Trader Joe’s Spizzico di Pizza Review

Convenient and tasty pizza bites

Trader Joe’s Spizzico di Pizza are frozen two-bite pizza rounds that you can be heated up in the oven or the microwave – and, presumably, the air fryer. They are pretty basic: dough, sauce and cheese but my younger daughter really liked them – even more than regular frozen pizza. I wouldn’t go that far, but they were tasty enough. The sauce was slightly bittersweet, the cheese had flavor and they were surprisingly crispy even when cooked in the microwave. I’ll buy them again, because my daughter liked them. She ate the whole 9 oz package for lunch, which included 12 pizza rounds. The package was $4.

The whole package had 670 calories, 75g carbs, 8g sugar and 1390mg sodium. They’re made in Canada.

Trader Joe’s Cheese Blintzes Review

Good flavor, bad texture

Trader Joe’s does many things well, but cheese blintzes is not one of them. These little crepes are sold frozen and meant to be warmed in a skillet or an oven, though I used the air fryer instead – which worked pretty well.

The crepes themselves were slightly sweet, soft and elastic, and I liked them. The problem was the cheese filling. They use a combo of farmer’s cheese and cottage cheese which tastes fine, but has an annoying, gritty texture. Both my husband and I hated it. The cheese is lightly sweetened, so you don’t need to add anything to them, but this actually bothered my husband, who would have preferred them less sweet. We wouldn’t order them again.

The blintzes are around 6″ long, they have 105 calories each, with 16g of carbs and 6g of sugar, all added. The box of 6 blintzes sells for $4.50. The package doesn’t indicate where they’re made, so I assume it’s in the US.

Signature Select Cranberry Walnut Salad Review

Convenient and Tasty

I get Signature Select salads when they’re on sale at Safeway. My daughter likes the Caesar Salad, and I always go for the Cranberry Walnut one. The mixed greens come in a plastic bowl with a mini plastic fork an they are covered with a plastic insert with divisions for dried cranberries, chopped candied walnuts, feta cheese cubes and a raspberry vinaigrette. It’s easy to mix it all together in the bowl and not too messy. The proportion of greens to dressing and other ingredients is quite good and it makes for a tasty, if very light lunch as the whole bowl is just 4.5 oz (though the version sold at Vons is 4.75 oz for some reason).

Regular price right now is $4.50, which seems insane to me (as all grocery prices do), but they’re often on sale for $3 if you buy 3. If you order online, make sure to indicate a substitute as they will charge you the full price if you order 3, but they don’t have your choices. You can order more than 3 at the discounted price, however.

Bubbies Mochi Review

The Ube Purple Yam flavor made me a fan

I’m not the biggest fan of mochi, a Japanese pastry made from glutinous rice, so I surprised myself when I added these Bubbies mochi ice cream treats to my cart after I came across them while online shopping at Safeway. I was also surprised at how much I ended up liking them.

The treats consist of flavored ice cream wrapped in a thin layer of mochi. The mochi is chewy and gelatinous, but thin enough that it actually complements the ice cream.

Ube, a purple yam from the Philippines, has a difficult to describe flavor, which to me is utterly forgettable – probably for this very reason. It’s sweet and somewhat fruity, pretty subtle and filled with umami.

The results were for a very enjoyable, not very sweet, treat. It actually made me think it’s something my grandmother would have enjoyed – which only confirms the fact that I’ve gotten old.

The treats come in a wide variety of flavors, though only a couple where available at my local Safeway. I’m totally intrigued about some of the others – blood orange, milk tea and passion fruit sound particularly interested – but I’ll have to wait to find them elsewhere. The package of 6 was $4 on sale at Safeway, but they usually sell for $7.50

The Pizza Cupcake Review

I finally tried this Shark Tank product and it’s good.

Shark Tank, a show where budding entrepreneurs pitch investment opportunities in their companies to five billionaires, has been on national TV for fifteen years – but as I never watch TV per se, I didn’t really become aware of it until a few weeks ago, when YouTube started pushing episodes of it on me. After trying one, I got hooked on it – not so much for the pitches, but because it introduced me to some cool products, some wacky ones and some that everyone could see were destined to be failures. Several of the products pitched to the sharks have actually become popular since their appearance on the show, though so far, there is only one I’d actually bought myself prior to becoming acquainted by the show. I have been intrigued by some of the products featured, however, and when I saw that the Pizza Cupcake was available at my local Safeway, I thought I’d give them a try.

