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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Trader Giotto's Organic Riced Cauliflower

When introduced, some products are no-brainers for automatic buzz. If Trader Joe's were to bring out a brand-spankin' new cookie butter innovation, you know the word would spread like, well, butter. And some things like bacon-y popcorn or maple-y water just sound too interesting or intriguing or unique or kinda weird to not want to try.

And then, over by itself, you have itty bitty cauliflower, all riced and diced up.

Make no mistake: for about the past week we've been bombarded by the introduction of Trader Giotto's Organic Riced Cauliflower for about the past week by fans, particularly those interested in super-healthy fare. Take, for instance, my friend Alison who's put in an assist on the blog here before - she and her husband are into the Whole30 scene so she when she first stumbled across it, she was first to let me know. Soon enough, through Facebook, Instagram, LiveJournal, etc, a lot of you have said "hey, try this out!"

So, I have. As revealed on our forthcoming podcast episode, Nathan too, but I beat him to the review. All this sack of apparently Italian inspired micro-diced cauliflower consists of is.....cauliflower and a smidge of salt. Or so the ingredients say, I can't taste any added sodium at all. It's in the frozen section, weighs 12 ounces, and costs $1.99. The recommended prep method is take out of bag, heat in saucepan until warmed and excess water (not a lot to begin with) dissipates, and voila, it's ready in minutes. Unsurprisingly, it tastes just like cauliflower, with a slightly grainy texture (more than anticipated) that I'd say veers more towards brown rice-like than white. I made some up the other night to go along with a shrimp and broccoli stirfry, then had some leftover the next day under some chicken and my favorite barbeque sauce, and both times, with some willingness and a little suspended belief, it tasted fairly remarkably like regular rice. It's not the exactly the same, of course, but it's reasonably close, and probably can be used pretty much any way that regular old rice can.

So....why the big deal?

Two words: Absofreakinglute convenience. I've shied away from a lot of Paleo recipes just because of the sheer amount of time and energy involved. Listen: I work more than full time, and when I get home I have about an hour (ideally) to make dinner, get through dinner with a finicky toddler, and get two kids into bed. I don't have the time or energy to rice a cauliflower through other means I have heard of, like steaming and pushing through a colander (that also sounds like a lot of clean up), or using a high-quality food processor. I've heard that's possible, though Sandy is skeptical - I don't know, I'm just parroting what I've heard. It doesn't matter, we don't have one anyways. So, to have an option like this, just frozen, ready to go, and can easily fit into my diet on a night I should be strict about it, for just $1.99 which is likely cheaper than a head of organic cauliflower (haven't been in the market recently, don't know) - that's a pretty sweet deal. From the sounds of it, a lot of people think very similar thoughts.

I'll take this actually as a ringing endorsement in its own way: Sandy was pretty impartial about it. She's not a huge cauliflower fan, so she was skeptical when first trying it. "It's not rice, and I can tell it's not,'s not bad," she said. "I don't mind it that much." That translates to a three in her book. Me? I love it. It's an easy and inexpensive way to sneak more veggies into my family's diet - I can't wait to make some fried rice with it, in fact. Pretty great stuff for the cost and convenience, and for that alone, I'm throwing it some perfection.

Bottom line: Trader Giotto's Organic Riced Cauliflower: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Trader Joe's Chicken Balti Pies

So if you've ever seen the movie Gandhi—or if you know your history—you're aware that the British occupation of India wasn't really something to celebrate. But a few good things did come from the collision of these two unique cultures. Now East Indians can enjoy pastimes like cricket and soccer, and Brits have added yummy foods like curry to their menu. These "pies" struck me as being nearly identical to Trader Joe's Steak and Ale Pies, another British-inspired delight. But in this case, there's chicken, carrots, potatoes, and a mildly-spicy curry sauce.

The curry here was tasty, but both Sonia and I felt it to be a tad blasé. We both agree the flavor was good—we just wish there were more of it. And we both could have handled a significantly greater amount of spicy kick. But as Russ notes in a soon-to-be-released podcast episode, the Brits are known for serving bland-ish food. Maybe full blown Indian curry was too much for the English, so they toned it down a bit.

The pie-crust-like breading was excellent. Sonia compared it to a flaky croissant. The carrot and potato chunks were large and plentiful and served a similar function as they might in a traditional pot pie. The chicken was also adequate, moist, and tender.

