Carando Meatballs + Signature Reserve Pasta Sauce Reviews

Won’t buy again

Last time I made ravioli, I paired them with Signature Reserve Tomato, Porcini & Black Truffle Pasta Sauce ($6, on sale for $4 for 21 oz jar at Safeway) and Carando spicy Sicilian meatballs. I suspected the combination wasn’t going to work and it didn’t – but I also tasted each ingredient separately and I was not impressed with either the sauce or the meatballs.

Signature Reserve Pasta Sauce Tomato Porcini & Black Truffle - 21.2 Oz

Signature Reserve appears to be a premium version of Safeway/Albertson’s store brand. They cost more than twice than regular Signature pasta sauces and this one, at least, was imported from Italy and claimed to be made from a “Porchettini family recipe”. I’m not sure who they are, but a recipe needs to come from someone or other.

This particular sauce wasn’t bad, if you really like the flavor of artificial truffle. Basically what you get is a pretty fresh, tomato forward sauce, immediately followed by an intense black truffle flavor that lingers on. Now, I learned last year that the flavors of actual truffles and artificial truffle is quite different, and what most of us understand as black truffle is artificial – so I was expecting this sauce to taste that way. Perhaps not as intensely as it does, however. It’s not bad, but the truffle in the sauce will obfuscate any other flavor that surrounds it.

While I wouldn’t order this particular pasta sauce again, I might try one of the other ones – they have at least five other flavors.

Carando Meatballs Italian Style Sicilian Recipe Hot - 16 Oz

I am a huge fan of meatballs but I don’t make them often enough because if I have ground beef and I’m going to eat it with pasta, I end up making a meatball instead and then it feels redundant. I figured that if I buy the meatballs already made, I could would just eat them with pasta and store-bought tomato sauce for a very quick dinner. I have yet to find a good brand of refrigerated or frozen meatballs however and these, despite its fancy packaging, weren’t them.

The main problem is that they are too dense and heavy. Indeed, these meatballs only contain ground pork, cheese and spices. They don’t have bread to make them light and airy. Baking them as per the instructions, doesn’t contribute to making them any lighter.

I wasn’t thrilled by the flavor either, but that’s my fault for buying spicy meatballs. Who knows what prompted me to do that. Still, having tried them their dense consistency is enough of a deterrent to try any other flavors.

Genova Delicatessen Ravioli – Review

Love them!

Ravioli has been one of my favorite foods since I was a little kid. My Italian-Argentinian grandparents would make them by hand, and my first birthday was celebrated with a huge raviolada. I kept the same tradition when I celebrated my daughter’s first birthday, over 18 years ago, though in that occasion, as well any subsequent ones, I bought the ravioli already made, from the supermarket.

Genova Delicatessen Ravioli are, by far, my favorite ravioli in America. They have the softest, most supple pasta shells of any – fresh or frozen – that I have eaten. Indeed, as far as texture goes, I don’t think I’ve had any served at restaurants that surpass them.

The fillings are OK. Good without being too special. They are mildly seasoned, so they don’t stand to very flavorful sauces. In this occasion I paired them with a truffle pasta sauce from Safeway, and it was too much for it. Butter and Parmesan cheese are sufficient.



The ravioli come frozen and require that you separate them before boiling. They are rather small, so it’s a quick 5-minute boil. They do cost about twice as much as Safeway-brand ravioli, but they are a whole level above them.

Goya Platanos Maduros – Fried Plantains Review

Good, quick dessert from an evil company

As a matter of course, I try to avoid buying Goya products, but I needed to get a few things to meet the minimum for deliver through Instacart, and I figure I might as well tried these. I was pleasantly surprised. The frozen fried plantains are heated up in the microwave for a couple of minutes, so it’s basically an instant dessert. They are quite sweet, and not too mushy, and they pair well with either ice cream or whipped cream. It’s a rather rich dessert, so though the 11 oz package (pictured above after microwaving) doesn’t seem like much, it should be able to feed 3-4 people. It was on sale through Instacart for $3 at Cardenas market. I’m going to look to see if there is a similar product from a manufacturer other than Goya.

Note: the link to Instacart is a referral link, if you subscribed immediately after you click on it, I might get $10 credit and you would as well. You probably can get a better deal elsewhere, though.

Where’s The Beef?

Review of Cardenas Markets’ T-bone steaks

Cardenas Markets is a relatively small chain of mid size Mexican supermarkets in California. They have regular groceries, an expanded section of Mexican and Latino groceries, as well as a bakery and deli which offers a small variety of hot meals. I discovered it when it joined Instacart during the first year of the pandemic. I have since ordered from it occasionally, it’s the only market serviced by Instacart that carries empanada shells (albeit the Goya brand).

