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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Trader Joe's Vegan Tikka Masala

It's never been the taste of vegetarian or vegan foods that's kept me from swearing off animal products entirely. It's primarily the cost and lack of availability of viable meat-free alternatives. And although arguments can be made that vegetarian diets may even be cheaper than meatful diets, we're a long ways off from being able to purchase meat-free corn dogs from the average street vendor or chickenless nuggets from the Mickey D's on the corner.

That being said, Trader Joe's is one of those rare places where meaty foods and meatless foods are pretty much on a level playing field. There are plenty of options in both camps, and strict vegetarians probably don't feel like they're missing out on all that much. This product is a prime example. TJ's is a great place for meat eaters to discover that Meatless Mondays won't kill them—or that they can be "part time vegans." In fact, we've already reviewed a vegetarian tikka masala dish on this blog, as well as a non-vegetarian one.

Like the previous two tikka masala dishes, this one has some amazing sauce. It's full of Indian spices and flavor, it's creamy, and it's mildly hot. It's almost as good as masala sauce I've had from actual Indian restaurants. The rice is your basic basmati—the kind we usually see in these frozen Indian dishes from TJ's—flavored with oil and cumin, and as always, it blends very well with the sauce and other elements. 

The vegan meat substitute was fairly neutral in flavor, which allowed the sauce to be the dominant taste of the dish. If anything, the vegan chunks tasted just ever so slightly soy-ish, with a breadiness about them as well. It wasn't an unpleasant flavor at all—on the contrary, it was delicate and satisfying, despite a decided lack of potency. 

Texture-wise, the meatless chunks did a decent job of imitating white meat chicken pieces, if but perhaps a mite bit more chewy—certainly not to the point that I would complain. In fact, I've definitely had actual chicken that was far more rubbery than this on more than one occasion. I should note at this point that I did heat my entree in the microwave, although conventional oven instructions are given. Even though I've become far more proficient at traditional cooking in the past few years, my rule of thumb is that if it comes in a plastic tray with clear film on top, I'll go ahead and nuke it...or if I'm really hungry and don't want to wait the extra 20 minutes. In this case, it was both.

$3.49 at our local TJ's, six minutes in the microwave, and a reasonable calorie count for tikka masala...this gets a thumbs up from me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds

Marriage is a great thing. Certainly, it can be challenging, but usually, for Sandy and me, at least, it can be pretty funny. Especially the things we squabble about. As of the night I am writing this, we have been married for 2049 days. This means that at least 2000 times, Sandy has glared and me and growled "You know, I WILL organize the pots and pans cupboard, and YOU WILL learn to put them away properly." The only days she hasn't said this: vacations, Christmas, anniversaries, one or two of my birthdays, the days our kids were born, and a random Tuesday in 2012. This morning, when I got the traditional stinkeye yet again for just tossing something in wherever, I can't help but look at her and smile as she got madder and madder. "It isn't funny!" she exclaimed as she walked across the room to give me a well-deserved peg in the arm. Of course this just made me laugh harder, which finally got her to crack. Love it.

Another thing I did that made her mad recently: I ate her baggie of Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds. Didn't matter it had been in the fridge for two weeks and I thought I made the safe assumption she had forgotten about it. Didn't matter that, when busted, I was hard at work patching up the plaster on our third floor so it'll soon be the TV/family room. She wanted her bath with her book, her iced water and her chocolate almonds, and HOW DARE I deprive her of that. Guilty.

Eh well. These are some pretty tasty little choco-nutties, well worth the spousal ire I drew. That being said, they're pretty straightforward, without any fancy little wrinkles. Chances are, if you're imagining a typical dark chocolate almond, that's exactly what these TJ offerings taste like. There's a thin soft coat of bittersweet chocolate enveloping each crunchy nut, presenting a smooth bite that's pretty palatably pleasing. To my taste, the chocolate seems a lot more sweet than bitter, but I've grown pretty accustomed to the super dark stuff, going as far as beginning to enjoy raw cocoa nibs, so my scale might be a little off from yours. Regardless, for a potent little snack that satisfies some candy craving with some protein oomph to keep you going, it's tough to beat these, especially for just 99 cents.

Quick word: Nuts + dark chocolate = lots of fat and calories. Including saturated. These are no exception. My take: I've lost significant weight in the past year on a Paleo diet, which these kinda almost fit into, sort of. It depends on what camp you put dark chocolate in - I give it a pass. Not once in the past year have I sat down and counted calories or doublechecked how much fat I'd eaten in one day, and there's been numerous times I've had more than the couple handfuls of almonds or more chocolate than what's covering these nuts in a day. If the fat and calories concern you, make note and choose consumption accordingly. But for me I don't consider them a dietbreaker, or even that much of a cheat, as long as (like anything else) I consume them in moderation.

Anyways, both Sandy and I love them, and to try and keep the peace, last shopping trip I bought four bags of them, two for me, two for her. So far, so good. I might even be nice and share my last bag with her, especially when she starts up about those pots and pans again. Distraction is key for survival. Double fours from us.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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