TJ ORGANIC RED LENTIL PASTA



Trader Joe’s (Giotto’s) ORGANIC RED LENTIL PASTA

 

Normally we eat pasta in my house at least once if not two or more times a week. My wife and I adore pasta. I’m good at making it. Or I should say “we used to” eat it that often! Recently my wife decided to try going “Gluten Free” and that has changed things not just for her but for “Us”. To keep life simple as far as eating and cooking, whats happened is basically we stopped eating pasta, much to my chagrin as you could say I’m a bit of a pasta freak. As Italians usually do, I could eat pasta almost every day. Really, I could be happy as a clam eating pasta every day, in fact I’d be super happy eating Linguine with clams!

So I really wanted to try something in the pasta department that we both could eat together, meaning I would give “Gluten Free Pasta” a try.

So I saw this Red Lentil Pasta at TJ. Unfortunately I was not impressed with this for cooking as a substitute for regular pasta. For me at least – that is someone who can eat gluten and wheat products – this lentil pasta would not be something I would willingly sub in for my “normal” pasta.

TJ Red Lentil Pasta is made from “red lentil flour”. Its even made in Italy! (I can imagine them rolling their eyes at making this stuff for all those crazy Americans) Uncooked, it looks quite nice, like a beet colored pasta. It has an interesting shape I was not familiar with, “sedanini”, a ridged, curved long ziti type shape.

When I cooked this, well this gluten free pasta just didn’t do it for me. This could never replace pasta for me, but again I don’t have to be Gluten Free. I had made a nice meat sauce sauce to go with this, a kind of Ragu for the lentil pasta, and cooked it up a bit with some some sauce just as I would normally prepare regular pasta. When we ate the finished pasted with the sauce we both kept commenting on that it was just not the same as eating pasta. Honestly we didn’t really enjoy it due to the somewhat odd texture we found. It didn’t have the chew of pasta. It seemed to get kind a bit grainy or granular when chewed, not smooth like real pasta.

To top things, the GF pasta’s at TJ are a bit expensive as well. A 12 oz package goes for $3. This is about 2 to 3 times the cost of TJ’s extremely good “regular” pastas made with semolina flour.

So I wanted to like this but didn’t, as I don’t have to eat this. it was a choice. On the other hand, my “gluten free diet” wife, found it to be not great but OK as in it was kind of “acceptable” if you can’t eat normal pasta but you want to eat something like pasta. If you HAVE to be on a gluten free diet, then you may find it OK too. I can’t think this will fool anyone as an excellent substitute for real pasta. For me, its kind of fake pasta frankly. A knock off.

Still I will try some of the other gluten free pasta products TJ sells, and see if they work better than this one made from lentils. TJ does have a few gluten free pastas: a black bean ziti, and a spaghetti made from brown rice and lentils. So if you must be gluten free, try all three and see which you like best out of what they have to offer. So just saying if you must be gluten free, then there are a few choices. Everyone raves about the Cauliflower Gnocchi (frozen). Again I tried it. I found it pretty good, but I still prefer TJ’s regular gnocchi. If you don’t need to be GF, like me, I find regular pasta and related products are superior to any GF ones.

If you are not gluten free and want an excellent pasta, get TJ’s Organic Spaghetti or Ziti. That is excellent high quality pasta, made in Italy, and is the equal to top Italian import brands sold in the US for 3-6 times what TJ’s sells it for, $1.29 for 1 lb, which is an excellent value.

If you are GF then this may be OK for you with a lot of sauce.

 

Trader Joe’s GYRO SLICES


This looked like an interesting idea when I saw it. Despite some trepidation if it could possibly be any good I decided to give it a go.

So what’s “gyro” anyway? Its the Greek version of a certain style of cooking and a street food found in many cultures and parts of the world.

Shwarma, Gyro, Doner Kebab and Tacos Al Pastor are pretty much the same thing: meat, sometimes lamb, sometimes beef, sometimes chicken that is seasoned quite a bit, then placed and layered onto a rotating spit, that is cooked upright as it rotates (get it, gyro?) Oh, and by the way, the way to say Gyro with its Greek name would sound like “Yeero”.

