Cabot Vermont Extra Sharp Cheddar


My review for TJ’s Unexpected Cheddar seems to get a good deal of interest, so next up for review in the Cheese Department is an absolute classic cheddar which I mentioned in that earlier post.

For my money the well known, long established, classic cheese, Cabot Cheddar, is the very definition and Gold Standard for what an “East Coast” Extra Sharp Cheddar tastes like. Its terrifically convenient that Trader Joe’s carries it under Cabot’s own well known brand.

Cabot extra sharp cheddar is my personal go-to cheese to pretty much always have in the house. Labeled an “Extra sharp” cheddar, it’s got a slight tangy taste to it. “Intense, rich cheddar flavor with an “East Coast” bite” is how they describe it on the package and I would say that description is spot on. Cabot is made in Vermont, and is a bit unique as a company, as its a Farmer’s Collective. Cabot has been around for almost 100 years and has won many many “best” awards.

Cabot extra sharp cheddar is both great just sliced as is out of the package. It’s also great to cook with. It melts wonderfully well and I think makes one of the most fantastic melted cheese sandwiches you will ever try. Also terrific melted into an omelet. Do I need to say, melted on top of a burger is good? It’s not, its freaking amazing.

Eaten as is slice up and paired with some fruit, that is a perfect, heavenly match especially paired with an apple, grapes or a pear. Put a piece of this cheese in front of me with a knife and a good apple (like TJ’s Envy (!) and I am one happy camper eating that delicious salty sweet combo. Ending a dinner with this is a divine dessert.

Trader Joe’s sells Cabot cheddar for an excellent price ($6/lb) in a block. If you have never tried this cheese, you may want to give this a Try. I think you will love it (even though the kids may want something a bit tamer)? You can give them the New Zealand cheddar, also excellent, or TJ’s sliced cheddar. The adults can enjoy the Cabot Extra Sharp.

RAVE

 

Trader Joe’s OAT BEVERAGE (OAT MILK)


oatmilk1

Trader Joe’s OAT BEVERAGE

Now I do still drink regular milk, which I prefer in my coffee and tea. However I have been trying to cut down on the amount of real (whole) milk I use on a daily basis, as I try to watch my cholesterol. Mostly now I use real milk to make my morning cappuccino and for putting in my tea.  But for some other uses where I formerly might have chosen real milk such as on my morning breakfast cereal, I’ve gotten pretty used to trying alternatives such Soy or Almond Milk. Having tried almost all the non-milk beverage alternatives, I saw this non-refrigerated “oat milk” beverage at Trader Joe’s when it was first introduced a few months back. TJ’s seemed to have it in many places all over the store to push its introduction. I tried it and guess what? I loved it. Its terrific! I really think this is a good “milk alternative beverage”, maybe for me it may be the best of all the alternative milk products, beating out soy milk and nut milks.

I also like that when you look at the label of you only see TWO INGREDIENTS – WATER and (hydolyzed) OATS. That’s it. At least in the shelf stable pack. The refrigerated one interestingly has more ingredients.

TJ’s OAT BEVERAGE has a creamy smooth taste with a subtle milky sweetness which is very pleasing. Basically this oat milk has taken the place for “other milk” I buy now, even over the almond stuff.

The label says: “who knew that oats and water could be mildly sweet“? Instead of adding cane sugar as an ingredient, we unearth the balanced sweetness by breaking down the starches present in oats to create sugar. The sugars created bring out a whole new flavor dimension. A smooth, creamy, mildly sweet and totally amazing beverage”

Ingredients and Nutrition Facts

Basically this oat milk has taken the place for “other milk” I buy now, even over the almond stuff. A quart of the shelf stable Oat Beverage is $2.29. It’s very convenient to always have one in your cupboard.
Oh and by the way, as far as dairy farmers are concerned nothing except what comes out of a cow should be called “milk” and I totally support dairy farmers as if we lose more numbers of them, we are screwed.

RAVE

TJ Fresh Mozzarella Log


I think I can get this review in just in time for End of Summer when one can get excellent tomatoes. The perfect thing to pair with some perfectly ripe, juicy farm fresh tomatoes is this Trader Joe’s Fresh Mozzarella Cheese. Unlike the firmer, drier “pizza” mozzarella, fresh mozzarella is a milky soft fresh cheese. Fresh mozzarella is perfect for pairing with tomatoes, basil and good virgin olive oil for a super easy and delicious classic: a “Caprese Salad” (Insalata Caprese) Caprese Salad is the simplest of Italian salads, with sliced fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and fresh basil leaves, dressed with olive oil. Like Pizza Margherita, it features the colors of the Italian flag: green, white, red.

