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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Trader Joe's Breaded Mozzarella Cheese Sticks

Ah, there's nothin' better than fried cheese. I've always loved mozzarella sticks. And I think it's awesome that people then dunk their fried cheese in some form of tomato sauce, usually marinara. Tomato is a fruit/vegetable, right? That makes it all healthy, right? You've got the fruits and vegetables group, the dairy group, and the breading would qualify as a grain. 3 out of the 4 major food groups. All you need to do is toss a sausage or hot dog on your plate, and you've got a balanced meal...or something like that.

The sticks came out of the oven with most of the cheese having leaked out of the side of the breading. So there would be this hollow tube of crust with a big wad of slightly-charred cheese right beside it on the baking sheet. And for some reason, they tasted freezer-burned to me. We ate them within a week of purchasing them, the bag was only opened within an hour or so of consuming them, and this was all well before the expiration date. So I'm not sure what happened there. Sonia didn't notice the freezer-burny taste at all, but then, she usually doesn't.

We dipped our mozzarella sticks in TJ's Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Soup. They went well together. I think it worked at least as well as actual marinara sauce would have. Once in the soup, I didn't notice the peculiar taste as much. It was actually really yummy.

I was surprised when Sonia pointed out that the breading contained tapioca. It was still made with wheat flour (sorry, gluten-free peeps) and it was very similar to traditional mozzarella stick breading, although I wonder if the subtle freezer-burn flavor was somehow connected to the use of tapioca...? Not that tapioca tastes like freezer-burn, but maybe somehow my taste buds detected an anomaly of sorts and just defaulted to the "this is just slightly funky" message, which my brain interpreted as freezer-burn...? And perhaps that last sentence is a good example of why I'm a foodie-hack blogger and not a neuroscientist...?

At any rate, I still have yet to be blown away or majorly disappointed by any mozzarella stick. Fried cheese is what it is. The tapioca starch was a nice touch I guess, but next time Trader Joe, we're counting on you to blow us away. Try putting marinara sauce inside the tube of cheese, add shrimp or something, cram cocktail weenies into the center of the sticks...for goodness sakes, be creative, TJ's! Entertain us! You do weird stuff better than anyone else. In return for your culinary creativity, we'll love you forever and continue to write this blog.

For those of you who've been pestering us for photos of the actual out-of-the-bag food, please click here. You're welcome.

Sonia gives these 4 stars. I give them 3.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Trader Joe's Italian Sausage-Less Sausage

Well, it's been a hot minute or two since our last fake meat review. Nathan tackled the challenging turkey-less turkey back before Thanksgiving, while my last review on the matter was chicken-less chicken tenders....almost a year ago? What!?! That's crazy to me, especially because on the whole, fake meat is one of TJ's biggest strengths, even matching up well to the more famous competition. Don't get wrong, I like nice meat-full meat just as much as any other red-blooded red-headed 'merican, but when there's a healthier, almost-as-delectable option available, I can be inclined to take it. I guess that I've been so busy enjoying the lying-if-read-in-Spanish soy chorizo whenever the fake meat mood hits I've been neglecting other TJ options. Seriously: soy chorizo + black beans + rice + salsa/hot sauce + cheese + chips or tortillas = AMAZING. It's the meal that got me hooked on TJ's. Highly, highly recommended. We're considering stockpiling the soyrizo in case it ever gets discontinued. I thought it did maybe a year ago, and nearly cried tears of sweet, sweet relief when I discovered it was just moved to a different shelf.

Anyways, here's Trader Joe's Italian Sausage-Less Sausage. I'll say this upfront: at a cookout, it'd have a puncher's chance of passing as the real deal. That's a compliment in my book. I think I'd be able to pick it out, but only if someone grilled me about it (ha!). On an unsuspecting consumer, it'd have a 50/50 chance.

It's not the taste that would tip someone off. Think of a typical Italian sausage link, and it'd be pretty close in that regard. And it's not exactly the texture either...sort of. We pan-fried up a pair of links then sliced them to serve in some pasta. They were a little softer then most, and kinda crumbly, but kept mainly intact. Sandy said something to the effect that they weren't as "floppy" as other fake sausage product she's had. They certainly brown and sizzled up in a way pretty close to actual links. I guess, what it boils down to is, whenever Sandy and I have had sausage links over the past year (which has been kinda often), we've been picking up the farmer's market/local meat farm variety, which are big and juicy and very meaty, much more so than the typical grocery store variety. These are decidedly a small step or two below that comparison benchmark. That's not really a knock, and it's not even a fair point in some ways. There's a certain gristliness and juiciness and "essence" that real meat has that soy can never duplicate. That being said, if I had to give up meat completely for whatever reason, these would be a more-than-adequate solution whenever the grill-time hankerin' came.

Regardless of all that, we like them. Sandy's a bit more enthusiastic than me. I think that's at least  partially because the last time we broke out the bulk sausage we have on hand, she trembled a little bit after doing the Weight Watchers calculation (as I should have, too). These lil' fakers tip the scale at about 4 points a link, which is extremely manageable. She went ahead and gave them a four, making slight note of the texture. There's part of me that wonders what the allure is of fake meat - is there a class of vegetarians out there who want the most meat-like non-meat they can find? Is it for people who love actual meat but can't eat it for health reasons? Why do I keep buying it?- I'll never know.  Regardless, this is another win for TJ's if you're into this kinda thing. And $3.49 for a pack of 4 isn't a terrible deal either. I'll go with a 3.5.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Italian Sausage-less Sausage: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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