Friday, August 10, 2012

The most awesomest thing Trader Joe's has ever had

Trader Joe's Cocoa Almond Spread
Heaven In A Jar

Recently we read that Italy's Ferrero group, which makes the chocolate/hazelnut spread Nutella, settled a lawsuit for false advertising claims. I don't know what claims they were making, because there are still Nutella ads on my TV claiming that the stuff is a great breakfast food. Now, I'm a woman who keeps a candy dish full of Viactiv Calcium Chews on my desk at work, so I know the value of Good Stuff In Candy form. But even I'm not foolish enough to think that Nutella is a healthy part of a complete breakfast.

But still -- it's hard to beat the combination of flavors that is nuts + chocolate. Which brings us to the wonderfulness that is Trader Joe's Cocoa Almond Spread. This is supposed to basically be almond butter with cocoa in it, but this stuff is heaven in a jar. It's less oily than Nutella, less messy than Nutella, and less sickeningly sweet than Nutella. You could frost a cake with this stuff. This cocoa almond spread may not be part of a good breakfast, but you should definitely pick up a jar and keep it behind glass along with a spoon. On the glass you should write in Sharpie, "In Case of Really Bad Day, Break Glass." Believe me, you'll be glad you have it when you need it.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Winner winner turkey dinner

I'm really not terribly fond of turkey. It was one thing when it was "special" meat that you had only on Thanksgiving and maybe again at Christmas. But the minute it became The Acceptable Meat For Dieters, it become this boring, usually dry thing that requires either a lot of mayo (if that's your thing) or coleslaw (if it isn't) to make it even remotely palatable.

This is why I enjoy going out to dinner on Thanksgiving. It's just Mr. Brilliant and me, and as I wrote the other day over at our sister blog, I'd rather eat swiss chard with pancetta, brown butter pumpkin gnocchi, couscous salad, whitefish, and olives.

But if you don't have turkey at home, you don't have turkey leftovers, and if that's your thing (or your spouse's), then you have two choices: Either do the whole thing on Friday and have more leftovers than you'll eat in a lifetime, or else spend twelve bucks and let Trader Joe's do it for you.

Like much of what comes out of the freezer case at TJ's, the Turkey Breast With Stuffing is a bit too salty, but it serves the purpose. The turkey tends to come out dry if you heat it up uncovered (as directed) in a conventional oven, and tough if you microwave it. Perhaps partially tenting it is a good way to go, though I haven't tried it.

Heat up some of the Good Trader's mashed potato discs (really good) and a box of his turkey gravy, add a vegetable, and you have a serviceable, if somewhat salty turkey dinner.

I for one am glad that Thanksgiving is over. Now I'm under no pressure to eat any more turkey for a while.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Let It Snow

So the crack weathermen on WCBS, WABC and every other station in town called for the 'storm of the century' to hit New York on Saturday morning.

By the time I got to the 14th street TJ's on Saturday 8am, about the only thing left to buy was squished brie and TJ virgin olive oil. There was no:

bread, coffee, grape tomatoes, lettuce, half and half, cereal, yogurt, EDAMAME, frozen fish, no salsa, avocados, orangina, bottled water, milk, cat food, grapefruit juice, shredded cheese.

there were bags - but i still got a lottery ticket for bringing my own.

Oh - I waited on line for 30 minutes to buy rice pudding and eggs. Yes there were eggs. And you could always buy toilet paper - I guess NY remains a very constipated city.

As of noon on Saturday NYC had about 1/16th" of an inch of snow.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Trader Joe's Saturday Supper

I never really understood why some people call the evening meal "supper" and some call it "dinner." In our house when I was a kid, it was "dinner", and so dinner it has remained. I seem to recall hearing something at home about how people with less education than my parents had calling it supper, but I could be wrong about that.

I do know that when I was a child, other kids had Sunday dinner in the middle of the day, after church, then "supper" was a bowl of cereal or soup or something. This struck me as being an extremely strange religious ritual, not so much the meat-potatoes-vegetable meal in the middle of the day, but the idea that anyone would enjoy eating breakfast or lunch after the sun went down.