This mozzarella is shaped as a log and is pre-sliced into rounds which makes this super convenient and easy. Open it, and put some mozz on a plate with sliced tomatoes. You can arrange them artistically, alternating tomato and round of cheese if you want to impress, but even just cutting the slices into quarters and tossing with cubed tomatoes is fine! Douse with some good extra virgen olive oil, of course! Sometimes I add a few capers and a little of the caper liquid. With some good bread you have a super easy dinner or lunch and a small slice of heaven ready in minutes -especially if you can find some great tomatoes. Serve this salad to guests and they will love it. And its also good of course just eaten as is, put on a cheese plate, or making a terrific sandwich.


A 1 lb package is $4.99, which for fresh mozzarella is as usual, a pretty good deal chez Trader Joes.

NO-RECIPE RECIPE CAPRESE SALAD (INSULATE CAPRESE): Layer alternating slices of tomatoes and mozzarella. Tear up a good number of fresh basil leaves and sprinkle them all over everything,  arranging the salad on a large, shallow plate or platter. Drizzle the salad with good extra-virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. (OPTIONAL: some jarred capers with some of their juice, or a very small amount of a vinegar) Serve with a nice crusty bread.

(Post Summer) If you can’t get great tasting beefsteak tomatoes get the small cherry egg shaped Italian tomatoes Trader Joe’s carries. They are a little expensive but are really tasty, cut in half, and mix up with cut up mozzarella …..

RAVE

Easy Home-Made Pizza using TJ’s Pizza Dough (Re-Visited!)


I noticed that the all-useful TRADER JOE’S PIZZA DOUGH which had been only 99 cents (!) for as long as I can remember, went up to bit by bit and is now $1.29. While I loved it for under a buck, its still not a bad deal, say compared to Whole Foods prices.

The pizza recipe” post I did before seems to be one of the more popular posts here, so I’m re-visiting the topic of PIZZA (Yeah, baby!) Pictured below is yet another pizza I made for dinner using TJ’s ever useful bag of Pizza Dough sold in the refrigerator section.

To make this I used some homemade spaghetti sauce, with some extra veggies I had leftover from another dinner (eggplant, peppers, and onions). Mozzarella, and some hot Italian sausage. At the end I put on some cooked Kale with garlic I had made another night too. See, part of the “pizza night” ethos is to use up whatever one can find in the fridge, that might work on it!


Seriously, doesn’t this home-made pizza look so damn yummy and delicious that you wish you could eat it right now?! Well guess what, you canMake your own pizza at home, folks. No really, it’s pretty easy. Do you need to use home-made sauce? Of course not, a jar or canned sauce like TJ’s Marinara would be fine. Making your own pizza is easy, fun, super delicious and is of course cheaper than buying one. There is nothing like eating a pizza you made yourself and just pulled fresh out of your oven, bubbly and browned. If you have never made pizza at home before, you must try making one yourself at least once. I promise once you do, you’ll want to make a pizza once a week. Every time I go to Trader Joe’s I buy a package of dough to keep in my freezer to always have it on hand for these occasions. It will defrost on the counter in about 3-4 hours (or leave to defrost in the fridge overnight).

Is a Recipe needed to inspire you? OK then heres how to make a pizza:

pizza5HOMEMADE PIZZA WITH TJ PIZZA DOUGH

Ingredients needed: 1 package of TJ’s Pizza Dough, about 8 ozs of some sauce (Marinara, etc),  about 1/2 lb cheese (Mozzerella, Parmesan, Pecorino, Grana Padano, Jack, etc ) and using more than one cheese is even better (optional: fresh garlic, diced tomato, fresh/dried basil, onion, parsley, cooked mushrooms, zucchini, broccoli, kale, etc) and of course Italian Spices (oregano, basil, rosemary, red pepper, black pepper….)

1) Take your (defrosted) package of TRADER JOE”S PIZZA DOUGH out of the fridge –  leave it out at room temperature for at least one hour (the package says ’20 minutes’ but it is too short). Room temperature dough will be easier to work and press out,so plan ahead! (around the 1/2 hour point, turn on to pre-heat your oven to 450-500…very hot) Do not nuke it.

