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Friday, September 2, 2011

Trader Joe's Dairy Free Mochi

About a year ago, I decided I was in love with mochi, the Asian ice cream you can eat with your hands. I was so blindly in love with it, that it inspired me to cheat and write the first ever What's Good at Trader Joe's post that wasn't about a Trader Joe's brand product, something that's only been done one other time in our 170 blog posts.

Well, Trader Joe finally got the hint. He decided to whip up a batch of his own mochis. And instead of offering a half dozen flavors in separate packages like the Mikawaya brand, he decided to bring us a sampler of sorts that showcases three fantastic flavors (although two of the three are much more fantastic than the other, but we'll get to the details in a moment). Not only that, but Trader Joe's version is perfect for true vegans and the lactose intolerant!

First of all, upon inspecting the box, a red flag immediately presented itself to me: there are very intricate designs on the mochis some sort of leaf shape I think? The rice-based shell of most mochi would be way too soft to ever flaunt such a detailed insignia. "Oh please don't let these mochis feel and/or taste like plastic, Trader Joe!" I thought to myself. Red flag number two: why mango? Chocolate is pretty basic. It makes sense. Coconut makes sense since these dairy free ice creams are made with coconut milk. But the mango...the mango is what worried me, since Trader Joe's track record with mango products is full of hits like this and this, as well as big misses like this and this.

On a scale of general plasticity, with actual plastic being a 10 and Mikawaya's mochi shells being a 1, the shells of Trader Joe's mochis fall somewhere in between, but thankfully they're closer to Mikawaya mochi than to actual plastic...we'll say a 4. Surprisingly, despite my initial red flag, Sonia felt their plasticity was more bothersome than I did. They definitely have the firmest shells of any mochi that I know of (and yes, I have tried mochi from somewhere other than Trader Joe's) but their texture is still quite pleasant if you ask me.

As far as flavors go, I was absolutely thrilled with the coconut. It tastes like amazing, sweet, real coconut milk. The chocolate was also delicious, and it was an excellent approximation of actual chocolate ice cream made with dairy milk. Sonia liked chocolate the best, with coconut being a close second for her. Vice versa for me. The flavor of the chocolate was at least as good as Mikawaya's chocolate, but the coconut might have been the best tasting mochi I've ever had. And sure enough, we were both a little disappointed with mango. It was edible...but it tasted weird. Sonia thought it tasted too sour for mochi ice cream. She thinks it should have been sweeter. I agree. It was true to the taste of a real mango to some extent, but it could have used some more natural sugar.

Since the different flavors in the sampler inspired such different reactions, we're gonna go ahead and score them individually first. Sonia gives the mango flavor a 2.5 out of 5. She gives coconut a 4 and chocolate a 4.5. I'll give mango 3.5 stars. It wasn't that bad. And I give coconut a 4.5 and chocolate a 4.

So, here are our bottom lines, by flavor:
Dairy Free Coconut Mochi, bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.
Dairy Free Chocolate Mochi, bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.
Dairy Free Mango Mochi, bottom line: 6 out of 10.

But since they sell all three flavors together, we have to give you a single definitive score for the product. I'm breaking out my calculator about now....

Trader Joe's Dairy Free Mochi
Bottom line: 7.67 out of 10 stars.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Trader Joe's Garbanzo Beans...and More

Yes, that's right, I'm going to write a review about a can of beans.

Why on earth would I do that? There's actually a few different reasons. First of all, Sandy and I like TJ's beans. The black beans are a staple in our diet for all sorts of tasty dishes. But we like black beans in almost any form (I said almost), so it'd be more of a challenge to be impressed by a different kinda bean altogether. Enter these Garbanzos (same thing as chickpeas, except much more fun to say). Secondly, with some good luck with some TJ's hummus, Sandy had the notion of trying to make some from home. Thirdly, when she didn't but instead spotted a recipe for fried chickpeas in the new I Love Trader Joe's College Cookbook, she insisted we had to try them out, and not ever ever ever being one to argue, I said sure.

Well, not one to give away the recipe for them, but they're real easy to make. Indeed, as the cover suggests, it can't be effed up. Within just a few minutes we had a pretty large, tasty batch that we popped by the mouthful. Good stuff, with the crispy battered outside contrasting the warm, beany, fleshy insides. This may sound a little weird (indeed, when I said it to Sandy, she looked at me as if I confessed to parading around in her clothes when she wasn't home), but it kinda almost sorta brought to mind a certain kind of peanut butter-y-ness with the texture of the bean, the plain saltiness of the coating, and the overall kinda toastiness to them. After I explained that, her face returned to its normal pretty self as she shrugged and kinda got what I was going for. Two things I'd like to mention about this dish: First, much better when hot so eat 'em quick (once cold, they're not nearly as good), and second, a decent variation would probably be to add a little spice to the batter if you like that kinda of stuff.

