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Showing posts with label pork. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pork. Show all posts

Monday, May 13, 2024

Trader Giotto's Family Style Meat Lasagna

"This tastes just like Stouffer's lasagna, back when Stouffer's was actually good," remarked Sonia. And although I can't remember if I ever had Stouffer's frozen lasagna in the 80s or 90s, I can kinda guess what the beautiful wifey's talking about. This tastes like really good institutional type lasagna. Think: top-notch college dining commons or expensive prep school cafeteria or maybe even all-you-can-eat Vegas casino buffet on a day when the new line cook who really cares about his job is running the show back in the kitchen.

The only thing better is homemade. Or maybe like a decent mom and pop's Italian restaurant could outdo this Trader Joe's selection, but I mean, it's not really fair to compare this with something some super Italian grandma makes for her loved ones. Not that we're experts, but we'd both probably say it's among the best frozen lasagna we've ever had.

I wish there were more ricotta cheese and more garlic flavor. But there's plenty of pasta sheets and tomato sauce. A lot of folks might say there's not enough meat in this product, but Sonia and I were fine with the amount in the sauce. We wish it were only beef rather than beef and pork, but that's probably not an issue for most folks unless they're kosher or halal.

$6.99 for a huge amount of tasty lasagna. Would possibly buy again, and would definitely try an all-beef version. Product of Canada. Shout out to Trader Guido...I mean Trader Giotto. We've missed you. Nathan's score: 7/10. Sonia's score: 8/10.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Trader Joe's Carnitas with Salsa Verde Burrito

Confession time: I was thinking this was a beef burrito when I bought it. You'd think being married to a Latina, I'd know enough Spanish by now to not make that mistake. I've been learning to hablo the espaƱol for the past 14 years. I use the Duolingo app now. I have a 932-day streak going, for crying out loud. That means I've studied Spanish for at least 10 minutes a day for 932 days straight!

But here's the thing: in Spanish, "meat" is carne. The most common example is "carne asada," which literally means "grilled meat." It's always beef. Logically, "carnitas" means "little meats" and would just be teeny tiny beef cutlets, right? Nope. Carnitas is pork. I mean, it says it's pork right on the label, but...well, I'm an idiot, and not at all a real foodie.

Sonia and I avoid pork for the most part. I'd get into the reasons, but that would be a whole other can of worms. We're generally not dogmatic about it. It's just not our thing.

Ironically, the pork was by far the best part of this burrito. I mean, it wasn't spicy, which was disappointing. It was flavorful, but not hot. The tender texture and savory taste of the meat was the only saving grace of this product in my opinion.

Salsa verde? There was salsa in this thing? Neither of us saw or tasted anything even remotely resembling salsa verde here. We added our own salsa verde and it did blend quite nicely.

Likewise, neither Sonia nor I tasted or saw any evidence of cilantro, lime, or pepper jack cheese in our burrito. I'm not saying it wasn't there. I'm just saying if it was there, there was so little of it, it was virtually undetectable. We both just got tortilla—which is pretty run-of-the-mill for a Trader Joe's burrito—and pork, rice, and beans.

All in all, the flavor was good but not great. If the heat, cheese, and cilantro lime had shown up the way I'd hoped they would, I might have been able to recommend this wholeheartedly to pork lovers. We opted for 35 minutes in the conventional oven at 350° for a "crisp" tortilla. $3.99 for the burrito. As is, I think we're looking at about two and a half stars from Sonia, three and a half from me on Trader Joe's Carnitas with Salsa Verde Burrito.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Trader Joe's Brussels Sprouts & Uncured Bacon Ravioli


There's nary a veggie our family doesn't love. Our twice a week Costco bill surely validates that. The only veggie I remain fairly wary of would be a kohlrabi, just because it looks too much like something I should yank from the ground and toss at a Shy Guy or Ostro a la Super Mario 2....that game frustrated me too much as a kid, and even in recent years, trying to show my kids how "awesome" it was. I don't need memories of my 8 bit trauma on my dinner plate. 

But yeah, even Brussels sprouts make the cut here. Love 'em in all varieties of ways, but mixin' 'em with bacon makes 'em even better. So, totes obvi, Trader Joe's Brussels Sprouts & Uncured Bacon Ravioli was a must get once they popped up in store. 

You gotta really like bacon to like these pasta creations. Yes, the ravioli is green as it has some spinach powder added to try to amp up the sprout factor. Maybe it's supposed to look like some sort of cruciferous concoction. But really....take a bite. It's bacon! So much of it, all ground up and mixed in with some not too chunky Brussels, and a smattering of cheese sauce-ish base. The package also says caramelized onions, and yeah, if I tried hard enough, I could kinda taste them...but mostly, it was bacon and soft cheese with only the occasional fibrous lil chunkie that suggested vegetative content. 

In other words, you're gonna want some veggies on the side here, folks. 

Nonetheless, it was a quick, tasty, fun meal. All we did was boil them up which took no time as they're sold fresh, then we added a little oil. The kids sprinkled (or in the case of our seven year old, totally cakked them) with Parmesan cheese, whereas I was pretty content to eat them as is. The ravioli would probably do okay with a variety of sauces, but perhaps a lighter one would be suggested - I feel as though some taste would get lost in something too creamy, too heavy or too rich. 

