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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Trader Joe's Organic Whole Wheat Penne Pasta...and More

Sundays usually are my favorite day of the week. I really don't care that the day after Sunday is Monday, meaning a whole new work week. My take on Mondays is, they make up 1/7th of your life, so you may as well enjoy them. Thursday, though? If I had to say I didn't like one day of the week, I think I'd pick Thursdays. By then, I'm usually ready for it to be Friday, but it isn't yet. That's really not Thursday's fault, as I'm guessing it just drew the short stick in the days of the week rotation, but tough noogies. Anyways, Sundays. Love them. Like this past Sunday, it meant a little sleeping in, church, lunch with my folks who were visiting from out of town, a run out to get a crib on sale and to make a stop by the used bookstore before visiting a friend who just had a baby, and some Rita's before finally heading home to relax with some Netflix and our puppy. All in all, it was a good day, and despite some of the busy-ness, it was pretty relaxing, too. In fact, it was so relaxing that it took a couple episodes of "Bizarre foods" to realize how hungry we were. It was time for dinner, and both Sandy and I needed something good and easy.

I quickly thought to myself, "Okay, we have Trader Joe's Organic Whole Wheat Penne Pasta.... a bag of his Party Size Mini Meatballs...and some of that Giotto fella's Three Cheese Pomodoro Pasta Sauce....voila!" Pasta and meatballs are such a good comfort food, yet so simple, so let's run thru these one at a time here.

First off, we have the whole wheat penne, which in the gluten world is the complete opposite of these a-maize-ing noodles. Both Sandy and I really like the corn pasta (pretty happy there's a widened selection at our usual shop!) and to be honest, we should have stuck to it. The corn pasta tastes pretty close to regular noodles, whereas these, not so much. Simply stated, these are too wheaty, in all the wrong ways. Appearancewise, these boil down to this very drab, unappetizing watery colorless grain tube. The penne itself is thicker and chewier (think of the difference between homemade bread made with and without wheat flour, and you got an idea), while tasting kinda grainy. I guess we should've expected that. I liked them a little bit, which is more than poor Sandy did. "Blah," she said. Yet, we plowed on thru them, because it's not only bad to waste food, but also we had...

...a good helping of Party Size Mini Meatballs to go on them! Whoo-hoo! Party on, Wayne! Well, okay, they're not so spectacular. But that doesn't mean they're not good. Each meatball is made of both beef and pork (two animals = bonus) with whatever the usual kinda meatbally spices are. They're pretty well seasoned, for sure. I also like them because, as opposed to regular-size frozen meatballs, these mini guys defrost all the way thru while cooking them. Unless I cut them in half, the bigger ones tend to scorch on the outside while remaining tundrified in the middle. I figure these are a good option if you're the type who likes to fancy-glop up some meatballs on a toothpick for a party hors d'oeuvres, too, but for the two of us, they work for a regular ol' dinner. Both of us, despite the shortcomings of the pasta, enjoyed pretty much every bite that had at least a little meatball action on t, particularly if also smothered by....

...some of Trader Giotto's Three Cheese Pomodoro Pasta Sauce! To be honest, I'm not a fan of most of TJ's pasta sauces as they come in a jar. I find I have to doctor them a little bit to make them palatable to me. Not this. There's not a thing I would either add to or subtract from this sauce. It's light and mild, certainly not acidic, and has plenty of cheesy goodness to it between the romano, Parmesan and asiago cheese. I'd venture to say that unless you're a shaker cheese addict, it's fairly unnecessary for this sauce. There's also little bits of diced onion and garlic in there. It's just good. The only thing is, there's occasionally a medium-ish chunk of onion or cheese or some other ingredient that get's mixed in. I've noticed that in a few different jars we've bought, and poor Sandy (who's chunky-cooked-veggie adverse enough as is) pulled one out of her bowl much to her displeasure, and looked at me quite incredulously as I first inspected then ingested it. "Weirdo," she said. She certainly got that part right.

