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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Trader Joe's Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Don't ask me why, but I don't think was even cognizant of the existence of sweet potatoes until I took up a high school job slingin' chicken thighs 'n sides at Boston Market. I'm pretty darn sure that my mom was way too busy making so many other great dinners that she never got around to making them, and while I'm sure they were probably present in some form at family Thanksgiving, I'd be too busy stuffing my face with mashed potatoes and/or my Aunt Brenda's pecan pie (easily the best in the world, and way better than any TJ knockoff) to notice. I'd have to come up for air for that. Anyways, at the Market, I saw them one day with the marshmallows and brown sugar on top, and figured, well, why not. I now know that those aren't even all that close to being an actual real sweet potato, but man, I got hooked. I think I nearly got fired from there from trying to sneak bites here and there while I thought the manager was too busy smoking in the back to watch. Since then, I've come to like practically anything sweet potato-related - fries, chips, casserole, heck, even the sweet potato/meat/onion/green pepper foil packs my dad, my brothers and I made on our Man Weekend last weekend. In fact, I've come to think with just an exception or two here or there (say, mashed potatoes and gravy), sweet potatoes are by in large superior to their regular homefriable homeboys.

Well, let's make another exception with the Trader Joe's Sweet Potato Gnocchi. Let's just say this isn't TJ's finest effort. Let me explain. I haven't eaten a lion's share of tuber-based gnocchi in my day, but I've given it the ol' college try on enough occasions. Every single time, it's been firm, kinda chewy, doughy yet solid, tasty ball of goodness. Not these, and it's not even particularly close, either. Think mushballs. That's the best way I can think of describing the texture. Really, the gnocchi seem more stuffing-like than anything else. I began to have a feeling they'd be like this while cooking them up in my fry pan. Yep, fry pan. You don't boil these frozen guys, you heat them up in a lightly oiled pan, and as the gnocchi warmed up, they all began to fall apart, especially when I got the spatula involved. Texturewise, they just weren't there. Just look at the picture up above - that oughtta give you a pretty good idea of what I'm talking about.

As for'm kinda split on it. I enjoyed the first couple bites well enough, but before too long, they just didn't taste quite as good. The law of diminishing returns shouldn't work so quickly. I mean, they taste alright, kinda mildly sweet potato-ey, with the included butter and subtle sage sauce, but after a while, it just wasn't too terribly interesting any more, at least not to me. Sandy was a little more blunt and blurted out, unprompted, "These just don't really taste like anything." I'd disagree, but I understood what she was saying, too.

"I don't know why Trader Joe's is calling these gnocchi, because they're not really close to any gnocchi I've ever had," Sandy said. I could tell my girl meant business because with each bite her face just showed more and more displeasure, and I'm pretty sure she pushed her plate away more than once, which honestly I'd never seen her do before. That's why I was kinda surprised when Sandy said she'd give 'em a two. Not that I'm one to question her judgment (that's straight to sleeping on the couch territory there), but, uh, since I assume she's rounding up I'll go ahead and round down my score. Make a firmer, boilable version of these sweet potato gnocchi, Trader Joe, and this score could definitely rise. 'Til then, you gotta settle for 1.5 from me, buddy.

Trader Joe's Sweet Potato Gnocchi: 3.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, May 7, 2012

Trader Joe's Vegetable Pakoras

Reminiscent of Trader Joe's Heat and Eat Falafel, these happy little balls of Indian food are nearly as unique as their name. I've been to a good number of Indian joints, but I don't believe I've ever heard of pakoras before.

Like falafel, they're made with chick peas, but these also have potatoes, peas, carrots, onions, and some Indian spices rolled up and fried to perfection. To heat, you just pop these frozen puppies in the oven for 15 minutes. They come with a sweet tamarind sauce—which became a topic of hot debate in our household.

This tamarind sauce not only defied our expectations, but apparently defied several universal laws of nature as well. First of all, when something from Trader Joe's is supposed to be sweet, it's a universal law that I'll be the one complaining that it's not sweet enough, and Sonia will say that it's either perfect or maybe even too sweet. Of this sauce, she said the opposite. And I was quite happy with it's sweetness-level—but then, I was expecting sweet as in tangy, spicy, Indian sweet; not sweet as in fresh orange marmalade sweet. Not that Sonia was expecting the latter, but she did somehow seem very disappointed, and said "I wasn't expecting it to be so bitter." Bitter is one of the last words I would use to describe it. She also called it sour. It was tangy, but I certainly wouldn't call it "sour" exactly. It was good if you ask me, and including it in this package definitely impacted my score of this product for the better. Also, strangely enough, Sonia loves everything made with tamarind. Maybe she thought the sauce would be sweet because "tamarind" to her means a flavor of Mexican candy or the Jarritos brand Tamarindo flavored soda. That particular flavor of "refresca" is the only Jarritos I can't stand, and I think the candy is even worse.

As for the pakoras themselves, we were both fans. I personally think the heat and eat falafel is just a tad tastier. I can't put my finger on why exactly—I think the falafel just seems richer and nuttier somehow. The texture of a falafel ball is denser; thicker than these pakora snacks. More filling in a way—but not by much. Although with significantly more ingredients, the taste of these pakora balls is a bit more complex, and perhaps just a little lighter. I felt the sauce complemented their flavor and added a welcomed flair, but Sonia preferred them dry.

Sauceless or not, we both came to the same conclusion. These pakoras are worthy of 4 stars from each of us. Vegans, go nuts. Fans of cheap foreign foods, rejoice. Trader Joe's adventurers, dive in.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

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