November 22, 2011

Fresh Italian Chestnuts

Whether you roast on an open fire or in the oven, Chestnuts are delicious. It's always funny to me that these are in the "nut" family. Chestnuts are soft, chewy, sweet and creamy, everything your typical nut should not be. But breaking all the nut rules just makes these funny looking snacks even more bad-ass. The rebel nut, if you will.  

The directions tell you to make an X shape with a sharp knife on the flat side of the nut. This can be tricky because you have very little leverage. So make sure your knife is really sharp and try not to cut all the way through that slippery bugger. Once you bake for 20 minutes the X will open up which allows you to peel off the hard and slightly fuzzy shell (let them cool a few minutes before peeling). Then enjoy.
The options with chestnuts are endless but since I'm in the holiday spirit I might just toss them into my thanksgiving stuffing and call it a day. Happy Turkey Day everyone!

My Rating * * * *

November 12, 2011

Creamy Polenta with Spinach and Carrots

This polenta is found in the Italian area of the frozen section. I was really excited to try this because I love polenta and never seem to find the time to make it from scratch. When I opened the bag I was surprised to see these alien-pod-like polenta nuggets, but I have never cooked frozen polenta before so I suppose it makes sense. I poured everything into my skillet and cooked on medium heat for about 15 minutes. 
I paired my polenta with a grilled pork chop and sauteed kale which I thought was a great combination. 
The polenta was creamy but lacked that gritty cornmeal flavor and texture. It was also completely overpowered by a ton spinach but for some reason I still slightly enjoyed it. I think I'm just a sucker for any side dish with that creamy comfort food consistency. 

Two quick tips that I think will enhance your polenta party.
  1. Take out all of the frozen polenta-pods and place them in the pan. Then use about half of the spinach and carrot mixture. (that way you will taste the cornmeal flavor)  
  2. Add salt, Parmesan cheese, or some sort of sodium element. When it comes to salt, I don't usually like to add it to pre-made frozen dishes but this polenta needs it. 
Next time I try this I'm going to cook it in the skillet, then spread it on a baking sheet and bake it until golden brown, then chill it. I wonder how it will turn out. If anyone tries that, let me know how it works out for you.  

My Rating * * * 

November 8, 2011

Kale Chips (homemade)

Here is a quick and easy snack if you're feeling guilty about eating potato chips. These crunchy kale bites are extremely delicious and addictive. They are similar to the TJ's roasted seaweed snack minus the ocean flavor.

All you need is Trader Joe's Kale (comes in a bag by the mixed greens section), extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and any other herb or spice you might want to add (be creative)

Preheat your oven to 275.
1. Spread kale on baking sheet in a single layer (we don't want steamed kale here)
I lined my sheet with foil, but you can use parchment too. Also, if you find some stems in the mix DON'T toss them out, they are really tasty after you bake.
2. Pour about 1/2-1 tablespoon olive oil on kale (easy on the oil, they don't need a lot)
3. Add some salt, pepper and any herb or spice that sounds good (I added a dash of dried dill)
4. Place baking sheet in oven and bake for about 10-20 mins. Keep an eye on them, they can char very quickly.
5. Enjoy the crunchiness of these healthy chips.
6. Make some more. (they shrink down quite a bit so if you're like me, you'll probably will want a few batches)

November 4, 2011

Pumpkin Bread & Muffin Mix

With Halloween behind us and Thanksgiving fast approaching I decided to make this delicious pumpkin treat. This is a dry mix and all you need to do is add water, 2 eggs, and vegetable oil. Easy as pie, or muffins I should say. Since I chose to make muffins I wanted to doll them up a bit. But because I decided this after my shopping trip I had to look in my pantry for some encouragement instead. Now I had regular almonds which the box recommends adding as part of their "holiday bread" but I thought that was too boring. Then I found a half eaten box of the Trader Joe's "Sea Salt & Turbinado Sugar, Dark Chocolate Almonds" (thats a mouth full) YUM!!! I chopped up about half a cup and dumped them into the amber-tinted batter. The cooking time and temperature was accurate to what the box said (FINALLY) and after about 20 minutes my apartment was oozing with holiday scent and my little bundles of pumpkin pleasure were ready, so was I.
The batter was full of spice and everything nice. I tasted cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. The muffin part was light and fluffy and the dark chocolate sea salt almonds were the perfect balance of sweet and salty.