I'd say it'a decent can o' beans, as cans o' beans go. However you like to enjoy your Garbanzos, these aren't a bad option. Sandy and I would give them a 3.5 each for being semi-exemplary yet not outstanding, just like a good legume should be.

But wait, there's more. There's another reason we're reviewing these. We went grocery shopping at TJ's last night (word of advice: don't go on Sunday nights. Shelves are literally 2/3 empty then. Couldn't even buy a decent pack of tortillas) and, despite our limited choices, the mood hit for an impromptu, easy to make, semi-authentic Indian feast at low, low prices. Garbanzos are a staple of the Indian diet, so we had these for an appetizer. Here's a few more things we picked up:

First up, some Trader Joe's Masala Dosa. Sandy and I have had these before when we met up with Nathan and Sonia for our blog summit dinner a little while back. These are a pretty straightforward Indian concoction, and fairly tasty. It's basically a rice crepe with onions and chunky potatoes and the usual Indian spices of turmeric, cumin, curry leaves and the like. They're fairly generously sized (several large bites at least) and kinda filling, too As a very nice little bonus, it includes a small package of coconut chutney to complement these guys, which adds a little sweet and a little spice to the mix. Pretty good, though both Sandy and I kinda remembered liking them more the first time we had them, and we think it has to do with preparation method. Sandy and Sonia fried them up in a little bit of oil while Nathan and I drank beer, which made them a lot crisper than when we baked them in the oven. Still, not bad, and a welcome addition. Definitely fry them, though. Sandy gives them a three, while I'll go for a four for remembering how good they can be, and for the bonus sauce.

Next up, some Trader Joe's Paneer Roll Aachari. It's not our first go around with some TJ-style paneer, so between that and the picture on the box we had some high, high hopes. Well, it didn't fully deliver, but that doesn't make it bad. Instead of nice big tasty cheese balls wading in a microwavable kiddie pool of red curry, the finished product resembled more of an semi-chunky ill-defined stew. I'm semi-convinced it's a different product picture on the box altogether. But no matter. The curry sauce is complex and spicy and delicious, with little paneer strands going here and there for an occasional stringy chewy bite. Its state made it ideal for dumping over the rice we made on the side (alas, not TJ's brand), which I scraped up every last bit I could. There was lots of the sauce to go around, too, which definitely is a big plus in my book. My only disappointment was it seemingly not being what was pictured - I'm not sure what the darker stuff is supposed to be that's pictured. I would've liked for my taste buds to find out. Sandy went with a 3.5 for this, and I'll rate it a solid 4.

Last but not least, some good old tasty Trader Joe's Malabari Paratha. You must forgive me of being of the notion that Indian bread kinda started and ended with naan. I'd honestly never heard of malabari paratha before. I wish I have! This may have been the show-stealer of the night dinner-wise for us. So simple to make - fry in a lightly oiled pan for about two minutes on each side, and voila! Your reward is a nice big tasty warm circle of flaky, melt-in-your-mouth bread that I'd imagine you can do anything with (I didn't complain when some of the aachari mingled its way on over), but it's good enough to munch it on down plain. Sandy loves her carbs and almost any bread-type product, and this was right up her alley. I heard lots of "mmms" from her side of the couch for sure. Flaky, crispy, slightly salty, a little doughy, and almost perfect. She went with a 4, while I'd say 4.5.

In conclusion, for a quick, easy, inexpensive make-at-home Indian-inspired feast, this was pretty decent. All dishes were vegetarian, and in the case of the masala dosa, vegan and gluten-free. And yeah, go figure, all are fairly high sodium if that kinda thing is a strike in your book. But in all, they're all fairly tasty and recommended for a dinner feast of your own. It's not the most authentic stuff you could ever have, but it's more close than not, and tough to beat for the rupees.

To conclude, here are our bottom lines:

Trader Joe's Garbanzo Beans: Bottom line: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Trader Joe's Masala Dosa: Bottom line: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Trader Joe's Paneer Roll Aachari: Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Trader Joe's Malabari Paratha: Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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