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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Trader Joe's Peppered Uncured Turkey Bacon

Nathan's right. It s kinda silly that leading up to Thanksgiving we've featured Thai products two posts in a row. So let's talk some turkey, shall we? Chances are, in just a few days time, you'll have more turkey leftovers than what you'll know what to do with - too good to throw out, the food pantries won't take it, but before too long you'll be sick of it. Never fear; there's some okay looking recipe websites out there that'll give you plenty of tips (although some look a little gross. Like Thanksgiving in a Cone. Blecch).

Not a single one of these sites will tell you how to make turkey bacon, though I can presume how it's made: mix and mash up all the random turkey bits you can, process them down with a couple random spices, form into a thin loaf-like shape, put a heavy coating of pepper on the outside, and cut into thick strips. To cook, drizzle some oil in a pan and cook to either it's limp, greasy and heated, or burn the crud out of it and hope for the best.

If that doesn't sound so great, well, there's a reason: it isn't. I've extolled my love of bacon before so I'm not going to go over that all over again. But dangit, bacon is either pork, or it isn't bacon at all. Trader Joe's Peppered Uncured Turkey Bacon is no exception. It tastes just like how presume it was made, which kinda left me with the impression it was Turkey Spam. For cooking, we went the "blacken and pray" route, and while the outside got burnt and semi-palatable, the insides were left chewy, kinda funky, and Turkey-Jerky-esque. The cooking instructions say to heat for a couple minutes on both sides but all that produces is the aforementioned big floppy greasy strip of meat. The directions also ominously say "results may vary." Tastewise, it's mostly pepper, though the meat is a little sweet from the applewood smoking it undergoes. It's okay, but it doesn't taste enough like bacon to either one of us. I should've guessed that before buying, with poultry being such a lean meat and fat being such a key part of the bacon equation, but the thought didn't cross my mind. I just saw cheap ($2.99) bacon and decided to try it out.

I can understand people liking it though. Nutritionally, it's a bazillion times better for you. Almost no fat or calories, no nitrates, yada yada, all that good stuff. And perhaps things like turkey bacon are an acquired taste, and perhaps this is good for the aficionados out there, and if it is, go enjoy. For Sandy and I, we're just a little confused that while TJ's can consistently offer a reasonably good alternative meat products like soy chorizo, veggie sausage, beefless ground beef, or heck, even a meatless corn dog, they can't do the same for one animal stepping in for another one. I made us a panfull for breakfast over the weekend, and for once my scrambled eggs were the highlight on the plate. Sandy, who I thought would be in a better place to appreciate this TJ product, actually had much the same thought as I did. "It just doesn't get crispy, which I like, and it tastes kinda weird," she said. I concur. She went with a 2.5 for it, while I'll knock it a half-spoon down from there.

Bottom line: 4.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, November 18, 2011

Trader Joe's Vegetable Thai Kao Soi

If you like curry, you'll like this Thai Kao Soi. It's got some spice, and it's got a great balance of noodles and vegetables. It even comes with wonton-like crisps to put on top for a little extra texture. Trader Joe's usually does pretty well with vegetable dishes because they always throw in a great mix of veggies. When there's meat involved, TJ's tends to be a little stingy. There's always just enough meat to leave you wanting some more. But personally, I didn't miss the meat in this dish. Thai foods usually don't need meat because the flavors are always so rich without it. It's an extremely filling dish as it is.

We ate it with rice. It didn't really even need that, but it did help round out the meal. The Thai Kao Soi was on par with restaurant Thai curry. Good restaurant Thai curry. We used to go to this place in Hollywood called Jitlada. It was just a hole in the wall in some strip mall, but it was a nice hole in the wall. The friend of mine who introduced us to the place claimed that when the previous prime minister of Thailand visited Los Angeles, he stopped in and ate at this place. After I tasted the food, I could believe that claim, which originally sounded a little outrageous. There were photos of important-looking people adorning the walls of the restaurant, but then, there are photos of famous and important-looking people in Hollywood's hot dog stands and McDonald's.

I'm not sure if the prime minister of Thailand has ever stopped in to a Trader Joe's while visiting the U.S., but Ms. Yingluck Shinawatra, if you find yourself in America and you've a hankering for a microwaveable taste of home, I'd swing by a TJ's if I were you. Most of their Thai stuff is decent, considering most of it can be prepared in under 10 minutes. I'd avoid the Vegetable Pad Thai, but apparently the Red Curry Sauce is good. Interesting that we've reviewed two Thai items right in a row...and a week before Thanksgiving.

I'm all about an international Thanksgiving. Hopefully I'll get a little taste of that next week in NYC as I partake of my dinner with a Mexican, a Cuban, and an East Indian. One of the things I'm thankful for is that my wife and her friends allow a white person to hang out with them.

