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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Trader Joe's Rosemary Garlic Monkey Bread

Very controversial past couple days here in the Pittsburgh home base, and nothing to do with Starbucks cups. Nope, it's all about Trader Joe's Rosemary Garlic Monkey Bread.

Let's see: Sandy says I shouldn't have thawed it out by slightly preheating an oven, then turning it off, and trying to let the bread rise...even though that's exactly what I did last weekend while making homemade pizza dough and it worked like a champ. Instead, I should have just sat it on the counter. Directions stated to let rise in a warm place, and the heat ain't on yet (two things I don't allow on before Thanksgiving: furnace or Christmas music), so the counter in a cool kitchen didn't sound great, and it's not like I could tell a lump of frozen dough to put on a layer and run a lap to warm itself up. We've gone back and forth, and back and forth, and back and forth....

...but not nearly as much as we have about the silly little flimsy plasticky bundt pan the monkey bread comes in: To bake the bread in it, or not to? Here's, TJ's really should have thrown us a clue and stated SOMETHING about it somewhere. Take out of box: Duh. Remove plastic film/baggie surrounding it: Check. Nothing about the pan. No "oven safe" label. No "Hey dummy, don't bake plastic" sticker. This is actually a legitimate TJ's question as evidenced by Nathan's Sad Pot Pie Fiasco of 2013. I say we should have baked in it, Sandy insisted we didn't, and we sided with the risk of slightly suboptimal chow versus poisoning ourselves, and went sans the pan. Was this the right call? I have no idea. But maybe you do. Help.

And no great way to really segue this in, but mid photo shoot, our subject box o' bread took a dive off the back deck, about 15 feet down and splat into the withered remains of our tomato plant in our garden below. I guess it just had enough of our shenanigans right then and there. 

Anyways, the outcome, perhaps not surprisingly after all that, was perhaps a little sub-optimal. But I'll do my best to be fair here. Let's see: The idea of a savory monkey bread was pretty intriguing. My only previous experiences have been of the sweet and cinnamony type, so a herbed garlic with cheese one sounded like a worthwhile try. Problem is, very heavy on the rosemary, not so much the garlic. I had to pick out the "weird little green things" for my normally carb-crammin' three year old to even think of touching these, which I don't blame her for (this was after her first bite). So. Much. Rosemary. But doable, especially with the dough, having been rolled in parmesan cheese, getting an outer, crispy, burnt-cheesy bite. Nice touch there.

But for the texture: I'll own whatever portion of the blame is for any of our potential missteps. But when I think "monkey bread" I think light and fluffy, only a little bready...not dense and chewy and grainy. But that's what we had here. Part of the blame has to go to the wheat flour, at least, though. Normally I'm not terribly opposed to it, but it just didn't work here. Another point: monkey bread to me is a bunch of little pull-apart bites all stuck together, not 10 or so dinner roll sized buns to break off one another. So "monkey bread" seems to be a bit of a misnomer.

I think we all, in the end, enjoyed it enough to warrant buying again with perhaps some clarification of the rules of engagement here. Sandy said she wished it came with a little dipping sauce, suggesting some marinara. For the $4.99 price point, I think a little pouch could be included. For all the clamor this product has caused - I doubt a single food item has ever caused as much ongoing debate as this silly thing - it's a sign of our overall union when we both gave it a matching 3.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Rosemary Garlic Monkey Bread: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, November 6, 2015

Trader Joe's Pecan Pie Filling in a Jar

Here's another $7 item from TJ's. One might justify that lofty price tag with the added bonus of a quality mason-esque jar you can keep long after the pie filling has been consumed. One might also justify that seven dollar premium with the notion that this stuff is pretty tasty. Because it is.

After making the purchase, Sonia and I mused about whether or not we'd need to employ the recondite prowess of one skilled in the culinary arts in order to enjoy this unique delicacy because, unfortunately, neither of us are particularly gifted in that department—at least as far as pies are concerned. Sonia can make some tasty Mexican dishes thanks to some family recipes handed down to her from her parents, who, incidentally, were in town this past week. They brought delicious, authentic Mexican sweet breads from a bakery in Los Angeles. It seemed an obvious pairing to me, if perhaps nobody else, so of course I slathered a piece of the bread with this sweet blend of nuts and syrup: Mexican-American fusion at its rarest and finest.

It worked. As long as you didn't mind the moderate alcohol essence from the bourbon in the pie filling. Other food pairings yielded similar results: ice cream, pancakes—and I can only imagine with cheesecake as well, as mentioned on the packaging—all super sweet and super tasty, but there was still that alcoholic kick. I'm well aware that the bourbon is less harsh after baking, and for that reason, I decided to try my hand at whipping up something in that big, hot, bakey thing in the kitchen that's not a microwave. What's it called again? "Oh-ven" or something like that?

