Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Trader Joe's Cornbread Stuffing Mix

Cornbread stuffing is considered essential during our family holidays, but we tend to opt for just buying it already made. After all, cornbread stuffing isn't all that common in New England. In recent years, we began to notice it showing up in a lot of stores, but none of them were really anything interesting. But this year, we stumbled on the Trader Joe's Cornbread Stuffing Mix, and decided to try making a batch.

The box cost $3.99 (which seems reasonable, though some might find it on the higher end for a boxed mix from Trader Joe's). And the instructions were easy, allowing you to add water (or stock) and butter. We used the basic butter and water, and only used three and a half cups of water (it says to use three and a half to four cups). This seemed to be a bit too much, however, and I would suggest starting with only three. We then baked it in the oven, although many may choose to avoid this step.

The stuffing is good, but not excellent, and nothing special. It has a fair amount of herbs (namely sage), and has a good flavor, but seems to be missing a bit of something. It says it has vegetables mixed in, but you can't really taste them, and they don't add anything to the texture. For those that just want a quick cornbread stuffing mix, this may be a great option. However, for those that are want to taste vegetables in their stuffing, it will need some altercations.

Trader Joe's Sushi

After trying several different Trader Joe's prepared foods, I decided to finally give in and try one of their sushi's. It was hardly an amazing deal, with a small package of shrimp rolls costing $3.99. Yes, that is cheap for sushi, but the truth is the sushi counter at the local grocery store offers a better selection, and a larger serving, for the same price range.

But the real issue, is that the grocery store sushi is also far superior in quality to the rubbish that Trader Joe's is currently selling. I don't know if this is true for all locations, but the sushi I sampled was disgusting. It had been obviously thawed from a frozen state, and had a strange aftertaste and consistency, as though it had been frozen for many months. Other than this factor, the quality was still bad. I couldn't even stomach more than one bite of the sushi, and quickly guzzled down a liter of water in a desperate attempt to try to rid my mouth of the taste.

For the first time in my life, I actually felt it was necessary to get a refund. Normally, I can just have someone else finish off whatever I don't care for. But this sushi actually insulted me. The manager was nice about the whole thing, and I did receive a refund, but this left a bad taste in my mouth (and not just literally). Since I did not even take the sushi home, and did return it, I do not have a photo available  Maybe the sushi changes from store to store, but I highly suggest everyone is EXTREMELY cautious when it comes to sushi at Trader Joe's. After this experience, I'll also be more cautious about any non-frozen fish products as well.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Trader Joe's Mandarin Orange Chicken

When I first heard someone (whose taste in food I trust whole heartedly) talk about their undying love for Trader Joe's, four years ago, I did a bit of research online to find out about their products. I found a list that showed the most liked items, and #1 was their Mandarin Orange Chicken.

Although I do love Mandarin Chicken, I tend to find what most restaurants serve to be far too greasy and far too salty, for me to be able to truly enjoy the dish. And the idea of having a frozen version of this dish, in no way appealed to me. But eventually, after three years of great success with Trader Joe's products (including many products I had little to no faith in) I decided, why not?

And I sure am glad that I did. Trader Joe's Mandarin Orange Chicken can be baked, instead of fried, which avoided that overtly greasy taste and texture that tends to ruin Orange Chicken for me. The chicken had my ideal consistency, and also had a great taste. It managed to avoid that wretched taste of processed chicken (which most frozen chicken foods have), and if served at a restaurant I would have believed it to have been fresh.

And as for the sauce, it was fantastic. And since you control how much sauce you use (the sauce is added after the chicken is baked), it was easy to adjust it to my own taste. The sauce was excellent, not as salty as it usually is, and the citrus flavor was bright and noticeable (the way it ought to always be). I can honestly say that this was by far one of my favorite Trader Joe's dishes, and I can surely see why it's their most loved item. I will definitely be making this part of my regular grocery trip.

The bag cost $4.99, and offers five 1 cup servings. In reality this translates into 2-3 adult servings, or 4-5 servings for a family with children. The chicken can be cooked in the oven, or in a skillet with oil, but considering the quality of the chicken after being baked, the added fat seems unnecessary. It also comes with two separate sauce packets, so it's easy to use this for two separate dinners. Also great for single folks, since half the bag works great as a dinner, with leftovers for lunch.