$3.99 for a package that yield two pretty ample servings. That seems about right, with prices what they are these days.  Two packages were more than enough four crew. These will be a staple for a quick, easy, fairly delish family meal this fall. Double fours here. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Brussels Sprouts & Uncured Bacon Ravioli: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Trader Joe's Kalua Pork Spring Rolls

Yes, dear, I left the air fryer on the counter.

I know we've been trying hard to do better about keeping everything cleaner and uncluttered. And I know that, on first impression, it makes no sense to have the air fryer out as we just had the crockpot there after that delicious lasagna you made last night. I put that....mostly away before getting out the air fryer. The crock still needs to be cleaned fully and is soaking in the kitchen sink if I recall correctly. 

So here's why the air fryer is out...I needed to write a review of the new Trader Joe's Kalua Pork Spring Rolls.

Yes, I know, we ate them as a part of lunch the other day, and we both generally liked them. But, I kinda forgot what they tasted like, so this morning, before you awoke, to try and write the review, I made and ate one at like 5am. Hence the airfryer out, it needs to be cleaned, I'll take care of it, and don't worry, there's still some spring rolls for you too. I hope all that satisfies you. 

Remember how good these are, though? I mean, as far as greasy, delicious comfort, it's tough to beat a good spring roll at times. Especially when it's full of soft, tasty pulled pork, and mixed in with glass noodles and the usual veggie suspects like carrots, green onions and cabbage. The noodles have just a touch of that mung bean taste to add a little sly funk, and of course there's pretty ample soy sauce to help tie everything together. The garlic and black pepper on top on all that...chef's kiss. 

That and I'm not sure how I forgot about the hickory smoke taste. It's...kinda the dividing line on the product. On one hand, it's a nice added touch and is definitely, unmistakably present in every bite. But, it's definitely an added flavor, as in, the pork itself wasn't hickory smoked (which would have been delicious) but is instead an added smoke flavor. As a result, long after the spirng roll is down the hatch, that smokey taste lingers on. Granted, it's not overkill like way too many liquid smoke-infused foods that made me more or elss swear them off and only go for actual smoked stuff ten times out of ten, but still. It's done well enough that I'll sign off on them, but I'd still opt for actually smoked meat, not meat splashed with "natural hickory smoke flavor."

Anyways, love, I'll get to that airfryer on my coffee break, and next time we go to TJ's if you want more of these I won't complain. They were what, $3ish a box for four rolls for us to share? Meanwhile if served these at a restaurant they'd be at least twice as much and justifiably so. Worthy of another go, I'd say, and I think you'd say the same. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Kalua Pork Spring Rolls: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Trader Joe's Steamed Pork & Ginger Soup Dumplings


What brings you comfort?

There's a lot of ways to answer this, of course, and there's even a few ways I can answer this right at the time of writing. I'm sipping on a cold beer, which almost always seems right, and listening to a Facebook Live concert from the lead singer of my favorite local band, called Good Brother Earl. I think I first saw them back in about 2003 or 2004 and, no lie, a few hundred times. Helps they used to play at the Pittsburgh Rock Bottom on Wednesday nights, no cover, with $2 beers and half price appetizers. Since corporate pulled the plug on their shows about 7 years ago, after at least a five year run, I haven't been back.

But anyways, through the many stages and changes in my life over the past 15-plus years, their music has been a constant. Jeff, the singer, has been a good friend as well. And in these times, I'm thankful that he and his band's music is continuing to be that constant that they have been.

Long, not entirely connected lead up to a review about the new Trader Joe's Steamed Pork & Ginger Soup Dumplings, eh? Sorry, couldn't think of much better. It's that beer I'm telling you.

But food brings comfort, right? And what's more comfort-in-edible form than a warm soup dumpling? I can't think of much.  So there ya go.

Find 'em in the freezer section, bring 'em home, steam 'em up, chow 'em down. These dumplings are pretty darn good. There's the soft, typical noodle shell holding the whole thing together. Inside, of course, is a light broth and the pork/ginger/whatever else filling. The meat itself is mild, soft and a bit crumbly, like a meatball bent on falling apart. That's not a bad thing. There's not more than a mildly aggressive hit of ginger - there's nothing near the searing bite ginger is capable of. It's more a soft warmth feel, and is complemented nicely by a little soy and garlic.

It'd be great if it ended there. But nah.

Instead, right at the end, this sweetness kicks in. At first I thought maybe it was some soy sauce trickery, but no. It's too cloying. It's got to be added sugar. Why would you add sugar to this? Makes no sense to me, not with flavor profile. We're going for savory here. Why sugar? Can't be sugar. Nah. Let's just go check the ingredients, I'm making this up...

Nope. Added sugar. As confirmed by the ingredient list and nutrition label. WHY???

Fortunately all the good flavor business in the front makes up pretty well for the lame wannabe sweet party in the back, but still, it's a knock. Would be much better without IMHO.

Otherwise, great dumplings, bordering on being down right umamilicious. That's not a word but it shoukd be. Umami + delicious = umamilicious. Say it aloud. It's fun. There's absolutely a comfort element at work, and in these times that's not a bad thing at all. My lovely bride, our squad of shorties and I all enjoyed them pretty well, and will likely pick up again soon, even with my faint quibbles.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Steamed Pork & Ginger Soup Dumplings: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, December 21, 2018

Trader Joe's Chianti Red Wine Artisan Salami

Excuse us please. We've been drowning in cookies.

