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Friday, February 28, 2014

Trader Joe's Sliced Jalapeño Yogurt Cheese

So, I've taken a look at what we've reviewed over this past month, and realized, probably without meaning to be, both Nathan and I have been reviewing some pretty sly products. What do I mean? Well, one thing that TJ's excels at is some crazy, out-in-the-open combo products, like these delicious treats. But they're also pretty good at making little, teeny tiny twists to a lot of otherwise normal products, whether they're to fit a specific dietary need or just to sound a little fancy. And look at we've focused on in just these past few weeks: a gluten-free pasta twist, a peanut butter facsimile that isn't made of peanuts, non-dairy milk, buffalo (not beef) burgers, sausage pizza without "real" sausage, and an unusually crusted pizza. Kinda makes me wonder how this or this snuck in.

Anyways, it's a short month, and let's wrap it up right with some Trader Joe's Sliced Jalapeño Yogurt Cheese. It's lactose-free (though certainly not dairy-free cheese). A commenter on the aforementioned almond milk review started an interesting conversation about "lactose intolerant" folks being the genetic norm for our species while "lactose persistence" is actually a mutation - whether or not that's actually scientifically accurate, I have no idea. I just know I'm one of the (ab)normal humans with no lactose issues whatsoever, but this cheese looked like a potential interesting break from the norm, hence the purchase.'s alright. I preface any further comments by first stating that for those who are lactose intolerant and want a semi-spicy cheese option, it's not a bad one. Otherwise, it's nothing all that special. The slices are very thick, and get all clammy and stuck together in the package - thank goodness for the little pieces of paper. It's kinda tough to really classify what type of cheese it is - it's not cheddar or provolone or gouda or mozzarella or asiago or limburger or...okay, I'm getting silly. I'd say it's kinda like a cross between muenster and American, except milder and a tad bit creamier, and less distinctive tastewise. Honestly, it really doesn't taste like a whole lot aside from the jalapeños, and even those take a bit to kick in. After first bite, I scanned the ingredients, read "red and green peppers," and thought maybe the word "bell" was erroneously admitted. When it gets around to it, the peppers do give a fair amount of spicy heat, but nothing too much more than a regular ol' pepper jack.

 As a plus, the melty quotient for this cheese is very, very high. I made a grilled cheese with it, and within a minute or two, the cheese got all melted and splashed over the inside of the bread, making a nice, warm, bite-inviting sammich. But melting it seemed to have it lose even more flavor - maybe it was just my bread choice (whole grain something or other), but though I was cognizant of the fact I was eating cheese and getting some strings caught in my beard, I can't say I tasted it all that much either, except for a little poke of heat from a pepper here or there.

It's nothing too special, and if lactose isn't an issue, it's not worth the extra buck ($4.49ish for a 12 oz pack, not a bad deal) versus the regular sliced pepper jack. I'll be happy enough finishing the package in due time, but it's probably not going to be a repeat purchase.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sliced Jalapeño Yogurt Cheese: 5.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons  

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Trader Joe's Ancient Grain Pizza

When a bag of grains has been sitting in Trader Joe's warehouse for a couple years, instead of wasting it, they stick it in one of their products like this pizza, a loaf of whole grain bread, or a tub of hearty Lentil Soup. The word "ancient" is actually a subtle disclaimer that lets you know these grains have been around for a while, as required by the FDA. It's either that or "Trader Joe's Really Old Expired Grains Pizza," so of course they go with "ancient."

I hope that most of you have realized by this point that the previous paragraph is entirely ridiculous, fictional, and hopefully mildly amusing. If you want to read about the ancient grains trend as well as the inevitable backlash against it, click here. I won't even pretend I know about all that stuff. When choosing food at Trader Joe's, my mental process goes something like this: "Ooh! Ancient Grains! Something about asparagus! This is potentially better for me than a McDonald's cheeseburger! I'll take it!" But seriously though, pizza doughs featuring einkorn, emmer, and spelt—or any grains that automatically get red lines beneath them from spell check (which all three of those did)—inevitably give rise to more interesting conversations than pizza doughs made exclusively with wheat.

Which brings me to my first point and major complaint about this product: why go to all that trouble to build a time machine, go back to the ancient Fertile Crescent to raid unsuspecting Mesopotamian farmers, take their unique grains back through the stargate with you, all the while risking hazardous temporal paradoxes that could negate your very existence, just to pollute your ancient grain medley with wheat flour? That's right folks, "wheat flour" is the main ingredient in this pizza's crust. I mean, really TJ's? Either you're playing some cruel trick on gluten-sensitive people, or einkorn, emmer, and spelt just really don't taste that good by themselves. I thought the ancient grains were the main attraction of this product. Apparently not.

