Wednesday, April 18, 2012

More Trader Joe's Winners and Losers

Note:  It has been reported that the Sarasota, Florida Trader Joe's store will open September 7, 2012.  (How about adding a Tampa Bay store, Trader Joe's?)

Hello Lily On The Lam Readers!  Sorry I have been missing in action again.  Spent the last weekend in Sarasota and Siesta Key on a fabulous sailing/shopping/dining/beach girls weekend.  I'll blog about our discoveries in future posts.

But today's post is back to one of my popular blog post subjects-- Trader Joe's products.  I heard a rumor that the corporate team of Trader Joe's was recently scouting out locations near the Westshore area of Tampa for a Spring 2013 opening.  I hope this is more than just a rumor.  But until that happens, I hope the Sarasota store (which will be located in a former Rooms To Go store) opens soon.  In the meantime, I am showcasing Trader Joe's products that I purchased in the new Naples, Florida store.  Read about my road trip to the Naples, Florida Trader Joe's here.    

I have been an ardent Trader Joe's fans for decades (which is odd since I am only 22-- hahahah....)  But as in life, with Trader Joe's some times you win some and sometimes you lose some.  This is my latest review of some Trader Joe's winners and losers.

Let's start on a positive foot first ...

Trader Joe's Products Winners ...

Lite Sharp Celtic Cheddar Cheese:
Having attended college in Wisconsin, I love good cheese.  However my waist line wishes I didn't like cheese so much, so when I saw Trader Joe's "Trader O'Joe's" 12 month aged light sharp cheddar, I wanted to give it a try.  It has less fat and calories than regular cheddar cheese.  It has a nice sharp taste, melts well and doesn't taste like a plasticky "lite" cheese.  I enjoyed it.

Trader Joe's World's Puffiest White Cheddar Corn Puffs:

Not many people or companies would want to brag that they are the "World's Puffiest," however Trader Joe's chooses to post this label on their white cheddar corn puffs.  I am not sure how one is chosen "world's puffiest."  Is there a puffy judging committee?  Regardless if these corn puffs are the world's puffiest, they are pretty darn tasty.  I like that the white cheddar seasoning does not leave unsightly residue on one's fingers.  I also like that they are crisp and light without an artificial flavor taste. 

Trader Joe's Products "Maybes"...

Trader Joe's Beef Pho Soup:

My friend Rich first introduced me to Vietnamese Pho in the Frogtown area of St. Paul, Minnesota.  I loved how the rich, aromatic broth was served with a side of meat, vegetables and noodles with another plate of basil, bean sprouts, sriracha and a brown sauce akin to hunan sauce.  You could make your own pho combining this mix of ingredients.  In Tampa, Florida, my favorite place to have this soup is at Pho Quyen.

So when I saw the Trader Joe's pho soup bowl, I was intrigued but skeptical.  The soup was pre-mixed, so I wouldn't have the fun of creating my own.  However I could have pho at home just by going to my freezer.  I decided to try it out.  The picture on the box looked promising enough ... 

Surprisingly, the contents of the box looked pretty good as well.  I followed the directions which include lifting the plastic film and adding water up to a designated line.  You would then microwave the soup.

The finished product looked like this.  Definitely not a mirror image of the photo on the picture.  I have never had pho with these types of vegetables, but it did make the soup taste fresher and vibrant.  I have to say that the broth in Trader Joe's pho is very complex and rich tasting, as if it had been slow cooked overnight.  This was surprising for a freezer entree.  

Trader Joe's pho will never replace your local Vietnamese restaurant for pho in the taste department.  While the broth was surprisingly good, overall the soup lacked the hearty belly-warming depth of a good pho.  I would recommend this soup if you think you're going to have a pho craving at 3 a.m. when your local Vietnamese restaurant is closed.  It is good enough to take the edge off of a pho craving, however it left me wanting to go to Pho Quyen and have a real bowl of pho.

Trader Joe's Tandoori Naan:

I love bread products!  Starch, starch, starch!  I love a great piece of naan with a steaming bowl of chicken tikka masala.  When I saw that Trader Joe's had naan in their freezer section, I decided to give it a try.  If this product had been labeled "flat bread" rather than naan, I would have thought this was a great product.  I heated the naan in the oven as the package directions indicated.  It was somewhat tasteless and bland, but it was warm and crunchy.  However it just did not taste like naan.  Like the pho, it made me want to head to my nearest Indian restaurant and have real naan.  So if you're looking for a flatbread to keep in your freezer for when your carb cravings start, then sure check it out.  If you want real, authentic-tasting naan; then pass on this one.

Trader Joe's Products Loser:

Plats du Chef French Onion Soup.

My younger sister and I love a good bowl of French Onion soup. In fact, the last time I visited her at college, I brought her a sourdough bread boule and some gruyere cheese.  She took those ingredients and made French Onion soup with gruyere-topped sourdough croutons.  When I saw the box of two French Onion soup servings at Trader Joe's, I was curious.  Could something from the freezer section be as good as homemade or restaurant French Onion soup?

I opened the box and this is what came out.  A brown round disc topped with some white stuff that appeared to be cheese.

Here is a side view photo ...

It did not seem appetizing at all, but I thought I would try it.

The package directions state that you can use an oven or microwave.  However if you choose to use the oven, it will take forty minutes.  Forty minutes?  I could make homemade French Onion soup in that amount of time!  

After following the cooking instructions, this is what came out of the microwave.  A thick gravy-like soup with bread chunks.  The cheese has melted into the soup and disappeared.

The soup was not only unappetizing to look at, but the broth was thick and salty.  There was no flavor other than salt.  I ate two spoonfuls and threw the rest away.  This is definitely not going to be on my Trader Joe's shopping list in the future!

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