Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Our Year in Food: 2019

Where has 2019 gone?! Despite our best intentions to post more this year, we can count the number of posts on two hands. Hopefully next year we'll be better at repaying our sleep deficit, managing our time, and sharing our thoughts and stories here, because a lot of time has gone by since we've been consistent about this, and just speaking for myself, I really need to get back into the habit of writing regularly for my brain's sake!

2019 was an interesting year in the food department, introducing baby B to solid food for the first time and learning to navigate our food exploration journey as a family of three. The first half of the year had a pretty high delivery bill, but by the end of the year, we were back to meal planning. I'm even considering going back to (a selective version of) the 52 week cooking challenge next year. Anyway, here's our year in review, since it was largely undocumented on this blog.

The first restaurant meal we ate in 2019: We didn't go out to restaurants that much until the spring since baby B was so small and it was still flu season, but the first restaurant meal out was at Blaze Pizza in mid-January. First delivery was a delicious Turkish dinner from Istanbul Bay with lots of dips, spreads, and adana.

The first home-cooked meal we ate in 2019: Technically, the first thing we cooked was an egg and salsa scramble with some Trader Joe's hash browns, but that's not a very exciting answer. As I wrote in an end of February post about a new gnocchi recipe, we hadn't done much beyond basic cooking or familiar recipes until that dish. We largely prioritized convenience until the late summer and fall, which coincided with when we started to cook dinners for all three of us, which are hopefully more nutritious and less processed. It also takes a little more thought now not just about nutrition, but because we can't rely on easy egg-based dinners.

The last restaurant meal we ate in 2019: Family lunch at Qdoba. They have a quesadilla kids meal that is perfect for baby B, and we got our usual bowls, piled high with rice, chicken, veggies, and guacamole. Last takeout/delivery of the year was a sandwich and lunch bowl from the Family Store in Bay Ridge, one of our favorite spots.

The last home-cooked meal we ate in 2019: Chinese home cooking! A made his family's scallion pancakes along with some homestyle chicken with peppers and onions. We haven't been able to explore much Chinese food with baby B (more on allergies below), but he loved his dinner, so it looks like we'll be doing more Chinese home cooking in the new year!

# of different restaurants we tried in 2019 (together and separate): 107 spots in-person, 45 takeout and delivery places.

Places explored (outside the NYC metro area): Philadelphia, PA. We mostly stayed local this year.

Tofu salad from Rangoon in Philadelphia

Most frequented restaurant of 2019 (together): The most times we ate at any given restaurant this year was three, and that was four different places - two Chinese restaurants for family dinners (Affable Eatery and Mang Tang Hung), Qdoba, and Tairyo Japanese Fusion. As far as takeout and delivery go, two spots local to us - Pier 69 Market and Grand Sichuan House - led the pack.

Salmon teriyaki lunch special from Tairyo

Progress on WorldEats challenge: We didn't write any more posts for WorldEats this year, but continued to explore when we could. So the count is still 58/196, but we've been to more. Next year, hopefully, will bring at least some new posts on this front.

Favorite overall meal of 2019: Our first visit to Saravanaa Bhavan in Murray Hill with baby B in the fall. We were just going out for dinner and planning to give him some cereal and puffs, but while there, we thought that maybe we'd try giving him some uthappam since it's fairly soft, even though the one we ordered was covered in tons of onions and peas. He absolutely loved it and kept wanting more, so we've been back several times since then, each time amazed by his love for all the new foods (and also his tolerance for spice at such a young age). It helped that it's a restaurant that doesn't have any eggs in the kitchen, since baby B is allergic. It's hard dining out, especially at small spots, when you have no idea how a kitchen is set up, whether anyone really understands how to handle food allergies (we've learned from many family dinners out at Chinese restaurants that there really are some significant barriers with that), and how much of a risk cross-contamination is. We're thankful that we've been able to find places to go that let us still explore as a family but also keep B safe.


