Trader Joe’s Taste Testing- Fall Holiday Sides!

Ever walk down the aisles at the store and wonder… “Wouldn’t it be easier and taste just as good to use the pre-cooked side dishes from my favorite grocery store?”

Don’t. Make your own. Unless, you don’t mind settling for sides that are less than okay.

Case in point:

IMG_9134Cauliflower Au Gratin with Gruyere Sauce and Parmesan Breadcrumbs

IMG_9135Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Cranberries and Pecans

IMG_9155Trader Joe’s Ready to Use Turkey Gravy

 

Again, don’t. Just… no. In very little time, you to peel, cube, and roast a couple of sweet potatoes, drizzle with your own maple syrup or sprinkle on brown sugar, and this will taste WORLDS better, the texture will be FAR superior, and you will spend maybe a third of the price. As for the cauliflower– well, it didn’t taste bad (neither did it taste good), but the vegetable was buried under about three times as much crumb topping as needed. Oddly enough, both packages of sides seemed under cooked, even though I followed the directions for time and temperature.

The gravy. Ummm… what to say. Not much turkey flavor, not horrible, but I wouldn’t buy it again or use it again. Ever. This product simply does not taste good. I’d rather mix up the McCormick’s envelope from the seasoning section of the supermarket. I would drink up a pot full of gravy from a straw, and I will not touch the Trader Joe’s gravy with a ten foot pole.

I love my Trader Joe’s stores, and rarely find something I dislike, or dislike this much. I’m glad I gave these a try, it was worth the price to try something new, and gratifying to know that a simple home made recipe is so much better. Save yourself the scratch. Make simple sides from scratch.

Got a Little Time to Cook? Simple Recipe Suggestions:

AllRecipes.com Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Thyme and Maple Syrup

Roasted Garlic Cauliflower

Got a Little More Time to Cook: Still Somewhat Simple Suggestion:

Make Ahead Turkey Gravy

 

Pumpkin Extravaganza Continues- Tasting Trader Joe’s Waffles

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Waffles
Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Waffles are here for the season!

Pumpkin waffles crisp and warm from my toaster oven… waiting for my maple syrup and candied nuts (inspired by the box top).

IMG_8599No pie spices, so you can sprinkle on your own. But they do pack a big pumpkin-y flavor.

I like these waffles, and would definitely buy this product again.

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The Boy came downstairs, however, and politely turned down these waffles and asked if he could instead destroy my kitchen make waffles from scratch. The Delicious Level of his creations are directly proportional to the Remaining Mess in the kitchen.

Pumpkin Season!!!! I’m Way Ahead of You All… and a Pumpkin Bar Dessert Recipe to Share

…this is the time of year that everyone’s love affair with spices catch up with my year-round favorite flavors. I love all the warm spices that make the rounds every Autumn. Pumpkin spices in my coffee? Thanks a latte! Cinnamon spiced cereals? Yes, please. Throw it all into my grocery cart. May I have one of everything?

Ready for the oven...
Ready for the oven…

I bought the Trader Joe’s jar of Pumpkin Butter… always wanted to do something with this stuff. A little web searching came up with a blog that crossed the Williams Sonoma “Ooey Gooey Pumpkin Bars” with the Trader Joe’s ingredient at 1/6th the price.

IMG_8226 (1)And The Husband Sayeth: “It is good.” Good, my foot, these bars are GREAT. Thank you Sheila at SweetBakedLife.com for your Pumpkin Butter Dessert Bars– a delicious dessert that is too good to be served only one season of the year. Sheila made a few changes to the original recipe to the ever popular Williams Sonoma dessert so the proportions work with the slightly smaller jar of pumpkin butter from Trader Joe’s. Thanks for doing the work, Sheila, your recipe is dee-lish!

All done!
All done!

I followed her recipe nearly exactly, substituting a spice cake mix for the standard yellow butter cake. I also omitted the cinnamon in the topping… good call. The cake mix could stand on its own spices. The bars took less than 20 minutes to mix, layer up, top off with crumbles, then only 45 minutes to bake.

Served warm topped with ice cream or eaten out of hand, these are going to be in my regular rotation- any season, any occasion, any time.

Pumpkin Butter, $2.29, cake mix $1.25, 3 eggs, a stick and a half of butter and little more... delicious.
Pumpkin Butter, $2.29, cake mix $1.25, 3 eggs, a stick and a half of butter and little more… delicious.

Product Taste Test: “Popcorn in a Pickle” from Trader Joe’s

“EESH, it smells like vinegar,” she complained.
IMG_7782
If you like “Salt ‘n’ Vinegar” style potato chips, you might like Trader Joe’s new pickle flavored popcorn.

The Girl talked me into picking up this product as it caught her eye in a Trader Joe’s the other day. “Go on, buy it and we will put it on your something-new-every-day blog,” she persuaded.

We tasted.
We agreed.
Blech.

Oddly enough, The Husband thought it wasn’t all that bad. “But I like Tabasco Sauce on my popcorn, too, remember,” he so helpfully supplied.

Our opinion? Nope. A big, fat nope.

15 Calories, No Sugar, AND it STILL Tastes Great… Spindrift Fruit Seltzers

Spindrift Seltzer, Grapefruit Flavor
Spindrift Seltzer, Grapefruit Flavor
IMG_7743
Seltzer water and Grapefuit… that’s about it, 15 calories!

