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Monday, January 6, 2014

Trader Joe's Cioppino Seafood Stew

Well, it's a good thing I checked Wikipedia, or I would have really kinda embarrassed myself here.

You see, I thought cioppino was of Portugese (or at least Mediterranean) origin. A few years ago, through the generosity of my folks and the marvels of resort timeshare networks, Sandy and I honeymooned in Albufeira, Portugal, in the coastal Algarve region - an awesome week full of castle exploring, vinho verde drinking, and subtitled Simpsons watching - and we saw signs and menu listings for seafood stew everywhere, and it had some sort of fancy name. In my mind, it was cioppino. Anyways, we actually never tried it, because, well, when you're honeymooning on a preschool teacher and temp worker's salary, you gotta make small cuts somewhere (especially when factoring in dollars-to-Euro conversion), and man, chicken piri-piri is good anyways. Fast forward a few years later, and for an anniversary dinner we went to a fairly fancy Portugese/Mediterranean restaurant here in town, and here they had some sort of fish/seafood stew on the menu, which we both got, and it was awesome. In my mind, once again, it was cioppino.

Nope. Cioppino was actually invented by an old school Left Coaster here in the good ol' U.S. of A, and made from whatever leftover fish at the end of the day, and given a fancy enough name to fool me all these years later. So, while seeing Trader Joe's Cioppino Seafood Stew helped evoke some warm memories, I was a little disappointed to find they weren't entirely accurate.

Regardless, this is one tasty fishy stew. I'm not sure if it say more about the restaurant we were at, or our bag of soup from TJ's, but this stuff was as good as what I recall having there. I'll choose positivity here. There's little not to like, assuming you're a fan of assorted seafood. There's clams and shrimp and mussels and scallops and cod all up in this. And there's a lot of seafood too - it's far more generous than what's typically expected of a packaged product. I could have used another shrimp or two, but that's mostly just because I really like shrimp. No real complaints about seafood volume.

But, in an upside down turn of events, there's not enough of anything else. You see, the tomato-ey soup base is pretty darn good - somewhat spicy, very flavorful and rich but not overpowering, letting the freshness of the fish, etc really come out. It's pretty hearty and if it's tomato based and my wife likes it, you know it's darn good. Problem is, there's not enough of it. I mean, for me, half the fun of a good soup is enjoying all the broth at the end. Here, there's not enough of it to really enjoy - I'd say this is like 70% seafood and 30% broth. The picture I took above is somehow misleading. Maybe it's possible to add a little water to make more base without affecting overall taste quality all that much - it's not like all that sodium is going anywhere. Also, I got only one or two mushrooms and tomato chunks, which included all of Sandy's, so I'd be in favor of more of those, too.

I'd recommend getting a good, crusty hunk of bread (all the better to sop up whatever's left in the bowl) and a side salad along with a cup of this. Hmmm...even better idea - serve this inside a sourdough bread bowl. That'd be fantastic. Just know that a serving really doesn't stand alone as a meal. Honestly. both Sandy and I could have eaten an entire bagful each for lunch and not felt too bad until we saw the nutritionals on it. Still, for a $5-ish pickup, it's a good value because of the absolute abundance of nearly every consumable sea creature known to man present. If TJ's hadn't cheaped out on the cheap part, this cioppino would be even better, in our opinion. Sandy is going with a solid four, as am I.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cioppino Seafood Stew: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Trader Joe's "Just Sauce" Turkey Bolognese

As the package boldly indicates, this is indeed "just sauce." And in case there's still some confusion about the issue, we'd just like to clarify that this item does NOT come with bread, it does NOT come with crackers, NOR does it come with any form of pasta. It's just sauce. But unless you enjoy eating sloppy joe filling by itself, you'll probably want to supply your own bread or bread-like substance. I suppose this dish could be likened to a beanless chili of some kind and consumed via spoon, but really...I recommend eating it with bread. Pasta would work, too.

In fact, Bolognese sauce traditionally pairs with pasta. As the name would suggest, it originates from Bologna, Italy. And that reminds me of my wife's childhood nickname: "Sonia Bologna," which I affectionately resurrect from time to time when I feel like I need to be smacked. But that's neither here nor there.

I liken this sauce more to a sloppy joe filling than to a pasta sauce since most pasta sauces I've experienced either have a tomato-esque flavor, as in Marinara sauce, or they're creamy, as in Alfredo sauce. This sauce is meaty. Turkey is definitely the main attraction here. The only other flavor that jumped out at me was licorice. Black licorice. 

I looked on the ingredients list, and of course, there's no black licorice. However, dried fennel is listed. I began Googling "fennel tastes like..." and just as I expected, the search box auto-completed my inquiry with "licorce" and "black licorice" before I even finished typing. Voila. I knew I tasted something licoricey. Granted, fennel and black licorice are not the same flavor, but they are extremely similar.

Here's a picture of the product by itself. It's not much to look at. It brings to mind things that should never ever be mentioned on a food review blog.

Try it on pasta if that floats your boat. But I say try it on bread. Just think of a decent sloppy joe, replace the beef with lean-ish turkey, and add black licorice flavoring, and that's pretty much what you have here. Both Sonia and I wished it had beans, onions, or some other substance to it, but I guess then it would be chili.

I give it 3 out of 5 stars. Sonia gives it 3.5.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

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