Category Archives: trader joe’s

hanging out and waiting

T is out at Phileas Fogg’s having a beer with his buddy, so I’m taking the rare night alone to just sit and be lazy.  I watched the Tony Awards from Sunday (I was given an evil look when I turned it on in his presence and then I had the remote taken away from me!)  Then I watched a taped Pushing Daisies and got sad that there’s only one more episode left.  How will Emerson ever find his daughter?

Now that the kitchen is all put back together, I’ve been itching to do some serious baking.  But we keep going out of town so I haven’t had the chance!  So, I’ve just been cooking meals when we’re home.  Last Sunday we had soy chorizo from Trader Joe’s with potatoes and eggs.  I love chorizo but it’s so greasy when you cook it that I can’t bring myself to eat it.  I read that the soy chorizo was pretty good, especially for being non-meat, so I figured we’d give it a shot.  I’m not sure how the nutritional values compare to regular chorizo, but the texture was pretty similar.  It was a little dry, but that also meant it wasn’t swimming in grease!  It was well spiced and quite tasty, so now when we’re in the mood for chorizo, it’s definitely going to be soy.

Speaking of the kitchen, I have a beautiful new range hood that I bought from Sears.com.  And it has no grease filters.  You know, those things at the top of your hood that get all gunky and sticky and disgusting?  Yeah, I have none of those.  But I’m supposed to have four.  Four!  They weren’t in the box when the hood got installed (by Sears).  I keep getting bounced around, leaving messages, and getting ignored by the Carmel Mountain store.  Customer service tries to help, but apparently they have to go through the physical store to do anything?  So, I keep having to make phone calls.  It’s a bit of a pain.  Anyone know of a good way to actually get results?

Something else I picked up at Trader Joe’s (at the new Mira Mesa store! It’s so huge!) is a bag of their Five Seed Almond Bars.  They taste like pumpkin cookie bars, with flax seed, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and… uh… two other kinds of seeds.  I thought it would be a nice grab-n-go thing in the morning, but they’re actually really good and I’ve been eating one for dessert.  They’re moist, not crunchy, just slightly sweet, and nutty from all the seeds.

And… the dogs are going crazy, so T must be home.  Time to wrap up!

I hate Splenda

There.  I’ve said it.  I hate Splenda.  Yes, I know everyone thinks Splenda is practically the same as sugar and tastes the same as sugar, but it’s not and it doesn’t.  Splenda (the brand name) is sucralose, which is a chlorinated sucrose product.  It is not natural and it most definitely has a funny taste to it.  Now, stevia is natural and is a completely different story, but I still don’t like it.

I’m not sure how it happened, but Splenda appeared and all of a sudden the little yellow packets were a godsend.  People started dumping it into iced tea and baking with it and then Splenda came out with a baking blend of Splenda and brown sugar and the food world went insane.  I think Splenda seemed more natural because the tagline used to be “Tastes like sugar because it’s made from sugar” AND the proportions were more equal to sugar.  Where a pinch of NutraSweet was the equivalent of a teaspoon of sugar (or something), a teaspoon of Splenda was the same as a teaspoon of sugar.  Want to know why?  Because the Splenda people added water-soluble fillers to their product.  Ta da!

Now, I’ll admit, I jumped on the bandwagon for a while.  I think it was when I had the brilliant idea to go on the South Beach diet.  So, I put Splenda in my coffee.  And I drank it, because Splenda was allowed where sugar wasn’t.  And when I gave up on the South Beach diet (because it’s a little bit crazy, although the concept in general makes sense, and because I’m lousy at diets in general), I went back to sugar and decided Splenda tastes funny.  It tastes like chemicals.  Because it’s a chemically altered product. 

There are dozens of sugar-free, diet-friendly, blah blah blah recipes out there that call for Splenda.  These recipes also tell you that people won’t know the difference because Splenda tastes like sugar.  It’s all a lie, unless you’re one of those people who exclusively uses artificial sweeteners.  In that case, you definitely won’t be able to tell any difference with Splenda-sweetened products.  You’re just used to it.

