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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Trader Joe's Fresh Noodles and Gourmet Buffalo Chicken Meatballs

Ever make homemade spaghetti noodles? No, I'm not talking about using a Ronco presto-pesto auto-al dente pasta maker or even a Kitchen Aid mixer attachment (however in the h-e-double bendi-straw that would work) either. Sandy and I did once, using some old school handcranked pasta dough flattener/noodle cutter that should've been bolted to a work bench. That thing was a beast, and if we had any Italian grandmothers, I'm sure they would've been well pleased. But honestly, we weren't so enamored with the results. I mean, for all that work,I'd hope for something marginally better than the dried boxed variety, but alas, it was not to be.

So while homemade may always be the best, freshest option for just about anything, sometimes it's not a bad idea to leave it to the pros and try to settle for a second best option. Sandy and I bought Trader Joe's Fresh Noodles  with that at least partially in mind. I'm sure these have been around for a bit, but I've never spotted them until our last trip. TJ's apparently is making another experiment in noodle technology, this time to make a completely vegan noodle. Now, if they could make a organic, gluten-free vegan that even possible, aside from subbing in some strips of tree bark? Anyways for these vegan delights, this naturally means no eggs, which is one the base ingredients for just about any type of dough. I guess that's why they tasted a little different. I don't mean different in a bad way, just....different. They're a little plainer tasting than even their usual semolina brethren, a little doughier, and while soggier isn't the right word, they seemed to somehow retain water a little differently, making them perhaps a little denser. I'm not sure that "al dente" is an option with these noodles, although even after our generously-sized dinners we have a full half of the package to experiment with. I'm not sure these will become a regular purchase of ours, but still, they're not a stray from the norm we regret. Maybe that Popeil fella's on to something after all.

Meanwhile, I'm almost positive that Trader Joe's Gourmet Spicy Buffalo Style with Blue Cheese Chicken Meatballs has to be a new product, because anything that has "Buffalo" and "Chicken" in its title increases its likelihood of purchase to nearly 100%. Seriously, if I saw Buffalo Chicken Owl Pellets for sale somewhere, I'd buy them and not think twice. Anyways, these meatballs, like most of TJ's spherical carne offerings, did not disappoint. They're fully cooked as is, and are in the fresh refrigerated section as opposed to the freezer aisles, and so all that's needed to get these ready for dinner is a few minutes in the oven. Although kinda dry and dusty-lookin' on the outside, inside the ground chicken remains just juicy enough, and also maintains a lot of freshness. Not only that, but they're fairly spicy as well. Granted, at the risk of alienation of some of the masses, they could be just a tad spicier, but that's not too much of a demerit in my mind. Too many times when there's bleu/blue cheese that gets tossed into the Buffalo chicken product at the factory level, the overwhelming flavor is the cheese. Not with these albóndigas de pollo picante. The blue cheese is more of a sidenote/accessory flavor while the spiciness takes center stage. That's the way it oughtta be. Count me as a fan.

I got in the habit during college of just splashing some Frank's Red Hot on a bowl of noodles and calling that and a beer "dinner." Somehow this has lasted all the way into my married life, with Sandy completely joining in, so our noodle 'n spicy chicken meatball dinner was something right up our respective alleys. To be fair, it could have used something, like a little mozzarella or some extra hot sauce, but we don't have much of a problem with the respective components as is. Sandy gives a ", maybe three 'n a half" for the "not bad" eggless wonder noodles, while giving the Buf-fowl-o balls a four "because they could be a little spicier." I'll match her on the noodles and up by half a spoon for the meatballs.

Bottom lines:
Trader Joe's Fresh Noodles: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Trader Joe's Gourmet Spicy Buffalo Style with Blue Cheese Chicken Meatballs: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Trader Joe's Chunky Minestrone Soup

This soup's got big chunks of vegetables and spiral-type noodles. It's hearty. The tomato-based broth is delicious, but not as much as TJ's Tomato Bisque which, I'm told, has been discontinued. The minestrone broth has nearly as much flavor, but not half of the rich texture of the bisque. For those of you who've not tried Trader Joe's Tomato Bisque, and sadly may never do so, unless Trader Joe hears our cries of re-continuation, it was simply the best tomato-based broth I've ever had. By far. But this minestrone broth might take a distant second place, which, in the grand scheme of things, is still really darn good.

In addition to the silver-medal broth, there're thick pieces of swirly, carb-rich, rotini-esque pasta-things, carrots, green beans, peas, bits of cabbage, lima beans, celery, and potato, among other things, at least according to the packaging. My wife and I didn't notice some of the ingredients mentioned on the can, including bell peppers and leeks, but that doesn't mean they weren't there. We're occasionally not-so-observant, especially on a Sunday evening right before the beginning of a long workweek.

This soup is vegetarian. And, well, for vegetarians, that's of course good news. But for us omnivores, it's an area for potential improvement. A touch of beef could have made this side dish a bit more like a meal. I guess honest-to-goodness traditional minestrone doesn't necessarily have meat in it, but experimentation is a good thing sometimes. And, as TJ's has done in the past with other products, it couldn't hurt to offer both meatless and meatful options. 

Sonia would like to give this soup a 4, stating that "It's really hearty and tasty, especially for being vegetarian. It's better than Progresso and most brands." Like me, she does wish that it had a bit of meat, though. I'll give it 3.5 stars. It's on the chunkier, heartier side of meatlessness.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Trader Joe's Mesquite Smoked Seasoned Almonds

Sometimes I don't really know how to start a review. This is one of those times. I asked Sandy how I should as she sits beside me making a Pittsburgh Steelers-themed tutu for lil Baby M, and she said, "Awwwwww nuts." So, boom, there we go.

Anyways, Trader Joe's Mesquite Smoked Seasoned Almonds. The best way I can think of to describe these is, imagine Sam Elliot personally shaking out his mustache over each and every bag of roasted almonds, and that approximates how these taste. Minus the whiskers, of course. That'd be a pretty big Golden Spoon deduction. These are some pretty intense nuts as far as flavor goes. I'll be honest, I'm not able to identify all the different spices that each almond is liberally dusted with, because it's literally everywhere. You know that one Cheeto in the bottom of the bag that has all the extra Cheeto dust? Each and every nut is kinda like that - my tastebuds are literally overwhelmed by the bombardment of spices and flavors, but all of them definitely flow along the line of "mesquite" and "smoked". And salty. I mean, real salty. Seasoned salt has to be one of the big ingredients, and literally after a small handful or two, I find myself pretty darn thirsty, maybe for some more of that good sarsaparilla. Thanks, Sam Elliot.They're flavorful and dust-coated enough that I'd actually recommend sticking to eating them more or less by themselves - put them in some trail mix or Chex Mix or something, and they'd probably overpower everything else.

They're about 5 bucks for the pounder bag, which isn't bad for a bag of nuts these days. I probably ate about 90%  of the package, which is okay with Sandy as she kept herself busy with her sackful of pumpkin seeds. She liked them well enough, though. "They're very mesquite-y, and super crunchy," she said. "Like, you know how sometimes almonds aren't crunchy and they're kinda, like, soggy instead?" Soggy almonds? No dear, I don't know what you mean. Sometimes almonds are crunchier than other times, but I've never once had something that I'd describe as a "soggy" almond. Perhaps you have, though, and my wife wants to assure you that will not be the case here. She'll give them a three, saying the nuts can be a bit too much after just a small handful or two. I agree they could take a small step back and actually stand to gain from that. Other than that, I like the crunch and I like that just a handful or two will keep the stomach grumbles away for a good spell. Something around a four seems right.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Mesquite Smoked Seasoned Almonds: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons    

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