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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Trader Joe's Masters the Art of...Coq au Vin

And Nathan masters the art of...using the stovetop instead of the microwave.

That might be old hat for most of you culinary types that we've tricked into reading our blog, and maybe even for Russ, but for a foodie-hack like me, the stovetop is a mysterious instrument that's reserved for things like heating ramen when there's nothing else in the pantry and the frigid arctic winds and snowdrifts make it inconvenient to walk to the grocery store 30 yards from our condo for more TV dinners. But in case one of our readers is even more useless than I am, I feel I must mention that the cooking instructions on this product do, in fact, give a microwave option.

But foodie-hacks tend to learn that lesson the hard way.

After the recommended 20 minutes of cooking time, the "coq" was still quite frozen solid. In fact, the 20 minutes turned into 40 minutes before I was convinced the dish would even be permeable to my poor, feeble, silver amalgam-filled incisors. One of the problems with the stovetop is that "very low heat" is an extraordinarily relative term. "High heat" in the microwave is somewhat less subjective. I just press the number "9," and voila! I'm a master chef! Wolfgang Puck, eat your heart out.

Unfortunately, after the product thawed and cooked, I noticed what appeared to be mushrooms in the dish. Both Sonia and I are pseudo-allergic to fungi and get weird breathing and heart-palpitation issues when we eat them. I guess it pays to read the ingredients before purchasing a product at TJ's. And yes, I know there are pictures of them on the packaging, but it's amazing how unobservant I can be when I do my grocery shopping while hungry. 

But eat them I did, nonetheless. I have similar allergies to mold, yet I dove into a pile of autumn leaves with my two silly puppies last fall, with reckless abandon. Don't even try'n stop me! I'ma live my life on the edge, gangstas! What what!?

But getting back to the product at hand, I must admit, it was one of the most savory dishes I've ever had from Trader Joe's. The sauce was thick, salty, and full of the aforementioned mushrooms and those little bulbous oniony things that I love. It was pretty delish. The chicken was a bit chewy, considering I went to all that trouble to use that contraption above the oven instead of my magical radiation box, but all in all, the main attraction was passable, too. I suppose $7 is a bit steep for a dish that isn't perfect, but I always try to put it into perspective and figure I might pay double if I were in a fancy French restaurant. And if I make it at home, it's only that much easier to serve it with imported wine and not worry about driving while intoxicated, and we're only that much closer to indulging in the romantic impulses that so instinctively ensue when there's French stuff involved.

Here's a scary pic of the product in its frozen form, and here's one after heating.

I give this product 4 out of 5 stars. Sonia gives it a 3.5.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Trader Joe's Wild Salmon Jerky

In a way, I knew this purchase would be inevitable. I just knew it, unless I got lucky and Nathan would buy it instead, ingest as much as he could stand, then write a review. Salmon jerky just does not sound like a good idea. It's like a somewhat incomprehensible manifestation of my previously espoused "chocolate gum theory," which basically states that two things that are good separately are not necessarily good when combined. I mean, I really like salmon, or as I prefer to call it, the steak that swims. And jerky? Man, I love that too, and after a fairly good first go-'round with some TJ's turkey jerky a couple weeks back (and subsequent fairly mediocre rendezvous with the teriyaki turkey - tastes exactly the same), I figured now was as good as time as any. This was all despite my impending fear of purchase that ranked right up there among my worst of TJ's premonitions.

I promise you that I tried to like it. Really, I did. As proof, let me tell the positives...ummm, positive...first. The flavoring of the brine itself was good, and actually shone through admirably well. Brown sugar, molasses, sea salt and maple syrup make an excellent match - this would be really good on some turkey, and perhaps some other meats, like venison. I appreciate the full flavor without defaulting to sodium overloadium like so many other jerkies.

But that's about where this ends. It...just doesn't work. First, the smell. I opened the bag at work while at my desk, and immediately about the half the row gagged. And the smell lingers like, well, dead fish. I'm just glad I wasn't dragged down to HR for it. It kinda tastes like it smells, too, and it's extremely chewy and tough even by jerky standards. Plus, I definitely felt a little off afterwards.

Don't take my word for it? That's fine. I somehow cajoled three coworkers to try it, and here's their take.

Melanie: "It made my tummy hurt a little...It gives jerky a bad name. They should stop making that." Were you shot thru the heart and this jerky's to blame? Sounds like it... Her score (out of 5): 0.
Laurette: "It seems chewier than a normal jerky. Tastes more like tuna than salmon, and it smells like a drained fish tank...It's not horrible." She also added that no one would want to kiss you after eating some, so it may be an okay snack for a date-free night. She fits in very well at our office. Her score: 2.5.
Alan: "I would eat it again but not purchase...after the flavor had a chance to dissipate on my palate I received a smoky fish taste. It may be for some others but not for me." I would like to point out that one of Alan's main delicacies is days-oldasiago cheese bagels so I ever-so-slightly discount his somewhat strained positivity.  His score: 3.

Regardless, here's four jerky aficionados who were all not in favor of this flavor. Kinda an office downer, which is exactly what's needed on a busy Monday. Not.

I guess what it comes down to is, there's certain meats which jerky works for (perhaps even most meats) but salmon just isn't one of them. I don't think it matters that it's from chum salmon - apparently that's pretty low-grade stuff, but it's not like most jerky is made from the choicest cuts of meat either. Maybe this is really just made for a certain niche which I will never, ever join. It happens.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Wild Salmon Jerky: 3 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

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