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Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Trader Joe's One Potato Two Potato

Nothing like a little comfort food to get you through the coldest parts of winter. Potatoes and cheese? How could Trader Joe's One Potato Two Potato go wrong?

One Potato, Two Potato,
From the Trader Joe's,
Three potato, four potato,
See how that cheese flows.
Five potato, six potato,
It's a hearty dish.
Sev'n potato, eight potato, 
Scrumptious and delish.

As usual, there are heating instructions for the microwave and the conventional oven included on the packaging. I opted for the latter, as I was feeling less lazy than usual—kicking off the new year practicing good habits and all that. The directions simply state: "remove packaging," but don't specify if the tray that contains the dish is "ovenable," a term that Trader Joe's preparation instructions have employed in the past. I made the assumption that it was indeed ovenable, and as evidenced by the fact that the tray did not burst into flames while baking at 350° for nearly an hour, I concluded that I did make the correct choice. Also, had it not been for the tray, the veggies and cheese would have spread out all over the baking sheet and perhaps gotten a little too toasty.

What's working here: lots of big, chunky veggies, tasty and evenly-distributed cheese, a crispy, crusty outer layer, and an overall salty, savory taste, perfect for a winter side dish. The potato chunks and the places where the cheese browned a little around the edges are by far my favorite elements in this side dish.

What's not working here: too many sweet potatoes, which at first I took for carrot chunks. Oddly, they bugged me more than the mushrooms. Even though I've never been a fan of 'shrooms, there simply weren't enough of them to bother me here. Sonia actually wished there were more of them. 

The sweet potato chunks were plentiful and enormous. They should have called this Trader Joe's One Sweet Potato Two Sweet Potato, although I'm not aware of any nursery rhymes that involve counting sweet potatoes. I normally don't mind sweet potatoes at all, particularly if they're well-baked. However, I feel like the ones in this selection had an odd texture—almost spongy—and the chunks were simply too big. There was a lot more sweet potato than regular potato by my reckoning. So...I wouldn't have minded more regular potatoes, peas instead of mushrooms, and thicker, gooier cheese.

Still, despite one or two distinct weaknesses, this potato platter is a winner in my book. The overall effect doesn't suffer much from the overabundance of sweet potato—there are still some tasty bites to be had. $3.99 for four servings. 

Sonia's likes and dislikes were a little different than mine, but we'll still both arrive at the same respectable score for Trader Joe's One Potato Two Potato: 4 out of 5 stars a piece. 

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Trader Joe's Peanut and Crispy Noodle Salad Kit

Supposedly the whole point of a salad is to eat something light and healthy, right? Get a nice array of yummy, nutritious veggies in your system, like all those leafy greens your PCP is always telling you about. Salads are great. Salads are fun.

But the whole point of a salad isn't being healthy.

Nah, you're talking to a guy who lives in Pittsburgh, and you see what we do to salads here? That's a tame one.

Right, it's what goes on top that counts. Know anybody that actually really enjoys just eating plain romaine? Nah. I ate raw naked spinach for a while and you should have seen all the looks I got...and to be clear, it was the spinach that was laid bare, not myself. Nobody wants to see that.

Here's a perfect example: Trader Joe's Peanut and Crispy Noodle Salad Kit. Sounds great. Sounds...I don't know, as enticing as a salad can get? TJ's even emphasizes the fix-in's as the selling point in the name, which is a good thing if you look at the components.

I mean, just look. The whole base of the salad is the 100% routine, boring , generic cabbage/romaine/carrot mix that I swear makes up 95% of salads. It's like a stock photo come to life. Booooor-ing. Nothing wrong with it per se, except it is what it is which is all it's ever gonna be. Snooze.

So how can liven it up? Chopped peanuts? Well, okay...except those are kinda boring too. Nothing wrong, but nothing right. It's like a rerun watched too many times.

But then....crispy rice noodles! And peanut and lime dressing! Maybe there will be something worth writing home about here.

First off: the noodles. For some reason I expected chow mein type noodles, which was a completely flawed assumption on many levels. Instead, these are light, airy, tiny, airpopped Styrofoam-ish rice noodles that are remarkably crispy and crunchy for their size. There's not much taste to them by themselves, so naturally they absorb the flavor of whatever they're nearby, which really oughtta be...

The dressing. Almost every salad comes to the dressing. This peanut-lime take is pretty darn tasty. My lovely bride wanted to drench every inch of her salad with it and guzzle the rest from the packet...fortunately I stopped her. We've made similar sauces at home with peanut butter and soy sauce, but there's more here. Some different spices, and the Thai lime leaves are a real nice touch. I'm sold. It's another dressing that needs to be sold by itself, and there needs to be more of it in the salad if only we didn't have to squabble over the last few drips.

Pretty decent salad overall. Sandy and I had it as a lighter dinner the other night and were both pretty happy. It's not a bad deal at $3.99 and if you're looking for a new salad mix in this New Year, it might be tough to top this.

 Bottom line: Trader Joe's Peanut and Crispy Noodle Salad Kit: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Trader Joe's I Dream of Chocolate Cake

I made a New Year's resolution to eat way more chocolate cake in 2020, and by golly, I'm off to a good start. On New Year's Day, as I surveyed my frosty surroundings, I made the clutch decision to pull this Trader Joe's I Dream of Chocolate Cake out of our little freezer, thaw it, and eat it for lunch. Not after lunch, but for lunch. Sonia and I make our own hours, work from wherever we please, and gosh darnit if we want cake for lunch, we have it. Our actual resolution was about living life on our own terms, a la #fulltimetravel. Just kidding. I don't make New Year's resolutions. They're silly.

No, but seriously though if 2017 and 2018 were the worst years of my adult life, then 2019 was probably the best. We spent the year across 16 different states, saw a dozen national parks, monuments, and historical sites, and visited friends and family we haven't seen in years. I don't know what this year holds, or even if we'll be traveling, but I have a feeling it's going to be pretty special. For Sonia and me, that all starts with throwing caution and tradition to the wind—and doing things like eating chocolate cake for lunch on New Year's Day. Eat your heart out, pork and sauerkraut.

At this point I must confess that the whole chocolate on chocolate on chocolate thing isn't really my cup of tea in general, unless I have some kind of specific craving. I like chocolate cake as much as the next guy, but it takes something special to really wow me. I can't say this particular specimen completely blew me away, but it's pretty tasty nonetheless, not to mention uber-convenient. 

When I first tried the cake, I don't think it was fully thawed. The top layer in particular was reminiscent of chocolate ice cream, slightly melted. Even in subsequent servings, there was a creaminess there that still vaguely reminded me of chocolate ice cream rather than a typical chocolate frosting for a cake. It was extremely moist, including the inner cakey parts, almost to the point that it felt like pudding. It was dense, rich, and flavorful, and it tasted remarkably fresh for something so recently frozen.

$6.99 is reasonable for Trader Joe's I Dream of Chocolate Cake, I guess. There's enough cake in the box to provide dessert to a large family or a small party. It says six servings, but you could stretch it to more since it's so filling. Sonia gives it four stars. Chocoholics will like this even more than I do, and would probably score it very highly. I'll give it a thumbs up in the end, and about three and a half stars.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

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