If you like pumpkin anything, I really think you will enjoy this classic baked good. I will now be having my morning cup of tea with one of these muffins, for as long as they last (which won't be long)

My Rating * * * * 

October 16, 2011

Cioppino Seafood Stew

This stew is found in the frozen section along with the other seafood products. It is hearty, rich, and packed with delicious seafood bites including shrimp, mussels, Alaskan cod and baby scallops.
To my surprise all of the seafood was raw. I was happy about this because I got to feel like I was really cooking and not just re-heating. The tomato sauce was tangy and acidic with hints of garlic and pepper, which tasted so great with the seafood.
Here's the deal. The directions tell you to heat the sauce until boiling, then add the seafood and let simmer. I followed the directions (that's my job) but I had a feeling that some of the seafood would be over-cooked because they were not all the same size and shrimp cooks VERY quickly. I was right.
My advice is to let the sauce boil, add the cod first, then after a few minutes add the mussels and scallops. Then with about 3 minutes to go, add the shrimp. This will insure that everything will be cooked to perfection and nothing will be rubbery.
Even though some of my sea creatures were a little over-cooked everything was still delicious.
The mussels were my favorite. They were chewy (in a good way) and tender at the same time. And there were a lot of them.
The scallops were tiny bites of ocean flavor and not gritty. (I HATE gritty scallops)
The cod chunks were huge and flaky. No wimpy fish bits here.
The shrimp was a bit chewy (over-cooked) but still pretty tasty.

Treat yourself to this stew on a cold day and serve it with a crusty bread (slathered in butter) to soak up the delicious sauce.

My Rating * * * *

October 4, 2011

Gateau Concorde

Attention all chocolate junkies. This chocolate creation translation is "harmony cake" and I should say so. Found in the frozen aisle (if it's not sold out) this cake is filled with layers of chocolate meringue alternating with chocolate mousse. 
The meringue is crunchy and melts in your mouth, while the mousse is rich as can be with that dark chocolate silky smooth texture. The mousse part of this cake is more on the fudge side, not quite as light as you would expect a mousse to be, but I suppose I'll let that slide. Let me tell you though, this thing is decadent and RICH. I gave my boyfriend two slices because the cake is sort of small and he has a huge sweet tooth. He could barely finish one slice. The servings per container is 4 but you can easily satisfy 8 people (one meringue top per person). I let the cake sit at room temp for an hour and then we indulged. Although I couldn't fall asleep due to the sugar and caffeine surging through my veins, I would still recommend this Gateau for any occasion. (just don't consume after 11pm. woops)   

My Rating * * * * 

October 3, 2011

Bibimbap Bowl

I have to be honest, I didn't expect to like this at all, as I'm not a big fan of this Korean dish. I thought the meat would be bouncy and dry, the carrots rubbery and watery, and everything else bland. On that note I can't say I was overwhelmed with a flavor sensation but my prejudice wasn't completely accurate.
The beef was full of flavor and moist. It was marinated in a soy based sauce and was a little sweet as well. Also, it wasn't bouncy at all (could be because I got a good batch though)
My only complaint about the meat is that I only got four measly pieces of it. Give me more meat people.
The carrots were as expected; rubbery and watery. And WAY too many of them. (cause they're an inexpensive filler)
The soy bean sprout and egg was pretty good. It had a nice crunch which added texture.
The spinach just made me feel good about eating something green.
Too much rice. Again rice would be another cheap filler but come on, quit skimping on the goods. 

This bowl comes with a packet of spicy chili sauce (about 2 tablespoons) which you can pour on after you've nuked your Bibimbap (I laugh every time I attempt to say that word)
I tested the sauce and my mouth was set on fire. I didn't think I would add any but after a few bland bites I decided to add about 1 teaspoon. That little teaspoon ignited my bowl with heat and chili powder flavor but I wasn't complaining.