The pizza cupcakes are not cupcakes per se, but they consist of a pastry dough baked in a smaller-than-usual muffin tin, hollow in the center and filled with pizza sauce and cheese. They come frozen and you bake them in the oven. The secret of the cupcakes is the dough, it’s described as a mixture of brioche and sourdough and it’s light, airy and yet still chewy. It’s quite tasty and I loved he consistency. The pizza sauce was on the sweet side, it bordered on being too sweet an acidic – but as there isn’t much of it, it wasn’t a big deal. The cheese is just cheese, it could have used some Parmesan for a shaper flavor. The problem is that there isn’t enough sauce/cheese for the whole cupcake – only the shallow center has it. Fortunately, the bready borders are good dipped on ranch sauce, but you have to have some around to enjoy them that way.

I cooked my cupcakes in the air fryer, using the directions in the Pizza Cupcake website: preheat the air fryer to 350°, and then cook for 5-7 minutes (I did 6). That left me with some burnt spots on the top and cheese that was bordering on cold. Next time, I’ll try not preheating and doing 8 minutes, or maybe cooking it for 10 minutes at 300° – but I imagine all air fryers are different.

The package of 6 pizza cupcakes was $10 on sale at Safeway ($13 regular price), which seems way too expensive – though I find pretty much all food at Safeway too expensive nowadays.

Chain Restaurant Reviews: Ike’s Love and Sandwiches

They’re tasty but repetitive and expensive.

Ike’s Love and Sandwiches is a chain of sandwich shops that started in San Francisco in the mid-aughts and which has since expanded to over a hundred locations, mostly in the western US and Florida. They popularized sandwiches made with Dutch crunch bread, their garlic aioli based “dirty sauce” and sometimes unusual ingredient combinations. They opened a location in San Leandro in late 2023, and we’ve had them several times. Their sandwiches, while expensive, are substantia, good for a couple of meals and pretty tasty – though I feel they all taste pretty much the same. They do have plenty of vegetarian and vegan options featuring fake meats. Unfortunately, they’ve gone up on price, about 12% over six or seven months, though that’s true of restaurants in general.

It’s easy to order online and you can customize your sandwiches, but they don’t have a “make your own” sandwich starting from scratch – so if you want something plain, you have to find the closest sandwich to what you want and then ask them to hold whatever ingredients you don’t want.

The last sandwich I ordered was the Big Lee-bowski ($17), which comes with “all beef meatballs, bacon, mozzarella sticks, red pesto, ranch, habanero.” It’s tasty enough, but all the flavors and textures of the ingredients blend together into one. At almost 1900 calories, it’s just not worth it – though one sandwich is definitely large enough for two meals.

I have tried several sandwiches by now, though most of them seem to taste very similar – I’m guessing it’s the dirty sauce. My favorite is the  Hollywould’s SF Cheesesteak ($14.50), which comes with beef slices, mushrooms, provolone cheese and dirty sauce. I loved it the first time I ordered it, it had plenty of mushrooms and I really like mushrooms, and I enjoyed the dirty sauce. I may try it again without the sauce, now that I’ve grown tired of it.

I’ve also had the Ike’s ($16), which comes with pastrami, gouda, purple slaw and “mack sauce”. It was good, if unremarkable. I don’t think I can remember the sauce being any different than the others.

I had the Nacho Boy Supreme ($17) once, which comes with roast beef, bacon, mushrooms, avocado and Swiss cheese – it was fine, given that the predominant flavors are mushroom and sauce, I prefer the  Hollywould’s SF Cheesesteak which is cheaper and has fewer calories.

Finally, I had the Damon Bruce ($17) and was disappointed by it. This sandwich comes with steak, onion rings, provolone and steak sauce. It tasted like all the other sandwiches, however, and the onion rings were nowhere to be found. OK, I did find them once I opened the sandwich and looked for them, but they are basically crushed with all the other ingredients, and they don’t really offer anything but moisture to the sandwich.

In all, as I said above, I feel all the sandwiches pretty much taste the same.

My husband has often had the Jaymee Sirewich ($13.50), a sandwich with fried chicken, pepper jack, yellow BBQ sauce and ranch. When I asked him why he prefers it, his answer is a simple “it tastes good.” He’s trying to watch calories now, so he had something without fried chicken last time he went. He liked it, whatever it was, but can’t recall what he ordered. Not surprising given that, as I said, all the sandwiches taste the same.

My youngest daughter likes her sandwiches plain, all she wants is bread, roast beef, cheese, lettuce and the dirty sauce. So we order her the Dirty Reuben ($16) and substract the purple slaw. She does like it, more than other roast beef sandwiches, a fact she attributes to the dirty sauce (apparently, unlike me, she’s not gotten tired of it).

My oldest daughter usually goes for the Helen Keller ($17), which comes with vegan steak, American cheese, onion rings and BBQ sauce, though last time she got the Jaymeetless ($14.5) with vegan fried chicken, pepper jack, yellow BBQ sauce and ranch. Like me, she feels all of Ike’s sandwiches pretty much taste the same. Like me, she orders them because my husband likes them and he’s going there anyway, but wouldn’t order one otherwise.

