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Monday, January 17, 2011

Trader Joe's Peach and Blueberry Panna Cotta

Shouldn't this be part of the Trader Giotto's line? It's Italian, isn't it?

I like to call these "Pannacotta Warriors" (ya'know, like the Terracotta Warriors from China?) Except these ominous soldiers of dessert ward off the sweet tooth munchies instead of potential tomb-robbers.

At 270 calories and 13g of fat, they're not exactly a "lite" dessert option, but they're not terrible, considering what you get...

There are peaches and blueberries, each covered in a delectable syrupy sauce, and then there's that creamy white really tastes like high-quality custard. Considering it comes frozen, and that it only costs about $3 for two, it's surprisingly delicious.

You're supposed to defrost them for a while in the fridge, and then turn them upside down to pop them out of their little black plastic molds. I like to eat them straight out of the plastic. It's kind of like fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt, but waaaay more tasty and more fattening. I also like them only partially thawed. They're half way between ice cream and pudding that way.

My favorite side is the blueberry side. Although, the peach is nothing to complain about. Sonia likes them both equally.

$3 might seem expensive in grocery land, but if you'd buy these guys at an Italian restaurant, you'd pay at least twice as much, and you'd be lucky if you got something tastier than this. I give them Four and a half Stars out of Five, and Sonia gives them the same. Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Trader Joe's Honey Wheat Pretzel Sticks

So Nathan and I, along with our much better looking wives, are pretty major Trader Joe's fans if you haven't picked up on it by now. But not everyone shares our fandom of the nation's best grocery store. As any other major corporation (which, make no mistake, TJ's definitely is), they certainly have their share of critics. One large critique I have heard is, for a company that boasts a lot about its healthy and organic food, they are pretty opaque about their food origins, down to the point that they're pretty tight-lipped about which food companies even manufacture their food and slap a Trader Joe label on it for them. I think this is pretty understandable. Sandy and I just Netflixed up "Food Inc." last week - tremendous documentary about food origins and how separated we, as society are from the sources of our meals. It's easy to think a steak came from the plastic-wrapped Styrofoam tray at the store, not a cow forcefed feed that isn't natural for them while ankledeep in, well, let's say fertilizer. Most companies who purport themselves to be healthy and organic and freerange (I sum this up in one word: "happy") are much more transparent about where and how their food is prepared. This prompted me to march down to TJ's in look for answers. I wanted to know where at least one thing came from.

Well, lo and behold, I actually found an answer.

It's Ludwig! Ludwig makes Trader Joe branded pretzels! It even says so right on the bag, in plain print, that Ludwig is Trader Joe's head pretzel guy! Beyond that, this Ludwig guy seems pretty cool - very happy, orthodontically sound, and immensely talented. I mean, look at that cool pretzel balancing act he does. I think I'd like to hang out with a guy like this and knock back a Bierstiefel or two of dopple bock, though considering his outfit, I'd pick the bar. But if he brought his trademark Honey Wheat Pretzel Sticks, after a few steins of Rheinheitsgebot goodness and rounds of Ein Prosit, I'd forgive his lederhosened and purple-garbed self and have one heckuva time. Zicke zacke zicke zacke hoi hoi hoi indeed.

Semi-questionable German origins aside, these are pretty darn good pretzels. Much better than their hard multigrain pretzel disasters, whose only good use I have found is to grind them down and use as traction for your car when stuck on ice. Sorry, Ludwig, those were a misfire. But these, man, these are good. Good, crunchy bite to them, and not hard or dried out at all, just right for a good pretzelicious snack. The wheat taste is definitely present but not overwhelmingly so, and there's a good, subtle salt-to-honey ratio whose flavor doesn't linger long but is just so appealing. They're low-fat and relatively low sodium for pretzels, so that's a plus. They're just all around, good-in-pretty-much-every-way pretzel sticks, and the best I've found so far at TJ's.

I'd imagine, all jokes aside, that they would be pretty good matched up with a variety of brews. Sandy and I regularly pick these up, mostly for me to pack along with lunches, so I haven't had much opportunity to test that theory because I plow through them so quickly. Sandy's just glad to have had a chance to try them out because again, the bag rarely lasts too long and by the time she's in the mood for them, they're usually gone. When I gave her a handful of sticks to try out, after a few bites she intoned "These are goooood" and gave me a smile which I took to mean that she understood why I usually kept them for myself. We decided just on our weekly TJ run this morning that we were each going to get our own cereal, and I wouldn't be surprised if we may have to end up getting our own bags of pretzels too. Well, probably not, but we both really enjoyed them and munched about a third of a bag between the two of us while I wrote this review. Sandy gives them a four out of five, which I think is just about right.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, January 14, 2011

Trader Jacques' Ham and Cheese Croissant Sandwiches

Yay! Another "international" TJ's product. This time it's from Joe's arrogant French chef friend, Jacques. No, I don't think all French are arrogant. Of the many French people I've met, only one or two were arrogant, and the rest were friendly, down-to-earth folk.

However, we know that this Jacques fellow is an arrogant jerk. Just look at that fancy type-face on the box. It's a ham and cheese sandwich for cryin' out loud. You stick it in a croissant, and what, you think we're eating gourmet all of a sudden!? At $4.69 for two of them, they darn well better be gourmet...2 frozen ham and cheese sandwiches for $5...<huff> the arrogance! Pretentious Frenchious.

(Again, I have no problems with the French. I've been to Paris, and I thought the people were lovely.)

And what kind of person puts 95% of the US RDA for saturated fat in ONE ham and cheese sandwich!!?? An arrogant one, that's for sure! No ham and cheese sandwich is worth that much fat, not even one as scrumptious as this. Maybe the French national RDA for saturated fats is much higher than ours...? Somehow I doubt it.

But they are pretty yummy. Their taste almost justifies their fattiness. The cheese and croissant bread are pretty indulgent, and they come out soft and fluffy. But, there's not nearly enough ham inside. It's like they took one single ham cold cut slice and hid it beneath layers of bread and cheese. (Oh, but it's "Black Forest Ham," straight from the Schwarzwald of Bavaria, I'm sure.) Wait, isn't that in Germany? Shouldn't Jacques have chosen Bayonne Ham instead?

There aren't any cooking options that don't involve the oven. You may thaw it in the microwave, but you've got to fire up that big bad boy and bake it proper for at least 30 minutes.

These might be an option if you're really looking for a once-in-a-great-while kind of treat...but at 34g of fat (19 of which is saturated fat), and 550 calories per sandwich, it's just not worth it, in my opinion. Also, the 30+ minutes to cook them and the nearly $5 price tag make these puffy little pastry sandwiches a pass.

I give them 3 out of 5 Stars. Sonia gives them a 3 as well. Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

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