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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Trader Joe's Macaroni and Cheese

Based on either past employment or college eating habits, there's still a lot of foods I'm loathe to have again. For instance, I have nothing against either Papa John's or Domino's Pizza, but as I worked for both (and ate way too much of their respective pies), I'm not going to be ordering from them any time soon. Neither will I stop by a Boston Market...I worked for one in high school, and I've seen how things are made, and smelled how nasty the chicken skewer-soaking vat o' acid thanks. In December, it will be nine years since I graduated from Penn State, and I think since then I've had about ten packs of Ramen noodles, which is about what I consumed every three days in Happy Valley.

For a long time, mac and cheese was in the same boat. I'm not talking about the homemade stuff, of course. That's nearly always delicious, especially when made by my sister-in-law Megan, and occasionally by my mom when she isn't trying to sneak canned tuna into it (I HATE tuna - blahhh). I'm talking the from-a-box, ten-minutes-on-a-stovetop-type stuff. I could never bring myself to go the Easy Mac route. But yeah, when it wasn't pizza or Ramen in college, it was a box of Kraft. Occasionally I got fancy and got the shells and cheese version, but that got old, too.

Anyways, we're here to talk about Trader Joe's Macaroni and Cheese, with (allegedly) Wisconsin cheddar. For whatever reason, probably partially because we've been crazily busy, Sandy and I have gone on a kick with it. At first, yeah, I wasn't so excited about it, but I'll admit, it's growing on me. It's the typical elbow macaroni in a box with some cheesy powder to mix in with some milk and butter, of which I usually put in just a little extra to make the sauce a little creamier. The macaroni is just about right (which, let's be honest, would be hard to screw up) while the cheese,'s been so long since I've had the famous blue box brand that I don't recall exactly how that tastes to make a direct comparison, but the TJ's strikes me as being just better. I doubt that the cheese flavor is so authentically Wisconsinite that it matches perfectly with a Spotted Cow, but hey, it is kinda cheddary and tasty enough on its own. It's even better with some hot sauce mixed in (haven't tried the TJ's yet, but just finally kicked a gallon jug of Red Devil, so I will soon!) to make what I, for whatever reason, call "schmac 'n cheese." Hmm, that sounds even dumber when I type it...anyways....

For a buck a box, the mac 'n cheese does its job. It's not the best mac 'n cheese product that TJ's offers (there's a competitor or two), but for a quick, reliable, chewing-optional bite, I think it's good. No, it won't beat out your Aunt Millie's, but nothing from a box ever will. As the one who initially semi-twisted my arm into buying it, Sandy is definitely a fan. "Much better than Kraft, and so good with hot sauce," she said before slapping a four on it. Me? It's helping restore my faith in a boxed convenience American classic. That's worth at least something like a four as well.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Macaroni and Cheese: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, April 2, 2012

Trader Joe's Mini Mint Ice Cream Mouthfuls

Well, I'll start off by telling you that these ice cream sandwiches are barely a mouthful. I expected them to be just slightly smaller than a traditional ice cream sandwich...but they're just a tad larger than an oreo in reality—like a regular oreo cookie. They're just one or two bites a piece. It works as portion control, which is good for people like me, who tend to overeat every chance they get. If I'm sitting there thinking "Wow, I've already had three ice cream sandwiches," I'm going to go ahead and stop eating. What kind of pig eats four ice cream sandwiches in one sitting?
So it's a good, built-in reason to not snarf down too many at once.

Another good reason to not snarf down too many: they're just not that good.

It's really hard to screw up mint chocolate chip ice cream. And while it's not a total failure in this case, it does leave a bit to be desired. Sonia was thoroughly disappointed that it wasn't even green. I thought it had a green hue in certain lighting, but Sonia claims that it was stark white. Furthermore, there were very few chocolate chips. And finally, it wasn't really even that minty. It was a very subtly-flavored mint chocolate chip ice cream. Which wouldn't have been that bad, except that the flavor of the cookies completely overpowered the flavor of the ice cream.

The cookies had a decent, natural kind of chocolate taste. Sonia thinks their flavor was similar to carob. I disagree. I don't like carob at all, but I didn't have a problem with the flavor of the cookie part of these sandwiches. What I did have a major problem with, however, was the texture of the cookies. Sonia wholeheartedly agrees. It's something that neither of us could put our fingers on exactly. We wanted to call them dry, but they're not really dry...we wanted to call them gritty, but that's not quite it either. There was just something about the cookies' texture that completely overwhelmed—and to a degree, ruined—all of the pleasant aspects of these little snacks.

We both decided that the ice cream by itself with, perhaps, a few extra chocolate chips and some good old fashioned green #3 would have made a better treat. While the flavor of the chocolate cookies was acceptable, it totally overpowered the taste of the ice cream, and their texture was simply not pleasant. All in all, this is one of the more disappointing frozen snacks we've had from Trader Joe's. There's a novelty to their diminutive size, and the ice cream by itself would have had some potential, but neither of us are going to give these moderately-minty mouthfuls a stellar score.

Sonia thinks they deserve no better than two and a half stars. I agree.

Bottom line: 5 out of 10.

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