One pie is extraordinarily filling. And it should be—because each serving has massive amounts of fat and calories, including a full 115% of your US RDA for saturated fat! Sonia was wise enough to eat only two thirds of hers and save the rest for another day. At around $5.99 per box, they're not super cheap, and if you want to cook them properly in the oven, you're looking at the better part of an hour for prep time. So these tasty little pies are a significant investment on your waistline, wallet, and schedule—at least as far as frozen convenience food goes. Am I glad we tried them? Heck yes. Despite craving a tad more heat, I really can't complain about the texture or taste. Four stars from me. 3.5 from Sonia.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Trader Joe's Sweet Potato Tortilla Chips and Trader Josè's Chunky Spicy Guacamole Autèntico

Peanut butter and jelly. Peaches and cream. Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. So many classic pairings out there, they just deserve to go together. Such as it is with Trader Joe's Sweet Potato Tortilla Chips and Trader Josè's Chunky Spicy Guacamole Autèntico that we're gonna review them both right here and now. If you've listened to the first episode of Let's Talk TJ's, our brand-spankin' new podcast, you mighta known this review was comin', but there's some ground to cover, so let's get to it.

First: Trader Joe's Sweet Potato Tortilla Chips. This isn't their first go around with a yam-inspired tortilla chip, but it's a little different from previous incarnations. TJ's has had a longstanding product in an orange bag that has somehow escaped the scrutiny of this blog despite repeated pick-ups from me, at least. Those, while good, were a lot like typical corn tortilla chips - heavy on the maize aspect, with just enough sweet potato to turn them that requisite rustic hue and offer a little hint of taste. Not bad, right, but kinda "meh" after a while. This is a whole other something else. These chips smell more sweet potato-ey. They taste more sweet potato-ey. And they, by design, are in fact more sweet potato-ey - 18%, to be exact, according to the blurb on the back. That doesn't sound like a lot, but apparently that's the most amount of sweet potato flour one can mix with corn and still get something resembling a tortilla chip and not some mess. There's still a fair amount of typical corn chippiness for the flavor, but I'd say the sweet potato flavor dominates. These chips are lighter and crispier as well, while not being overly greasy, and fairly lightly salted with a little touch of lime. The ingredients also list "honey granules" which I presume are meant to enhance the sweetness of each chip (well, duh), but there's nothing that seems forced about that, either. These are some darn good chips. Bonus points for being gluten-free.

Of course, nothing makes a good chip even better like something worthwhile to dip it in. So glad to have spotted Trader Josè's Chunky Spicy Guacamole Autèntico for the snacky sidekick. I haven't tried that avocado salsa yet, but I can tell you this is on the completely other end of the texture spectrum already. In the package I bought, there where probably at least half a dozen big, soft, creamy chunks of avocado that were multi-chip worthy. Love it. In between them were some small chunks of pepper and onion (nothing too noteworthy) with plenty of smushed avocado that was again very soft and creamy. I honestly didn't consider this to be too spicy, but others might - there is a little tingle from some jalapenos and black pepper, bt that's about it. Some bites tasted a little salty, though. Looking at the ingredients, there's nothing weird in there, nothing out of line - just good, honest guacamole that tries to replicate homemade as best as possible. I don't think I could make a better one myself. One quibble: the packaging. It's the curse of avocados. No one else in my house likes them, and I can't (and by that, I mean shouldn't) eat one of these in one setting, or even over the course of just two or three days. But it's a cheap, flimsy, peel the plastic back thing which I covered up as best I could with Saran Wrap and a Ziploc bag, and it still got brown around the edges. Listen: If literally right down the road from me people are working on driverless cars for Uber, we can find a way to keep guacamole fresh for more than a day.

Together....delicious, delicious snacking. I bought both the sweet potato tortilla chips and chunky guac two shopping trips in a row, and will continue to do so until I get sick of them, which I hope will not be for a long, long time. The slightly more fragile composition of the chips caused a fair amount of breakage while digging through the avocado chunk minefield, but with a little care, the damage was kept to a minimum. At present time, I can't think of a better chip-and-dip pairing. Sandy wholeheartedly enjoyed the chips just plain or with some ranch on them, so these will be around pretty often, I think. As for the guacamole, I couldn't pay her to touch it, which isn't a bad thing - there's more for me! Too much textural funky stuff for her. For only like $3 each, they're both steals. Let's 9 them both up.

Bottom lines:
Trader Joe's Sweet Potato Tortilla Chips: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Trader Josè's Chunky Spicy Guacamole Autèntico: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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