I still have this idea that doing this is kind of strange, despite the fact that sometimes when we're up early on Saturday mornings, Mr. Brilliant hears the siren call of the Tom Sawyer Diner, and off we go for breakfast. You see, there is no such thing as a light breakfast at the Tom Sawyer. I happen to be fond of their corned beef hash, which is the real deal, not that Broadcast crap out of a can that looks and tastes like something Spam-eaters would reject. So I'll have corned beef hash with two poached eggs, a slice of whole wheat toast, and as few wonderfully fresh and crisp French Fries as I can moster the will power at which to stop, while Mr. B will finish my fries and demolish a Monte Cristo with a side of hash and a glass of tomato juice. After a meal like this, he's usually good for a long time, so we've taken to having a light dinner, or supper if you will, of soup and salad from Trader Joes.

Tonight it was the Curried Chicken Salad, which is a just-right portion of white meat chicken, curry mayonnaise, celery, and raisins, with an astonishingly crisp and not-brown-edged mixed greens salad; Organic Creamy Tomato Soup with mini-ravioli, and garlic/parmesan baguette.

The tomato soup has no cream in it, and it's less salty than your standard Campbell's soup. It's very smooth and a tiny bit sweet, so the mini-ravioli (half-cooked separately, then finished in the soup as the latter heats) add some texture and garlicky hints that work well with this comfort food soup.

With a meal like this, I think perhaps the "light supper" crowd is on to something.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Life is merry when it's very Vegetarian

Plant a radish.
Get a radish.
Never any doubt.
That's why I love vegetables;
You know what you're about!

Plant a turnip.
Get a turnip.
Maybe you'll get two.
That's why I love vegetables;
You know that they'll come through!

They're dependable!
They're befriendable!
They're the best pal a parent's ever known!
While with children,
It's bewilderin'.
You don't know until the seed is nearly grown
Just what you've sown.

Plant a carrot,
Get a carrot,
Not a Brussels sprout.
That's why I love vegetables.
You know what you're about!

Life is merry,
If it's very
A man who plants a garden
Is a very happy man!

-- "Plant a Radish", from The Fantasticks

Among the many resolutions I've made this year, most of which I actually intend to keep, is to eat at least somewhat less meat. It's difficult for me to do, because I'm not one of those people who's going to be sated with a plate of brown rice and vegetables, or hummus and pita, or any of the other things I like just fine but that leave me hungry again in an hour. I loathe tofu. I don't want to eat things masquerading as other things. And I sure as hell am not about to go vegan. But I think a little less meat is not a bad idea.

Now I don't get home most nights till 6 or 6:30, and Mr. Brilliant isn't much for cooking. So most nights, our meals contain at least one item from Trader Joe's, and sometimes the entire dinner comes from Trader Joe's.

So this week, along comes something I haven't seen there before: Roasted Vegetable Multi-Grain Lasagna. Now, I like roasted vegetables, and the only pasta I'm willing to eat more than once in a blue moon is whole grain pasta. And it's relatively low sodium for packaged food.

Most frozen lasagne is ghastly. Either the noodles are mushy or the cheese is watery or it has a pronounced processed/freezer flavor...or it's weighed down with enough salt to cure an entire feedlot of pork.

I'm not going to tell you that this Trader Joe's rendition makes cooking your own a thing of the past. It's a bit skimpy on the cheese, particularly the mozzarella on top. The vegetables could be a bit chunkier. But it tastes relatively fresh for frozen lasagne, and it's plenty for two people, unless one of them only eats once a day the way Mr. Brilliant does, in which case you might want to make some of the good Trader's turkey meatballs in some of his organic marinara (which is kind of defeating the purpose of a meatless meal), or a salad, or some zucchini sticks or Something Else Like That. Next time I'll doctor it up with a bit more mozzarella and bring home a semolina bread from Calandra's. Because Mr. B. doesn't eat salad until Opening Day.

Friday, January 8, 2010

New 'cue Review

Those of you kind readers who know me personally know that there are few foods I adore more than barbecue, unless it's split pea soup made by cooking the peas, some celery, carrots and onion with the remains of a spiral ham. But hoo-boy, I loves me some barbecue.