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Spread

Fall is one of my favorite seasons, and not for the obvious reasons like the cool weather or falling leaves. No, I love the fall because of fall flavors, like apple and sweet potato, and most importantly, pumpkin. And I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm one of "those people" that goes absolutely pumpkin crazy, and absolutely *must* try every pumpkin enhanced food product available.

I've had pumpkin cream cheese before, but only the homemade variety (cream cheese mixed with pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice) and the seasonally available pumpkin flavor from Philadelphia Cream Cheese. So I was thrilled to see that Trader Joe's offers it's own variety, especially at the fair price of $2.99. On closer inspection I realized that it's not quite "cream cheese" it's "cream cheese spread. Because it's a spread, the consistency is not the same, and it's not particularly thick.

I still loved the flavor of the spread, but the consistency was more like a cross between yogurt and cream cheese, which wasn't all that appealing on my standard bagel medium. And my tub seemed to have quite a bit of separation, but I believe this may be due to the fact that mine had a date that was only a few days away (even though I opened it the day I brought it home). I will definitely give this item another chance when I can come across one with a better date, and I will find other ways to use what I have left, but I suggest that anyone that plans to buy it makes sure to check the date.

Mango Mango Gummies

I love fresh mangoes, but when it comes to mango flavored anything, it's always hit or miss for me. I feel the same way about passionfruit, and strongly believe that both flavors often times simply don't translate well into things like candy and snacks.

When I first caught a glimpse of the Mango! Mango! gummies at Trader Joe's, I figured it was something I should probably pass on.  So I did, and I didn't even think about it again for a few months. Then, a few trips to Trader Joe's later, I noticed a customer grabbing about eight bags of them. With none left, I did not have the option to reconsider trying them, so when I went to another Trader Joe's the following week, I decided to grab a bag while I could. 

The gummies are far from your typical gummy, and offer a unique yogurt gummy. The gummies really have three separate flavors included, the mango, the passionfruit, and the yogurt. All of which differ from gummy to gummy, with some gummies only offering one flavor, and others offering a flavor combination, making it so that even with only three flavors, the bag really ends up giving you quite the selection. 

I was pleasantly surprised by the taste, and all of the flavors stayed rather true to form, which was quite surprising for something in candy form. I enjoyed the gummies, which lasted me quite awhile, and the rather large bag (which only cost $1.99), satisfied about 6 different gummy cravings. I wouldn't necessarily go out of my way to buy these again, but I would gladly grab a bag here and there when they happen to be there while I shop, and I would definitely suggest anyone curious about these gummies snatches up a bag to give them a fair chance. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Turkey Breast with Homestyle Cornbread Stuffing

One of my personal favorites from Trader Joe's is the Turkey Breast with Homestyle Cornbread Stuffing, a large package of cooked turkey and stuffing that is only offered during the holiday season.   It's also one of only a few items that I can honestly say that every single person I know (who has tried it), will agree to its great quality.

I first bought the Trader Joe's Turkey Breast with Homestyle Cornbread Stuffing about two years ago, when it was priced at $9.99. This year, we went to stock up on several of these dinners, and noticed the price had gone up to $11.99. Although the price has increased, I still believe it's a great deal. Especially when you consider the convenience it offers, and the fact that three turkey dinners of equal quality at a restaurant would cost more than three times as much.

The package consists of a large turkey breast (enough to feed three), surrounded by cornbread stuffing. The dinners cook well in the oven (although there are instructions for microwaving, which I suggest avoiding at all costs with this item!) We noticed the package has improved a bit, and the extra $2 seems to have been put into adding cornbread stuffing, which frankly the dinner needed since it used to only have enough for 2 small servings. The stuffing now has enough for a moderate sized serving for three adults, matching the size of the turkey breast perfectly. With the addition of a couple of other sides (cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, rolls, vegetables of any sort), this dish could comfortably feed a family of four (five if small children are included).

