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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Baker Josef's Chocolate Cake and Frosting Mixes

Since Russ mentioned Baker Josef in his last post, I thought now would be a good time to bust out a review of the Chocolate Cake and Frosting Mixes.

Now, let me break something down for you. I can't bake. I just barely got an "S-" in Home Ec in 9th grade. The "S" stands for "satisfactory," but the minus implies it's a little less than satisfactory, and just slightly above a "U" for "un-freaking-acceptable." I think they would have given me the "U" if I hadn't tried so hard. But I really did try, and I still failed miserably. So my teacher, though frustrated, had mercy on me. I remember my whole group was a little...shall we say "unskilled" in the culinary arts. All four of us needed a little extra grace in the kitchen. I remember one of our assignments was to bake rice krispy treats, and we wound up chiseling the blackened finished product out of the pan with a hammer and icepick. I'm not kidding.

So, the natural choice was to let my lovely wife prepare and bake this product. She presented it to me as a sort of late Valentine's Day present. So sweet. We also planned on giving a piece to one of our neighbors...but that didn't happen. We couldn't part with it. So. Freaking. GOOD!

Sonia's an adept baker. She says it was simple. She just added eggs, water, and butter to the cake mix, baked it according to the directions, and then added hot water and butter to the icing mix. Seems straightforward enough to me. But for some reason my IQ drops about 50 points when I'm in the kitchen, so I let her handle the whole thing. I do attempt to cook for my wife sometimes, but I don't want to screw up the dessert stuff. It would just be a big letdown for everyone involved.

I actually prefer white cake or red velvet. Not usually big on chocolate. But I must say...this was probably the best chocolate cake I've ever had. The icing was amazing, too. I wouldn't change a thing. The moistness and texture probably has a lot to do with the way Sonia baked it, but I gotta say, both of these mixes are big winners. Props to Sonia and her good friend Baker Josef.

And again, not sure about the ethnicity or the origin of this Josef fellow. But he seems to know what he's doing.

Double fives on both.

Baker Josef's Chocolate Cake Mix, Bottom line: 10 out of 10.
Baker Josef's Chocolate Frosting Mix: Bottom line: 10 out of 10.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Thai Joe's Coconut Curry Chicken Stix

So apparently there's this new tenderfoot dude named Thai Joe. Never heard of the guy? Well, me neither. Certainly, he has an interesting name. I mean, Trader Joe's has, besides themselves, Trader Ming, Trader Joe-San, Trader Jose, Trader Jacque, and, I think, Baker Josef (flour). Though there's certainly nationality implied in those names, none of them are directly labeled like Thai Joe. I mean, would you buy something from a dude named Chinese Joe? Sounds sketchy at best. I guess it's because there's a certain dearth of Thai names that resemble the name "Joe." I did a quick search on some shady looking baby-naming site, and after wading through the pop-up-a-looza that came up (don't ask why my work doesn't have a blocker for that), that closest thing I could find was the name Chao-Fa, which means "crowned prince." Hmm, Trader Chao-Fa ... that's a pretty cool name I'd be down with. Sounds a heckuva lot better than "Thai Joe," and it's a closer match than that Trader Ming character. What the name Thai Joe conjures up for me is, imagine there's a new kid in school, second grade or so, Thai, with a nearly impossible name to pronounce. Trying to be friendly, he says, "Call me Joe," but there's already five or six other kids in the class named Joe or Joey, so to differentiate him from every one else, one somewhat-culturally aware-yet-snotfaced punk dubs him "Thai Joe." Umm, well, yeah, that might just be me.

Anyways, for a debut (for me at least) product, Thai Joe's Coconut Curry Chicken Stix are pretty fantastic. They're typical spring roll sized and shaped, and even though we baked ours, the stix remained pretty crispy, flaky, and texturally appropriate. I'd imagine they'd be even better Fry-Daddied up, but that's too much temptation for too many bad things for us. The insides are just as good if not better than the wrapper. I've had the misfortune of having some food court-variety spring rolls with mushy yard work posing as vegetable matter inside them, and while these guys are somewhat sparing cabbage-wise, what's in there was firm and tasty. Mostly, it's white-meat chicken inside, diced in little chunks, and insanely good. Flavor-wise, the overriding taste is actually lemony (there's lemongrass in there as both a main ingredient and an ingredient in the curry sauce), but it's kept well in check with the coconutty undertones and overall flavor. If you're a spice-adverse sissy, you're be glad to know these barely register a one on a scale to ten. I personally would have preferred a little more spice, as good Thai cuisine is so talented at being hot without sacrificing the other flavors of the dish, but even so, they're pretty delectable.