Barbecue isn't really a food, though, it's more like a cult. Anyone who doubts how serious people get about barbecue has never watched one of those competitions on the Food Network (something those of you who are unfortunate enough to have Cablevision as your cable company no doubt are missing these days). Barbecue competitions, like those insane competitions where people make cakes shaped like the Kölner Dom or the incredibly cruel Chopped, in which "Queer Eye" alum and all-around geek Ted Allen emcees four unfortunate chefs trying to please three insufferably smug and pretentious "foodies" for ten grand, are sort of like a Senior Prom for the flyover states. Barbecue people, no matter where they're from, are deadly serious about their 'cue.

But since I live in New Jersey, searching for authentic Kansas City, or Chicago, or North Carolina, or Texas, or wherever, barbecue is like trying to find good pastrami in Dubuque. Here in the northern part of the State of Sopranos and "Jersey Shore", the best barbecue in the last couple of years has been dished up at Bailey's Smokehouse, a former neighborhood bar just over the New York State border in Blauvelt, New York, a place that was smart enough a couple of years ago to hire Dave "Fink" Finkelstein, late of the adorably-named Fink's Funky Chicken, to bring his smoker up and expand the menu of standard bar burgers into something that has had people flocking there ever since. Because when you want really good barbecue, who else would you see but a Jewish guy from Bergen County? But for whatever reason, Finkelstein doesn't like to settle in one place too long, so it remains to be seen if he's trained a successor, or if the plates of lovely red-rimmed brisket dabbed with just the right amount of spicy-sweet sauce, barbecue beans, and sinful bourbon-glazed carrots are consigned to history.

Closer to home, we have the no-longer-part-of-a-chain Jim Dandy's BBQ Grill ("Home of the Killer Ribs"), which doesn't turn the neighborhood redolent with the aroma of smoking meat, so I don't see how it can market as a "real" BBQ Grill, even if it does have a reasonably nice, if overly sweet, pulled pork sandwich and onion rings to die for (and a huge cardboard cutout of a pig outside, which bears an alarming resemblance to Dick Cheney). A few years ago, Backwoods BBQ opened in a cavernous space that had been home to about four restaurants in as many years, but around here people aren't really interested in antelope chili, and don't want to pay twenty bucks for a plate with a scoop of underseasoned pulled pork, some bland slaw, and not nearly enough baked beans. So Backwoods fell by the wayside, until it reappeared three miles away in a local biker bar with the unfortunate moniker The Dog House, perhaps named because that's where the town's erstwhile mayor used to hang out until he got busted for DWI with a bar waitress from that establishment in his car, which put him in enough of a doghouse that the house he shared with his wife went on the market soon after. We haven't tried this establishment yet, but with the Jets actually in a playoff game this weekend, we just might try it this very weekend.

But since I don't consider myself a conoisseur of barbecue, my eye was caught by the newest entrant in the refrigerator case of Tasty Dinner Foods for Busy People: Pulled Beef Brisket in Smoky BBQ Sauce. Now, this purchase fell into the I'll Eat Anything With Barbecue Sauce Slathered On It category, until I opened what looked like a hardened lump of meat, heated it up in the microwave, put a third of the package on a bun as indicated by the servings-per-package, and found that this is a package of lovely, lean brisket, with a smoky flavor almost obscured by just a wee bit too much spicy-sweet barbecue sauce. It is, quite frankly, delicious. It's not the kind of stuff Fink cooks up, but until he gets his shit together YET AGAIN, it's not a bad thing to slake one's barbecue lust.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Trader Joe's Pound Plus 72% Dark Chocolate Bars

I always try to keep a 3-pack of the small Trader Joe's dark chocolate bars in my desk for when I simply must have chocolate. One strip of small squares usually does the trick.

But if you're making truffles, you need more than a 3-pack. You need the Pound Plus 72% dark. Ten of them. Musician/chocolatier and short-run Jeopardy champion Minstrel Boy shows you how to use this seemingly pedestrian bar to make enough confections to appease a pride of angry lions.