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Friday, November 9, 2018

Trader Joe's Turkey Cranberry Meatballs

....somehow it's almost Thanksgiving already! What the what!?!?!

Seems to me that Halloween starts off a verifiable gauntlet of activities and festivities for the fam. Yes, there's the usual Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Years stretch...but mix in there Sandy and my's anniversary (almost nine years!), a couple kids' birthdays, our growing tradition of a holiday cookie party, other activities and parties and occasions, along with it growing into the busy season at work, and all along all the normal humdrum and business of day-to-day life...we're busy! And we need to eat, preferably altogether and happily as a family.

Which means I don't really want my kids complaining about whatever meat may be on the table. With that in mind, with Turkey Day coming up too, getting Trader Joe's Turkey Cranberry Meatballs was an easy choice. Who can ever complain about a meatball?

I'm not here. Listen, I know these aren't as good as your Aunt Millie's famous homemade recipe, but for a frozen convenience poultry protein sphere, I'll gladly take them. As they come fully cooked, it's only a few minutes in the oven or microwave that's needed.

The reward for those three nanonseconds worth of active prep? A warm, soft yet appropriately firm meatball that's decidedly lighter than an average beef ball. It's pretty par for the frozen meatball course, with an absolute comfort vibe. But there's a lot more to like here too. There's some pretty decent rosemary in there to really enhance the flavor of the meat with some herbal savoriness. And the little dried cranberries add a nice touch. They're not intrusive from a textural standpoint at all, and definitely add a little "Thanksgiving" to the overall feel.

These turkey treats aren't perfect, though. One scroll through the ingredient list - "mechanically separated turkey." gulp. If you don't what that is somehow, go Google it...not gonna tell ya here, it's a family friendly business we run here. Also, and this is just a suggestion, but meatballs usually incorporate breadcrumbs, right? My grandma took it a step further and used crumbled homemade biscuits. Well, since it's for Turkey Day...why not use some stuffing in there too? That'd literally be almost all of Thanksgiving all rolled up in one morsel, provided that it got tossed around like a football, hollered at about politics, and drenched in gravy as well.

Mmm. Gravy. These do taste better with gravy as I sampled at the local TJ's shop. Interestingly, the dude running the counter advised microwaving instead of baking the balls, so as to retain a little more moisture and not dry them out as much. I prepped one half of our bag each way and to be honest I didn't notice too drastic a difference. Your mileage may vary, though, so there's that.

Sandy and I liked them. The kiddos tolerated them well enough and turned their dinner time ire more towards the brussel sprouts. I'll count that as a win - usually they devour their veggies and slowly whittle our will to let them live by taking four score and seven years to eat a bite of meat. The bag of about 20 meatballs (roughly four or five servings) ran $4.49 locally, so a decent enough of a value for a repeat buy. I'd think they'd work as a dinner or party snack option, so whatever you got going on, these can come alongside. Double 3.5s.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Turkey Cranberry Meatballs: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Trader Joe's Chantilly Cream Vanilla Bean Mini Sheet Cake

Icing: it's the best part of the cake, and the worst part of hockey.

If you're not sure exactly what that means, just turn to the hockey fan nearest you and ask them about it. Right now, as I compose this post, the Capitals and Penguins are playing one another. #ALLCAPS! It's a big rivalry—almost as big a rivalry as the ultimate argument about cake. There are those like my lovely wife that claim the bread part is always best. And then there are people like me. I'm usually an icing kinda guy.

Not long ago, Sonia and I sampled TJ's Party Cake. I liked it a bit more than she did in the end, but we both enjoyed the cake more than the frosting in that instance. In this case, the vanilla bean icing is the main attraction for me. It actually tastes like vanilla beans more than regular white icing in the same way vanilla bean ice cream tastes more like true vanilla than even a highly respectable French vanilla. And like vanilla bean ice cream, this icing has actual ground vanilla beans in it.

The icing isn't completely even across the top of the cake. Around the edges, it's significantly shallower than in the middle. There are a few areas that even seem to have greater quantities of frosting than cake—as in, you take a fork-full, and you're chewing two parts icing to one part cake. It didn't bother me much at all because the vanilla bean was so tasty. You bready cakey people might disagree. However, even I must admit the bread here is nothing to complain about. It stays moist and fresh-ish for quite a while after opening the product. It's not unlike the bread part of the Party Cake, but perhaps a bit denser and richer by virtue of the presence of beaucoup buttermilk.

In general, I'm not even a huge cake and cookies guy anymore, but I'm sure I've consumed hundreds of pieces of cake at parties and get-togethers over the years, and many of them, perhaps even most, have been vanilla. I generally prefer vanilla cake over chocolate, although there have been notable exceptions. I eat less cake these days for a number of reasons: health concerns, weight, not to mention I don't get invited to many parties these days, and I attend even fewer. All that to say it takes a pretty decent cake to impress me at all. 

$4.49 for the dessert isn't a bad deal. Four stars from me. Three and a half from Sonia...who didn't even finish all of her icing.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

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