Sandy and I got cookies like Scrooge McDuck got coins. We've been swimming in them after a recent holiday cookie potluck we hosted...and there's no end in sight with family coming in next week for Christmas. My mom can't stand the thought of anyone not having a 55 gallon drum full of at least three of their favorite cookies.

So even though TJ's typically shines this year for all sorts of holiday goodies, we've avoided the super Christmassy sugary stuff out there. our bad. A lot seems to be recycled from years past, so almost undoubtedly we've covered if you did a search here.

So how about another kinda treat you might see at a holiday Trader Joe's Chianti Red Wine Artisan Salami.

Gimli said it best, really. Salted pork. So tough to beat. And there's something to be said for a good quality salami, with bonus points for not having to behead any urakhai to get some.

I'd classify the TJ's red wine salami as such. "Artisan" might be more embellished marketing than actual fact, but no matter. The meat is how one may expect - a little greasy, a little gristly, with the pepperoni-esque collagen wrapper to remove before eating. The taste really is almost equal parts smoky and salty, with a little sweetness coming from roasted garlic and/or the red wine powder. The red wine is definitely noticeable and pleasant, and lends almost a certain "lightness" to the overall flavor.

For myself, I appreciated the overall softer bite. Not to say the meat isn't firm - it certainly is. But other similar meats I feel are more gnaw than chew, and that's not the case here. It helps it all go down a little easier.

And as I can presently (as of time of writing) attest to, the salmai pais well with a little bourbon. But put it on a cracker, get a sharp cheddar or smoked gouda...that'd be good. Really good. Holiday charcuterie board worthy good. And naturally, as it is a wine-based product, some adult-style grape juice just might work with it too.

One more pop culture reference, as I can't think of how else to work it in but I must: one of my favorite Family Guy moments ever.

At least be thankful I didn't try to make a "Red Red Wine" parody...I came up with a few lines but it started sounding way too suggestive in a route I did not wish to take way too quickly.

 But yes, red red wine can make a meat so fine. Who knew? And at a respectable $4.99 price tag as well. Double fours from the wife and me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chianti Red Wine Artisan Salami: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Trader Joe's Uncured Ham & Swiss Cheese Flaky Croissant Dough Squares

"I'm a simple man. I like pretty, dark-haired women and breakfast food."

I'll admit to have never having watched a minute of Parks & Recreation. Who has the time to watch TV? I barely do - pretty much only in cases of new seasons of Stranger Things coming out. I mean, it's been a good five years that Sandy and I have sworn we'd get caught up on Dr. Who - hasn't happened. TV room in our thrid floor attic is way too hot in the summer.

But that quote up top, from Ron Swanson, is quite a good one. I agree wholeheartedly. I think I'd like him quite a bit - maybe not as much as breakfast for dinner, and definitely not as much as bacon, and absolutely not as much as bacon for dinner - and maybe one day I'll finally plop down and see what all the fuss is.

Until then, for dinner, we had Trader Joe's Uncured Ham & Swiss Cheese Flaky Croissant Dough Squares.

Here's one breakfast food that decidedly ought to stay at breakfast. It's not that these ham and cheese dough squares aren't any good. They're certainly pretty tasty. There's four per box which bake for about 15 to 20 minutes in the oven, and as one would expect from a croissant-inspired pastry of sorts, they get all light and flaky and crispy and a little greasy. There's such a satisfying bite to a good croissant, and that's what we get here, even if in dough square form. The melted Swiss cheese adds a lot of slightly salty, greasy comfort vibe, while the bits of cubed ham taste actually more sweet than salty, but they work well with the rest of the dish.

I think they'd work great for a light breakfast, alongside some coffee and some fruit. There's enough here to have you get up and go. But as dinner? Nah. Too light, I'd say. It's not the croissants' fault - I mean, they are what they are and it shouldn't have been too surprising - but if I had a voracious enough of an appetite, I probably could eaten the whole box. As it was, I was sneaking bites from my kids, who were surprisingly slow at chowing them down despite their proclamations of loving these ham, and cheese squares. My three year old wants to give them 21 Golden Spoons despite struggling to eat half of hers.

Also, the name...doesn't it strike you as a little goofy? "Flaky Croissant Dough Squares." I mean, it's a proper description...but I'd go with something else, maybe like "Open Faced Croissants" or something along those lines.

In all, these TJ's ham and cheese squares are certainly decent, to almost pretty darn good. There's nothing utterly spectacular to them, and I'd say that maybe they're missing a small something, like a little spinach or a fancier cheese or a small flavor sprinkle of some type. But for a good, solid, kinda basic croissant-type deal? Not a bad deal at all for about $3.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Uncured Ham & Swiss Cheese Flaky Croissant Dough Squares: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons  

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Trader Joe's Boneless, Stuffed Pork Chops with Apple Almond Stuffing

"Impulse meat."

