Sunday, December 13, 2009

Organic Fair Trade Sumatra

Price: $7.99 (14 Oz, 100% Arabica, whole bean)
Features: Supposed "Full Bodied Earthy & Robust Flavor"
Found in:

 I remember not being particularly impressed by this coffee some time ago, but I decided to give it a second try before making up my mind. After brewing pots of this for the past few weeks, I have concluded that it really is unimpressive. I don't find the flavor to be full bodied, earthy, or robust. To me, it simply tastes flat - no high or low notes to remark on. It's not bad coffee per se, but there are plenty of more satisfying Fair Trade & Organic options available at Trader Joe's. I generally enjoy a nice deep Sumatra, but this is not the one for me.

Green & Yellow Beans

Price: $2.99
Features: Washed and trimmed, microwave in bag
Found in:
Prepared veggie refrigerator case

There isn't much to be said about this bag-o-beans. They taste ok, and you can just toss them in the microwave in the bag for a few minutes and they are ready to eat. The price is a little steep, but you are paying for convenience. I do enjoy a product which allows me to integrate a Bohnanza reference though! Trade you two wax for a green?!?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Light Coconut Milk

Price: $0.99 (14 Oz)
Features: Contains only coconut and water, no preservatives
Found in:
Curious places, often with the condiments on the shelf above the frozen foods

This is my favorite can of coconut milk - it is cheap and does not contain any preservatives. Many brands add preservatives which make for a somehow cooked or burnt taste, similar to that of homogenized milk. I'm not sure why preservatives are needed, since this Trader Joe's Coconut Milk has a 3+ year shelf life without them, and it tastes far better - like pure coconut milk! Imagine that.

I love to use coconut milk to make Thai curries and peanut sauce, or Indonesian yellow rice (in the photo I am in the process of making a spicy green curry full of fresh veggies). A good coconut milk based peanut sauce is amazing with just about anything, but I always end up pouring it over blanched greens to make Swimming Rama, or using the sauce for dipping skewered grilled meats (satay).

I have tried a number of other brands of coconut milk because my Trader Joe's was unable to get any of this in stock for what seemed like 6+ months, so I experimented among the twenty or so brands the crazy Asian grocery store near my house carries, none of which really satisfied.  Not sure what was going on there with the supply chain issues at TJ's, but thankfully it has come back, and seems to be in high demand again!

I believe Whole Foods has coconut milk under their 365 label which is preservative free, and about the same price, and they do have a version that is "regular" (not light). As my cooking instructor says, the only difference between regular and light coconut milk is that light is half water, so you can use one can of regular plus one can water and come out with two cans worth of light to save a few dollars if you find a regular strength brand you like. I found the Thai Kitchen brand to be tasty, but it is always about three times the cost of other brands, which does not please me in the least.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Trader Joe-san's Selected Sake from Japan

Price: $10.99 (720 ml, 15% ABV)
Features: Better served cold than hot (unfortunately for me); blessings of God

Found in: Desert wine section...not sure where else it would go I suppose.

"Ahh, a nice cup of warm sake would be just the thing to relax with on this awful stormy evening, and a nice excuse to review another TJ's product" I think to myself. Enter Trader Joe-san's Selected Sake from Japan. The bottle looks fancy with its foil top and tuxedo-vest-like label. Below it states:
Junmai Ginjo Sake is a specially reserved connoisseur class of sake using certified sake rice that has been polished away to 45% of it's original size. This is a supplement-free product of which only "Koji", the blessings of God has been added. May it bring happiness to you.

 Wow, good times. I eagerly heated up a cup of the sake. I'm no connoisseur class of sake drinker, so maybe my tastes are just not refined, but once warm this sake has some serious alcohol fumes coming off it. Far more than others I have tried if, memory serves me correctly. I found it difficult to get my nose close enough to the cup with all the fumes rising up to be able to take a sip, and then I got mostly an alcohol taste as well. So, that was a disappointing experience. Now there is such strong wind outside I'm afraid the house will blow down, so maybe the strong sake isn't all a bust.

Ok, the bottle does say to serve it cold, but it seems like all sakes say that. And yes, I had a few sips of it slightly chilled and it is much smoother and has that soft sake flavor I was seeking. It is enjoyable when cool, but I wish it could be served warm on cold nights as well, and I feel like TJ's should have a decent sake for less than $11.00 per bottle. If you are into sake and you have an opinion on this Junmai Ginjo, let's hear it in the comments!

Salmon Roulette with Spinach Florentine Stuffing

Price: $3.99
Features: Good salmon with a flavorful stuffing, extreme black pepper crust
Found in: Frozen seafood

 TJ's has carried these frozen salmon roulettes for as long as I have been shopping there. I was tempted to get them on many occasions, but always had my doubts about the quality of the salmon, or how long they would take to thaw and cook up. One night when I needed a quick, easy, and relatively healthy dinner I went for them. I'm glad I finally did, because they are really good, and don't take too long to cook up from frozen (thaw in microwave for a few minutes, then finish in a frying pan).

The salmon is good quality especially for frozen, though I'm sure it is farmed (obligatory "boo!"). The spinach Florentine stuffing is very flavorful and full of garlic. Just the right amount of stuffing is placed in the middle of the round making for many satisfying bites out of the circle with an optimal salmon-to-stuffing ratio. Now, if you like tons and tons of black pepper, then you will be fine with the coating on the outside of the round. The whole edge is coated in big grains of powerful pepper, which makes for some overwhelming spice after a few bites. I think I understand why they put the coating on there - these might look less appetizing and a little too much like frozen fish pucks if the edge was just pink. However, I would advise scraping a bit of the pepper off and mopping it back up as a seasoning for your veggies.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Trader Joe's JOE - "An exceptionally smooth cup of coffee"

Price: $3.49 (14 Oz, 100% Arabica, whole bean)
Features: Decent generic coffee for a crazy low price
Found in:
Coffee section labeled "Super Cheap!"

