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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Trader Joe's Spanakopita

You know, I was planning to start this off by going off on some tangent about Greek food festivals here in and around the 'burgh (there's one pretty much every week in the spring and summer, which is awesome) but then I looked up what the word "spanakopita" means in Greek. I'm so disappointed. There's a part of me that gets excited when I find out that a food name like "burrito" can be translated as "little donkey" or, my favorite, that "gordita" can be taken as "fat little girl." Now I know that Greece has a rich tradition of mythology and also I've watched enough Popeye cartoons to know what spinach can do for a guy, so, really, I was hopeful. I figured it meant something like "Zeus vitamins" or "favored munchie of Apollo." Heck, I'd even settle for "Minotaur vegetarian option." But no, it means nothing like that . Spanáki (spinach) + pítta (pie) = spanakopita (spinach pie). While being straightforward, it's also pretty lame. Eh well. Regardless of its pitiful nomenclature, spanakopita is one pretty tasty treat that Sandy and I routinely enjoy at the aforementioned Greek food fests so when we saw that Trader Joe's offered a box that just might get us through the lean winter months, we figured it was worth a shot.

Well, it's nothing like your yiayia's homemade batch, but for what it is, Trader Joe's Spanakopita is decent enough. $3.99 gets you a box of a dozen good-sized triangles that bake up in the oven. Whoever invented the idea of phyllo is a genius. Though so inefficient as dough needing layers upon layers, the phyllo on those bake and brown up real nice, keeping crispy in spots it needs to be crispy, and a little mushily saturated when it comes in contact with the spinach filling. The spinich filling works alright, too. It's strangely reminiscent of my mom's homemade spinach soufflé (which, believe it or not, was a favorite dish of mine growing up) as there's a lot of chopped up spinach with some feta and ricotta (more ricotta than feta, which is a minus) with a pinch of onion and whatever Greek spices. It seems like there's an appropriate amount per wedge, too, so all in all, they're pretty decent for the bake-from-a-box variety.

That's not to say they'll be joining our pantheon, though. First, there's the relative abundance of ricotta versus the pittance of feta. I know you want to keep it cheap, Trader Joe, but c'mon now. There's only enough feta in there for it to be tasted but not really experienced, at least in our box. Secondly, the box. Look at the picture. It's so lame. Put some gods or cyclops or at least Socrates on there, for goodness sake. Also it refers to the dough as "fillo." I've seen "phyllo" (my preferred spelling) and "filo" but never "fillo." It's not the first time that TJ's makes a goofy error like that on a box, but combine that with the generic design and lack of feta, I can't help but think this is some cheapie knockoff frozen brand in TJ's clothing. Kind of like the Trojan Horse, I guess. One last gripe: the spinach filling kinda spewed partially out halfway thru the baking time, causing this burnt mess I had to scrunge off our baking sheet, which I hate doing. As a word of advice, put some tin foil under these suckers. You'll thank me.

It's time for the Golden Spoons...hopefully we won't *fleece* them...sorry. Sandy seems to like them well enough, but I was a little perplexed when she went with a four for them. "They're not as good as the real thing, but they're pretty good anyways," she said. Hmm. Apparently, they're also not as good as reheated leftover pizza crust to her either, as she opted for those over her third spinachy bite during our pizza and spanakopita lunch the other day. Not like I'm complaining for picking up her slack, but let's just say these don't exactly get my Zorbas dancing either. I'll counter with a 3.5.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, January 23, 2012

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Filled Cupcakes

After our last review, Sonia and I were feeling a bit gluten-deficient, so we ran out and picked up some cupcakes. Not gluten-free cupcakes. Regular old glutenful cupcakes.

Now, I was super hungry when I tried these for the first time. It was the day after we got them home from TJ's. The cupcakes were moist, rich, and delectastic. (Does that fictitious adjective work for you? I have mixed feelings about it. It's supposed to be a contraction of "delectable" and "fantastic," but it kind of loses some of its potency when I have to explain that. But probably most of you would have gotten it anyway...I think. But anyway, I digress). Yes, delectastic. And I'm not really the hugest fan of dark chocolate. I know dark chocolate is tres chic right now. Everybody loves chocolate, and dark chocolate is supposed to be better for you than milk chocolate because there's less sugar and more cocoa bean and more antioxidants and more magical unicorn juice and all that nonsense. But I'm actually a fan of white chocolate because there's more sugar and less good for you stuff—and perhaps one of the best desserts I've ever had was a white chocolate peanut butter cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory, which is one of the most unhealthy restaurants in existence. If you actually look at the nutrition information for what you're eating, you'll probably never go there again. But anyway, I digress again—for the second time in one paragraph. Maybe it's time for a new paragraph.

Ahem. My point was that I like sweeter chocolates better. But in this case, the dark chocolate was both rich and sweet. Sweet enough for me. It blended with the peanut butter beautifully. One of the best cupcakes in recent memory. And I've had some pretty tasty cupcakes in my day. Crumbs and Frosted Cupcakery come to mind. There are those who will tell you that Sprinkles is of the same caliber as those guys, but I'm not one of them. Nor is Sonia. I'm also hoping to check out cupcakes from the legendary Magnolia Bakery in Manhattan on our next trip to NYC. And for you gluten-free people who've made it this far into what has become a highly gluten-laden article, please please please check out Sweet Freedom Bakery in Center City Philadelphia next time you're there. Amazing. In fact, if you're kosher Jewish, vegan, or allergic to wheat, soy, corn, peanuts, eggs, and/or sugar, you can still check out their products. Seriously. I'm not sure what is in their stuff, but it's none of that stuff.

Definitely not the case with these TJ's cupcakes. In fact, I think I just named the entire ingredients list of these cupcakes in that big sentence near the end of the previous paragraph. But on with the review. I ate two cupcakes the first time I tried them. They were great. The following day, Sonia insisted that I have a third while she ate the final one. I didn't put up too much of a fight, even though my tummy was protesting because of the first two cupcakes. (I am gluten-sensitive, but not really gluten-intolerant). This third cupcake was definitely not as good as the first two. It might be partly because I wasn't as hungry, but I think a big part of it was that the cupcakes were actually beginning to get stale. It had only been about 24 hours, but there was a distinct difference. Those first two cupcakes would have gotten a 5 from me. That third cupcake would only get a 4. So I'll split the difference and give these guys a highly-respectable 4.5 stars out of 5.

Sonia gives them 4 stars. She says they're not too sweet, just sweet enough. She says its a perfect peanut butter to chocolate ratio. She's a fan. And she's an even bigger cupcake connoisseur than I am.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10 stars.

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