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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Trader Joe's Cheesy Trees

It's funny how snacks marketed for children often use animal shapes: Goldfish, Teddy Grahams, and of course, classic animal crackers like Barnum's Animals...

And I'm not saying you couldn't pull it off, but if you were throwing some fine holiday soiree, it would be a little weird to put giraffe and elephant-shaped crackers out to enjoy with wine and fruit, for example. However, if said crackers were shaped like evergreen trees, nobody would bat an eyelid.

And if there was any doubt that these trees are alluding to Christmas trees in particular, there's a spiel on the packaging that starts with "O Tannenbaum." 

Furthermore, this product flaunts a particularly wintry theme on its packaging, including a fox with a scarf and a rabbit wearing gloves. There's evidence of snow on the ground, and even the songbirds are bundled up with earmuffs and knit caps.

I'm not sure why cheese-flavored tree crackers are particularly seasonal, wintry, or Christmassy, but it works somehow. And indeed they do pair well with a nice Cab. They boast a strong, sharp cheddar flavor, but their texture is relatively thin and delicate. They're buttery to the touch—completely covered in real cheese. They necessitate napkins. And as you can see in the photo above, the depiction of the crackers on the box is pretty close to their actual size.

Unfortunately, about half of our trees were broken at the time of consumption, which might be a bummer if we were concerned with presentation or were attempting to impress guests. But luckily for us, it was just Sonia and I gobbling up the crackers by ourselves after a nice hike with our poorly-behaved pets.

After wolfing down a good portion of the bag, a bright lightbulb appeared over Sonia's head. 

"What is it!?" I exclaimed.

"Tomato soup!" she replied.

She scrambled over to the pantry and parted a row of chicken noodle and lentil and produced a lone can of Progresso Tomato Soup. She held it high above her head and The Hallelujah Chorus mysteriously poured out of each corner of the room as a brilliant, pure white light filled our house, its source unknown.

She proceeded to heat the soup and served it up in two bowls, which were swimming with tree-halves just moments later. And it was heavenly.

Sonia was enthusiastic about the trees from her first bite to her last. She gives them four and a half Christmas stars. I liked them just fine, although I don't think I'd snack on them just by themselves on a regular basis...but I'd never discourage Sonia from keeping some on hand, just in case I get a hankering for a bowl of tomato soup again. Three and a half Christmas stars from me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Trader Joe's Cornbread Stuffing Mix and Trader Joe's Kettle Cooked Turkey Gravy

Stuffing: Both a noun and a verb. Particularly this time of year. Discuss.

I know, I know....this particular review of Trader Joe's Cornbread Stuffing Mix and Trader Joe's Kettle Cooked Turkey Gravy woulda been a little more timely and helpful last week, particularly before that big ol' Turkey Day holiday last week. Sorry, but we kinda busy...doing nothing. Nada. It was WONDERFUL. I love Thanksgiving and all, and usually it's a big get-together with dozens of relatives and a verifiable smorgasmicbord of all sorts of different dishes and desserts and everything...but not this year. Kept it lowkey. Watched the Macy's parade and some of the dog show on TV at Sandy's mom's for breakfast, came home, took a rest, and made Thanksgiving dinner for just me and my girls before watching Elf as is family tradition.

And since for those family Thanksgiving dinners I was really never really asked to bring anything more than salt and pepper, or to chip in a little bit for the turkey (which my dad always seemed to do for me), Sandy and I really didn't have great top secret family recipes to make or do, so we kept it simple, hence our purchase of those two Thanksgiving staples.

First up: TJ's cornbread stuffing. Call it filling if you'd like...I'll think you're odd but won't comment out loud. If you stop and think about it, stuffing doesn't really sound like a tasty idea: warm, salty bread mush. But dang it if it's not some classic comfort right there. Trader Joe's boxy blend is pretty top notch. We had no bird to stuff, so we went for the oven prep method and went lighter on the water in the hope of more crunchy tidbits. That's exactly what we got. Now, the ingredients list "white bread" and "corn bread" before mentioning the word croutons...I didn't notice any white bread morsels, so maybe these were carby combo cubes? The spice blend was pretty classic too - rosemary, onion, garlic, etc added a really nice savory touch as one would expect. It is important to note that 1) it's not gluten free 2) there's chicken broth, so not vegeterian/vegan friendly and 3) there's mushrooms in there - which we didn't notice but post a sleeper allergy concern for some. I may be wrong, but I think a GF-friendly stuffin' made with veggie broth and no mushrooms wouldn't have sacrificed much in terms of flavor or satisfaction while being able to be enjoyed by more folks. That's my only real knock. Better than Stove Top (although when reheated the difference is less apparent), open to any additions (raisins, apple bits, bacon, etc), fills a void, pairs well with cranberry sauce...

Or gravy. In our case, TJ's Kettle Cooked Turkey Gravy. Wish I had much to say about this gravy, as I grew up a big gravy fan (both literally and figuratively) and I've yet to find a commercial gravy that approximates my mom's (even though I know hers is just jarred mixed with pan drippings - there's something else about it I can't figure out). TJ's gravy is good, not great. I mean, I coated my turkey with it and piled up a stuffing/mashed potato mountain just to make a huge gravy crater in the middle, so I can't say I disliked it. Maybe the fact that it's a little thicker and gloopier than what I'm accustomed to is why. Certainly tasted like decent turkey gravy, but nothing really stood out. It's probably open to some customization and doctoring, which I probably could have done but eh well.

So, in case you have to bring something easy to another holiday feast, or just want a simple classic taste for dinner, you can do a lot worse than this combo this time of year. We're higher on the stuffing than the gravy, but together they make a good team. We're thankful for the blessing of good, warm food and family, and hope to continue to enjoy that this holiday season. We hope for that for you as well.

Bottom lines: Trader Joe's Cornbread Stuffing Mix: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons. Trader Joe's Kettle Cooked Turkey Gravy: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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