However, like any rookie, Thai Joe made a mistake. Fortunately, it's completely fixable. On the box, he shows a small bowl of awesome looking peanut-and-something-else sauce. Other TJ products actually have a little sauce packet in them, or at least give you a recipe on the package for a suitable sauce. Not these. No bonus packet, and their instructions simply say to "enjoy with your favorite sauce" (or something to that effect). Well, in my household, that means Red Devil, Frank's Red Hot, barbecue sauce, and (for Sandy) ranch dressing (I think, it depends on the week). For some crazy reason, I don't think any of those would be right, and I'm ignorant enough to not know what might work best. I mean, you gave me an easy recipe for dipping sauce on your cilantro chicken wontons that was the bomb ... I don't think asking for a little help here is too much. Also, "stix"? Really? Call them what they are, spring rolls, and not some stupid made-up name. Stix? Sounds too much like that crappy band to me.

Though they'd be optimal for pregaming a Thai feast, Sandy and I baked the whole box up for lunch over the weekend. With some chips and salsa (we were in a multi-cultural mood), it made a great, light meal that I'm already craving to have again. Due to its immigrant heritage, Pittsburgh, where we live, is blessed with a plethora of amazing, locally owned ethnic restaurants, especially Thai ones like Smiling Banana Leaf. These rolls are good enough to pass themselves off as an appetizer at any of them, and at a fraction of the cost, too. That being said, support your locally owned restaurants, but pick these guys up too.

Sandy gives the springy stix a solid four as they made some pretty happy chomping for her. "Mmmmmm" is pretty much what she said. I agree. If Thai Joe shares any secret sauce goodness with us (packet or recipe), I can easily see this ranking climb even higher.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Trader Joe's Gone Bananas!

It's time for a fictitious adjective. Let's go with "Ridiculuscious!"

I almost went with "Stupidelicious," but I already mentioned that one in a previous blog entry...either word accurately describes these amazing chocolate covered frozen banana slices.

How much can you do with chocolate-banana, really? "Aren't they all the same?" you might ask. Well, for starters, there are only 2 ingredients in these little bites: bananas and chocolate. Then, thankfully, they do break down the chocolate into its constituent parts. Pretty got some sugar and milk and cocoa. The only word I wanted more info on was "soy lecithin." According to Wikipedia, lecithin "controls...the flow properties of chocolate." Well, it must have done what it was supposed to do, because this chocolate flowed right down my throat and into my tummy with delicious ease and smoothness.

My wife's score for these was tragically low (only a 4 out of 5) because she's had taste-aversion to chocolate-bananas since the age of 6. Her story takes us back to Los Angeles, California, circa 1985. Her father had bought her a chocolate-banana from a street vendor cart, and the product was apparently a scary, ghetto version of the classic chocolate-banana. Within its dripping, melting, fake-chocolate shell, an old, semi-rotted, ultra-ripe banana waited...lurking...planning to ruin my poor Sonia's opinion of chocolate-bananas forever. Unfortunately, it succeeded. She became deathly ill, vomited multiple times, and vowed to never again eat a chocolate banana.

These Trader Joe's Gone Bananas! chocolate-covered frozen banana bites have begun the healing process in dear, sweet Sonia. The decades-old trauma is slowly being replaced with good chocolate-banana memories.

And that, my friends, is the only reason Sonia gave these a 4 and not a 5.

The bananas are perfect. Not too ripe, not too young. The slices are the perfect size. There's just the right amount of chocolate around each piece. I have no complaints. The last chocolate-banana I had prior to these TJ's bites was from Disneyland, about 6 months ago. The Disney version had fakey-type chocolate, the banana wasn't ripe enough, and it cost something like a hundred dollars.

To summarize, I really, really love chocolate-bananas, and Trader Joe's Gone Bananas! are the best chocolate-bananas I've ever had. Natural-ish chocolate and perfectly ripe bananas, with the innovative concept to serve the banana bites in little slices instead of the whole big banana-on-a-stick deal. Perfect. 5 out of 5 from me. And the only reason Sonia gives them a 4 and not a 5 is because she had this crazy near-death banana tragedy as a little girl...anyway...I can't recommend them enough. 

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

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