My baking experiment was a reasonable success, as I modified the pie recipe on the jar to use the filling in little crescent rolls instead. The process of baking and a good bit of butter certainly helped to mellow out the bourbon zing, and the pecans were even more tasty, as they picked up a lightly-toasted flavor and slightly crispier texture in the oven. 

Straight out of the jar, it's extraordinarily sweet—and bourbony, as mentioned before. The first and fourth ingredients are both types of sugar. So yeah. Hope you brought your sweet tooth. It's really just a jar of rich, luscious, maple-esque syrup and a boatload of whole pecans. Between that Chocolate Pecan Pudding Pie and this, Trader Joe's must be single-handedly keeping the pecan farming industry afloat. 

I think this product is vastly more enjoyable and successful after baking, but Sonia is perfectly happy with it as a raw topping on just about anything. She gives it four out of five stars. Because it's expensive, wants to be baked, and a little too much like drinking pecan-flavored whiskey, I think I'll keep my score to a modest three out of five. But don't let this average-ish rating scare you away, particularly if you're blessed with mad baking skills.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Trader Joe's Turkey and Stuffing Seasoned Kettle Chips

Well, hope you all had a happy and safe Halloween. We sure did out here in the 'burgh, although our kiddos were too smart to fall for the Jimmy Kimmel "we ate all your candy" bit we tried to pull on them. Too smart, those kids. Anyways, on to the next holiday (and my personal favorite) - Thanksgiving!

One thing I'm thankful for, as triflingly unimportant in the grand scheme it is: Seems to me we're in the midst of a potato chip renaissance going on here. For the longest time, the only kind of chips out there, that I could think of anyways, were: plain, sour cream and onion, barbecue, and salt and vinegar, with the occasional rogue bag of cheddar and sour cream, but who really liked those, anyways? Maybe some slight variations in there, but all that there really was. Then....Lay's kicked up their "Do Us A Flavor" campaign and BAM. I didn't know that you could make chips taste convincingly akin to biscuits and gravy, or Reuben sandwiches, or a gyro, or...well, yeah, let's forget those cappuccino ones, shall we?

Now, just as November rolls in, a new entrant: Trader Joe's Turkey and Stuffing Seasoned Kettle Chips. I'm kinda surprised that they didn't go for a name like "Holiday Dinner", "Gobbler Goodies" or "Thanksgivingesque" - the name as is just sounds too straightforward. But too awesome to not try.

And not disappointed one bit. Not. At. All. Cracking the seal unleashed a very savory aroma much like a fresh dish of stuffing waiting to get devoured....yum. Salivating already. Quick visual scan: very much like sour cream and onion, but okay, who has time for that, it's munch time...oh goodness. The first taste that hits is hard on the stuffing. Very upfront. Sandy and my brother both said, independently, that it tastes very much like Stove Top brand stuffing - I'm picking that up, too, but I think that's mostly because that's what I first think of when I think of stuffing. There's the taste of celery and slight herbal bite of rosemary and thyme in there that really seals the deal.

That's fine, but....what about the turkey? It's present, but more subtle. The best way I can think of to describe it, there's a certain roastiness to these chips that slowly builds with each chip, and is more apparent on the aftertaste. It'd be impossible, probably, to perfectly replicate the juicy joy of fresh roasted turkey on a dry, crispy potato chip - but to the extent that a chip can, it's there. If you've tried the Lay's Reuben chips, for example, the "corned beef aspect" is perhaps the subtlest, but still present - these TJ turkey tater tidbits are similar in that regard.

Really though, in all, the stuffing and turkey flavors come together very well, and of course, some potato flavor pokes through as well to sell the "Thanksgiving dinner on a chip" idea even better. Now, some might say "well, you'd need gravy and cranberry sauce to really make it Thanksgiving dinner....." Look. There's enough salt on them, with enough taste, that adding just a little more to add a gravy spin would be a misstep. And adding something tart and sweet to them, like cranberry, would throw it all off. IT'S A POTATO CHIP, not meant to replace your holiday meal, or to be some Wonka-gobstopper-esque concoction that will taste like an entire holiday dinner, because then they'd have to include pecan pie and wine too, and now we're just getting carried away.

And they're perfect just as they are. No, I mean that. Perfect. Perfect turkey and stuffing taste. Perfect kettle chip crunch. Perfect for the snack budget at only $1.99 a bag. Just perfect. I love them, and I don't say that about chips often - I'm a guy who most days would prefer a handful of raw spinach over a baggie of average run-of-the-mill chips. I'm going to say these are now my favorite potato chips I've ever had, which will make their logical seasonal demise all the sadder. So, in the meantime: Indulge! Sandy and I polished off one bagful already, and went back for more - self control might kick back in at one point, but until then: Gobble gobble.

Bottom line:  Trader Joe's Turkey and Stuffing Seasoned Kettle Chips: 10 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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