As A put it when we were discussing our favorite meal of the year for this year, "We've had so many amazing eating experiences, and everything is new for him. For him, everything is brand new, and seeing that excitement and that joy for him makes this all worth it, because we've done most of these things already on our own. Food is such an important part of our lives before him. For him to love and appreciate it as much as we do, it's a beautiful thing." That's definitely what we found as we dined out at Saravanaa that first time and every time after, and that's what made this meal so special for us as a family.

Can't believe it's the eve of a new decade. Hoping 2020 brings everyone health, happiness, and delicious food!

Monday, December 2, 2019

Hold the Corn

The last couple of months of the year at Trader Joe's are appetizer season, when they offer tons of options for Thanksgiving appetizers, holiday parties, New Year's Eve, or just everyday snacking. I absolutely love hors d'oeuvres, so it's really exciting to see what new stuff they come out with every year. After a couple of failed attempts, we finally picked up the Hold the Corn appetizers (a take on their Hold the Cone ice cream desserts) on our last visit, and they were worth the wait.

Each box has 12 cones, and each cone consists of a handmade rice wrapper with a filling of two types of corn, water chestnuts, coconut, green onions, wood ear mushrooms, red chile peppers, lemongrass, garlic, cilantro, green peppercorns, and red chile powder. Everything in the filling was chopped finely, so outside of the corn, we couldn't really distinguish the individual ingredients, but they combined together for a very tasty appetizer. The flavor was bright and citrusy without being overpowering or artificial-tasting. The cones themselves looked like upscale appetizers with that delicate netting, and it was hard to believe they're selling these handmade cones that look labor-intensive for just $3.99.

We baked them in the oven for 15 minutes (always go on the long end of the instructions that TJ's gives!), and they were perfect. Crispy on the outside, and not that messy because the cones were strong enough to handle the amount of filling provided. Immediately after we finished our six cones each, we wished we had more ready to eat, and we both agreed that we could probably eat an entire basket of these cones in one sitting. They're such a delicious snack that you just want to keep eating, and they feel so light that you don't feel stuffed either.

Buy again? Yes, if they have any more at the store on our next visit (no guarantee because they're seasonal, sadly). We're pretty glad we picked up two boxes to start with. Maybe we'll get lucky and this will be an appetizer TJ's adds to the regular offerings in the future instead of being something seasonal.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Gnocchi alla Sorrentina

Reviews of Trader Joe's products aren't usually that long or time-consuming, yet somehow it's November and we haven't posted in ages despite trying a ton of new stuff (even if not new to TJ's, new to us). I've really been trying to write more, hoping to exercise that part of my brain regularly, so hopefully I can get more of these up soon. They're very helpful to us, even if no one else out there is actually reading them, because it's so hard to remember with so many products which ones we've tried and liked and which ones aren't our thing. Without further ado, the next up is the gnocchi alla Sorrentina ($2.99)!

These gnocchi are in the frozen section and are pretty easy to make. They have both microwave and stovetop instructions, but we made them on the stove in a skillet. Just add some water to the skillet, add the contents of the bag (gnocchi and large circles of pasta sauce and cheese), and cook until everything is melted and warm. There aren't any surprise or hidden ingredients here; it's just gnocchi (wheat and potatoes), tomatoes and tomato juice, mozzarella cheese, and seasonings, like onion, basil, garlic, and some white and chili pepper. But since that's all there was to it, we were looking to make it a more complete meal and added some Mediterranean vegetables (really just squash, green beans, and carrots, but that's what 365 has deemed "Mediterranean"). They were a good match for it, and overall, it was a good meal, but it wasn't anything extraordinary.

Buy again? Maybe, if we're in the mood for gnocchi and too lazy to make our own dish with the shelf-stable ones and some sauce. This is a quick and easy way to prepare it, and convenience would be the main reason we'd get it again.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Halloween Gummies

Trader Joe's is flush with fall seasonal products right now, lots of pumpkin and Halloween treats, and even though I'm trying to cut back on sugar, I couldn't resist picking up a bag of the Halloween gummies ($3.99) when we were there. Instead of one big bag of gummies, it's broken down into 20 small snack-size (or trick-or-treat-size) bags, so it's built-in portion control.