I don’t usually order beef at Cardenas – though I was very happy with the beef chuck I got from them over the summer -, but their T-bone steaks were on sale ($6/lb), so I decided to give them a try. I was grossly disappointed.

A T-bone steak gets its name from the T-shape form in which the vertebra is cut. It includes a strip steak on one side, and a filet mignon or tenderloin in the other. It’s supposed to let you indulge in the tenderness of the filet and the flavorfulness of the strip, without having to compromise for either. They are supposed to look like the photo below, which I took from the Cardenas page at Instacart. What I got, is what you can see in the photo above. It was basically a bone-in strip steak with little to no tenderloin. I felt ripped off – $6/lb is super cheap for a T-bone (but supermarkets often have loss leaders), but I still expect to get a T-bone when I order a T-bone. If you are going to put a photo of a T-bone and call it a T-bone, make it a T-bone

Cardenas Beef T-Bone Steak
The second problem was that the steak was cut very thin. As Cardenas does not indicate the grade of meat they sell, I’m going to guess they are “select,” the grade with the least marbling and therefore toughest meat. If these are particularly tough, it makes sense that they cut them thin. But be forewarned that that’s what you get.

Now, flavor-wise they weren’t bad. They were pretty generic, tasty steaks. The type I did grow up eating as everyday fair for lunch without giving it much thought. Nowadays I expect a little more from a steak, of course, though for $6/lb perhaps I shouldn’t.

In all, I wouldn’t buy them again.



Note: the link to Instacart is a referral link, if you subscribed immediately after you click on it, I might get $10 credit and you would as well. You probably can get a better deal elsewhere, though.

Bag O’Crab Review

They literally mean “bag”

A new Bag O’Crab franchise opened in the old The Englander spot in San Leandro, which is sad in many, many levels. My husband decided he had to try it out. While I’m not a fan of crab myself, a quick look at the menu assured me they had other stuff, including wings and fried fish, so I said I was game. He got take out and brought it home. I don’t think we’re going to make it a regular haunt.

Bag O’Crab’s menu consists of seafood and chicken cooked in a variety of ways. You can have different flavors of chicken wings ($8/$13 for 6/10 pieces) and french fries ($4/4.5), fried fish/shrimp/calamari/oysters/chicken tenders ($11-14), fish/chicken/shrimp po’ boy sandwiches ($12), a $25 lobster roll, grilled shortribs ($13) and cajun fish ($12) and a few soups, saladas, pastas and sides. But the main attraction, as suggested by the name of the restaurant, are their bags of seafood cooked in your choice of sauce at your choice of spiciness. These are sold by the pound and in combinations. My husband went for the bag of head-off shrimp, in a medium spiciness original cajun sauce ($16 for 3/4 lbs); he wasn’t impressed

The first disappointment was the bag. Now, we definitely can’t accuse Bag O’Crab of being circumspect about the fact that their bags of seafood are exactly that: plastic bags filled with seafood and sauce. It’s in the name of the store, after all, and of the particular dish he ordered. Still, we didn’t expect that they would be so literal – having the dish come in a transparent plastic bag seemed precarious and cheap. I’m assuming these are food grade plastic bags they are using, but it feels weird as they don’t look that way. They are also unwieldy and not exactly something you want to store as-in in the fridge.



I will admit that my husband is somewhat of a lazy eater. Other people may enjoy nothing more than cracking crab legs, gnawing at bones or cooking their own food at restaurants – but he wants all the work done for him in the kitchen. Thus, he was quite unhappy to find out that the head off shrimp, while indeed being devoid of heads, still had their exoskeleton (his word) on. Deshelling shrimp is never fun, but particularly not when the shrimp comes in a thin sauce. Needless to say, he wouldn’t order this again.

I should ad, that he did enjoy the flavor of the sauce, and it was correctly spiced. So there is that.

I, meanwhile, decided on the fish po’ boy sandwich ($12) with a garlic fried upgrade ($1 additional). The fries were pretty standard, thinnish and with a nice garlic flavor. It’s the type of fries you can eat a a handful of, and be done. The sandwich itself was too heavy for me. I think the combination of the oil from the fried fish and the dressing/remoulade was too much. I could only eat about half of it. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and I did enjoy having the other half for lunch. Still, I can’t see ordering it again.

Indeed, I don’t see us returning to Bag O’Crab which I think it’s a good thing. Their website does not mention where they source their seafood from, and given the widespread use of slave labor in producing sea food – not to mention sustainability issues – I find this very problematic.

With this, I hope our foray into chain restaurant eating is over. And, indeed, it’s inspired me to do more cooking at home going forward.