So that's definitely something working against this product. Another weakness was the texture of the veggies. Sonia and I both agree that asparagus might have worked had they only used asparagus tips. But there were no tips. Just stalks. And even the best asparagus stalks are a little chewy/stringy. These were no exception, though I must note that they tasted fine and made a decent side dish when removed from the pizza. Also the tomatoes were a bit too chunky. Both Sonia and I would have preferred fewer/smaller tomatoes and more of the tomato sauce, which was spread quite thin, but tasty. And Sonia is a huge fan of whole raw tomatoes, while I am definitely not. I love tomato sauces, soups, and derivatives, but not the fruit itself. So for me, it was partly a taste thing, while for Sonia it was more about texture.

So there are a few weaknesses with this pizza for sure. But there was enough good stuff going on that we enjoyed it overall. Wheat or not, the crust was very good. It kinda reminded me of Trader Giotto's Whole Wheat Dough. It was nutty, hearty, and had a bit more body than ordinary pizza crust. And it went perfectly with the delicious blend of cheeses: provolone, maasdam, and reibekase. The cheese and the crust by themselves were amazing. Sonia and I got to talking about what toppings, if any, would have enhanced this crust/cheese combo. We decided some crisp sliced peppers wouldn't have been bad, or maybe even some fake meats. All in all, it's a unique pizza with excellent crust and cheese, but we weren't thrilled with the selection of toppings. Plus, we're not sure why they didn't go the gluten-free, wheat-free route. Double 3.5's for this one.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Trader Joe's Sai Tung Green Curry & Red Gaba Rice

Well, I've written at length before about my love of most Thai cuisine, so let's skip all that mumble grumble and get down to the business of reviewing one of the latest, greatest, easiest, tastiest, purportedly authenticish dishes that has been scavenged from the corners of the earth and brought right to a freezer aisle near you -  Trader Joe's Sai Tung Green Curry & Red Gaba Rice.

Man, that's a long product name.

Anyways, according to Trader Joe's, "sai tung" is Thai for "take out." I wasn't able to find independent verification of that translation in the 5 seconds I spent on Googling the matter, so let's roll with that. Hmm, ethnocentrically speaking, I thought that take out food was more or less an American thing. I wonder what the quality of take out Tupperware in other parts of the world are.

Overall, the sai tung is a pretty respectable dish. First, it's MASSIVE. The product shot I included here? That's less than half of what came on our $2.99 platter. It's kinda obviously packaged to be a microwavable lunch or dinner onto itself, which even for a guy with a bottomless pit of a stomach like me, would be a bit much. Sandy and I instead used it as a side dish the other night with some baked fish. The rice and curry come frozen in a compartmentalized plastic dish, not (unfortunately) the cool looking bowl on the box cover. And even though I followed the instructions carefully, it still took almost twice as long to nuke as the directions stated because both the rice and the curry are so densely packed in. Maybe Nathan can give me some lessons, that microwave wizard him.

Once it was finally heated, it tasted downright good. The red rice is of the sprouted variety, so it's a little extra protein and a lot of extra bite, kinda a texture closer to quinoa than regular white rice. Grainy, a little chewy, but definitely good. As for the curry, it doesn't disappoint. The sauce starts off nice and sweet and coconut milky, before laying a spice wallop on the taste buds before quickly retreating back to the sweetness. I'll admit it took me a few bites to really get into it, but once I was, I was hooked. I've had curries that were a little more complex and layered out at restaurants, but for a freezer meal, it was more than acceptable. There's a lot of not-common-in-USA greens mixed in - coconut shoots, morning glory, banana flowers - which if you don't mind chomping on something that kinda looks and feels like a soggy forkful of yardwork actually tastes pretty darn good in a greeny way. Sandy strategically avoided all that shrubbery, leaving more for me, which I didn't mind one bit.

"Oooooooh I like it," Sandy said when I asked for her thoughts a few minutes ago. "That curry sauce...." Whenever she says mentions she likes something and kinda trails off (which happens fairly commonly) I always kinda mentally picture her doing the Homer Simpson "Mmm, beer" thing. It was kinda surprising when she said she'd give it only a 2.5, though. She explained she artifically lowered her grade because she was subconciously upset she couldn't have more of it thanks to a diet regime she's trying out for a few weeks. "If I could've had the whole thing, like for lunch, I would've given it a four, probably," she said. Well, I'll give my a score a little boost to try and compensate. Good stuff.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sai Tung Green Curry & Red Gaba Rice: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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