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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Trader Joe's Choczilla Nut Pie

For a couple alleged grown-ups, my sister and I have a little too much of a weird things going with tyrannosaurus rex*. Every time we see each other, she and I engage in what we call a "t-rex hug" by stomping up to each other while snorting while holding up our arms short - umm, we even did that right in the middle of my wedding reception...yeah, I'm glad Sandy laughed that off. My sis and I routinely trade pics like this one or this one, and I was beyond ecstatic when she gave me this shirt for a Christmas present. Don't ask me why, but I love stuff like that (I think of it as an alternate icanhascheezburger-type thing) and by extension love the old Godzilla movies (even though they're now the reason why I hate ketchup, but that's a tale for another day). Comparison graphics like this one make me actually even more excited for the arrival of Lil' Russandro/a in late June.

So, yeah, needless to say, want me to buy something? Put a t-rex (or something close) on it. Add in the fact it's mid-evening on a Sunday, you're flying solo and have to find a dessert for an evening family meal, the shelves are depleted and your pregnant wife is demanding something chocolatey but not cheesecake-y, and there's something on the fresh baked goods shelf with a "Choczilla" on it, and even for a kinda steep $6.99, you got a deal.

Except, for something called a Trader Joe's Choczilla Nut Pie, it severely lacks enough of both chocolate and nut to stave off some disappointment. Basically, it's just a regular ol' pecan pie with dark and white chocolate stripes across the top and a small smattering of milk chocolate chips down below. Don't get wrong, it's good, but it's not even close to my Aunt Brenda's homemade pecan pie, the best in the world, against which whether fairly or not I judge all pecan pies. Hers is heavy and literally full of pecans. This? There's a thin layer at the top but mostly it's the mushy underbelly. That kinda helps the pie taste a little bit richer and perhaps a little more chocolately than it actually is. The crust is typical store brand fare, which I'm impartial on. And ohbytheway, don't bother squinting to make out the nutritional info. It's atrocious.

A better name for this would have been something like a "pecan pie with some chocolate" and if a reptilian mascot was really needed, use a gecko (they can shill more than just car insurance) or a snake or something. I'm really not sure what that'd have to do with pecans (maybe a mild chipmunk would be better), but I digress. My whole thing is, the name "Choczilla Nut Pie" conjures up an image of a thoroughly nutty, chocolately pie that this is clearly not, and honestly, although it's tasty, I'm pretty disappointed. It's definitely better than some types of chocolate pies out there, but overall the pie just lacks too much.

Sandy's in full agreement with me. "It could more of either and it'd be so much better. It's kinda weak as is, but still tasty," she said. I concur. If this were my creation, it'd be a full out chocolate pie with every kind of imaginable nut jammed in, and not just a slightly dressed up average-at-best pecan pie. I doubt this will be a repeat purchase for us, and based on that fact, I'll go a bt lower than the three Sandy granted it and go with a 2.5. Kinda like the arms of a t-rex, this definitely falls quite a bit short.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Choczilla Nut Pie: 5.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
*Apparently "tyrannosaurus rex" is both singular and plural. Who makes these rules? Jeez. That just looks wrong but so does "tyrannosaurus rexes" or "tyrannosauri regis" or anything like that.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Trader Joe's Sparkling Blueberry Juice

I loooove me some sweet beverages. I don't care what kind: sodas, juices, energy drinks, milkshakes, nectars, smoothies, frappuccinos, mixed drinks, dessert wines, chocolate milk, or eggnog. I probably drink more calories than I eat. And I'm proud of it. Maybe it's because I'm lazy. The whole act of chewing seems so tedious sometimes.

Why eat a bag of blueberries when you can drink one? TJ's Sparkling Blueberry Juice has got the same great blueberry taste and involves less masticating... No masticating at all as a matter of fact.

In another review of this product that I happened to stumble upon, the taste-tester said this product was "a bit strong." I totally disagree with that statement. Considering that the natural flavor of blueberries is at least a bit strong, I think the flavor of this product is actually a little on the mild side. Not bad. Just a bit mild. The deep, dark color of the beverage is a little misleading if you ask me. Anything with the word "blueberry" on the label should have a big, bold taste. Other than that it, tastes like real, natural blueberries. It's like blueberry juice mixed with some lightly carbonated water.

I also think this product could stand a bit more bubbliness. Carbonation is wonderful. It adds texture to a liquid. Think about it. Foods can have hundreds of different textures, but liquids are either thick or thin -- and they might occasionally have pulp or something -- but carbonation kind of adds texture and body to something that's generally pretty simple. Anyway, that's basically my only complaint. The mild flavor thing isn't really a complaint. Just more of an observation.

Anyhoo, I give it a 3.5 out of 5. I thought about giving it a 4, because it's a great subtitute for champagne (not that it actually tastes anything like champagne), and kind of has that Martinelli's sparkling, non-alcoholicky, fruity vibe. But I've given out a lot of 4's lately. Can't give everything a 4. If it were just a hair stronger or a tad more carbonated, it might have gotten a 4 from me.

Sonia gives it a 4. Her only complaint is that she wishes there were more. At $2.75 a bottle, TJ's could throw us a bone give us more than like 4 glasses-worth.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10 stars.

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

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