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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Trader Joe's Arancini Bites

I'm lucky enough to have many things in life to be thankful for, and somewhere on that list is freezers and how forgiving they can be at times. Sandy and I have the occasional bad habit of buying perishable food and forgetting about it until a while later (which just might be the very definition of the term "first world problem"), which without a freezer can go bad. We've had enough produce like that at times. You bet she makes me take care of the clean-up for that. But freezers? Yup, you better believe we freeze our chicken and all, and with the usual stockpile of various work lunches and ice cream and similar sweets (hey, she's pregnant, it's dangerous to say no), means the freezer can get a little crowded. That's the state we found after our most recent trip and we needed to make just a little bit more room. Fortunately, I found a tub of chicken stock from who knows when ago that I used to make some of the best potato soup ever...and we also found these, Trader Joe's Arancini Bites. It's been at least a month or so since we've bought these, but they still appeared to be in good shape, making me pretty happy that we didn't end up wasting the three bucks or less we paid for 'em (I don't exactly recall the cost, sorry).

I baked these up for a late snack the other night for a chillaxin' evening of half-paying attention to Intervention on Netflix. I hate that intrusive...but yet somehow interesting enough for background noise...kinda like Storage Wars in that regard...I'm glad we don't have cable...I digress. As I brought out a plate of them to the living room, Sandy exclaimed "Oooooh cheesy and bitey!" Well said, gorgeous. As you can see, I may have overbaked them a little as most of the bites had a little melty cheese cape on them, but meh. Basically, each cheesy ball is comprised of some fontina cheese rolled up with some rice-dough type stuff (with a couple actual grains here and there) with a panko breadcrumb coat. I don't really recall any other instances of having fontina cheese, but it struck me as kinda like parmesan and mozzarella, except better. I'll assume that's about on par, and the cheese melted into every bite. Theoretically, I could've made up some marinara for a side dipping sauce, but we ate them plain as is and every arancini bite was delicious. It is important to note that these are NOT considered vegetarian as there's chicken broth used as flavoring in these, although I didn't really taste that.

I just remembered part of the reason why it took us long to get around to eating these. I kept thinking of and seeing the word "arancini" and twisting around the letters in my head to something like "arachnid" and thinking of these as "arachnid bites." Not that I'm afraid of spiders or anything - you should see some of them at my grandparents' cabin - but ask Peter Parker how that arachnid bite worked out for him. That's something I don't need on my plate right now, figuratively and literally. Plus, my wife is way prettier than Kirsten Dunst, who just looks perpetually hungry to me. Maybe she should stock up on these, too.

Anyways, I'm glad we finally got around to chomping these down. "They're kinda like fried mozzarella sticks, except for grownups, and they're baked, so they're healthier for us then, right? Right?" Sandy asked. Umm, yes. "I don't want to see the box on these," she said. Oh, they're not so bad, darling, but there's a reason I followed these up with an Asian pear for another snack. Trader Joe's Arancini Bites carry some solid spoon power for the two of us. Sandy's going with a four, and I'll up that another half, as, man, I wish I had some of these left right now. Yup, they're that good.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Arancini Bites: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, February 27, 2012

Trader Joe's Thai Style Chicken Flatbread Pizza

Pizza pretty much speaks for itself, so I'm not going into some big ol' thing about it. I love pizza, you probably at least like it, enough said. Also, I think I've expressed my thoughts about Thai food in enough other reviews around here that I'm not going to go rehash all them. Bottom line is, I also love Thai food, and I *hope* that you at least like it, too.

But...combining them? Now there's an interesting concept that I haven't had before. Is it really a surprise that once I saw this on the fresh pizza shelf, I thought, "Sandy and I have to have this?" Nah, not at all, especially given our previous tasty experience with one of TJ's fresh flatbread pizzas (which mercifully came back in stock after being absent for months, I thought it was a goner) balanced with our general ambivalence towards the TJ freezer pizza line. For only $3.99 (which is less than the $4.28 we paid for a cheese pizza on clearance the previous night at Target*), it's worth the shot. Oh, the things I do for this blog...

Tell ya what: Trader Joe's Thai Style Chicken Flatbread Pizza works, and works well. The pizza portion bakes in the oven for only about 5 or 6 minutes (I might have baked our more like 7 or 8) right on the oven rack. That stuff in the cup and baggie you see in the pic? That's basically like a fresh slaw of cabbage, carrots and red bell pepper bits that you mix in a bowl with some peanut sauce and spread atop the pizza once baked. All the veggies are firm and crunchy, and the peanut sauce is more or less a basic pad thai sauce, which means I like it. The flatbread is a little thick and flaky, but definitely good, and its covered with a plum sauce that from the little I could taste of it seemed good. It has all these other things like soy sauce and vinegar and five spice in it, and it's really not spicy at all. There's a little too little of the chicken, naturally, but that too is good, and it's topped off with provolone and mozzarella cheese - hmm, that might be the most Italian part of the whole pie.

That leads me to this, so follow me here. The directions on the back of this say that after you bake the pizza and spread the slaw, you should cut the pizza in half then "fold each half taco-style." So what this is telling me is, as an American, I should prepare this Thai/Italian fusion product and enjoy like a Mexican food. Interesting, and very fully culturally inclusive of them. I have no doubt that this would be enjoyed without folding it in half, but if that's what they recommend, can it really be called pizza? Not that you can't fold a pizza slice in half, but the outcome of this is more like a baked sandwich (closest thing I could think of is a baked panini). Of course, if it's marketed under "pizza looking thing that really you fold into a sandwich," well, that just might confuse everybody. Maybe it's better to call it a "pizza" that you eat like a "taco," which invariably brings this to mind. Believe me, I've thought about this way too much in the 24 hours or so that it's been between my eating of this product and the writing of this review. It felt good to let that all out.

Anyhoose, both the wifey and I enjoyed our respective nibbles, which with some chips and salsa made a more-than-adequate late Saturday lunch. The flatbread on my half folded over quite nicely, whereas hers busted in half which led to a collateral slaw pile on her plate. I mistook that for her not liking the slaw - she's veggie-sensitive at times - but nah, she said she liked it just fine. In fact, a little less slaw might be preferable for some, as I kept all mine on and it seemed to be the predominant taste. Not that's it bad, but I couldn't get as accurate a gauge on the rest of the Thaitalian taco as I would've liked. As a whole, it seems to edge more towards the fresh and savory side of Thai-ish cuisine instead of spicy, which is okay and a change-up for me, at least. Sandy's on board with a good solid four for the chicken pizza, and I concur.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Thai Style Chicken Flatbread Pizza: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons
*Clearance freezer pizza? Interesting concept. It was a Newman's Own, which for late night after a long Friday during Lent, worked just fine.

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