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Monday, June 20, 2011

Trader Joe's Multigrain Pilaf

\pi-ˈläf, -ˈlȯf; ˈpē-ˌ\\pi-ˈlō, -ˈlȯ, ˈpē-(ˌ); Southern often ˈpər-(ˌ)lü, -(ˌ)lō\
Definition of PILAF
: a dish made of seasoned rice and often meat

: usually the most disappointing and forgettable part of a meal.
- Me

Yeah, I really don't get it either. I'm a guy who should like pilaf. I'm on record as a guy who enjoys rice and random seasonings and mixing it all up, so, really, what gives? I think I've never really had a good one, I guess. Granted, my experiences are pretty much limited to high school cafeteria, college dining commons, and the wedding banquet variety of anything that marketed itself as being pilaf, so I don't consider myself a subject matter expert on it. That, and any good rice/seasonings/other stuff memories are mostly filed under "fried rice" or "stir fry" so I guess I've assumed pilaf to be some lonely, bland, neglected outpost of the food spectrum, welcome to come and play only when a fancy-sounding cheap starch is needed and potatoes au gratin's busy.

Anyways, Sandy and I are continuing to try and move more away from prepackaged foods, but sometimes we know we just won't have the time to make a proper home cooked meal. I guess that's why we picked up TJ's Multigrain Pilaf. Sounds healthy (it has that buzzword "Multigrain" after all) and quick 'n easy (two minutes in the microwave!) so, well, why not?

Sandy nuked it up as I quickly grilled up some sausages the other night. Let's just say when it was done, it didn't make the best impression. You see, you open a small corner of the packet, nuke it, then open it the rest of the way and kinda dump it on your plate. First, the smell. It's a dead ringer for Spaghetti-O's. I kid you not. I had my back turned when Sandy was getting it on our plates, and I could have sworn she warmed up a bag of Chef Boyardee instead. Then, when it's on your plate, visually, it looks like...well, this is a family friendly webpage, so I won't say what I first thought. But use a little imagination. No further details. Sandy took some time to try and fluff it up with a fork to make it look, well, let's just say more appetizing.

Tastewise, at first, it's kinda bland, but then the heat sneaks up after a couple bites. Nah, it's not hot, but it's actually semi-discernibly spicy. There's a couple of the usual suspects around like turmeric, pepper and garlic, and overall tastes alright enough. Still, it wasn't the flavor but more the texture I noticed. Instead of rice, it's made of cracked wheat, soy beans and millet. The soy beans are decent sized and fleshy, which kinda weirdly jives with the smallish ball-like quinoa-esque bite from the other components. It's actually kinda fun to eat when focusing on the texture. Sandy, who can be texturally squeamish at times, agreed. Still, overall, it wasn't a terribly intriguing product, and left to my own devices, I probably could have made something I would've enjoyed more.

I guess I could say this is the best premade pilaf I've had yet, but then again, for me, that's kind of like remembering my favorite Pittsburgh Pirates losing season* or figuring out my favorite Rush song (I'm sorry, I know they have rabid fans, I just can't stand any of their songs. So sue me). It's not bad, but again, between the tasty grilled sausages and my wife's homemade strawberry rhubarb pie, it again was relegated to the realm of the meal's weakest link. Poor pilaf, maybe sometime you'll have your day in the sun. Not today. Sandy gave it a three based mostly on presentational concerns. I think a three is more than fair for it as well.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

* There's so many to choose from, but any that prominently feature Tike Redman warrant serious, serious consideration. That play is the best he ever made. And notice he's in an Orioles uniform. One game I was at, he was brought in as a defensive replacement, only to drop two fly balls in a row. Ouch.

Trader Joe's Spicy Italian Chicken Sausage

Want to know one of my hands-down favorite things about summer? Grilling. I am of the opinion that anything and everything tastes better grilled. That's not to say I'm an expert or anything. My dad has taught me some tips and tricks over the years, most notably "Make sure you singe off your knuckle hairs every single time" but in my mind he remains the undisputed champ at it. I do alright at it. I'm pretty pleased that I can make corn-on-the cob and not completely wither a piece of boneless chicken to dry nothingness on a grilltop, but that's about where my talents end. Still, there's nothing that beats hanging out on my back deck, cold beer in hand, cool breeze coming in off the Allegheny (a short tee shot away down the hill), and a fired up grill that's about to be covered with meat and other grilled goodies, whether it's for just me and the wifey or for a bunch of buddies. I'd grill everything every day if I could.

Well, naturally, some days have more time than others. Monday was one of those nights that, between picking up the wife at work, getting her home and then having dinner together before she headed out babysitting for the evening, a quick dinner was in order. Well, that certainly doesn't mean you can't grill. I realize it's not the same art or time commitment as, say, making a rack of fall-off-the-bone ribs (not sure I could pull that off anyways [not that I would eat them-Sandy]) , but I relish every opportunity to get the CharBroil all smokey, so some TJ's Spicy Italian Chicken Sausages seemed like a good idea for a quick bite.

Hot sausage has to be one of the best meats ever invented. Has to be. It's right up there with bacon, buffalo chicken, *good* meatloaf, and medium-rare steak in the meat pantheon, Mt. Meatmore if you will. Love it, and like any good meat, a little variation with it is always welcome.

The Spicy Italian Chicken Sausages certainly fit the bill. Even though I enjoy pork and beef links quite a bit, the chicken for these made for a good stray-from-the-norm taste that's undoubtedly healthier. They're leaner, lighter, and less greasy but still pack plenty of tenderness, taste, and even a little good gristle in them. One aspect to that is they seemed to burn a little quicker than regular sausages, so keep an eye on them. And unlike other TJ products that claim to be spicy, these actually are. There's no spice-o-meter on them but instead depict a couple chile peppers on fire. I'd say compared to other stuff with the spice-o-meter, it's an accurate depiction, and thankfully, no hint of vinegar that plagues so many other purportedly spicy TJ products. It's just good, straightforward, chile heat. It's so welcome. It probably won't set your mouth on fire, but you'll notice it, no doubt.

About the only thing the two of us didn't like was the pork casing surrounding these guys. Maybe it was because of the overall tenderness and juiciness of the chicken inside, but it seemed, in comparison, kinda fake and rubbery. Sometimes, when the grill is buried under two feet of snow in February out here, we've been known to broil up some sausages in the oven. That's a method that seems to blacken and burn up the outsides all the way around a link, and with this casing, I'd imagine they'd turn revolting if made that way. Definitely I recommend these for grilling only.

Anyways, we both liked them and are happy we kept to the serving of one each so we can have another grill go around with them soon. Sandy went ahead and gave them a four, with the biggest demerit based on the casing. I'll go ahead and agree with her. I know I'd like them slightly better if I had some cheddar to wrap a slice around inside a good bun. Yeah, okay, that's not TJ's fault, but it was the only thing missing for me to give them a full pass. Oh yeah, and the casing. Next time...

Bottom line: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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