Anyways, so that's that, except for ratings. I don't recall the exact prices on these, but think the pasta was around $2 for the package, whereas the meatballs and sauce were more in the general $2.50-$3 range. Put us down for low marks each for the wheat pasta (say, a 1 for the Mrs. and a 2.5 for me? Not gonna argue.). For the meatballs, let's say a 4 each, and for the sauce, a 5 for me and 3.5 for my beautiful wife. I'm guesstimating her marks based on reaction and a couple things she said. Clearly, her favorite part of our dinner was the meatballs. I should have been more of a gentleman and offered her some more of mine, and even pull out the whole "Lady and the Tramp" routine, but I liked them too much myself, especially with my favorite TJ pasta sauce so far. I'll save the wheat pasta for a night when I can choke them down as she she usually does on Thursday nights when I rarely see her much...hmm, coincidence?

Bottom lines:
Trader Joe's Organic Whole Wheat Penne Pasta: 3.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Trader Joe's Party Size Mini Meatballs: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Trader Giotto's Three Cheese Pomodoro Pasta Sauce: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Trader Joe's Mini Chicken Tamalitos

If you've read this blog for any amount of time, you know how I feel about lunch, particularly at work: a necessary evil. I'm just not a fan. Part of it is, if there's any general selection of anything that Trader Joe's fails to impress me with, it's decent lunch options, in at least the price range I'm willing to pay (about $2 for an entree). Yeah, I'm cheap, but got a kid on the way, and my Subaru just crapped out after a rough 18 years of life (I knew I shouldn't have said anything about its cupholders a couple weeks ago), so, I'm justified. At least to myself. Anyways, there are some options, like this, that, and that other thing, but it's the same, week after week after week. I need something new, dangit, and it's an added bonus if it's something that will make my fastfood-baggin' coworkers look at me funny. I cannot tell you how shocked I was to see this package discarded in the trash at work the other day, and not by me, so there's hope for them yet.

I guess that's why I picked up the Mini Chicken Tamalitos last week. They're a little pricier than I would have usually liked at $3.99, but I figured I could make two lunches from them, so it works. I know what you're thinking: "Hmm, frozen microwavable tamales. Yeah right." Well, if the bigger version works according to our resident tamale expert, I had hope for these pequeño pieces, too.

A little water in the bottom of some Tupperware, a damp paper towel over, a little plastic wrap and a couple minutes in the microwave are what you need for these. The result is a steamy hot little tamale to unhusk for your dining pleasure. These work. No, seriously. Take a look at the picture I took of one I intentionally sliced in half: soft warm corn masa wrap, a respectable amount of decent white meat chicken, and lots of glowing red spices that actually have a little kick to them. Si, delicioso. Each tamale is about two or three bites, so four or five of them is plenty for lunch, especially if you have some of your favorite sidekick pretzels. I've had fresh homemade tamales in Mexico, and while these TJ creations certainly can't hold a candle to them, they're respectable enough in their own way for both taste and texture. I really don't have much of an issue with them.

There is, of course, one goofy thing about them. In Spanish, if you put an -ito or -ita on the end of the word, the word then means "little ___." That's why "burrito" means "little donkey" and "Judge Ito" means "little judge." Likewise, "tamalito" equates to "little tamale." Not a problem, except there's also the word "mini" in the product name, which either makes the name redundant ("mini chicken little tamales"), or there's the implication that Trader Joe's has cultivated and harvested an entire race of micro-chickens for the sole purpose of creating these tamales and just maybe these tacos. I wouldn't put it beyond them, but man, that's a lot of unnecessary effort.

Anyways, as with most of my lunch escapades, it's just me grading these. Sandy's a little adverse to most tamales anyways as the texture of the masa dough usually gets to her, so I'm not sure she'd be a willing participant this time around anyways. Anyways, like I said, I really like these, perhaps a little more than I really should. Probably some of it has to do with when a random coworker asked me if you eat the husks, too. My only semi-valid complaint is, although they remain mostly intact, each teeny tamale I scarfed down had some of the stuff stick to the corn husk. Even though I used them for lunch, think of any time or situation where you could use a handful of tasty little tamales, and yeah, they'll work. Other than the sticking issue, I find myself swaying between a four and a four and a half for them, so let's just say a little of Column A and a little of Column B.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Mini Chicken Tamalitos: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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