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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Trader Joe's English Cheddar with Carmelized Onions

If I were a better writer, I'd be able to write this review in such a way that you could imagine John Cleese of Monty Python fame narrating it. If I were oddly endearing and full of witty banter, and could make some cheesy special effects and have Sandy put on an alien costume, I'd make a video and add it to Nathan and Sonia's YouTube thing they have going, and it'd make you laugh and cry as from the David Tennant era of Dr. Who. And if I wanted to bore you to tears with stuffy British aristocratic handwringing, well, I could attempt to write something like another popular BBC show (I much prefer Downton Arby).*

Great, I think I just alienated half our audience with that last line.  And from what I understand from the last episode, it's poorly timed.

Moving along, for those of you who are left, I'm obviously none of those. I'm just a guy with a mouth who writes things about the stuff he shoves into it. In my world, that qualifies me to write about cheeses like Trader Joe's English Cheddar with Caramelized Onions.

I've been hearing pretty much since the advent of this blog about how amazing this particular chunk o' cheddar is. I never once picked it up until my last stop. I've been burned by some cheesy choices in the past, so don't blame me for being a little shy.'s interesting. I'm not sure in which way I mean that. Just....interesting. It was and was not what I expected. What I expected: Sweetness from the caramelized onions, with good mild cheddar flavor. What I didn't expect: That sweetness to permeate every little bit, with the cheese itself being so soft. Seriously, right out of the fridge, "cold and clammy" are the two words that come to mind (which is, incidentally, how I envision much of England to be). My tasters aren't sure what to think. It's good to warrant more bites, but in the end...I simply don't know. By the time we finish off our remaining cheese, we may decide this s worth a repeat purchase. Then again, maybe not.

Overall, being honest, the caramelized onions are the standout part of the cheddar. They're much like the ones Sandy and I had recently at the local Irish pub atop our bangers and mash before our night of Ceili dancing, so that's a good start. Maybe I'm just too acclimated to the cheddars from our side of the pond, but if the rest of the cheese were more like a good, firm sharp cheddar that didn't seem to get so sugary from the onions, I'd enjoy it more. Seriously, "cheese candy" is what comes to mind, and whether that's a good or bad thing, who knows.

"'Cheese candy?' I wouldn't phrase it like that," Sandy said, though she noted how much she liked the overall sweetness and cheesiness. She also liked how soft it was, too. For her grade, though, she seemed as much on the fence as I am. "Ehhhhhh....I'm not a really cheese connoisseur, so I don't know....let's say a three." Playing it down the middle always seems a safe bet, so likewise for me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's English Cheddar with Caramelized Onions: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons
* The only thing I can enjoy about "Downton Abbey" is trying to spot all the actors who've been in any of the Harry Potter movies or on "Dr. Who." In one episode, paying only half attention, I spotted five. Five!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Trader Joe's Aloo Chaat Kati Pouches

Anything I can say about Hot Pockets, Jim Gaffigan has already said much better. As if I needed to remind myself, for whatever reason, a few months ago I was at Target and saw some pretzel/turkey/bacon/cheese montrosity that somehow looked, well, "appealing" isn't exactly the right word. It was more a word that somehow means "If such a thing as tasty Hot Pocket is possible, this would be it." Nope. Fail. Gross. Pretty much the cheese's fault. Maybe Archer Farms could take a better crack at it.

Anyways, despite the name of this particular product being Trader Joe's Aloo Chaat Kati Pouches, I will refer to them the rest of this post as being Trader Joe's Indian Hot Pockets, because you cannot tell me that they're not. They even come with crisping sleeves. They even call them "crisping sleeves." This is a Hot Pocket, through and through.

And, in stark contrast to most of our TJ's Indian food experiences whether current or past, they're a major disappointment. Chief reason: Look at the picture on the box. Looks like crispy, buttery, samosa-inspired crusty-carb incarnation. Then look at this picture, taken of my Indian Hot Pocket, after a few strategically placed bites:

Looks nothing alike. Furthermore, this particular crust? Uggggggggh. What comes to mind is stale Chuck E Cheese pizza crust flattened via steamroller. It's tough and chewy and not even remotely crusty. It's nasty. Granted, it could be better if baked, but I'm not going to eat these at home where I'm trying my best to eat meals without barcodes.

The rest of the filling is okay, I guess. To be honest, I wasn't much of a fan. Between my two IHPs there were about three discernible chickpeas, a whole bunch of mush, some typical Indian spices, nothing that really said "chaat masala" or "tamarind chutney" to me, and whole bunch of big ol' chunks of onions. Now, I like onions, quite a bit actually, but there were too many of them and too little of the other stuff. It was enough that my breath literally and tangibly felt funny until I could come home and brush. Plenty hearty and filling, though. It wasn't enough to dissuade me from being interested in an aloo chaat dish the next time I go to an Indian restaurant, especially if they look something like this, but I won't be running back to these, especially after gandering at the nutritional info. Forgive the Frankenstein Photoshop job, it's been years since I've messed with it.

Wisely, Sandy avoided these. Sometimes she misses something great, but other times she's absolutely right. I cannot even imagine her reaction if she tried one of these, but if the uncrusty crust wouldn't turn her off completely, the filling would. Fortunately, I made a call to the bullpen, and one of our Facebook fans, Martha, gave us a pretty complete rundown, which I'll copy here in its entirety: "I have tried them. The filling is delicious (and vegetarian, for the person who was asking). The crust, however, leaves a bit to be desired. I wanted the pastry to be delicate and buttery like a samosa, because that's how it looks on the box, but it's actually more like the crust on a hot pocket. If it had a better crust it would be an 8 or 9, but I have to give it a 5. Too bad." So I read that as her giving it a 2.5. That's more generosity than I can spare. There's just not that much good I can say here.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Indian Hot Pockets...err, Aloo Chaat Kati Pouches: 3.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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