Yeah, those are some quasi-cringe worthy words...but that's exactly what Sandy and I had on our shopping list for TJ's the other night. What it meant was, we didn't want to dip once more into our Costco sausage stockpile or have chicken again or anything too ho-hum. Nah, we wanted something that looked good and sounded tasty and not in our normal rotation, something that our not-terribly-carnivorous would probably eat without much complaint. Something we could all enjoy.

Something, apparently, like Trader Joe's Boneless, Stuffed Pork Chops with Apple Almond Stuffing. Spotted. Acquired. Prepared. Consumed. Mmmm, impulse meat. At risk of sounding like that gravelly voiced Arby's guy, it's instinct.

And now, reviewed.

Easy enough to prepare, despite my demonstrably limited cooking talent. The instructions say to brown on each side before baking for 25 minutes. I, um, made the executive decision that they'd taste better a little blackened...yeah, that's it. No matter, the end product still tasted pretty great. the pork chops themselves were meaty and tender, and certainly weren't too tough or stringy. Aside from the natural goodness of the pork, there was a slightly sweet flavor, as if the chops were marinaded in some apple cider or something of the sort.

And, of course, stuffing on the inside. I'm not gonna stretch the truth a bit and say it's super high quality stuffing that Martha Stewart would sign off on. Decidedly, it's more on the Stove Top end of the spectrum. Doesn't mean it can't be tasty. Growing up, my mom would sometimes cut up apples and put them in Stove Top, other times raisins. So maybe it's more nostalgia then actual critical quality, but man, I liked it. The slivered almonds added small, earthy, crunchy bite that worked very well with the soft stuffing and meat.

It's $6.49 a pound, which isn't an awful deal. Our package seemed representative with two large medallions which were more than enough for the two of us and our girls. In all, they made for a good autumnal dinner alongside some squash mac and roasted Brussel sprouts. The stuffed chops might not be a regular buy, but for an impulse, not bad, not bad at all. Double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Boneless, Stuffed Pork Chops with Apple Almond Stuffing: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Trader Joe's Pork Rib Bites

Gotta give my wife Sandy credit.

Not just for putting up with me for nearly 10 years now. Although that's quite a feat in and of itself. Believe it or not, I'm not the easiest guy in the world to put up with. You shoulda seen the other morning when we had a hissyfit over Tupperware, namely the collection I had at work and the corresponding lack thereof for home supplies. Not pretty. We're still trying to abide by the marriage rule we established of "No talkie before coffee."

But also....she's changed. Quite a bit. In a good way. She's so much more adventurous now for food than she was when I first met her. I distinctly remember one of our early dates (maybe our fifth?), back when I had to really worry about impressing her, so I wanted to make her dinner....and was so worried she wouldn't like homemade chocolate chip cookies. Seriously. It was valid concern.

Not all that long ago, a product like Trader Joe's Pork Rib Bites wouldn't be on her radar at all. Something-something "looks too saucy", "meat on bone", or some sort of anti-meat sentiment would stop her from giving them a try. But because of my slow, persistent, and carne-abiding ways, I've finally gotten over to the world of enjoying things like meatloaf and smoked meats and sausage and such. Heck, she even tried scrapple on account of me.

And as of a few weeks ago, she was really excited about these pork bites and couldn't wait to try them. So she picked up a couple boxes for our crew and brought them home and planned a nice little meal around them and everything. Thanks, love.

Unfortunately, the piggy poppers would have been best left on the shelves.

Maybe a bit harsh, but I was not a huge fan of them. The problem wasn't the sauce - as you can see, there's ample amount. It's mild but smoky, with some depth - a good, decent Kansas City style sauce that would appeal to the masses. Think of a decent generic BBQ sauce and you'd get a close approximation to the sauce splattered all across the bites. it's the meat itself. It's....just not great. Granted, rib meat isn't always the best and choicest cuts, but even by those standards, it was gristley and chewy with some definite hard-to-chew bits. A lot of the bigger bites were dry once getting past the saucey outer stratospheres. The boned part took up at least half the meat chunk, leaving me with the impression that the price point ($5ish for the box) wasn't a great value.

The meat deficiencies were at least probably partially due to the fact that the bites are fully cooked, but requires 25 minutes or so of heating in the oven. Seems overkill. But I did as I was told.

And the packaging...ugh. There's the big box on the outside, with a much smaller plastic baggie inside holding the bites. There's no reason for the outer box at all except to make the purchase look bigger than it actually is. Common practice, I know, so I hesitate to call it deceptive,  but it is something to be aware of.

Sandy actually seemed to enjoy them much more than I did. Maybe I'm turning into the picky one. But I would have been happier, personally, buying a package of raw ribs and grilling and basting them with another sauce (on the recommendation of many readers, would definitely try the new Yuzu sauce!) then buying them again. I guess there's a "convenience" factor here, but still, I'd pass. I can't give them more than a two, at most, if only because the sauce was pretty decent for what it was. My ever-tolerant spouse, though? She's happy doling at a perfectly middle of the road three of them. As always, she's more gracious than she oughtta be.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Pork Rib Bites: 5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Jam

Meringue and hockey? That sounds soo...I don't know...sophisticated and international and all. That might be Nathan and Sonia, but that's not me at all. Meringue pies are okay and all, as is hockey...but they just don't get me going. I'll take their word that the lemon tart is as good as advertised, and you two enjoy your hockey, though them being Capitals fans, and me in Pittsburgh, I just have to ask those Ovechkin lovers a little question.

