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.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Green Lakes Organic Ale

Price: $7.49 / 6-pack (5.2% ABV)
Features: Pours a nice head, a hoppy kick, balanced and refreshing
Found in:
Beer section

I shared a few of these with my friend this afternoon, and we decided it should get 4.5 stars because it is an "almost perfect beer." However, I've now decided to bump that to a full five stars because it is a very good beer, and the best value I have seen for an organic microbrew. (Is there even such a thing as an organic macrobrew?) Plus, I have been stingy with the 5-star ratings lately. Here's what Deschutes has to say about this tasty beer:
Discover Deschutes Brewery’s intriguing amber ale, our Ode to Mother Earth. Experience its mellow malt profile intertwined with subtly surprising hop flavors. Green Lakes Organic Ale is brewed with five types of 100% organic malted barley and balanced with Liberty and Salmon-Safe Sterling hops. Easy to drink. Easy on the Environment. Downright Delicious. Who knew celebrating Mother Earth could taste so good.

Mmm, Salmon-Safe Sterling. Fun to say, fun to drink...wonder if it would pair well with grilled salmon? I'm thinking yes! I also highly recommend the Black Butte Porter from Deschutes Brewery. It has always been a favorite of mine.

100% Kauai Coffee

Price: $7.99 (13 Oz Whole Bean)
Features: Subtle, smooth, balanced, well-rounded flavor
Found in:
Coffee zone

We go through a can of coffee about every other week, so by now I have tried most of the medium roast options from Trader Joe's. TJ's has a lot of dark and even super dark "volcano" (charcoal and ash?) roasts available, most of which are quite good, but I prefer the medium to medium-dark roasts. I think medium roasts have a nice balance of all the flavor notes I like in a good coffee, and maintain a good level of acidity. I find darker roasts to lose the acidic edge while clobbering you over the head with a big dose of whatever note is strongest to the specific beans. Not always a bad thing, but not what I want for my morning cup on a daily basis.

Anyway, on to the specifics of these beans! Trader Joe says:

The leeward side of Kauai has long been recognized as a superb place for growing coffee. Abundant rainfall and sunshine as well as a temperate climate provide ideal conditions for the production of coffee. The Garden Island's rich volcanic soil gives these beans an earthy, aromatic flavor.

Trader Joe's 100% Kauai coffee is medium roasted to bring out its sweet, delicate flavor. These beans are as close to Kauai as you can get without hopping on a plane. 'Ono kope!

Well there ya go, I agree about the delicate aromatic flavors. Maybe you could get closer to Hawaii by purchasing TJ's 100% Kona coffee, but since that is about $20/lb you might as well just hop on a plane and go see the source for yourself!