Best advice if you get this bowl; take out some carrots and maybe some rice. Pour as much or as little sauce as you can handle. And mix everything together, that way you won't realize that one thing is better than the other. Bibimbap out.

My Rating * * * 

September 27, 2011

Blueberry Scones

Sweet, Tart, Flaky, Pastry Triangles from Heaven.
I made these for breakfast and they were scrumptious.
Perfect with a cup of tea. Just the right amount of blueberry filling, and even a few whole berries. Yum. The pastry dough is perfect. Not too sweet and not too dense, light and airy is how I like it. I used an egg wash on top to get that golden brown layer and baked them for 25 minutes on the dot. Any longer and I could see the bottom of the scones would start to burn. I had a tab of butter off to the side for some old fashion enhancing but they really didn't need it. I just think it's fun to "butter your scone" , makes me feel british and fancy.

With my sister's wedding rapidly approaching and me being the maid of honor (eeek big responsibility) I have to plan a few "showers" for her. If we follow through with a vintage Alice in Wonderland themed tea party of sorts I will definitely be buying a few boxes of these scones and telling everyone they are home-made. shhhh.

Don't be Alarmed. These bad boys spread out a little bit and the bottom half starts to spread first. It looks really funny and for a brief moment I thought they were going to morph into blueberry pancakes.

My Rating * * * *

September 23, 2011

Peanut Butter Goodies

Every now and then I stumble across something at Trader Joe's that I should NEVER buy again. Not because the item is repulsive (quite the opposite in fact) but it is because I don't trust myself not to eat the entire thing in one sitting. This is the case with the aptly named Peanut Butter Goodies. I should tell you that peanut butter is my weakness. It is a staple in my apartment and I always have it in on hand in various forms. in a jar. in a pretzel. in between crackers. in ice cream. peanut butter cereal. and now these cookies. Yum Yum Yum! peanuts, chocolate, cookie, and peanut butter mousse!? If you are a peanut butter lover like myself I promise these crispy, gooey, sweet and salty delights will satisfy your soul. That is all.

My Rating * * * * *

September 22, 2011

Tempura Chicken

This is a good at home "take-out" dinner. 
Unlike the TJ's orange chicken, the tempura chicken is ALL white meat and has a tangy sweet and sour sauce to go with it. Before I bake this dish I like to get out my sharpest knife and cut the big pieces into bite-sized portions. I do this so that its easier to eat AND it allows them to get extra crispy while baking. If your knife isn't sharp enough to cut through the icy poultry, bake the chicken halfway, slice, then return to oven. *Don't burn your fingers on the hot meat. 
Now I have come to realize that almost every frozen item from Trader Joe's needs to be cooked longer than the box says. These little fried nuggets are no different. I like to cook them for a good 6-10 minutes longer because once you pour the sauce on them they will soften a bit anyway.
I served my chicken on a bed of the Rice Medley which is also found in the frozen aisle. This rice is similar to their regular brown rice but it has a little more chewiness like wild rice, and it's pretty too. My only wish is that the orange chicken sauce would join forces with the white meat tempura chicken. That would be ideal because the orange sauce is tastier but I prefer white meat and I think the tempura has a better crunch. Oh yeah, I only use about 3/4 of the sauce on my meat. I don't think it needs the entire pouch. I like to save the rest and use it to pep up my home-made BBQ sauce. That recipe will be up soon.     

My Rating * * *  

September 21, 2011

Pear Tarte

So I had this last night for dessert and then again for breakfast (just to make sure I still liked it.......heh)

Pear-adise. The tarte is sweet but not overwhelming. The pears taste fresh (not canned) and maintain their texture integrity after cooked, which I think is really important. I love that they are not lacquered in that thick gelatinous sheen you see on many fruit tartes. The custard is divine but I wish there was more of it. The crust is my favorite part, and usually always is. After the first bite I was transported back to childhood. It took me two slices to finally figure out what that nostalgic flavor was. When I was in elementary school my dad used to take me to a little ma and pop bakery about once a week. I would always get the same thing, a cream cheese muffin and a glass of cold milk. The muffin had a crisp top and gooey cream cheese center. I LOVED this thing. I would leave the crunchy top part for last and savor every bite. The crust of this pear tarte is my childhood and that makes me very happy.