Each bag contains multi-colored gummies (I've seen purple, pink, red, yellow, and orange, I think) in Halloween shapes (skeletons, bones, skulls, bats, and pumpkins). Texturally, they're great, very chewy but not sticky. I don't think they've gotten stuck in my teeth at all yet, which is different from a lot of other gummies on the market. (Looking at you, Swedish Fish.) According to TJ's (from a blog post about last year's gummies, which we somehow never saw, but the bag looks exactly the same), they're made by the same French gummy producer who makes the gummy tummies, but I like these a little bit better because they don't have that extra gush that the gummy tummies do. I haven't been able to nail down what the flavors are exactly, but they're sweet without tasting artificial or overly sweet, which I appreciate. Last year's post said they were made with various extracts and concentrates that included black carrot, apple, carrot, pumpkin, blackcurrant, and spirulina, but this year, it just lists fruit juice, vegetable juice, and spirulina, so that might have changed.

Buy again? I don't even know if they'll be at the store the next time we go since they're probably one-and-done as far as product runs, but I would get them again next year. They're a nice gummy treat that seem a little healthier and less sweet than some other candies.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

52W Challenge: Corn

I stopped doing the 52 week cooking challenge in late 2017, mostly because it didn't fit our lifestyle at the time, but also because it wasn't as much fun anymore. Lately, finding myself in a cooking rut and lacking inspiration, I've found myself checking in more and more to see what the weekly challenges were, hoping that, even if I didn't start participating every week again, I could at least find something interesting to put on our weekly meal plan. I missed trying new recipes and adding new things to our repertoire, so when the Week 37 challenge came up as corn, I decided it was finally time to plunge back in.

Corn is that quintessential summer ingredient (although we love eating it in all seasons). A good corn recipe, especially a salad, just makes me think of summer, and when I saw a recipe for fresh corn cakes with summer salsa on MyRecipes, I knew that was the one we had to make. It wasn't especially difficult, some of the prep work could be done in advance, and any leftover ingredients (from our modified recipe) could be repurposed for other things during the week.

The ingredients were:

For the corn cakes:
- 4 oz of all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup plain yellow cornmeal
- 2 tsp baking powder
- some salt and pepper
- 1 cup light sour cream
- 2 eggs
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 can of sweet corn
- 1 jalapeño pepper, minced

For the salsa:
- 2 small Roma tomatoes, chopped
- 1 medium zucchini, chopped
- 3 large scallions, chopped
- apple cider vinegar
- olive oil
- salt and pepper

We didn't plan it this way, but I ended up making the salad/salsa and A ended up making the corn cakes. The salad was relatively simple: just chop the vegetables, add the oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste, and mix. The corn cakes were a little more involved, but fairly straightforward. Mix the dry ingredients (flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, pepper) in one bowl, and in another bowl, mix the wet ingredients (sour cream, eggs, olive oil). Add the sour cream mixture, corn, and jalapeño to the dry ingredients, and stir until combined. Then you just drop the corn mixture onto a griddle like pancakes, and cook them until they're done, flipping as needed.

We really liked this recipe. The corn cakes were tasty, and the additions of the actual corn kernels and the jalapeño were key. We thought that they could be improved with some cheese if we were to make them again, maybe some feta or some cheddar. The salsa on the side was an excellent accompaniment for a light vegetarian meal. I read some of the recipe comments afterwards, and someone had suggested also making some salmon with this, which would work really well with the flavors we tasted. This made 8 or 9 corn cakes, so it was pretty filling for the two of us, but if it were being split among more people in a family meal, the salmon would be a nice addition. The only negative to this recipe for us was that we were really bummed that we couldn't share this with baby B. The texture of the corn cakes would be great for a baby his age, and we think he would love the flavors, but the eggs make that impossible right now. If not for the egg allergies, this would be a great recipe to add to our family meal rotation.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Fiery Chicken Curry

I'm generally a big fan of the Indian food at Trader Joe's, as that's the section where you can often find some of the more interesting, flavorful, and balanced single-serving frozen meals. Recently, I spotted something new to me that seems to have debuted over the summer - a Goan-inspired fiery chicken curry with a side of turmeric rice ($3.49).