 "Joe brews a good satisfying cup of coffee. No Frills. Nothing fancy. Just good coffee at a great price. We created an excellent blend of Arabica beans and roasted them to that place where drinkability, smoothness and enjoyability meet - a medium roast, to be precise. Your kitchen table. The office. A to-go cup on the road. It doesn't matter where you are, as long as you have a good cup of Joe."

This product speaks for itself, which makes reviewing it easy on me! I agree that this is a smooth coffee at a great price. It has a good generic coffee taste - nothing really striking, yet nothing bad, like dreaded sour burning acidity, either. I like that it comes as whole bean so you can grind it right before you brew. Like they say, nothing fancy, but it gets the job done! Far and away better than other coffee you might find for $3.49!

If you are struggling along making your daily brew with pre-ground "coffee" that comes in a big metal can because you don't know any better or don't want to pay more - here are the beans you should switch to. Invite JOE to your mornings - do it now!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Chicken Tikka Masala with Cumin Flavored Basmati Rice

Price: $3.49
Features: Spicy sauce, tasty chicken and nicely flavored rice, tastes "authentic"
Found in: Freezer at demo booth

I had a sample of this chicken tikka masala at the demo stand the other night and was really impressed with the flavor, so I decided to buy a box thinking it would make a good lunch at work. The chicken is tender and good quality white meat, the sauce is flavorful with a nice level of spice, and the cumin basmati rice makes a great accompanyment. The cardamom and lemon juice in the sauce really come through, making this about as good as tikka masala from my favorite Indian restaurant.

The only problem with this frozen entree is that you don't get that much food for your money. My box only had four (decent size) pieces of chicken in it. They should package it with a piece of garlic naan to soak up the sauce to make it a more filling meal.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Beer Bread Mix

Price: $1.99
Features: Add 12 ounces of beer, 1/4 cup butter, and in 40 minutes you get a dense 9"x5" loaf of yeasty bread with a tangy bite and crisp crust
Found in: New products section

We all enjoyed eating this beer bread fresh out of the oven, it even made the house smell like real fresh baked yeasty bread. So, why only 3-stars? I can't help but wonder why this mix is really needed. Sure, it is fairly cheap at $1.99 per box, but all you are getting is a packet of pre-mixed flour, sugar, and leavening, and some baking directions. If I make beer bread again, I will be mixing my own dry ingredients, but I suppose the mix may inspire people to make beer bread when they would not otherwise think of it (hey, it happened to me), so that's cool.

I made this with the last can of a light ale we had sitting around (better for baking than drinking on its own). The bread turned out fine with a good beer flavor, but I am really curious how it would come out if you made it with a nice dark stout or porter. According to the box, any carbonated liquid will do. You simply dump the mix in a bowl, pour a beer over the top, and mix sparingly to combine. Mixing even a little more than necessary will make the bread tough, which I may be have been guilty of. I didn't want dry flour globs in the finished product!

If I was to make this again I would make biscuits following the directions on the package rather than the one big loaf. The loaf had a crazy crisp crust on it from the 1/4 cup of melted butter you pour over the top of the batter in the loaf pan prior to sticking it in the oven. Honestly, eating the heal was like having a crisp beer doughnut fried in butter. Too over the top for my tastes, but the rest of the loaf with crisp crust all the way around the soft warm center was better. I had mine drizzled with honey, which I highly recommend. Hence the biscuit suggestion - brush, rather than drown, with butter prior to baking, then split open whilen still hot and let the honey melt in! These would make a fantastic companion to a bowl of hearty chili on the blustery fall days we've had recently.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Savory Broth Liquid Concentrate

Price: $3.99 (12 packets, makes 12 cups of broth)
Features: Easy to keep for when you need it, 50% less sodium
Found in: Near the cartons of regular broth

I have been meaning to review this stuff forever. I have used the vegetable broth concentrate packets for a number of things, and I just picked up the chicken broth concentrate today, on a very successful trip to Trader Joe's, lots of new products to review! I needed some chicken broth on hand in small amounts to help thin out some overly-thick chicken noodle soup I made last week.

I really like these packets because you can make however many cups of broth you need at the time, and then save the remaining packets in the pantry for later. This avoids the inevitable half carton of broth that is left over (why must all recipes call for 6-cups of stock when the cartons are only 4-cups each?) which needs to be refrigerated, and usually migrates to the back of the fridge where it expires and gets tossed out months later. The broth has 50% less sodium than other varieties, so you have more control over the salt content of your final dish. I also really like that there is far less waste with the small packets vs. the large boxes of stock. Sure, the boxes can be recycled, but that is still a lot of packaging for something you generally open and dump straight into a pot, not to mention transporting all that heavy liquid from factory to store.

The liquid concentrate packets also give you more for your money, since they make 12 cups for $3.99. The prepared cartons of broth are $1.99 each, and contain just 4 cups apiece. So, it's like getting 4 cups extra for free. These are great to keep around for whenever the need for stock arises, which happens more often than you might expect!

Now I feel special for having written a post that can be tagged with both chicken and vegetarian.