2) Prepare a clean work surface thats large enough to work your dough on. Dust it with flour. Remove the dough from the package (TIP: Its sticky! I invert the plastic bag to remove and just keep tugging and pulling till I get it all out). Dust the dough with flour so you can work it. Now you shape it. With your hands well floured and adding a little extra flour (or cornmeal) on the surface of the dough as needed, start to press out the dough using your fingers. Keep working and turning it until it is your desired size and shape. I generally use a square non-stick “half-sheet pan” to cook my pizza in. Its a little trickier to make the dough into a square/rectangle instead of a round but I like it like this. If using this kind of sheet pan, put a little olive oil in the pan on the bottom, put in your dough, put some oil your fingers and on top of the dough and work it into shape using your fingers, pressing it out gently. The oil will help you to stretch it out and work the dough towards the corners. Let the dough rest five minutes if you find its not ‘listening’ and keeps pulling back on you. Normal dough behavior. Just let it rest 5-10 minutes, then come back. Try to be careful and not to make the pizza “too thin” (or rip it!) if you can. And not too thick either or it will be tough! Get it just right. Build up the outside edge a bit. You can gently brush the edges with some olive oil if you want (optional). Another Option: Use a rolling pin to get it started and transfer that carefully to the pan and then work it. Remember if its the pan style its a rectangle you are shooting for. Shaping the dough is the only tricky part of making a pizza. The more you do this, the more you will get the hang of handling dough. If its not perfectly shaped your first time don’ worry. It will still taste as good! Don’t give up. Check YouTube for some videos on making pizza, study a bit, practice and keep doing it. You will get the hang of it and find it much easier in future. If you want to go the traditional round pizza route, of course try that. Moving the raw pizza into the oven is a tricky part, though personally I have found a square one in a sheet pan works.

IMG_0003READY TO ASSEMBLE (I am using smoked mozz and a little provolone) 
Now that you have your pizza dough base ready, its time for the ingredients
3) Spread your tomato sauce out with a large spoon. Do not oversauce – that will make the pizza harder to cook evenly and soggy. Add sauce as a thin layer. Now add your other ingredients, again in moderation, and spaced out. Don’t place too much stuff on it. Sprinkle on grated mozzerella or other cheese as desired. I like to use more than one cheese (Parmesan is great as well as Grana Padano) If using sausage, pre-cook a bit just till you can slice easily (I cooked mine covered for 5-6 minutes, let it cool in the pan, then sliced it up and added it) Add extra spices as desired (Oregano, Rosemary, Basil, Red Pepper flakes….). Add fresh cracked pepper. Drizzle a bit of Olive Oil all over just before baking (Are you vegetarian? Vegan? Adjust the ingredients as needed. I’m sure you know how. Soy cheese perhaps?)

4) BAKING: When its ready to bake, place the pizza in pre-heated 450-500 degree oven. Very hot! Real pizza ovens are much hotter than your home oven can go but we can work with just longer baking. TIP: I have started to put the pan on the oven floor for 7-10 mins then move it to the middle or top rack for the rest of the baking time. This really bakes the bottom (if you don’t have a pizza steel or stone). If moving it sounds too complicated, just use the middle rack.

Check pizza after 15-18 minutes (ROTATE the pan after 10 minutes, to even the baking. The pizza will probably need a total of around 20-25 minutes to bake, but your mileage may vary, as every oven is different. Check it frequently until you think its done. When it is done, I think you will know; it should be bubbly and slightly browned on top (as well as the bottom) However be careful not to over-cook your pizza or it may be a bit tough. Real pizza ovens are 600-900 degrees or hotter, so a pizza bakes in mere minutes….we just do our best with our regular home ovens. When your beautiful pizza looks – and smells – like its done, it probably is, so remove it from the oven. Check it. If its finished, you should let it rest 2 minutes before cutting as it will be easier to slice. Yes, waiting is the hardest part. SLICE it up with your favorite tool. I’ve got a pizza cutter from a 99 cents store, and it works fine. Believe it or not I even use kitchen shears to cut up pizza, and that works fairly well. If you have fresh Basil, now is the time to add it – use kitchen shears as I learned to do watching master pizza maker Dom DeMarco at the legendary DiFara’s Pizza in Brooklyn)! Dom’s pizza’s are to die for.

IMG_0002Before and After. The hardest part in the above may be waiting 20 minutes for the pizza to come out of the oven.

IMG_0004

The thing is, once you get the hang of making a pizza yourself a few times you will find its really not that hard to make, nor takes that much time. You must try making pizza yourself.

Please leave some feedback on your successes (or failures)

UPDATE / TIP: I have been experimenting with “aging” the TJ dough in the fridge and let it sit for a few days before use. It will ferment slowly and will get sourdough-y taste this way as the dough ferments. Try this aging for 1 (or 2 days) past the “sell by” date. Experiment with the aging of the dough tip and see if the crust and flavor is improved. I find it so.