On the chicken side of the meal, you have a few pieces of chicken breast with a sauce made with onions, coconut milk, tomatoes, vinegar, garlic, ghee, tamarind, green chilies, and some other spices and seasonings, and on the rice side, basmati rice with turmeric and spices. I was expecting a mild heat even though it said fiery, but I was wrong. There was quite a decent amount of heat, but unfortunately I found that the heat masked the flavors of the spices and seasonings in the curry. Most of the flavor I got was just acidic tomatoes and heat, so much so that I preemptively took an antacid immediately after eating. With that overpowering heat, whatever seasonings there were in the rice were also impossible to taste, and the whole dish was pretty much "fiery" without any corresponding bump-up in flavor. Just hot for the sake of hot, in my opinion.

Buy again? No. There are so many good Indian dishes in the freezer case (thinking about the lovely korma fish curry, for one) that I don't feel the need to get this again. I love Indian spices, and I'd rather forgo the heat and taste those in a milder dish.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Organic Coleslaw Kit

My favorite recipe for making coleslaw (is it coleslaw or cole slaw anyway?) is the one I found years ago on the Budget Bytes site in the recipe for the BBQ bean sliders. A simple mix of shredded cabbage, scallions, and a dressing of mayo, honey, mustard, and vinegar, it was so easy to make and a great side dish. When we were shopping at Trader Joe's over the weekend, I saw this organic coleslaw kit and thought I'd see how it compared, both in terms of taste and convenience. Theoretically, a salad kit should save you time since a lot of the components are already done for you, but that doesn't really matter if the salad isn't as good.

The coleslaw kit came with a mix of green cabbage, red cabbage, and carrots, while the slaw I usually make just uses shredded green cabbage. There are scallions in my usual slaw, but I added them in with the kit as well. For the dressing, the kit had a "creamy, sweet dressing" made with soybean oil, sugar, apple cider vinegar, egg yolks, garlic, onion, lemon juice, and some other spices and seasonings, compared with mayo, honey, mustard, and vinegar. I think the taste of the latter is slightly better, and it's a little creamier, but they were very similar. The amount of dressing in the kit, however, was far less than the dressing that the slaw recipe from Budget Bytes made.

The coleslaw kit was $2.69, and the only thing I added to it was some scallions, so it came out to about $3. When I made the coleslaw from scratch in the post a few years ago, the slaw also came out to around $3. Prices of the ingredients may have increased over the years, but I don't think by much, so on this factor, they're about equal, except that the coleslaw kit had red cabbage and carrots and less dressing (which probably cancel each other out).

When making my usual slaw, I liked to let it sit for hours, usually overnight, in the fridge for the flavors to meld together. We didn't have that type of time with the kit, nor did it recommend doing that anywhere on the package. I made it at the start of dinner prep, and left it to sit for an hour or so, and the dressing seemed to have completely soaked in. I think there is a slight advantage to the kit here because the dressing ingredients have already had lots of time to mix together, and you also don't have to make it from scratch. The mixing of the salad is about the same, although marginally more difficult with the kit because it has less dressing in the packet. (Note that it seemed kind of dry and like there wasn't enough dressing when first mixed, but by the time the hour was up, it was enough.)

I like both slaws, although the taste of the dressing in the Budget Bytes slaw is a little better than the kit. That's probably due a little bit to the mustard, as that's one component that's different, and a little bit to there just being so much more dressing.