The Gyro chef slices off meat getting the nicely browned outside layer onto bread or a curved metal thing as you can see in the picture below. The slices of goodness are then usually arranged in some type of bread … Pita, Pide or other Arab bread or a in Mexico a tortilla, with veggies (tomatoes, lettuce, cukes) and a sauce of some type (tzaziki, tahina, salsa…)

Turkish, Greek, or Lebanese in origin? Mexico’s dish called Tacos Al Pastor originated from Lebanese who had emigrated to Mexico City, and had opened restaurants, made a type of food that was from their homeland and adapted that dish to a Mexican palate (and they used pork!). Its is hugely popular in Mexico, and delicious. Traditionally there is a pineapple roasting at the very top which is sliced off onto your Taco Al Pastor

images

Making one of these towers of meat is complicated. The link below shows all the many steps involved to make a real “GYRO” just in case you wondered or have never seen one of these types of restaurants with a huge rotating “trompo” (spit) in the window.

https://www.thespruceeats.com/how-greek-gyro-is-made-4121890

 

Above: here’s a gyro cook slicing off some meat to make a Gyro… This looks pretty amazing, right?

Now look below at whats actually in the Trader Joe Gyro Slices package! Ugh! Cooking it only improved the look slightly. And it shrunk a good deal, as lots of fat came out.

Read the ingredient list : Beef, Water, Breadcrumbs…   Bread crumbs is the third ingredient listed. Its a binder to hold some ground stuff mixed together which is then pressed into a form, cut into slices, and packaged. Already you can kind of get this is an attempt to make something in a factory setting that’s not at all similar to the real thing – which as you know is just meat with spices layered onto a spit and cooked vertically.

I had a Doner Kebab in Vienna and it was fantastic. I had Tacos Al Pastor in Mexico City, ditto. I’ve had this in many Greek places in NYC and its great. They slice it in front of you and hold the bread to catch the juices as they run off. Yum!

This TJ stuff is not even close.

If you look at what the stuff actually looks like, when you open the package up, you will probably be a bit surprised at how unappealing it looks. . Its a bad idea to begin with. I made it as they suggest on the package, I put the cooked slices onto a pita with some tzatziski sauce with lettuce, onions and tomatoes and it tasted just OK if you ignored the main ingredient – the “gyro slices”. It would not fool anybody. It was OK as far as the the pita, sauce, veggies… but the main ingredient was quite lacking in taste and texture, especially if you ever had a real Gyro Sandwich from a greek joint.

So I give this product an F for FAIL

$4 a package.

RANT

TJ’s High Protein Organic Super Firm Tofu


 

Let me begin with saying Trader Joe’s Firm Organic Tofu is very good. I always buy that. That’s the one that comes packaged in a red/pink plastic container and is in water. This product, HIGH PROTEIN SUPER FIRM TOFU is quite different. For one thing (unusual for tofu) it does not come floating in water, it’s packaged in a tight fitting green plastic wrapper. I saw this and thought I’d give it a try for the blog here. So here’s the shortest review I’ve ever given “I didn’t like it” (but don’t take just my opinion, other’s here have written in to say they like it a lot)

 

 

Super firm? They are not kidding when they say “super firm tofu”. I say more like super- duper firm. If I drew a picture in my mind what “Shoe Leather made of Tofu” might be like…then you will have some idea of the texture of this. Have you ever cut firm Tofu? Sure, your knife glides right through it, so easily. Well this stuff, your knife has to be pushed with a little pressure to cut through it. Kind of the texture of a soft tofu rock. To me, the package should read “HARD & TOUGH TOFU”. I guess thats the “High Protein”?

Its sounds kinda good when you look at it and think “Oh High Protein, that must be better” but the reality is this extra protein must be the thing that makes the texture so hard. 

When I cooked it for dinner, we found the finished dish so tough and chewy to be barely edible. We barely choked it down chewing our cud so to speak and only ate this due to the fact that we were starving at the time and had nothing else at hand to eat for dinner. Man did my (Japanese) wife take it out on me for buying this. As she said, “I come from tofu country”. She made me swear to “Never, ever buy that stuff again”. 

Having said all that from our take on this, some readers have Commented they like it because it is so very firm. Go figure. To each his own, right? 

Here’s TJ’s own take on Super Firm Tofu, via Fearless Flyer archived post. 

For me, I will stick to TJ’s ORGANIC FIRM TOFU (in the red pack) which I love and have reviewed with a RAVE

 

RANT

 

 

NYT no-recipe recipe idea. Soba/Tofu and Kimchi

Get some firm tofu; some soba noodles; some jarred kimchi. Make a sauce of minced garlic and ginger, some soy, hoisin or oyster sauces, a splash of maple syrup, another of sesame oil, a lot of red-pepper flakes, all whisked together. Boil water for the soba. Cut the tofu into manageable pieces, and pat dry with paper towel. Heat a good quantity of neutral oil, like canola, in a big sauté pan, then add the tofu in a single layer and fry it over medium-high heat, turning to get every side. Meanwhile, cook the soba. Remove the crisp tofu and toss with the sauce. Serve in a bowl, the hot soba arranged to one side of the tofu and the kimchi to the other, along with the sauce. Oh, man. You could put some roasted asparagus on top. A soft-boiled egg. It’s so delicious.