Here, in the city of Andrew McCutchen's sweet swing, Gregory Polanco's galloping strides, and the questionable locks of John Jaso...we're bacon people. Bacon and baseball. 'Murica. Land of the free and home of the brave (and heck with you, Braves fans).

Since its debut about a week or so ago, Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Jam is getting pretty Internet famous. I've seen the buzz at fever pitch on a lot of different social media pages all proclaiming love for these porky preserves, and as a bacon addict service to you all, I knew I had to try it for myself.

I'll admit, the visual introduction is kinda, well...take a look. It's bacon in spreadable form - what else can be expected? Good thing it can be easily concealed inside, say, a grilled cheese with smoked gouda, which is exactly how Sandy and I partook for the first time.

Imagine really good pulled pork. That's approximately how this jar o' jam tastes.'s bacony bits instead of porky strands. The bacon chunks don't terribly stand out and instead get a little lost in the sauce, which is my only minor complaint. If I'm eating bacon, I want to know it's there. So, in short, it's heavy on the barbecue sauce aspects, which makes a nice change-up from other bacon jams I've had which were heavy on the bacon flavor. There's some tang and a small smidge of inoffensive heat, with a little smoke...and "vegetarian flavor."

Yes. You read that right. There's "vegetarian flavor" in this here bacon jam. I really have no idea what that means - I mean, like, flavored with/by vegetarians? Were the pigs fed an all-veggie diet? What if one of them ate a bug? Are there...*gasp*....vegetables  potentially diluting my perfectly good bacon?

Silliness aside, this made our grilled cheeses an extra-delish lunch, and I'd imagine this pairing well on a burger, or with chicken, or in other sandwiches...but not a PB&J. Sandy and I, umm, tried that as a joke, and it wasn't too great then.

It's $4.49 for the jar, so if this seems like it might be your kinda thing, trust me, it is. It's bacon. God bless America.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Jam: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Trader Joe's Irish Bangers

Despite my red hair, I'm not really all that Irish. A little, sure...but about as Irish as I get is drink some Murphy's and quote some Boondock Saints every once in a while. Or listen to some U2. I'm not the one who did a really good leprechaun imitation on the latest podcast episode anyway.

So, I'm not really sure how "bangers" is appropriate Irish verbiage meaning a sausage. And I'm not about to find out - after all, I'm typing this on my break at my work computer, and need to ensure I keep all Web searches HR friendly.

Regardless, there's that big Irish holiday coming up where we all decide to get our green on, and so apt enough, Trader Joe's Irish Bangers are back on the shelves for this season. They're really only around this time of year as an alternative to corned beef for Irish meat intake.

And it's too bad....because I really like these sausages. Pardon me, but these bangers are bangin'. Made simply from ground pork and spices and packed not too tightly, they're a perfectly delectable somewhat seasonal treat. Bangers and mash? Yes please! And that's exactly what we did last week one night for dinner, with enough left over for lunch the next day for me - happy Russ.

They're not exactly perfect, though. The pork flavor itself is fairly light, but at least in our last package, there was this - how I do say it - almost a sweetness to it not explained by the ingredient list. Red wine vinegar comes to mind for some reason, but that's not quite it. I don't think other times we've had the bangers I've noticed that, but I could be wrong. A little less of that, and a slight bit more pepper would have been great.  Also, probably just like ones your Irish nana used to homemake, there were a couple small hard pebbles of gristle in one or two of mine. I can accept or homemade, but for commercially produced...c'mon.

Our local TJ's was sampling the bangers over the weekend with some pickled sauerkraut and dijon mustard, though and man - that was a tasty combo. The pork was a perfect base and held its own in that triad of strong, hearty flavors.

 A pack of six runs only a few bucks and is well worth for firing up on the grill or broiling in the oven. My kiddos loved them and gobbled down without complaint, as did the wife and I. Get them while you can, and bonus points for no artificial green food coloring.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Irish Bangers: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Trader Joe's Meter Long Beer Bratwurst

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Wrapped Dates Stuffed With Goat Cheese

Late December weekend. You know what that means: holiday parties all around! I have two or three this weekend, plus hosting one. Yikes!

Might as well bring something really easy and really tasty to Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Wrapped Dates Stuffed With Goat Cheese. Seriosuly, rip a box open, stick in the oven for a couple minutes, and voila! You've got yourself one fancy hors d'ouevre. Each component works so seamlessly together - the medjool date, the goat cheese in the crevice where the pit was, and the apple smoked bacon wrapping it all up and holding it tight. It's a smoother-than-aniticipated bite that highlights the best aspects of everything involved - the salty-sweet awesomeness of truly good bacon, the soft creaminess of the cheese, the savory depth of a good date. I only wish for the price ($5 or $6 for a box of ten) either the dates would be a little larger, or there'd be a few more tossed in just to make it a little better value.

Bonus: As you may have heard on our podcast, my three year old made the acute observation that these look like Baby Jesus in the manger (date = manger, baby = cheese, bacon = blanket), and she's right. So, extra Christmas points for a delectable treat that points to the true meaning of the holiday. From the mouths of babes...