A friend of ours found out she has gestational diabetes, and one of her friends (totally not me) said she would gladly bake her desserts made with Splenda so she could satisfy her sweet tooth.  My first thought after hearing that was, really?  Feeding your body desserts made with artificial sweetener is better than fruits or honey-sweetened treats?  I mean, I know nothing about being pregnant, but I would rather forgo soda altogether than ingest the diet versions.  No one would dream of baking with Equal or NutraSweet because those have the stigma of being made of chemicals and are artificial.  I’m betting that most people don’t realize Splenda isn’t all that different.  Different chemicals, yes, but it’s not any more natural.

So, then I started wondering if there is such a thing as a healthy sugar.  I know there’s honey and maple syrup, but are they better than sugar?  Less refined?  I also remember an old co-worker praising agave syrup in her raw food desserts.  Like chocolate “pudding” made with avocados, agave syrup, and cocoa powder. 

I found agave syrup at Trader Joe’s one day.  I picked it up, not knowing much about it other than the fact that it’s used in a lot of raw food recipes (being processed at a temperature below 118F), which makes it sound healthy, and it’s derived from a plant (I guess kind of like stevia?)  It tastes like a sweet syrup, but without the underlying flavors in honey or maple syrup, which makes it nice and neutral.  It’s supposed to be good for diabetics due to its low glycemic index.  I’ve been using it in my coffee instead of sugar and I can’t really taste the difference.  I’ve also used it in place of sugar for poached pears and a fruit tart.  Aside from the fruit tart getting more liquidy than usual, it all tasted fine.  Sweet and fine and not chemically altered.

Now, I am by no means an expert on artificial sweeteners.  The things I know are from the internet, and we all know how reliable the internet can be.  But I’ve always been suspicious of Splenda, because my tongue was telling me that it didn’t taste like sugar, so reading what I’ve found makes sense.  I also suspect people have embraced Splenda because it has no calories, unlike honey and agave syrup.  If you’re dieting, “0 calories” probably means more to you than “natural sweeter”.  By all means, go for it!  Embrace the artificial sweetener in the neutral yellow packets.  Just stop trying to tell me it’s natural and tastes just like sugar. 

In the end, I just really wanted to rant a little.  To vent.  I’m not judging you for enjoying your Splenda.  Unless you’re looking at it as a health food instead of a diet aid.  In that case, I probably am judging you a tiny bit.  But only in my head.

I don’t like soy milk

There.  I said it.  I don’t like soy milk.  I prefer cow milk.  Is that bad?  Is there a reason I’m supposed to forgo cow milk and go for soy/rice/almond milk instead?  Is there some magical vitamin or benefit that the cow milk isn’t giving me?  Is it better for the environment?  Am I ruining the world by not switching over?

All I hear are people debating the brands of soy milk, the virtues of cooking with unsweetened versions, switching to rice milk for their cereal.  Like it’s a badge of achievement akin to giving up plastic cups or going vegetarian.  Why?  When did regular milk become the bad guy?  I don’t even drink whole milk.  I’ve downsized to 2%! 

I bought soy milk creamer at Trader Joe’s and it was not good.  I mean, it might be good if you like soy milk, but it gave my coffee a funny flavor.  And that was after I added more sugar.  It made my coffee funky.  So funky that I gave up and made a fresh cup with milk.  Just milk.  Soy milk creamer made me sad.

I know I can take it back for a refund, but it’s kind of not worth it to find the time to drive back up there.  And it’s not like they really need to know my opinion of their creamer.  There could very well be people who enjoy the taste of soy milk and will be happy to see it in creamer form.  I mean, it’s not like the creamer is an abomination like tofu cheese.  Now, that stuff is just wrong.

However, I did find a new product that is pretty good.  It’s not perfect, because for $3.29 I could easily make a batch of biscuits, but it was fun to try.  Six (small) buttermilk biscuits in the freezer case, ready for baking.  The box says to bake the frozen biscuits at 400°F for 8 to 10 minutes – sounds easy and awesome, doesn’t it?  Fresh biscuits in 10 minutes, no defrosting required!  Well, that is certainly not the case.