A quick note on the heating instructions: I baked this at 350 for 10 minutes (like the box says) and it was still ice cold. After another 10-12 minutes we were in business. The box says "allow to cool for 30 minutes before serving." I gave it 10.

My Rating * * * *

September 19, 2011

Wasabi Roasted Seaweed Snack

Umami Wasabi. Now I tried the plain seaweed snacks and they were fine. If you've had seaweed sheets before you know what to expect. But these wasabi ones change the whole game of dried translucent algae. They are very delicious and very wasabi-y. I eat these things like popcorn or better yet flaming hot Cheeto's. It burns and clears your nasal passages but you can't stop eating them. They are sprinkled with some sort of wasabi powder on one side. I like to fold mine in half (wasabi on the inside) so I don't get pure wasabi on my taste buds. If this sounds like something that would tickle your fancy I suggest grabbing a few boxes. I finish them in one sitting and at only 99 cents they won't break the bank.

My Rating * * * *

Bento Box

I've been seeing this in the frozen section and finally decided to go for it. The little red box has nine different compartments so I figured my odds were good on enjoying at least a few of them.
Bento Bummed! I am going to try and break down each sampler as efficiently as possible. I could easily ramble because I really wanted/thought this was going to be tasty.

  1. Pumpkin with Shiso Seasoning. Mushy, soggy, zero flavor
  2. Spicy Long Beans. Holy smokes batman. Way too SPICY for my liking. I thought I wasn't going to be able to taste the rest of the box. kind of wish I hadn't.
  3.  Eggplant with Miso Paste. Eggplant? Are you sure? This was slimy and tasted exactly like okra. The miso paste was gritty and sweet. Not for me. 
  4. Soba Salad with Oyster Mushroom. I tried the mushroom on its own and gagged. It was watery and tough like a piece of freezer burned meat. The Soba noodles had absolutely no flavor and felt like cardboard slivers in my mouth. I dipped the noodles in the other compartments to try and rummage up any flavor I could. Why bother?!
  5. Shiitake Mushroom with Edamame and Carrot. Forgettable. And yes ONE carrot, the description doesn't lie. 
  6. Baked Tofu with Teriyaki Sauce. Blech!!! Soggy Custard sponge anyone? 
     7. 8. 9. The Three Rices (brown, curry, teriyaki) They all tasted the same. Curry had a little more flavor but didn't help the fact that they were all dry and an afterthought (not to say that anything WAS thought about)

And after nine little mistakes, to make matters worse, my mouth had this weird dry, metal, iron-like aftertaste.

My boyfriend was making himself a grilled cheese simultaneously and burnt it. I ended up eating his charred cheese bread which got rid of the aftertaste and was better than everything else. If you can believe it.

My Rating *

September 18, 2011

Alfredo Pasta Sauce and Organic Marinara Sauce Duo

I made this dish last night for dinner. It is one of my ultimate comfort foods. It is spaghetti with peas, bacon (extra crispy) and my new favorite pink sauce.

To make the sauce just combine half Trader Joe's Alfredo Sauce with half their Organic Marinara Sauce or until you get the pinkness desired. I think it tastes better than the Trader Joe's Vodka Sauce. This sauce duo is rich, cheesy and creamy. I only had spaghetti in my pantry but I bet it would be great on any sauce catching pasta like penne or fusilli. Enjoy!

September 17, 2011

Fusilli with Vegetables & Basil Pesto

A Pasta Poem

This pasta was pretty
It smelled divine too
10 minutes later
I knew what to do

I took my first bite
But then I was sad
For my fusilli was mushy
And no flavor it had

              Where is the sauce?
            I thought in my head
         And that wonderful aroma?
           It was gone, it was dead

                Overall, I would say
                 This is a big miss
                The rating you ask?
             My dog wouldn't eat this

My Rating *

September 16, 2011

Cubano Seasoned Wrap

Its what's for lunch! I've had this wrap before and went back for seconds. Found in the refrigerated this wrap includes roasted pork, ham, swiss cheese and dill pickles all encased in a spice speckled flour tortilla. If that's not enough Mr. Cubano comes with a side of "cuban inspired mustard dressing" which I will probably dream about tonight. Here are my favorite elements to this wrap!