I really don't have any major complaints about this dish. Well, there's the 70% US RDA of saturated fat, but hey, that just goes to show you how authentic it is. Real curry ain't lite. It's creamy and coconutty and it's got a bit of a kick, and that's exactly what we've got here. Double 4.5's from Sonia and I. It's another near-Pantheon dish in our opinion.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Trader Joe's Thai Red Curry Sauce and Low Sodium Soy Sauce

Sandy and I are coming up on our second anniversary in the next week or so. Don't worry, I know the date and got a special night set up for us. Know what got me talkin' with her a few years back? A cake. Seriously. For a church picnic, she made a homemade lemon lavender cake with white chocolate cream cheese frosting...I swear to this day one of the best things I've ever eaten, it was so impossibly good. I found out she made it, saw she was cute, knew she was single, and the rest is history. Due to the hours she spent baking it, Sandy's on record as saying she'll never make it again, which I'm strangely okay with, seeing as that I'd prefer not to keep fending off any more happy-bellied suitors. That cake's already got her one man, thank you very much.

Despite her baking prowess, I am predominantly the chef in our household, though. Not that I'm supremely talented or anything, but it just kinda works out that way more times than not, probably because I'm holed in a cubicle all day as she's wrestling a classroom worth of older toddlers. I tend to try and look at what we have and go from there. Have bread, cheese, butter, and leftover soup from our weekend crockpot-o'-goodness? Grilled cheese and soup for dinner. Bacon, eggs, and a certain hankering? Breakfast for dinner. Seeing as that we have a Home Depot bucket full of rice in our kitchen, we go to that fairly often for all sorts of tasty meals, and we nearly always have chicken and onions (which I chop under careful spousal supervision to make sure they're small enough under threat of revolt) and other tidbits around, so fried rice/chicken-and-rice dinners are pretty common, too. The question is, how should I make them tasty and different enough to keep them from getting old?

One decent choice is Trader Joe's Thai Red Curry Sauce. Is this the best curry sauce ever? Nah. We've gone out to enough Thai restaurants to know it's not in the running. But how many world class curry sauces do you have lurking around your pantry shelf? Thought so. It's thick, creamy, sweetened from the coconut milk, fairly rich, and a little kick to it. That's the main problem - the kick just isn't strong enough. Granted, this comes from a guy whose Thai waitress once said, in an equally polite and incredulous tone, "I have never seen a white person eat as spicy food as you." That earned her a big tip. The pureed red chiles just don't do enough, and when the ingredients say "spices" I presume that's just salt. Still, it's complex enough (I liked the little bit of ginger you can taste), with a little sweet and a little spicy, and most importantly, it does well enough when simmered with some chicken and served with rice to make a fairly good, satisfying dinner fairly quickly. There's also a yellow curry sauce available, and although it's been a while since we've had that, I remember it being pretty decent too, maybe even a little spicier. At the local shop anyways, it's $2.69 a bottle, and with a little discipline it can last more than one meal, though we're usually tempted otherwise.

Another go-to option is the Low Sodium Soy Sauce. Hmm, looking at the label, I'm not sure how that qualifies as "low sodium" regular soy sauce that much worse Na-wise? I've made my one nutritional stand recently to hold me over for a bit. Anyways, I frequently use the soy sauce for making a good-size batch of fried rice. Used to be that along with the soy sauce, I'd toss in different spices to try and come up with a good flavor combo. What does the trick for us now is a little extra soy sauce to get that flavor in and a sprinkling of crushed red pepper to add a little heat. It's a little sweet, definitely salty, and deep and robust, and it brings out a lot of goodness with chicken, rice, eggs, peas, peanuts or whatever else I toss in. TJ's soy sauce delivers a winner nearly every time unless I botch something up, like the time I confused the cinnamon and cumin. That was kinda weird. A bottle lasts a while, and it's something like $2 a pop, which is a small price to pay for some dependability for your rations.

I pressed Sandy for her opinion on the Thai Red Curry Sauce, and she gave me one of those looks. "32," she said. I pointed out that's not a valid Golden Spoon rating, and that there's no way she liked it 6.4 times as much as one of our favorite ice creams. "Arrrrgh, sometimes I just want to eat something and not try to rank it," she said. Poor thing. Must be tough to be hitched to one of the nation's prominent foodie-hack bloggers (and a self-indulgent one at that), with the pressure being what it is.* I finally figured out that by "32" she really meant "4" for the curry sauce, and I thought it best to not press my luck and ask her to rank a soy sauce, of all things. I can tell she likes both though, because when I present her with a hot dish of either, after a few bites, she usually says to our pooch, "Wimbles, Daddy makes good dinner. Yumyumyum." Both sauces make for one of the major flavors, so she's gotta like 'em both. I'll presume a 4 for her for the soy sauce as well...aww heck, matching fours all the way around. We're harmonious like that.

Bottom lines: Trader Joe's Thai Red Curry Sauce: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Trader Joe's Low Sodium Soy Sauce: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

*I'm not even recognized at the Pittsburgh store yet. That has to change.

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