes her, before we ever met.


At this fine, nameless Italian establishment, she recalls the gnocchi being "puffy," "fluffy," and nearly "airy." She thinks it tasted and felt primarily potato-based, possibly with some egg. The pasta here, while it does contain potato, is doughy, dense, and slightly chewy. The primary ingredient is durum wheat semolina. It's not unappetizing by any means. It's certainly not "rubbery"—nor would we use the word "gummy." Chewy? Yes. A little.

In my relative ignorance, I happily chomped away on the dish, thinking the texture was just fine. It wasn't hard to overlook its imperfections, because the cheese sauce stole the show. It wasn't an intense flavor, but it was complex, creamy, and savory. If you like fancy Italian cheeses, this easy-to-prepare pasta dish is worth a looksee just to sample a bit of this gourmet gorgonzola.

If only because of my subliminal repulsion to fungi, I probably would have enjoyed the cheese significantly less had I been cognizant of the fact that gorgonzola is a type of "blue cheese," i.e., it's made with veins of blue-green mold growing through it. There's no indication of its mold-factor when looking at the odd, angular chunks of frozen cheese that come in this bag. They're just a solid, creamy off-white. 

Since the cover art on the packaging does approximate the actual look of the final product—minus those weird dark flecks of god-knows-what on top, I opted to show you what it looks like straight out of the freezer. Those big bricks melt and seamlessly coat each piece of gnocchi by the end of the preparation process.

Tasty cheese. Pasta that doesn't exactly melt in the mouth. Super easy prep. $2.99. We're looking at about four stars from me on Trader Giotto's Gnocchi al Gorgonzola. Put Sonia down for three and a half.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Trader Joe's Limone Alfredo Sauce

Ay yi yi.

A couple weeks ago, my lovely bride was mildly displeased with me. There could be any multitude of reasons why, but this one stuck out to me: on a busy night, she quickly roasted some veggies (Brussel spouts or green beans or something, doesn't matter) and sprinkled some garlic salt atop. She then mentioned how good they tasted. I, before tasting them, wished to put some Asian crushed chilis on my portion for a treat. This notion was somewhat offputting to her as I "didn't even taste" her "creation" before dumping whatever I felt like on it. Mmmkay. Disney version of what happened next: I deferred, as perhaps there's not some battles really worth waging...right dear? I love you.

Fastforward to late last week, when on another busy night, I made some quick chicken alfredo using the newish Trader Joe's Limone Alfredo Sauce. Just the sauce, some penne, and chicken. Sure, it was nothing fancy, but a creation of some sort nonetheless, plus as a targeted review item I wanted to have an honest opinion of the unaltered product....

What does my lovely bride do? Before tasting, she sprinkles some black pepper atop hers. I noticed and said nothing, but brought it up before writing this review. "It's because I know I like pepper on my alfredo," she said. Well...okay.

I'd give her a harder time about it, but man, that was a good idea. The Limone Alredo sauce (can I just call it "lemon alfredo" from here on out?) was a pretty great little sauce. Good stuff. Creamy and cheesy, rich with parmesan reggiano, with a little twist of lemon just to brighten everything up without going too tart or sour, well balanced...but it just needed a little extra something. And lo and behold, a little sprinkle of black pepper would be just about right. My wife is pretty smart and intuitive.

Alfredo sauce, in general, isn't a big deal with me. I can be either way, but this TJ's lemon-tinged one definitely strikes me as a good one, and is much preferable over a plain one. For my noods I'd rather go with a good marinara or a lighter melt some butter/sprinkle some cheese approach, but I can swayed to this again. I'd imagine it'd work well in any variety of alfredo-inspired dishes, with various proteins and veggies and whatnot. I'd love to slather some on some zucchini, in fact, but that'll be a next time kinda deal.

With her expert insight and addition, Sandy gives this sauce a solid 4.5, and only that because she, in her own words, "rarely gives anything a 5." Good deal. I can't say I'm as huge a fan, but maybe if I put some of those Asian crushed chilis on it...I kid, I kid. I'll do a 3.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Limone Alfredo Sauce: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons


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