Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Pumpkin Products, Part 2 (or, GO BUY THESE. THEY ROCK!)

Hello, friends. Let me ask you this: Do you like salty? Do you like sweet? Do you like salty AND sweet together? Do you like crunchy? Do you like hearty, reasonably nutritious snacks that are tasty and addictive?
Well then! These suckers right here are for you:

I'm going to keep this brief (for a change) and get directly to the point: Pita Crisps With Cranberries & Pumpkin Seeds ARE FANTASTIC. If you are drawn to foods that are both sweet and salty, but also kind of nutty and toasty and crunchy, then my goodness, get yourself to TJ's and grab yourself a bag. (Thanks for the suggestion, Beth Hapke!)
And if you come across a good cheese, hard or soft, to pair with these things, let me know in the comments!
This is a terrible photo. I'm sorry. Here are the nutritional highlights:
130 calories per 9 crisps; 0 grams saturated fat. A very decent 2 grams of fiber per serving, and 3 grams protein.  First few ingredients: whole wheat flour, filtered water, sweetened dried cranberries. Happy healthful snacking!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Pumpkin Products, Part 1

Well, it's autumn again: beta-carotene's time to shine! Root-Vegetable Madness! Squash-Varietal Mania! ...and pumpkin EVERYTHING at Trader Joe's.
First, before I review any products, I would like to humbly put forth my take on why food manufacturers go nuts with pumpkin in the fall and why we, the consumers, all giddily go along with it: My suspicion is that those hundreds of thousands of us who zealously hop on the pumpkin bandwagon are actually most excited about pumpkin pie, a Thanksgiving staple, of course, but understand that we can't actually eat pumpkin pie every day from September through December because that would be weird, impractical, and really not that good for us. So we seek out that pumpkin-pie flavor in whatever other format it is presented to us: waffles! ice cream! bagels! pasta! bread! and on and on, and the food manufacturers know this. (Enablers!)
And so we've got this symbiotic relationship whereby TJ's sells us all manner of pumpkin product, and we buy it.
What do you think? Am I right?
Anyway, earlier this week I made my first trip to TJ's in about three weeks (!) and brought home the following pumpkin-flavored products: Pumpkin Waffles, Pumpkin Bagels, Pumpkin Cream Cheese Spread, and Honey-Roasted Pumpkin Ravioli.
I feel ridiculous as I look at that list, honestly. Pumpkin bagels? Come on! How desperate for pumpkin-pie substitutes can I be, right?
Anyway, for what it's worth, here are my highly subjective and unscientific reviews of each:

Pumpkin Waffles. OK, first of all, are you a toaster-waffle person? If you're not, then never mind, this product isn't for you. However, if toaster waffles are popular in your home, as they are in mine, I urge you to try these. They get two thumbs up from both of my kids, even Hunter, who hates vegetables so deeply he once literally threw up the entire contents of his stomach after I paid him to try a Brussels sprout. (I realize there isn't much "vegetable" in pumpkin waffles, but there is some, and it says something that Hunter knows this and eats the waffles anyway.)
These waffles are the right combination of light, crispy, soft, hearty, and sweet, and the pumpkin and pumpkin-pie-spice flavors are present but not overpowering. Plus, as with all TJ's waffles, the ingredient list isn't scary: these waffles contain flour, eggs, leavening, pumpkin, spices, salt, an assortment of added vitamins, and not much else, so I feel pretty good about feeding these to my kids. (And a bonus: 20% RDA of both vitamin A and iron!)

Pumpkin Bagels. Meh. I mean, these aren't a horror show or anything, but they're really not great, either, and I can't say we are likely to buy these again. The pumpkin flavor is minimal, and their texture is that of a typical grocery-store bagel: chewy and doughy and roll-like without any of that loveliness that comes from boiling the bagels first the way good bagel shops do it.
These bagels do, however, contain "pumpkin pie spice bits," which are pleasant to encounter (albeit a desperate attempt to win over pumpkin-pie fans). So that's kind of fun. But otherwise...meh.

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Spread. Now THIS is good stuff right here, if you're into bagels. Get your bagels elsewhere (might I suggest Brooklyn Water Bagel?) and slather this stuff on them liberally! I eagerly await this product's arrival at TJ's every autumn, because it is creamy and pumpkin-y and spicy, and it just makes sense. It's the marriage of pumpkin-pie filling and cream cheese, which is a happy marriage indeed.

Honey-Roasted Pumpkin Ravioli. I really like this stuff. I don't believe it's for everyone (like, for instance, my daughter), but I do recommend it if you're into pumpkin and you're up for a seasonal diversion from traditional ravioli. The filling is mainly ricotta and small chunks of roasted pumpkin, with some additional sweetness and spice crammed in there. I just drizzled melted butter* over it after boiling it for a few minutes, and voila, dinner's main course was ready(...and veggie-hatin' Hunter ate two bites!). It was yummy for lunch the next day, too. I will buy it again.