  • All About the Sauce. I don't know what they put in this stuff but it is extremely addictive. Spicy and tangy the after taste is still lingering and I'm not complaining. The wrap is good on its own but you will really up the ante per bite when you give it a little dip. 
  • Oink and Oink. Two types of swine in this baby! Thinly sliced, perfectly cooked and not bouncy. There is the perfect amount of meat to satisfy (no need to take any off which is my issue with many deli-styled sandwiches/wraps)
  • Dill-ectable. Didn't expect to be a fan of long sliced pickles in my wrap but these work oh so well. They add the crunch you are waiting for and that vinegary briny bite. mmmm!!!! (i'm not pregnant) 

This wrap is a perfect light lunch with a punch. It is small enough so when you take a bite you taste everything the tortilla is holding. The tortilla seems as though it has some red pepper flakes sprinkled about, for a little added heat. Go try this thing on your next lunch break and don't forget to dip or pour sauce all over it!

My Rating * * * * 

Roasted Gorgonzola Oven Crisp Crackers

My new favorite item! These adult Cheez-Its are packed 
with that pungent gorgonzola flavor. Toss them in some
tomato soup or use them as bread crumbs for home-made chicken strips!
I ate the whole box.

My Rating * * * *

September 15, 2011

Puff Pastry Margherita Pizza

This little pizza is found in the frozen section, usually nestled between some bigger tougher boxed pizzas. It can be tricky to find if you aren't looking out for it. But once you find it, oh happy day!! Here are some reasons why I think this single serving French/Italian creation is worth your dough.

  • Puff Pastry Party. This crust is flaky, chewy and slightly sweet, much like a warm buttery croissant. I recommend eating this pizza over a plate or napkin. I was covered in puff pastry remnants but it was so worth it.  
  • I Say Tomato. Normally I'm not a big fan of sliced tomatoes on my pizza but I went with it. They added the perfect amount of acidity and tang to the sweet flaky crust. Although hard to tear apart with your teeth (i ate a few whole) they are still an important and delicious accomplice.     
  • B and C.  There is not a lot of basil or cheese which I'm okay with. It keeps it light. The basil creeps up as an after taste and the cheese is gooey and mild (next time I might sprinkle on a hand-full of mozzarella and see what happens)  
  • Time and Temp. I cooked this at 400 degrees (like the box says) but after the 7 minute mark I took miss margherita out and she was still cold in the center. After 4 more minutes she was toasty and I was hungry! 

finished product

To sum it up, I love this pizza!
Just remember to cook it a little longer than you think, hold some sort of flake catching device and wait a few minutes before consumption (i burned my tongue)

    My Rating  * * * *

    Breakfast Burritos

    So I hate to start off my blog with a not so great review but it's what I had for breakfast and I gotta start somewhere. The breakfast burritos with eggs, potatoes, turkey bacon and cheese is found in the frozen section with 2 per box and can either be microwaved or baked (I chose microwave). Here are my reasons why this is a less than desirable morning delight.

    • Potato Overload. The majority of this burrito is made up of potatoes. Now I like a good spud as much as the next guy but preferably not al dente ones. bleh. 
    • Egg Hunt. When eggs are the first ingredient you would expect a certain prominence but sadly there should've been more. I think eggs are what should help bind a good breakfast burrito together but in this case my potatoes were on a suicide mission.   
    •  Bouncy Turkey Bacon. Let me note that I use bouncy to describe poor quality meats. Bouncy, because it does just that in your mouth.
    • Cheese Please? Didn't taste any. Didn't see any. so sad. 
    • 7 Minutes Later. The box says 2-2 1/2 minutes in the microwave. Now I know this could be a wattage issue but my microwave isn't ancient and I had to cook the crap outta this thing in order for the ingredients to de-crystalize.

    All and all I would say adios to these little bundles of blandness.

    My Rating  *