First, my biscuits, while cut into 6 blocks, emerged from the tray as one block.  I managed to separate them into pairs of biscuit-blocks, but that was as far as I got.  So I plunked the biscuit-pairs on the baking sheet and off they went into the waiting oven.  At 10 minutes, the tops of the biscuits were golden brown and lovely.  The middles of the biscuits were pale, gooey, and definitely raw.  It took another 12 minutes before I was sure the raw dough had been converted. 

How’d they taste?  Warm, soft, tender, and flaky.  They were good biscuits.  Even better with butter and cranberry-apple butter (also from TJ’s).  But, because of the doubled baking time, we had eaten the other parts of our breakfast already. 

Would I buy them again?  I don’t know.  It’s very convenient to have biscuits waiting in the freezer for me.  But I think if I found a good recipe, I could make them myself and then put pre-cut biscuits in the freezer like I do with cookie dough.  Honestly, biscuits aren’t that hard to make.  It’s not like having ready-to-bake croissants or sticky buns in the freezer.  Those suckers are time consuming.  I guess my verdict on the biscuits is “undecided”.  I have nothing against the end product, but it’s hard for me to justify buying them again.

Nothing in particular

I hate having to come up with witty “titles” for “posts”.  It takes up too much brain power.

Have you heard Ikea is considering selling solar panels?  Apparently, some Sam’s Clubs have kiosks to buy solar systems, too.  There are quite a few houses in our neighborhood that have solar panels.  The ridiculously expensive house next door (when it was for sale) used it as a selling point that the house could be operated by solar energy, drastically lowering your monthly bills.  Well, I looked at our electric bill and we spend, on average, $50 a month (not including the gas portion).  We actually use more energy in the winter using heaters than we do in the summer, since we probably turn the AC unit on a few days only.  Then I read about this website, RoofRay, that calculates the best place to put solar panels, the power you can get off that grid, and how much it will cost (roughly).  Basically, we learned that installing the smallest system to cover our electrical usage would take 18 years to break even.  It would cost $12,000 (after rebates and tax credits).  Now, if SDG&E gave you money back for excess energy you feed into the grid, we could totally recoup the investment faster.  Like, in less than 5 years.  So, basically, I learned that it is not economically feasible to install solar panels.  Which is good to know because now I don’t feel guilty about it.  Maybe if I had way too much money and had to use it somewhere, I’d install them because it would totally be cool to say you live “off the grid”, but I don’t.

Trader Joe’s is now selling mini jelly doughnuts and canneles.  I’ve made canneles before and it’s actually fairly easy.  You just have to wait for the batter to set – it’s definitely not a last minute baking treat.  I own a silicone mold, which works well but doesn’t get the crispy crust of a beeswax lines copper mold.  On the other hand, I don’t have to line anything with beeswax.  When T and I were in San Francisco, any time we passed a Bay Bread bakery I had to stop and buy canneles (among other tasty treats).  I bought the Bay Bread cookbook just for that recipe.

Anywho, TJ sells frozen canneles and I was extremely wary that they would be anything but odd (how could a frozen cannele end up tasting like a fresh one?) and despite my hesitations I bought 2 boxes (each box has 6).  Because if they did end up passable, I wanted extras in the freezer.  I also bought the mini jelly doughnuts (also frozen) but haven’t tried them yet.  So, I defrosted the canneles and opted to toss them in the toaster for a bit so they weren’t cold.  The directions say to just defrost and enjoy or microwave them for 20 minutes.  Anyone who likes bread and baked good knows that microwaves are evil in that regard.  So, slightly toasted defrosted canneles.  And?  They were actually okay.  Nowhere near as good as a fresh, warm one (even from my oven where they are substandard) but infinitely easier and they somehow had that crispy beeswax crunch to the crust.  The taste is pretty spot on and the ingredient list is as simple as they come. 

Verdict?  If you’ve never had one, you may end up liking these.  If you know what a good one tastes like, these won’t satisfy a craving but they make a decent treat with coffee or tea.  I’ll easily get through the second box, but I’ll probably end up pulling out a recipe and baking a fresh batch to make my memories happy.  All in all, though, I’m very pleased that Trader Joe’s managed to make such a decent version, in the freezer section no less!

