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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Trader Joe's Zucchini Fries

Zucchini is one of the few things my dad was actually able to grow in the garden in our backyard when I was a kid. I think he managed to salvage a few tomatoes from the ravenous squirrels and rabbits as well, but as I've mentioned before, I've never been a fan of actual tomatoes, despite a paradoxical affinity for all tomato derivatives. Similarly, since raw zucchini is kinda nasty, he'd pan-fry a homegrown specimen or two from time to time, and it always surprised me how good it tasted. Now that Sonia and I have our own big backyard, we'll undoubtedly have our own garden here too, appropriately, in the Garden State. (Au revoir, Media, PA, TJ's. Hello Marlton, NJ, TJ's!) Can't wait to (attempt to) grow our own zucchini and fry them like my old man used to.

These zucchini fries from TJ's are good too, but there are a few key differences from those home-fried zucs I remember all those years ago. First, there's a noticeable coating of batter on these fries. It's apparently made of cornmeal and wheat flour. It's good. It's a nice touch. There's not too much and not too little. Secondly, the pieces of zucchini are completely inconsistent. Some of them are small, some of them are big, and some of them are really just globs of empty batter. And thirdly, due to the inconsistent sizes, it's really hard to cook the entire bag to perfection all at once. The little pieces cook faster and wind up a little charred. The big pieces wind up undercooked and a bit juicy on the inside. It's not a terrible thing, especially if you're one of those "variety is the spice of life" types. You get some crispy critters, similar to the texture of traditional fries, and you get some moist, squishy fries—which have a lot more real zucchini flavor.

Another oddity about these fellows was the absence of a sauce. The bag mentioned something about "serving them with your favorite sauce." Hmmm... I don't think they mean chocolate sauce. Can we have a hint, Trader Joe? Ketchup? Because I don't think that would work either. Fortunately for you readers, I looked up the product on TJ's own site, and they did throw us a bone and suggest sriracha or tzaziki as dipping options there. We actually had tzaziki and sriracha on hand when we ate these. I certainly wish I had known to try it with them at the time. I think that might have sealed the deal and put these puppies in the Pantheon had they included their own sriracha and/or tzaziki. But they're still really darn good as they are.

Having never tried fried zucchini before, Sonia was pretty enthusiastic about this dish. She gave it 4 stars. I'm going to go with 3.5. Let this blog post serve as a petition to TJ's to include a sauce in ver. 2.0.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Trader Joe's 4 Kouigns Amann

Somewhere in the depths of our vaults, I've written about (or at least alluded to) Saturday mornings. Best morning of the week, by far. More times than not, there's at least an opportunity to sleep in a little, wake up, make some good coffee in the French press, and actually have a chance to sit down, relax, and enjoy it with my lovely wife Sandy. Granted, the rest of the day might be filled with errands and odds and ends, but usually those are on our terms, not The Man's. A nice, peaceful, relaxing morning was exactly what we had this past Saturday - heck, even our toddler slept in til about 9:30, as did we.

Wish I could say Trader Joe's 4 Kouigns Amann really added something a little extra special. Breakfast is almost always my favorite meal of the day, and I felt a break would be good from the normal eggs/toast/breakfast meat/fruit routine. I've heard these pastries are a pretty decadent treat, and we've had wonderful success with another proof-and-bake treat in the past, giving me high, high hopes.

Alas, not to be. I think I've narrowed it down. First, the proofing process went a little askew. Think of each amann as a dough square, with the corners folded in so there's an X on top of the square. While rising overnight (a little longer than the six to seven hour range noted, but it still "overnight"), the corners on two of the amanns unfurled, making it a flat rhombus that laid bare all the sugary delectability lurking in what should have been the doughy depths. The other two (which I did not mean to make but was forced to when I left them in the box on the counter overnight by mistake - hey, I worked til midnight, gimme a break) kept much better form.

Secondly, the directions state to bake for about 25 minutes, or "until quite dark. Do not underbake." I went for the "quite dark" mark, which wasn't far past the 25 minutes, but apparently it was just enough that the caramelized nether-regions got burnt and more or less unappealing. The amanns that were accidentally left in the box fared much better in this regard, but still...I'm just not completely impressed by them. At their bests, the outsides got crispy and buttery, the insides soft, melty and sugary, and the bottom hittimg of some caramel undertones, but kinda missed a little je ne sais quoi to really put them over the top or make them memorable. And much of what we ate was fall short of this standard, unfortunately, and I'm not sure all the blame falls on us.

Both Sandy and I feel kinda indifferent about them, with perhaps a little disappointment and regret. I mean, if you're gonna start your day with 13-gram-saturated-fat bombshell straight to the coronary pipework, it oughtta be for something more than a blasé bite, right? I'd say this is a doubtful repurchase for the $4 or so. We'll be slightly generous, though, and go with a two each.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's 4 Kouigns Amann: 4 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

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