Buy Again?
I would get this slaw again for a couple of reasons. One, the convenience factor of not having to make the dressing. The dressing isn't difficult to make, but when it's 10:30 pm and you need to get dinner on the table, every minute counts. Two, making our own dressing means having mayo on hand, and since we use mayo so rarely (pretty much just for slaw and tuna sandwiches), having a fresh jar in the fridge hasn't always been a guarantee. That's even more the case now that we aren't buying any more mayo, other than maybe vegan mayo, for so long as baby B is allergic to eggs. Having a small packet of dressing that we can consume and then toss is much better for our current situation. Very glad we tried this, since now we know we have another option other than just making it ourselves!

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Fajitas de Pollo

So many days, it is so tempting to just pull up a delivery app, place an order, and breathe while we wait for dinner to arrive. After putting baby B to bed, sometimes we're just spent, and the idea of going into the kitchen to make something, even something easy, feels daunting. It's also usually late, like 9:30 or 10 pm, which isn't great for ordering delivery either, but sometimes exhaustion and convenience just win. We're trying to be better about it though by planning ahead more, trying to stay disciplined, finding easier and quicker things to make, and also picking up some ready-to-make/eat products at Costco and Trader Joe's to keep things simple.

One thing we picked up on a recent Costco visit was a package of fajitas de pollo by Del Real. They were $12.99*, which felt like a lot for a single packaged meal when shopping at Costco, but compared to the price of ordering something similar for delivery or the time cost of making it yourself, it really isn't so bad. Note though that it doesn't come with any of the usual restaurant fajita accompaniments, like tortillas or rice or beans or toppings, so tack on another dollar or so for those if you're pricing it out. Inside the box, there's a packet of chicken, one with vegetables, and a third with sauce (which they mark optional in the instructions, probably because it has a fair bit of spice thanks to serrano peppers and chipotle peppers in adobo). You can cook it on the stovetop (the recommended option) or in the microwave, and both take about the same amount of time, around 10 minutes.

* I wrote the majority of this post after we tried the fajitas the first time, and since then, we've made two other visits to Costco, buying three more boxes of fajitas. Part of the reason we picked up two on our last visit though was because they were only $7.97, which is good because less expensive, but bad because the 97 cents plus the star on the price tag meant they were being discontinued. The last visit wasn't at our usual Costco, so we are hoping, hoping, hoping that they are not being discontinued everywhere and only at that Costco.

We weren't sure how we would feel about this ready-to-cook fajita kit, but we were really happy with the results. Sometimes when you get pre-made food like this, it tastes highly processed, but this didn't. This tasted like you made it from scratch in your own kitchen, probably because there isn't a whole lot of excess stuff added in. It's one of those products that passes the "you can recognize and pronounce all the ingredients" test. The chicken is just strips of grilled chicken breast in a marinade that includes pineapple juice, chipotle adobado, orange juice, brown sugar, key lime juice, garlic, and spices, the vegetables (onions and green and red bell peppers) are just seasoned with salt, garlic, and some spices, and the sauce is just roasted tomatoes, serrano peppers, more chipotle adobado, green onions, onions, cilantro, and garlic. Would take some time to put together from scratch at home, but these pre-mixed packets completely worked to deliver the same result. It also didn't taste as buttery or greasy as restaurant fajitas sometimes can.

Comparing the finished product to the picture on the box, it looked pretty similar other than the fact that the box picture had grill marks on the chicken. Not such a big deal in terms of taste. We were pretty impressed by the quality of the product here and would definitely do this again (for as long as Costco's inventory will allow us to!). They don't expire immediately or within a week after purchase either (at least ours didn't), so it's an easy thing to toss into the fridge for a day when you really don't feel like cooking and don't want to spend a lot on yet another delivery order. Del Real also made a carnitas kit that I tried during the Cinco de Mayo sampling, but it wasn't nearly as good as this fajitas kit in my opinion. (Kind of hard to believe they came from the same company, to be honest.) Hoping we can make fajitas for a while!