My husband, though, does like the sandwiches and finds Ike’s convenient. That said, maybe next time I’ll skip ordering a sandwich for myself.

Ike's Love and Sandwiches
155 Parrott St
San Leandro, CA
(341) 344-4201
M - Su 10 AM - 9 PM

Trader Joe’s Cheese Filled Fiocchetti with Pink Sauce Review

It’s all about the sauce

Trader Joe’s frozen Cheese Filled Fiocchetti with Pink Sauce are little egg pasta sacks filled with cheese served in an extraordinary not-really-pink cream sauce. The fiocchetti themselves are OK. Heated per instructions in the microwave, they were a little al-dente, and the cheese inside them felt liked hard, grated cheese rather than melted one. But this dish is not about the pasta, it’s about the sauce. And oh, what a sauce it is.

The sauce is a combination of cream, tomato puree and butter, seasoned with garlic, lemon juice, basil, parsley and salt and pepper. It’s bright and light, slightly acidic and just vibrant. It’s a perfect summer sauce. There is too much sauce for the included pasta, and I literally licked the plate when I was done eating.

From a nutrition point of view, this dish is as bad as you’d imagine. The whole 1lb package has 870 calories, 51g of fat and 78g of carbs. It’s supposed to be three portions, but that’s unrealistic. At best, consider it could serve two for lunch when paired with a salad. All in all, I’d see it as an occasional indulgency.

Trader Joe’s also sells a jarred pink pasta sauce. It has different ingredients than this one – it lacks lemon juice, for one, which I feel is an essential ingredient -, but I will give it a try and see if it approximates the amazing flavor of the one here.

San Leandro Bites: Paradiso

This upscale bistro is a favorite with San Leandrans, but does it meet my standards?

Paradiso has been occupying a corner location on Bancroft Avenue for as long as I’ve lived in San Leandro, over 24-years now. It’s only one of three upscale restaurants in our little town and it is immensely popular, at least with the gray-haired crowd. It’s hard to have lunch or dinner there and not run into a friend or acquaintance. During a recent lunch visit the place was popping. I noticed that more tables had been crowded together than in the past and our weekday at 12:30 PM reservation landed us on a small table near the front door – not ideal. Business clearly is booming.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Paradiso myself, I’ve found the food solidly tasty but overpriced. San Leandro commercial rents are absurdly high and that makes most of our restaurants more expensive than similar ones in adjacent cities. Still, when a neighbor in a local forum claimed that Paradiso had the best burgers in town, I thought it was worth checking it out again. Looking back at my Paradiso reviews, it seemed that I was of the same opinion circa 2012, but that’s a long time ago.

Paradiso’s lunch menu offers a selection of starters, salads, wood-fired pizzas, pastas, and entrees. Prices are high, with most dishes starting in the $20’s and reaching into the $50’s. Bread is included, but you have to ask for it. Drinks also seem overpriced, a simple Coke is $6.50 – a price I haven’t seen even at Michelin starred restaurants. I drank water – served in a carafe and promptly replaced as needed.

Lunch started with focaccia and olive bread served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar (don’t forget to request it). This might have been my favorite part of the meal. The focaccia was fresh and tasty, spongy and soft. The country bread was also flavorful and I liked the occasional pieces of olive. I was less thrilled about the olive oil and balsamic vinegar combination. They were both good quality, but there was too much of the latter for my taste. The flavor was very intense and it actually burned in my throat. I’d had preferred the olive oil on its own. It might be worth seeing if you can just order that. Mike, however, loved the combo. Different strokes for different folks and all that.

Mike started with the New England clam chowder ($16). The presentation, with the clams in the open shells, was very nice but Mike didn’t like having to actually dislodge the clams from their shells. He did like the soup, which had a subtle flavor and a creamy composition. As much as he enjoyed it, he wouldn’t order it again simply because he doesn’t like dealing with shells.

I had, as expected, the half pound Paradiso burger ($22), which is served with parsley parmesan fries. As much as I have lost my taste for French fries in the last few years, these ones made the best part of the dish. They were thin, with the perfect consistency (neither too crispy nor soft) and the parsley parmesan combination was perfect. They were a tad in the dry side – this has become my main issue with potatoes, I think – and while they were served with ketchup, I don’t like ketchup with fries. I wish they had also included an aioli, which is what I’d expect of a restaurant of this caliber. Still, the fries were very good and I, surprisingly, ate them all.