We like 'em. Double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Wrapped Dates Stuffed With Goat Cheese: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Trader Giotto's Nduja Spicy Salami Spread

 'Twas two weeks before Christmas
And all through the pantry
I went a-rustlin' for a snack
Before I'd get hangry

Heard the mom-in-law yell
"Hey! No more eatin' my cookies!"
So over to the fridge
I went for a look-see

Trader Joe's Spicy Salami Spread!
Or, to be fancy, "nduja"
My soul get all psyched up
My tastebuds thought, "Yum! Boo ya!"

Fancy exotic meat time!
From the country shaped like a boot!
Been wanting to try this for a while
Now's finally the time! Whoot!

Though..umm...spreadable meat?
That sounds like a gamble
"No matter!" thought I
" Here's the best I can scramble!"

Back over to the pantry
Quietly for some crackers
Nduja and knock-off Ritzes
Sounded like nice snackers

I scooped up my first bite
And plopped into my mouth
And took only a bite or two
Before it all went south

It all felt kinda funny
Like semi-molten pepperoni wax
Was slathered on my cracker
Hey, just reporting the facts

As for the taste? Hrmm
Salami-esque with paprika for sure
 But there's certain things
 No spice can ever cure

How I do say it?
It tasted like it had some funk
Not fermented, per se
But still kinda like a skunk

Perhaps a little green olive-y
Would be a nicer way to explain
But that's not quite it
No, it's with a little more disdain

Plenty of a spicy kick, though
Paprika and pepper so black
Mixed in tomato sauce
Made an interesting snack

I've revisited the nduja
Several times at this writing
I've liked it a little more each time
So let not my words be spiting

Although I must warn you
Though spared too many troubles
After each sampling
My gut felt full of bubbles 

Sandy bravely tried it
She really tried her best
But her heaves said it all
"All yours is the rest"

Pick it up if you dare
You may like it just fine
Might work on your cracker plate
And hey, just $3.49

Though don't be surprised
If your tongue feels confused
Mine certainly did
I just hope you're amused

Bottom line: Trader Giotto's Spicy Salami Spread: 3 out of 10 Golden Spoons   

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar

Do yourself a favor, and hear me out on this:

Whatever you do, do not buy Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar.

Instead, allow me to buy each and every one of them out there. Heck, for only $1.99 each, it's at least a somewhat dreamable way for me to utilize the extra bedroom.

Believe me, this would be a service to all of you out there, because in all seriousness, there's only two viable outcomes. You will either: 1) fall totally in love with this candy bar, ruining all others for you for now and ever more, or 2) be totally and completely repulsed by them.

I'm in the first camp, in case that'd be a surprise to any of you. Once I caught wind of these, I knew I had to make a special trip to TJ's just to procure a handful for me, Sandy, and my coworkers to testdrive, and first chance I did, I skeedaddled right on over.

As among the first tasters (as of the time of writing this review, the bars have been available for less than 48 hours), I'm going to guess that these bacon boys will be a true love or hate item, with very few folks in the middle. Bacon and chocolate have been a known combo on the festival/flea market food circuit for years, but this is truly a unique item as far as I can tell.

Here's what I like: First, the dark chocolate. Most bacon/cocoa combos feature milk chocolate instead of dark, in order to play up the sweet/salty dichotomy. While generally I prefer even darker chocolate, 70% is still pretty nib-laden, and goes more for the savory jugular. Love it - it's about time someone pulled it off. Also, the "hint of smoked salt" - it's alderwood smoked salt, at that. That's a pretty nifty little touch that adds a great flourish at the end of the bite to make each nibble even that much more decadent.

What's going to make or break the bacon bar for you is the ganache filling. My original photo didn't do a great job capturing it, so here's a great one courtesy of Facebook superfan Amarantha Medici - each square there's a goopy, caramel-y ganache reservoir that remained soft and fluid even after chilling it in the firdge for over an hour. It's also where the bacon resides, but taste carefully. There's little itty bitty bacon shards, adding a slight, occasionally granule-y crunch, but that's not quite it, either - it's more baconlicious than that. After a few tastes and consulting the ingredients list, it became apparent to me what it is - bacon fat. Chocolate ganache, after all, is basically chocolate, cream and butter - replace the butter with bacon fat, did we? I think so.

The result? In my estimation, there's a well balanced flavor all the way through - savory dark chocolate, a little salt, a little smokiness, with some bacon undertones that hold it all together without overpowering it all. I had some coworkers try it, though, and some were outright repulsed, stating it was too bacon-y/too weird/too out there. There was more love than hate - one of them called his bite "piggy crack", while another one cracked a smile and declared his unabated happiness for the first time in three years I've known him, but I did get a few pretty adamant thumbs down as well.

As for Sandy....she'll be one of the few in the middle, I think. "It's not bad, but I wish this were more like a Nestle Crunch, with bigger bits of crunchy bacon, instead of like a Caramello," she said. I agree, more crunch would have been a welcome addition...but I really, really like how the flavors all came together that it's hard for me to argue too ardently. I haven't been this excited about a debut of a new Trader Joe's product in possibly all of eternity, and by in large, the bacon bar lived up to the hype I made up in my mind. I'm going 4.5, while the wife is going a few notches below.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons  

Monday, January 12, 2015

Trader Joe's Sweet Sriracha Uncured Bacon Jerky

Combine my last product review of 2014 with my first of 2015 and voila! It's like I knew this was gonna happen.