Soda just too sweet for you today? Your turn to be the designated driver? Stomach can’t deal with the acidity of a lemonade and are you tired of iced tea? I just found another option: Spindrift’s Seltzer with Fruit Juice.

I have never seen this brand before, and was scanning the beverage aisle at Trader Joe’s to see if there was anything new to me… voilà, found this stuff. I have no idea if Spindrift is a regular product on the shelves here, but I hope it stays. It is so light in taste without the heavy sweetness of regular soda.

I loved it- it’s new to me and gets a coveted spot on my garage’s soda shelf, right next to the Coke in the glass bottle.

Spindrift Grapefruit Flavored Seltzer
Spindrift Grapefruit Flavored Seltzer

New x 2 from TJs- Tea and Dinner

Well, you know how it goes- when one person in the house falls ill the rest will soon follow. Like me. After running a few errands and before I started to feel too crummy, I picked up a couple of new-to-me items from Trader Joe’s.

My sore throat told me that tea would be a smart purchase. I love tea, all kinds- green, black, herbal, and mixes. If I’m going to be stuck with a scratchy pain in the neck I mighty as well try a new brew to break up my favorites- roasty genmai-cha , herbaceous mint, and perfumed Lady Grey.

A new tea and quick dinner...
A new tea and quick dinner…

I wanted something easy to throw in the oven for dinner, too, and The Boy always loves anything resembling a chicken nugget. A pot of rice and boiled edamame later, we had two new things to try: Organic Ginger Pear White Tea, and Tempura Chicken with Sweet and Sour Sauce.

Verdicts:

The Tea
I don’t care for ginger, have never tried any white teas, and was suspicious of the word “flavored” in tiny print next to the word “pear” on the box. However, I loved this tea! Totally surprised me. The ginger was very mild, as was the tea (I think that is what white tea is known for) and the “pear” was subtle, too. Very good. I look forward to putting this tea into my rotation tomorrow as my dry throat annoys me.

The men laughed at these serving sizes...
The men laughed at these serving sizes…

The Chicken
Yep, the little nuggets are probably the same that you get in Trader Joe’s Orange Chicken. Which we love. Totally deep fried, battered, and I am there. This sauce was nothing special, a basic sweet and sour glaze. What killed us is the serving size- check it out, there are supposed to be seven servings! I piled the chicken into seven similar sized piles and the men of the house laughed at me. The Boy ended up eating two servings of everything… growing boy and all. I took one serving, wanted more, but honestly didn’t need any more. Boo. I hate to admit that I like to eat way too much food. Curse my love of eating!

My dinner- I wanted more but know that I need less. Boo!!!
My dinner- I wanted more but know that I need less. Boo!!!

Taste Test and Recipe: Chicken with Red Curry Sauce from Trader Joe’s with Homemade Hummus

I made most of my family try something new for dinner tonight that I was pretty sure that they would flat out refuse- a chicken curry sauce over rice. They have been relatively on board with me trying new things this year, pretty supportive overall, but are getting to the breaking point with the food experiments.


IMG_6565
IMG_6566Tonight I made them try Trader Joe’s Chicken Breast Medallions with Coconut Red Curry Sauce. The photos all stink tonight, sorry… lost my mojo for the day, what can I say.

In a nutshell: The Boy gave the best performance of his life, feigning torture at the hands of his mother. His drama teacher for next year would have been so proud! Because this is mildly spicy, The Girl got a Get Out Of Tasting Free pass with her sore throat. Neither reaction from my kids surprised me, but here was the kicker: The Husband loved it. This guy does not care for Indian food. We have Indian friends and it kills me that he doesn’t like most of the home made foods we have been fortunate to share. He is always game to try it… he’s not an unmannered slob, for Pete’s sake, he just doesn’t enjoy the the spices. As for me, I liked it a lot. Great flavor, not to spicy (hot), super easy, the big chunks of chicken weren’t dry and tasted freshly made, and the stuff looked like the picture on the box- no food stylist magic was done by TJ’s.

As for this box of curry from Trader Joe’s fridge section, I know it isn’t authentic, but I’ve received a seal of approval from a friend who knows her Indian cuisine; she likes this ready-made dish, too. I served the curry over brown basmati rice (also from Trader Joe’s), with a side of peas, and hummus that I made this afternoon. Holy cow, that hummus was GOOD!

IMG_6567

Here’s the world’s easiest recipe for fabulous hummus:

Into the bowl of a food processor add the following:

-fresh squeezed juice from one lemon
-one clove garlic
-one 14 oz. can of chick peas drained, but reserve the juice from the can
-one tablespoon of tahini
-one tablespoon good extra virgin olive oil.

Blend until smooth, this could take a while to get it good and smooth, and to get the hummus to the right consistency you will probably need to add some of the reserved juice from the can of chick peas- add a little at a time, you don’t want too much. Add salt to taste, also. You may want your hummus with more garlic, lemon, or tahini so adjust to your tastes.

This is kick-butt-good because it uses fresh garlic, fresh lemons, good extra virgin olive oil and real tahini. If you substitute any of these with something that isn’t fresh, it won’t be nearly as good. And you will be cursed in the kitchen. And you will stub your toe and get a paper cut. Really.

Trader Joe's  Chicken with Coconut Red Curry Sauce, served with Brown Basmati Rice
Trader Joe’s Chicken with Coconut Red Curry Sauce, served with Brown Basmati Rice