The same cannot be said of the burger. The burger came with American cheese, lettuce , shredded lettuce and some sauce and was served in a potato bun – so it was a high end classic burger. The patty had a nice, if subtle, wood-smoke flavor that I really liked. This was the same thing I’d liked over a decade ago. Unfortunately, the burger was very dry. I had ordered it medium-rare, but it was served medium, there were barely any hints of pink inside. I can’t imagine the dryness was only the result of being overcooked, however. Though it was supposed to be a wagyu beef, I’m going to guess it was low on fat content. That might make it somewhat healthier, but much less pleasant. I would be hesitant of ordering it again, even if I ordered it rare, hoping to get a medium-rare burger instead.

Mike had the prime rib sandwich ($21) which comes with pepperonata, provolone and horseradish aioli in focaccia bread. It’s also served with parsley Parmesan fries. I have always been sort of annoyed that Paradiso uses the same side dishes in multiple entrees, and I’m sad to see this continues to this day. A restaurant this expensive should be able to pair the sides to the mains, rather than simply use the same for all.

Mike was happier with his sandwich than I was with mine. He thought the meat was flavorful, tender and not too fatty. He liked the sauce and found there was a good bread-to-meat ratio – the spongy, light focaccia complemented the meat. However, he probably wouldn’t order it again because he didn’t find the sandwich that compelling. Pleasant but not super exciting.

On a recent visit to Paradiso, Mike also had the crispy Brussels sprouts ($18) appetizer and the slow braised short ribs ($41). He liked both of them and would order them again.

For dessert, we had the banana foster bread pudding ($14). It was a good dessert, nothing to write home about, but satisfying. The bread pudding had large pieces of bananas, a boozy sauce and wasn’t too sweet. The ice cream was good quality and went well with the dessert, though a larger scoop would have been better. Still, no complaints from either Mike nor I. That said, I wouldn’t rush to order it again.

Mike had a lemonade ($8) with lunch and it was very good, though a bit too sweet – I think because the lemons were particularly sour. Still, I felt it was overpriced.

Service was fine, our waiter was pleasant but he never came back to check on our meal – so no opportunity to tell him my burger was over done – and he only brought Mike one refill of lemonade. He did not offer a second serving of bread, but the carafe of water was refilled before I needed it to.

The restaurant looks very much like it has for the last two decades, with a large open kitchen in the center. It now has a couple of other dining rooms. It’s a nice place, good for a lunch date and very safe. Just very, very expensive for what it is. Still, I’m sure I’ll go back before the decade is over.

Paradiso
685 Bancroft Ave
San Leandro, CA
(510) 430-9310
S - Th 11:30AM – 9:00PM
F - Sa 11:30AM – 10:00PM

Trader Joe’s Beef Bulgogi Review

Better than mine

I love beef bulgogi. It’s delicious, easy to make (if somewhat laborious if you cut your own beef), and quick to cook by sautéing it. BUT, I am in a cooking strike until I get a new kitchen, so I haven’t made it for a long time. I decided to give Trajeder Joe’s beef bulgogi a try for one reason only: I didn’t look at the price. At $12 for the 16-lb package, it’s far beyond what I’d have comfortably pay for a frozen meal. However, now that I try it, I’m pretty sure I’ll get it again.

The plastic tray comes with one thing only: beef bulgogi in its marinade/cooking sauce. No rice, no veggies. If you want them, you’ll have to add them. At 40 grams of carbs and 27 grams of sugar for the whole package (which is enough food for two people) this is not precisely low carb, however.

But, and here is the but, it’s just delicious. The tender (but not too tender) beef has a smoky flavor that elevates this dish to the stratosphere. It really made me realize what I’d been missing by sautéing my bulgogi instead of grilling them over a wood-chip smoking box (given that I have a gas grill). Of course, it’s possible you could achieve the same flavor with just a dash of liquid smoke – I might try that next time too. Liquid smoke is not listed on the ingredients, however, so I’ll assume the meat achieves its smokiness naturally.

Trader Joe’s Spaghetti Carbonara Review

Just not worth the calories

Spaghetti carbonara is yet another of my favorite dishes. Made with butter, cream, egg, bacon and cheese, it’s heart attack inducing. For the calories, the carbs and the fat, it should be delicious. This one wasn’t.

The pasta and the sauce were good enough, the pasta was soft and the cheese sauce was smooth and flavorful. The pancetta, on the other hand, was horrible. It was fatty and it had a weird, off-putting taste. Fortunately, there wasn’t much of it. I know that pancetta is traditional, but this dish would have been far better with bacon. I would not get it again. Instead of getting it, make my recipe for carbonara.

This dish is easy to heat in the microwave. It’s made in Italy and currently sells for $4.30 at the Castro Valley Trader Joe’s. It’s supposed to serve three people, but only if you have a Lilliputian appetite or serve it as a side. The whole 16-oz package (which granted, it’s too much food for just one person) has 860 calories, 42 grams of fat and 78 grams of carbohydrates.

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