Actually, truthfully, I first became aware of the existence of Trader Joe's Sweet Sriracha Uncured Bacon Jerky through our good buddy Marvo at The Impulsive Buy. How he, on a rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean enjoying 70-plus degree weather, can be first tipped off about it before I can is amazing. Must be all the time I spend grooming the icicles out of my beard here in the 'burgh. No matter, once I had the good news proclaimed unto me, I immediately became like the dogs in the Beggin' Strips commercials - "Bacon! Baconbaconbaconbacon! Bacon!" - complete with the deep doggy snuffs and all, and as soon as my master, I mean my wife, allowed me to go to TJ's to procure some, I came home with two fresh sacks.

Sandy I just devoured our third. Yes, I made another trip to TJ's just to get a couple more packs, all under the guise of "refamiliarizing myself with the taste before writing my review." The things we have to tell ourselves....truth be told, it's just that darn good. Be aware, you gotta like spicy - really like spicy a lot - to have a chance of ingesting this jerky. This sriracha's coming atcha' and is not playing any games. It's fully, peppery, fermented heat that will warm your insides through and through. Yet there's an initial sweetness that, although shortlived, is enough to ever-so-slightly play off that heat for a little nuance and character that will help convince your brain that your body isn't trying to digest straight napalm.

All of that is in the thicky, sticky, litte-bit-goopy glaze that coats all of the glorious, thickcut bacon. It's meaty, with only a little fat here and there, and is easily chewable - much more like bacon bacon and not actual jerky. The doneness straddles a good line between floppy and crispy, with a little bit of both here and there, like any good bacon should be. Fortunately, even with all the spicy sriracha all over the place, the taste of the meat pokes through as well, which really kind of binds the whole product together.

This is gooooood. Really really good. But, as jerky tends to be, kinda pricey. Most TJ's jerkies are in the $6 range for about 3.5 or 4 ounces. This bacon jerky? $5.49...for a measly two ounces. I mean, really, for that price you can't put in a couple more slices? There's some print on the bag stating "best if consumed within three days after opening." That's silly, TJ's - try making this last three minutes, let alone three days.

I guess, though, judging by my purchasing habits of the past couple days, my price complaint is only pretty minor. Other than that, this bacon jerky is something I feel is made especially just for me. Sandy loves it as well - she prefers her bacon to be cooked to be crispier than these slices were, but she loves that the bites aren't as chewy or stringy as most jerky is, and how this easily could have been. I'm pretty hesitant to start off the New Year with two straight pantheon reviews - that is an honor that's neither taken lightly nor given out often - but sometimes, you just gotta call it as you see it.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sweet Sriracha Uncured Bacon Jerky: 9.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Trader Joe's Fully Cooked Pork Belly

Mmmm.... bacon bacon bacon. Bacon. Bacon!! I've consumed a lot of bacon over the past few months - at least a couple times a week. That's part of the glory of a paleo diet - eat bacon as often as you want! It works, too - I'm down nearly 45 pounds since August, even after pillaging my mom's and mother-in-law's holiday cookie spreads in a couple days of unbridled Christmassy sugar gluttony.

But dare I say it but - bacon gets kinda old after a while. Like, it's still delicious and all, but a good change up is needed. Fortunately my dad cures and smokes his own bacon, and is only too happy to share (Maple bourbon bacon? Yes please!) but when that runs out, well, a little variety would be welcome.

Fortunately, there's an alternative to get my inner Gimli all fired up again - Trader Joe's Fully Cooked Pork Belly. There's a train of thought that fresh pork belly, when prepared properly, is better than any salty, cured bacon. This being my first foray into pork belly world, I'm not ready to stake that claim, but I can see where it comes from.

Pork belly is, of course, the slab of meat from which bacon is made. Our particular cut seemed to be almost more of a pork roast/bacon hybrid, as it was certainly meatier looking than most bacons I've ever had. And by cut, I mean it's a solid piece - despite the thick cut slabs pictured on the completely unnecessary box, it's a solid chunk that you must cut yourself either before or after cooking. Since we wanted it for a potato soup topping, and I wasn't sure what to expect, I sliced up a few pieces then started dicing the remaining bit once my fingers were beginning to get in potential harm's way.

My goodness, the end result was delicious. It took a while over some low heat, but eventually we got crispy, chunky, savory, melty-in-yo'-mouthy baconlicious bites that even our normally meat-averse toddler couldn't help but gobble right on up. The thicker cut chunks that got crispy on the outside but remained tender on the inside - oh man, oh man. I'm not sure if there was just more greasy gristle, or the meatier girth, but whatever it was, this pork belly had it. If you even remotely like bacon, you'll probably love this. Just be careful during cooking - the extra fat makes some extra-aggressive spatter when provoked - wearing one of these Quailman style might not be a bad idea. 