Considering the fact that my family purchases about 10 of these each holiday season to keep in the freezer through the year, I think where we stand on this item is obvious. When I first purchased this item, I had little faith that a reheated turkey breast and cornbread stuffing could be all that tasty. However, none of my concerns were met. The cornbread stuffing crisps up nicely on the top, and the bottom of it never becomes soggy. The turkey breast itself is more moist than I could have even hoped for, and has a lovely, subtle brined taste to it, with no overwhelming spice or seasoning.

The only times we had an issue cooking one of these dinners is when we followed the microwave instructions, and another time when we did not follow the suggestion to thaw the dinner in the fridge beforehand. I highly suggest avoiding both of these other options, and sticking to the thaw for a day or two, then cook in the oven method. When using the other two methods, the cornbread stuffing was overcooked and clumped together, and the turkey became extremely dry and had a tough exterior.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Gummy Tummies Penguins

I may have no interest in alcohol or drugs, but I do still have my vices, namely gummy candy. So between that and my love for the ever adorable penguin, it did not even take a moment for me to snatch up a bag of Trader Joe's Gummy Tummies whilst heading towards the checkout lane at Trader Joe's.

The adorable gummies come in three flavors: cherry, lime and strawberry. Unlike most gummies, instead of the entire gummy being flavored, they come in a standard flavor and then have an oozing gel that leaks out as you bite into them, somewhat reminiscent of those Gushers fruit snacks that those in my generation often ate as a child.

The bag of gummies only cost $1.99, which is cheaper than even the standard grocery store varieties (but without the preservatives and artificial flavors), so I did not have the highest hopes for them. So after tasting one of each flavor, I was more than pleasantly surprised. I'm the sort of person who will only like a few flavors in a bag of candy, and obsessively pull out the other flavors to leave for someone else. Not only did I not do this with any of three flavors, I also didn't have a standout favorite, they were all equally good.

Although these do not meet my highest standards (I would still opt for a bag of authentic European Haribo gummies if given the choice), I will definitely buy these next time I go to Trader Joe's. And considering that the bag comes with about 35 rather large gummies, this bag will easily last me at least 7 gummy cravings.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Crab and Langostino Rangoons

When I was younger, my family loved to go to a local Chinese restaurant for their Sunday buffet. My personal favorite was the crab rangoons, and their sweet creamy filling. Now that I'm older, and have no one to share an order of rangoons with, I tend to buy them at a local grocery store, so that I can bake a few at a time. I've  also discovered a new found love for lobster rangoons, which I like to also keep on hand, for when a craving hits.

When I discovered the Crab and Langostino Rangoons at Trader Joe's, I was thrilled. I've had langostino before, and enjoyed the unique taste. langostino (which is incorrectly known to many as langostino lobster) is a type of shellfish that is most closely related to a type of hermit crab known as the "Squat Lobster." The taste is unique, and personally I find it to be somewhere in between lobster and shrimp, with a slightly more "fishy" taste. The price for the rangoons was fairly standard, at $5.99 for a box of 12 (identical to what I pay for a dozen crab rangoons in the freezer section of the grocery store). 

I followed the cooking instructions for the rangoons exactly, but noticed two issues with the instructions. Firstly, they cooked for two or three minutes longer than necessary. Secondly, they released a lot of oil, and were overcooked on the bottoms. I would definitely suggest that anyone cooking these tries to flip them over halfway through cooking, to help prevent this. 

As for the taste of the rangoons, I was both disappointed and surprised. I was definitely not expecting anything remotely similar to what I may receive at a Chinese restaurant, but was surprised by just how different the fillings really were. Although the rangoons proudly display their content of cream cheese, I couldn't help but feel as though there was a very minor noticeable taste from the cream cheese, and it seemed borderline nonexistent when it came to the texture. The filling was not at all smooth, but instead had a very stringy consistency (similar to cheap tuna fish). It also had a very fishy taste (also similar to cheap tuna fish). I personally would not buy this item again, although I can see why this filling may appeal to some. I also (unlike Trader Joe's) would highly suggest avoiding this as an appetizer for any type of party or get together. For those that want to give these rangoons a try, I would suggest trying to use a dip for these, to help offset the taste. We used a sweet and sour sauce, which did help quite a bit.