I've heard from you that the pumpkin-cranberry cracker thingies are delish, so I'll for sure try them next time, as well as the pumpkin macarons another friend suggested. And good old Pumpkin Butter, which I actually have eaten so much of in previous years I had to take a break from it, but I feel ready to dive in again this fall.

Other pumpkin-flavored TJ's suggestions?

*Actually Earth Balance whipped spread, which is the only "butter" my kids will eat.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate

Well, this is embarrassing. It's been nearly one full year since I last posted to Mo Loves Joe, and I shudder to think of all the intriguing, unique, and utterly delightful TJ's products I've sampled during the past 11 months that have failed to make an appearance on this site.
However! As of last week I am officially gainfully unemployed, and while being laid off is no happy experience, to be sure, the various silver linings have included more time with my kids, greater involvement in their school day and extracurriculars, a re-examination of my professional trajectory, and---hooray!---a few extra moments each day to devote to celebrating some of Trader Joe's more fabulous offerings here on this blog.
So then, without further ado, let's turn our attention to TJ's Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate, which I am pleased to report I have so far resisted chugging straight from the bottle, although believe me when I tell you I am tempted EVERY SINGLE MORNING to do so.
This stuff appeared at the Santa Monica Trader Joe's, near my former employer, for the first time this summer, and it has been nothing short of a revelation. I had long daydreamed about making my own iced coffee at home but never quite knew how to go about concocting my own coffee concentrate (and was, apparently, far too lazy to Google it). I remember my Grandma George always kept a jar of homemade coffee concentrate in her fridge, in a repurposed glass jar, but unfortunately I never thought to ask her how she made it, and it's too late now.
Anyway, when I found this over by the bean grinder at the Santa Monica TJ's, I couldn't believe my good luck and didn't hesitate one nanosecond to grab a bottle---even though, by TJ's standards, it's a little pricey at about seven bucks per bottle for only 12 servings.
But oh, my: worth the indulgence! True to the marketing claims on the label, this "cold-brew"
concentrate is smooth, rich-tasting, only mildly bitter, and makes a perfectly lovely glass of super-refreshing iced coffee, perfect for an excruciatingly hot day in my tiny, stuffy little house. My husband Seth and I have also tried it heated, to make a hot cup of coffee when we ran out of canned ground beans, and it worked well and tasted virtually the same as fresh drip coffee.
For iced coffee, you simply follow the directions to combine one part concentrate with two parts milk, add some ice, and there you have it. I suppose you could stir in some flavored or simple syrup were you so inclined, but I found the coffee itself so smooth and delicious it needed no sweetening whatsoever.
Finding ourselves now far more tightly food-budgeted, we can't afford to make Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate a permanent part of our grocery repertoire, but we're picking one up once a month or so and polishing off each bottle in just over a week each time.
My question to you, like-minded TJ's fan, is what are some more-creative ways this product could be used in cooking? I'm wondering about adding a splash or two to homemade brownie batter, or using it in a mole sauce or some kind of steak glaze. Yes? No?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Random TJ's Photos, Episode 1

...in which I post a few Joe-related pix, with explanations, and hope you are mildly amused and/or interested.

Was surprised and delighted to find this distinguished-looking
fellow staring up at me from the inner surface of my
TJ's chicken-salad-sandwich-wrap tray during my lunch hour
at work the other day.



Today Hunter and I made this granola, which incorporates
a few TJ's products: rolled oats, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Deee-lish!
(Hunter has been eating this stuff by the handful. It is soooo satisfying
when you see your kid actually ENJOYING healthy homemade food. Right?!)

Does anyone else think of TJ's (and their hibiscus-heavy logos)
when they see one of these?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Cornbread Mix


You know Mom's getting desperate when...
The other day I needed a dinner menu that was very convenient, very easy to prepare, and not at all cognitively challenging. Also, there needed to be slightly better than a snowball's chance in Hell that my kids would eat at least some of it. (The little dears seem to be more picky and behaving more obnoxiously at the dinner table lately, which is for sure going to drive me to drink an unreasonable amount of TJ's Two-Buck-Chuck Shiraz if our newly posted Mealtime Rules don't have their desired effect soon. See photo at left.)
While cruising the aisles of Trader Joe's with my little guy Hunter that morning, I decided on TJ's Turkey Chili (in a can; reheat and you're done) over tortilla chips, and cornbread made from TJ's Cornbread Mix.
I like making cornbread. I've never made it entirely from scratch, but I've had good luck with mixes. For awhile I was using a Marie Callender mix that required only the addition of water before baking, and it was moist and tasty, and the kids loved it. On this day, however, I found myself in TJ's staring down the Cornbread Mix and decided to go for it.
Score!
I like this cornbread's texture: it's a little grainy; the cornmeal used is ground coarsely enough to keep the bread from feeling too cake-like. It's also got---and please hold your judgment till the end---a very, very mild vanilla flavor, which sounds hideous, I know, but which actually works here and complements the flavor of the corn.
(Note: The vanilla is SO mild that at first I couldn't even place the flavor. I knew there was something ever so slightly different and yummy going on, but I had to read the ingredients list to know what it was. "Vanilla powder." Bingo! Tangential thought: Is it the same kind of vanilla powder the barista uses in my vanilla latte at our local coffee shop? I wonder.)
The cornbread's preparation was simple: Add oil, an egg, and milk. Combine. Bake at 350. Done!
Now the oooooooone little thing that bugs me just a smidge and will keep me from buying this mix too, too often is that it contains more sugar than I'd like. Sugar is, in fact, the second ingredient---it even beats out cornmeal for second place after wheat flour! One serving contains 15 grams of the stuff, which, if memory serves, was more sugar per serving than Dark Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Wafer Cookies.
Wha?
So while this cornbread mix won't become a staple of my pantry because of the sugar content, I won't hesitate to buy it again next time we do a Chili Night (or even a "Chile Night," as I accidentally typed the first time around. "Hey, kids, who wants to discuss Pinochet and his Caravan Of Death over dinner this evening?" Also, did you know Chile is the longest country in the world in terms of length-to-width ratio? Thanks, Wikipedia!).