A quick Google search of pork belly recipes seems to imply that cooking and prepping your own from raw to edible takes quite a bit of work and/or time (couple hours, minimum from what I see) so this is definitely a fully cooked convenience pack, perhaps not made for the connoisseurs but instead to introduce the masses. Well, consider me hooked - I think I just might start trying to make my own. In the meantime, if I get a real hankerin', this TJ's version will make a quick sub at a fairly reasonable price of $6.49 for the package. The wife and I agree: deeeeeeeeeeelish. Double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Fully Cooked Pork Belly: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Trader Joe's Uncured Black Forest Bacon

There comes a time when you just have to be honest and come clean. That's me right now. As much as I've tried to delude myself into thinking I'm a vegetarian, as much as I've actually wanted to be a vegetarian, I no longer honestly refer to myself that way. I've tried living a more-or-less meatfree existence the past few months, partially for health reasons (I've dropped close to 40 pounds since January!), but man, meat keep sneaking it's way back in. At first I was okay with still eating fish and shrimp and stuff like that, so much more accurately, I was pescetarian. Then I tried the mantle of "gracious vegeterian", as in, if I'm somewhere for dinner and meat's what's for dinner, I will graciously accept that, I just won't choose to eat it if given the choice. That worked for a bit. Then...well...onwards and forwards and blah diddly blah blah, Sandy and I thought it'd be okay if we purchased a weekly "meat cheat" and since our last one was so severely disappointing, we had to make up for it this time around.

Hence the Trader Joe's Uncured Black Forest Bacon we picked up our last trip. Oh goodness. No picture I could take of the this bacon could truly do it justice. It's thick cut, with much more meat per slice than first glance, and dark and sweet and savory. Being semi-lazy and weary of grease spatter burn circles on my forearms, when making bacon I usually opt for the baking-in-the-over option. Though easier, it's also much easier to overbake and blacken, which is a death knell for many an inferior pork strip. Not so with these guys. Even when they got a little scorched, the crisp and crunch remained in tact, with the full flavor of sweet salty pork, without even a trace of it turning to charcoal. There's some other TJ bacon that I've enjoyed, and perhaps maybe it was more the previously bacon-less existence I led for far too long talking, but man, this was absolutely terrific and well worth the fivespot we dropped on the package.

It was after we cooked up the second go-around that Sandy and I came to the realization that yes, we cannot honestly call ourselves vegetarians. I think we're okay with that. We'll probably still skip it at least a few nights a week, so a little more intentional that just observing a Meatless Monday. I'm just glad we made this decision before heading up to Cleveland and hitting up the Westside Market because much good looking meat there, we packed up a Styrofoam cooler to truck back down to the 'burgh, along with some TJ drinky drinks we'll review soon. Thanks, bacon, for being yummy and keeping us honest. Sandy goes with a four, as do I, plus an extra half-spoon just 'cause.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Uncured Black Forest Bacon: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Trader Joe's Mini Cheddar Chipotle Potato Bites

Okay, for once, I don't have any long, drawn-out cutesy tales about potatoes or whatever. I can't even think of a decent way I can use these Trader Joe's Mini Cheddar Chipotle Potato Bites to poke some fun at my wife. I mean, a potato is a potato, right? There's really not anything that can be said for it, except, dangit, they're good in nearly every incarnation. I cannot think of a single bad thing to say about potatoes, which is really kinda the best thing one can say about something. Potatoes are even better when you use them as base for all sorts of toppings and goodies. For me, it's tough to beat a little butter and some cheese, but if there's bacon, some sour cream, and something spicy available, well, hey, they're all welcome to the party, too. I don't discriminate.

That's pretty much exactly what you get with these potato bites. For $3.99 a box, you get a bunch of the little Lilliputian hors d'oeuvres which are a reasonable knock-off of one of those 37 pieces of flair-type restaurant appetizers. They're kinda better in some ways while not as good in others. Let me explain. First and foremost, when's the last time you actually tasted any potato in a loaded potato skin-type dish? For me, I'd have to say...never. There's all the stuff glopped on top that keeps your tastebuds way too otherwise occupied. Not these Trader Joe's tasty taters. Every single bite had plenty of warm, soft, baked potato to it. Absolutely delicious in that regard.

The issue is, aside from the potato, the predominant tastes are cheddar cheese and sour cream, both of which are pretty mild. Now that's not a bad thing, but both the box and my eyes tell me there's also supposed to be chipotle peppers and bacon in here. Can't taste either, though, and I really wish I could. There's maybe a vague hint of smokiness but that's as close as it gets. That's kinda disappointing, because dangit, I know how good potatoes and cheese and bacon and hot peppers taste together. That's what I like to fill my own homemade pierogis with, and with a little sour cream to top them off, they're perfect. These could be almost as good...oh great...I just made myself hungry for homemade you have any idea how much work those are?...dangit...I digress...

Anyways, Sandy loves these potato bites. Loves them. From what I've heard she's been yapping to a bunch of her coworkers how good they are, and in the few days since we've polished them off, she's said more than once about how much she wishes we still had some around the house to munch on down. The only slightly negative thing I've heard her say about them is how she wishes they had just a little kick to them. Anyways, they're a 4.5 in her book, and I imagine next tme we go to TJ's she'll pick these up and give me the puppy dog eyes to convince me to get them again. She won't have to try too hard, because overall I like them too, despite how much better the mini spuds could be. Let's say I like them 3.5 Golden Spoons worth.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Mini Cheddar Chipotle Potato Bites: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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