Personally I have found the regular dough is the best version TJ has  – I have found the whole wheat version too tough, and the herbed version too off-tasting and bitter. Your mileage may vary. If you really want great pizza, eventually you may even make your own dough!

Buona Fortuna (good luck!) and Enjoy…

Gently remove dough from bag and place on lightly floured work surface. Let dough rest for 20 minutes, then, for best results, stretch by hand or roll out with rolling pin to 12-inch diameter. Top with your favorite toppings and bake in a preheated 450 degrees oven or BBQ grill for 8-10 minutes, or until cheese begins to boil and the bottom of crust is golden brown.Use a hot pizza stone or lightly oiled pan for optimum results. Mangia!

AND YET MORE PHOTOS OF MAKING OF A PIZZA USING HOMEMADE DOUGH

HALF ZUCCHINI / HALF TOMATO

TJ’s Chocolate Minis


Notice anything different?

choc

(RANT)


TJ’s Mini Chocolate Bars: 99 cents. Yeah TJ’s!

HOWEVER there is a little fishy story here. The original version of this product (left) recently ‘vanished’ from my Trader Joes’s (NYC/72nd St). I basically got hooked on these little mini chocolate bars. I used to pick up a bag of them every time I went shopping there (hey, they’re strategically placed right near the end of the checkout line to encourage this behavior, so why fight it?) Even my Checkout Guy bagging me tells me he buys a bag of these daily.  Says he goes through a bag a day. Me, I tried to control myself so the bag of 28 chocolates lasts almost a week. Well guess what? They simply vanished. Out of Stock. No. Even the sign vanished…which I’ve now learned from experience generally means bye-bye to a product.

So a week or two later I see there are once again bags of mini chocolate bars on the shelf. BUT they look different. They don’t look like they are for little kids anymore (OK by me) But the“old version” (left) seems to have been replaced by the new version (right). Notice the difference in quantity? Now yes before, they only came as milk chocolate; now you have a choice of milk or semi-sweet chocolate (which I greatly prefer). BUT other than that, the new version of this product seems exactly the same. Both say “Made In Columbia” on the package. The bars are the same size as they were in the yellow package. So WTF, Trader Joes ?! You used to give us 28 bars for 99 cents, but now you give us 12 for the same price?!

Do the math, and you will see TJ’s has more than doubled the price of these chocolate bars. Look, for the price its still pretty good. Never the less I find this a bit fishy on Trader Joe’s part. Does TJ’s think we’re not going to notice this kind of STEEP price increase – or downsizng in product quantity? Don’t they have a motto about how they only raise prices as their costs go up? So did the wholesale price of chocolate in Columbia go up 70 per cent? I’d find that hard to believe.

This is akin to the old “Hersheys effect” going way back in Marketing. How Hershey’s kept the price of their chocolate bar 5 cents for years and years but kept decreasing the size of the bar. The customer is not supposed to notice.

UPDATE: AUG 2011

They 12 bar chocolates appeared erratically on the shelves. Gone, then I’d seen them again. Went on for weeks. Finally, I see them in a tub with a sign “99 cents” literally at the head of the Checkout Line at my local TJ’s. I bought some but had a feeling that tub was the last of them. I was right. I inquired about the “12 pack 99 cents chocolates” status and the Captain told me “They’ve been discontinued”

BUMMER TRADER JOE! What is it with this product? Its fantastic.Don’t tell me they weren’t selling.  I bought one or two bags every time I shopped at Trader Joe’s. So why DISCONTINUED??!!

RANT

Trader Joe’s Price Increases


RANT:

Lately I’ve noticed Trader Joe’s has increased prices on quite a few items…sometimes not in “obvious” ways. Here’s one recent example:

Until a few weeks ago, thier BANANA CHIPS (very good) came in an 8 ounce bag and sold for 99 cents. Great product at a great price. I pretty much bought them every time I went to the store.

Then recently I saw they were out of them, except there wasn’t even a sign anymore on the shelf where they always were. When asked, I was told “we’re out of stock” and were on re-order. OK. But a week or two later I see BANANA CHIPS are back on the shelves…BUT now they are in a larger bag. Instead of 8 oz. it now comes in a 16 oz bag (1 lb). bag Double the size, but is it $2? No, the sign lists $2.99.?!? Ergo the BANANA CHIPS price went from $2/lb to $3/lb? A 50 % price hike?! Yikes, thats pretty steep isnt’ it? We are not supposed to notice a 50% price increase? Did TJ’s costs go up that much??

TJ’s has a motto about how “we only increase prices according to our costs”.  Is this national or just in New York City? Comments?

Found any other Trader Joe’s price increases? Please post them as comments.