Saturday, September 22, 2012

Dark 70 Chocolate Bar Caramel With Black Sea Salt



I may have to find a way to incorporate this chocolate bar into my sex life. It is THAT GOOD. Like, scandalously good. Like, as I'm eating it, I can't stop whispering "Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod," and I feel like I'm doing something kind of dirty and naughty every time I take a bite.
That is the caliber of product we are dealing with here.
You have been warned.
Strangely, I have never noticed this chocolate bar in TJ's. I received Dark 70 Chocolate Bar Caramel With Black Sea Salt from friend J as part of a birthday gift, and she had casually offered, "It's really good" when I opened it. I said, "It does sound yummy" and "Funny, I've never seen it before," and then I didn't really think about it much till later that night, when Seth and I dug into it on the couch while watching one of those ridiculous "Real World/Road Rules Challenge" shows on MTV. (Quick episode recap: Young people drinking. Young people arguing drunkenly. Young people in helmets trying to push each other through a tunnel, for money. Young people talking to camera, reflecting on their drunken arguments and helmeted pushing challenge. The end.)
But now back to the chocolate. Oh my. For starters, this is 70%-cacao dark chocolate, my friends. Sooo deliciously bitter! Secondly, the bar itself is thin and delicate, which causes the chocolate to melt very quickly in your mouth---mmm. Thirdly, the combination of caramel and sea salt inside the chocolate is totally perfect and addictive. Salty-sweet! Sweet-salty! ...playing on an endless loop, with that velvety bitterness of the dark chocolate mixed in. PERFECTION. Naughty, naughty perfection.
And I should add, too, that I'm not normally a caramel-with-chocolate fan. That combination is usually too sweet for me, too one-note sugary. But THIS caramel is more buttery than sugary, and the addition of the sea salt keeps the sweetness from overpowering all of the other flavors.
I am going to have to keep one of these in stock in my cupboard at all times, going forward. It is one of those to-be-savored-on-couch-after-kids-have-gone-to-bed indulgences.
Now I just need to find a fabulous TJ's wine to pair it with.
Suggestions?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Dark Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Wafer Cookies

Two of my favorite foods are dark chocolate and peanut butter, so when I find them together, blended into one deliciously sweet-and-salty treat, I reflexively grab that treat and tuck it right into my shopping cart faster than you can say "Try exercising some self-control for once, Mo."

When I spotted TJ's Dark Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Wafer Cookies earlier this summer, I did not hesitate to pounce on them like a cat pounces on shiny moving objects. Reese's has nothing on TJ's reputation for using pure, simple ingredients---these cookies contain dark chocolate, natural vanilla, peanut butter, sugar, enriched flour...and that's about it. No preservatives or artificial flavors to be found.

Not at all surprisingly, these cookies barely lasted half a week in our house. I loved them, the kids loved them, and Seth presumably would have loved them, too, had he gotten the chance to try one before they were devoured by the rest of us. Maya, in particular, enjoyed them so much that she couldn't understand why I refused to bust them out at breakfast.

What makes these cookies so great and addictive is the inclusion of dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate. The bitterness of the dark chocolate keeps the cookies from being sickeningly sweet and rich, which, in turn, makes these cookies easier to eat in large quantities. The light, crispy wafer cookie inside the chocolate achieves the same feat, so that the cookies seem less sugary than they probably are.  (The label says there are 10 grams of sugar in four cookies. So, yeah: they are sugary; although, I've seen breakfast cereals that contain twice as much sugar than these cookies do.)

The end result is a snack that has crunch, creaminess, sweetness, saltiness, bitterness, and airiness, and that really can't hold a permanent place in my cupboard because I lack the self-discipline to handle such a perfectly delicious treat in a mature and reasonable fashion.