DISCONTINUED: Trader Joe’s Rice Sticks (Boo Hiss!)


RANT

TJ’s Rice Sticks. I tried them once, and wrote a Rave post about them including a recipe. What happens next? Not a week later do I notice I don’t see them on the shelf anymore. At TJ’s, you know that feeling, uh-oh is this item going bye-bye? Sure enough I inquired at the front desk a week after that and the TJ’s manager looks them up on the computer. He tells me, “Sorry but the Rice Sticks have been discontinued’. Damn, damn, damn. Another fave gone bye-bye. Had I known, I would have purchased a dozen packs and squirreled them away for the future.

Discontinued and Trader Joe’s. Two words that seem to go hand and hand, huh?

STRAIGHT FROM THE HORSE’S MOUTH (the TJ website)…

5. Why does TJ’s frequently discontinue products?

Our mission is to bring you the best quality products at the best prices. To do this, we have to manage our store space well. Each of our products must “stand on its own,” meaning it must pay its own way. Each product passes certain criteria in order to earn its way onto our shelves – including a rigorous tasting panel.

There may be several factors that determine why we discontinue products:

  • It may be a seasonal product – for example, strawberries, which are in season only specific times of the year.
  • The gang way factor – because we introduce 10-15 new products a week, we have to eliminate 10-15 items in order to give our newest items a fair chance.
  • The cost of producing the item may increase, which would in turn increase the cost to you – if the item is not a strong seller, we may choose to discontinue it.
(Whatever TJ’s. If I want THAI RICE STICKS in future, I will go back to getting them at Asian markets like I used to before I met you.)
POSTSCRIPT: Lots of comments on this item. Especially from Gluten-free diet folks…

TJ’s Uncrystallized Candied Ginger M.I.A. for months and months!


ginger

Uncrystallized Candied Ginger 8 oz bag $1.49 (if you can buy it)

TJ’s Uncrystallized Candied Ginger has been M.I.A. for months now!

When I first tried this product, it was love at first bite.

I love ginger and most any candied ginger is a real favorite of mine. Trader Joe’s candied ginger is quite different from most of these, its not hard and tough like some candied ginger. Its is much softer, chewier, nice sweet spicy morsels made from “just” pure natural ginger. Its naturally very very spicy, and well, ginger-y. This product is made with good quality natural ginger and it has just the right amount of sweetness to balance out the heat. This is yet another TJ product I tried just once, and was instantly hooked on! It is delicious eaten on its own but I can tell you it is even more delicious eaten with a bite of dark chocolate (eaten together this is better than most chocolate covered ginger candy sold). You can dice it up and add add it to various things (like yogurt, cereal…). I use it in cooking too, even in a pinch adding it to dishes I’m making that need ginger. If you like ginger spiciness, this is so so good. They sell it for a great price, compared to rock hard stuff you might find that is the more “crystallized” version – hence why TJ specifically calls this ‘uncrystallized’.

Unfortunately though I haven’t seen it on the shelves in months now! Its gone Missing In Action!

When I’ve inquired about it at the front desk, they’ve told me they are “expecting to get more next month”.  I’ve heard this same thing for the last four-five months. Has it been (shudder) Discontinued, added to that infamous list of TJ’s products?! I hope not. This is a great product. If you like ginger candy and ever see this again, its a must try.

Uncrystallized Candied Ginger: PLEASE COME BACK!

A SPLIT DECISION:  a RAVE for the product / a RANT for being missing in action

UPDATE-1 (June 1 2011) I’M STILL WAITING; Just checked with TJ staff and they confirm, its not discontinued; they can’t get the product. Out Of Stock.

UPDATE-2 – (July 2011) I asked Manager; She said they finally got it in. It was on the shelves for one day before they were told to remove it because of some “label issue” WTF!!

UPDATE -3 (Oct 2011) I spoke with the Front Desk manager at my local TJ’s. She said officially “the product has NOT been discontinued” and that’s its one of the most requested items to get back on the shelf. According to her the problem is Trader Joe’s can’t get the ginger! She told me TJ’s has had trouble with their regular source’s ginger crop (in Indonesia?). Oh well. It can’t hurt to “pester” them! There can’t be only one source for ginger in the entire world, can there?

UPDATE-4  (Dec. 2011) Interesting update – Again spoke with another manager at Front Desk. This guy time told me. a) Confirmed again Product NOT discontinued; b) The Product has had an issue with its formulation. He said something like “Sulfites” and that it needed to be reformulated by the producers. Hmm… see update-2 above, right?

UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE 3/16/12 – ITS BACK in stock. Check this post

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