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Chicken Chips

We were on a Whole Foods trip a while back looking at snacks and happened upon something we had never seen before but sounded interesting -- chicken chips. Something like cracklings came to mind, but we weren't really sure how chicken would turn into the somewhat more uniform and traditional looking chips in the package photo. They were supposed to be chicken mixed with tapioca flour and crisped in coconut oil, which sounded good but we weren't sure how they would taste. They weren't cheap snacks, but they were on sale if we remember correctly, so we figured why not give them a try? A pretty much eats anything and has a list that he can count on one hand of foods he really dislikes and won't choose to eat again, so trying new things is usually not an issue from a potential food waste perspective.

We got the barbecue flavor because that's one of my favorite chip flavors, and then promptly added the bag to our pantry where it sat until its recent best by date. We opened it up, noted that the chips were far from uniform in shape, much thinner in texture than we expected (sort of like a really light and airy Lay's potato chip), and then each grabbed a few to try them out. I don't know how to describe exactly what our expressions were, but we did not like these at all. The taste of the barbecue flavoring was fine, and it tasted like the barbecue seasoning on many other chips, but there was something about the chip itself that was a bit off-putting. There was some really funky and weird aftertaste that in taste form reminded me of the smell of a certain cleaning solution that usually makes me want to vomit. I wasn't expecting this at all, because there are so many reviews talking about how delicious these chips are. Is this like the people who think cilantro tastes like soap, and maybe only some of us get the odd aftertaste? Would they taste different or better if we had eaten them earlier? (Maybe they would be fresher, but they really should have lasted until their best by date.) What was wrong with our bag of chips that all the people raving about deliciousness didn't get?

We tried to eat more of the chips so our money wouldn't go to waste. We really did. I made it through three chips before tossing the rest of my handful, and A put in a valiant effort, eating much more than I did, but in the end, we just could not finish it. I don't doubt that some people genuinely like these though based on the reviews, so it may be that it's just not for us. Since it does seem to have a "unique" flavor, perhaps the best option is to try them from a place with a Trader Joe's-like return policy of taking back things you don't like, just in case you're like us and not like all the other reviewers who were very happy with them. I'd love to figure out what about them caused this reaction in us (so we can make smarter snack decisions in the future), but with so many snacks competing for our attention, we're not going to experiment some more.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Gnocchi with Sausage and Spinach

It's been ages since we've made a new recipe from scratch, between the dietary restrictions of pregnancy and my difficulty in moving around the kitchen, and then adjusting to hectic life with a newborn and schedules and exhaustion levels that aren't always conducive to cooking. I'm not saying that we didn't cook at home at all, but I'm not counting easy dishes with interchangeable ingredients like scrambles, pasta, sandwiches, stir-frying vegetables, or throwing things into a simmer sauce, or the Korean braised tofu that we always make. The only other things we've made since the beginning of this calendar year are the scallion pancakes that A made from his mom's recipe. I have to go all the way back to Thanksgiving when I made stuffing to find something I've made from scratch that isn't one of the "usual" dishes, and I don't even know how far back I'd have to go to find an experiment with a new recipe.

My focus now is a little more on recipes that are quick, easy, and nutritious as opposed to more complicated cooking projects, but a dish doesn't need to be difficult or time-consuming to expand my cooking horizons. There were many weeks when I wasn't even meal planning or looking for new recipes, so it felt really good to be back to even thinking about trying new things recently.

I've been cleaning out piles of old magazines recently (way too much clutter at home), and found an easy-sounding recipe in an issue of Real Simple from March 2007. (No, that's not a typo. The magazine was over a decade old.) We were heading to the grocery store over the weekend (don't go nearly as much as we used to since we were typically night shoppers), and gnocchi with sausage and spinach seemed like an easy thing to shop for and make. We already had Italian pork sausage in the freezer, and since we're trying to do a better job of eating the food we have in a timely manner, that made this recipe even more appealing.