It’s a slow day

When I’m bored, I mill around Chowhound. I’ve gotten pretty good at not reading posts with titles that I know will annoy me. I now ignore them. Sometimes I get tricked and read a post only to discover that it’s a stupid question (yes, there are stupid questions AND stupid answers in this world) or completely unrelated to the title. These days, Chowhound is most useful to me for providing insight on new restaurants in the area. Of course, I don’t trust chowhound praise outright. No, typically I’ll see a few restaurants named and I’ll read about them and try and get an idea if the reviews are balanced enough to believe. I don’t trust gushing at all. Especially if it’s accompanied by PRAISE in CAPITAL LETTERS. So, I make a mental note of these places and then if I see it pop up on a couple local blogs it triggers a “hmm..” moment. At that point, I probably write it down somewhere and tell T that I want to try it. Or Cami. And then a few months go by before we ever get to where it is we’re craving. So, I’m totally not a trendsetter when it comes to new restaurants. Except for places in Poway, I guess.

My actual point, however, was to say that I don’t actively try to annoy myself with Chowhound. I feel like I’ve been on that site long enough for the vast number of topics to actually start repeating themselves. What to make for V-Day. What to cook to impress a first date. What to do with leftover ham. What’s your favorite cheese. OMG – Greek yogurt rocks. How long do I roast a chicken. Where to eat during Comicon. No car in SD – what food is bearable. And on and on.

What I don’t understand is what people think the site is for. I see questions pop up that make me wonder if they think they’re having live conversations*. Like, there’s a chicken burning in the oven and the dinner party starts in half an hour – what should they do? If I had a dinner party in half an hour and my food was burning, my first instinct would not be to consult a message board for an answer (and then wait for said answer to eventually appear). I would turn on the vent hood, stick the food outside, and either run to Costo for a roast chicken or make a frantic call to Joey’s Smokin’ BBQ. But, I also plan my dinner parties very carefully, so the chances of this happening to me are small. Also, for small get togethers, I don’t tell people what I’m cooking. For all they know, I was planning on having take-out all along!

Or someone will pull out chicken, a pepper, cheese, and couscous and ask what they can make for dinner that night. In half an hour. Do you really think people are sitting at their computer, constantly hitting “refresh” to see what last-minute disasters they can solve?

My latest favorites, however, involve broken appliances. My oven sometimes bursts into flames – should I worry? My refrigerator is leaking water – what should I do? Weird noises, odd smells, random flames, and puddled liquids are not questions for a message board. That’s when you start calling repair people. Some problems don’t get better the longer you wait to fix them (actually, I don’t know of any problems that do that). The concept boggles my mind.

But, just so I don’t end this post on a grumpy note, I will tell you about a cookie from Trader Joe’s (I know, surprise, surprise!) that I bought and didn’t like that later grew on me to the point where I took the bin to work so I didn’t eat them all. In one sitting. They are like Nilla Wafers, if Nilla Wafers were made with butter and vanilla beans. They’re called Ultimate Vanilla Wafers. They come in the plastic tubs, like the chocolate chip cookies that are also addictive. The cookies are crisp-soft. Not as hard as Nilla Wafers, but not as soft as a chewy cookie. You can definitely taste the butter, but sometimes you can also feel the vanilla bean seeds (some people don’t like that). It’s kind of nice to know that you could use a more natural cookie in place of Nilla Wafers (remember making mini cheesecakes with the wafer as the bottom crust?), but I also take comfort know Nilla Wafer are always on grocery store shelves. For all I know, the vanilla thins are “seasonal” and will disappear once summer is over. All in all, it’s a good butter cookie, with just a hint of vanilla.

* Some message boards really are like real-time chatting. I know friends who frequent boards like this and they form their own little odd community. This comes in handy if, say, your car is stolen and you need hundreds of eyes keeping a lookout until it’s spotted, at which point they band together, block said stolen car in until police arrive, and help you get your car back. I’m just saying.