The ingredients for the dish were minimal and included:

- 1 17-oz package of shelf-stable gnocchi ($1.69)
- olive oil ($0.25)
- 1 yellow onion ($0.79)
- 1 package of Italian pork sausage, about 1.5 lb, casings removed ($4)
- 1 heaping spoonful of minced garlic ($0.15)
- salt and pepper to taste ($0.05)
- 1 bag of baby spinach ($1.99)
- grated parmesan cheese, about 1/2 cup mixed in plus more to garnish ($0.50) *

* I don't know exactly how much the cheese cost since my parents picked it up for us when they got some groceries after B arrived, but that's about what it would cost with the usual price of parmesan.

Just under $10 for a filling dinner for two was so much better than ordering yet another dinner from Seamless.

The steps for making the dish were pretty simple:

1. Cook gnocchi according to package. In our case, that was boil water, drop in gnocchi, and cook for about 3 minutes. (So quick!) Once gnocchi is cooked, reserve 1/4 cup of cooking liquid and then drain.
2. Heat olive oil over medium heat, and cook onion until soft.
3. Add sausage and crumble while cooking until browned.
4. Add garlic, salt, pepper, and spinach. Cook until spinach is wilted.
5. Add drained gnocchi, reserved cooking liquid, and grated cheese. Toss well.
6. Serve with additional cheese on top.

I really liked this dish, not just because it was simple, and not just because it was the first new thing I'd made in a while. The Italian pork sausage gave the dish so much flavor, like it does in just about everything it's added to, and it was nice to have the spinach to balance out the heavier sausage and gnocchi. The gnocchi soaked up all of the sausage flavor, and the cheese pulled it all together (even though I often forgot to garnish the bowls with more cheese). I think it would probably be better with straight parmesan cheese, but we used a shredded parmigiano reggiano stravecchio because that's what my parents picked up that time, which has a slightly different flavor. Nice and quick, we would definitely make this again.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Striped Garganelli

It's almost the end of January, and neither of us has written up our top 10 food memories from last year (actually not sure either of us has nailed down a top 10 list either), but in order to get back into the practice of writing, we're diving back into our Trader Joe's reviews.

TJ's came out with this striped garganelli pasta, part of their organic Italian artisan pasta line, back in December, featuring pink and white striped tube-shaped pasta for the holidays. We'd had good luck with some other pasta in the artisan line, so we were hoping that these festive-looking shapes would continue the trend. Colored pasta is also just really fun to eat! Here, the pink color came from beet root powder, and the only other ingredients in the pasta were the organic durum wheat semolina (sourced from Puglia, Italy) and water, very simple with nothing unnecessary added.

The package said to boil the pasta for 14-15 minutes, which seemed kind of long for us, so we just tried to cook it until it seemed al dente. (Don't remember exactly how long that was.) Unfortunately, this one seemed to cook unevenly, reminding us of our experience with the winter snowflake pasta, except in this case, the issue was with each individual piece. The folded-over part of the pasta and the rest of the tube shape didn't match in texture the way we were hoping they would, with the folded-over part a little too chewy when the rest was al dente, or the folded-over part being just right with the rest of the piece being too soft, but apparently that was the intention. Reading the TJ's blog after we made it (probably should have checked before), they talked about how the folded-over center would be al dente while the ends would be soft like that was a feature of this pasta shape. Maybe we would have felt differently about the texture if we had had those expectations, but hard to determine in retrospect. It was definitely edible, but not the uniform al dente texture that we were hoping for.

We mixed the pasta with some garlic marinara sauce, meatballs, and mushrooms, and when spooning it into the bowl, you couldn't see the stripes at all. Removing the sauce, they were still there but much lighter and less pink, so if color is important, a non-tomato-based sauce would probably be a better fit. The pink stripes were a nice novelty for the holidays, but just that. The pasta served its purpose as a good vehicle for the sauce, but in the end, it didn't live up to some of the other pasta shapes we've tried before from TJ's.

Buy again? Probably not, since texture is important to us, and we've had better luck with other pasta shapes before.