Bag O’Crab
101 Parrott St
San Leandro, CA
(510) 878-9965

Little Caesars Pan Pizza Deserves a Thumbs Up

I wasn’t planning on writing a review of Little Caesars‘ pizza when my daughter brought me my order a couple of days ago. Indeed, when I decided that I had a hankering for pizza, Little Caesars was far from my first choice. I don’t think I’ve had it for at least twenty years, since the days my husband and I were childless and broke – not that that has changed much -, had no transportation and Little Caesars was the closest pizza joint to our rented apartment. Still, as I wasn’t particularly particular as far as my pizza hankering went, I acquiesced to my daughter’s insistence that we order from there. I’ll admit it, I was pleasantly surprised.

Little Caesars offers four different types of crust (original, think, stuffed and pan), cheese and a very limited number of toppings. This is not the place to order anything fancy. They do have plant-based pepperoni, but not plant-based cheese, which sort of ruins it for vegans. The pizzas are cheap to reasonably priced, and you can walk in and pick up a ready-made large pepperoni for $9 – or so says my daughter.

I had their deep dish supreme (a “large Detroit-style deep dish pizza with Pepperoni, Italian Sausage, Mushrooms, Onions and Green Peppers,” $16 at the San Leandro franchise) and loved its thick, spongy, flavorful crust. The toppings were also good and well balanced; I liked the somewhat sweet tomato sauce and the onions in particular. I had hesitated before ordering this pizza as often meat toppings make the whole pie taste too salty, but fortunately this wasn’t the case here. The rectangular pizza wasn’t particularly large, but it was thick and seemed relatively fairly priced.

My daughter was happy with her stuffed crust regular pizza, but then again, she’s the one who wanted to go there.

I also got their cookie dough brownies ($3.70 for 4 small brownies), which are pretty average soft (undercooked?) brownies topped with raw mini M&M cookie dough. I promptly forgot about them, but just tried one for this review. They’re OK – not as sweet as they could be, but still too sweet for my taste (and my blood!), and definitely not worth the calories.

Little Caesars
1254 Davis St
San Leandro, CA
(510) 569 – 7499









Chipotle Quesadilla Review

Good but Expensive

I’m not the biggest fan of Chipotle – mostly because it’s boring and expensive. I understand why people might seek it in places that don’t have a great taqueria (or taco truck) in every corner, but I fail to understand its appeal in California. Still, my daughter likes it, so we ordered it for lunch a few days ago.

This time I decided to try the quesadilla, which is basically a deconstructed burrito grilled long enough to melt the cheese. It’s served with 3 “sides” which really mean the ingredients you’d otherwise have inside the burrito, things like rice, beans, salsas and sour cream Burrito extras, like guacamole, are still extra for quesadillas.

The steak quesadilla was tasty, but it felt smaller than a burrito (probably just my imagination), and having the salsa/sour cream/guacamole (the latter came in a different container) outside the burrito only made it more difficult to eat. The shape of the quesadilla, and the fact that it’s cut in two diagonally made it even more impractical, the filling kept falling out as I tried to dip it.

At $11.40 (prices vary by location*), it was a pretty poor value – though I’m sure no worse than anything else at Chipotle.

On the plus side, the ingredients were fresh and the beef has less gristle/fat than that at some local taquerias. Also on the plus side, Chipotle is very vegan friendly. Not only do they offer sofritas, a plant based protein, as a vegan alternative to meats, but their rice, beans, tortillas and chips are all vegan. Often times, Mexican restaurants use chicken broth for their rice, or lard for their beans and/or tortillas.

Chipotle – San Leandro
1505 E 14th St.(510) 667-100310:45 AM – 10 PM

* For the sake of looking at how minimum wages impacted on Chipotle’s prices, I used their very helpful website to price a steak quesadilla at different Chipotles. This is what I found:

In Seattle, WA, with the highest minimum wage in the country at $16.69/hr, a Chipotle steak quesadilla is $9.85

In San Francisco, CA with a $16.32/hr minimum wage, it’s $11

In Berkeley, CA with a $16.32/hr minimum wage, it is $10.25.

In Manhattan, NY with a $15/hr minimum wage, it’s $11.15

In my city, San Leandro, CA, with a $15/hr MW, it’s $11.40

In Fresno, CA, with a $14/hr MW, it’s $9.65

In Peoria, IL with an $11/hr MW, it’s $9.65

In Tulsa, OK, with a $7.25/hr MW, it’s $9.55

In Hinesville, GA, with a $7.25/hr MW, it’s $9.65

Review of a Bunch of Items I just Bought at Sprouts

I have never been to a Sprouts in person, but I’ve become quite fond of the supermarket since I subscribed to Instacart during the pandemic. Still, I hadn’t ordered from there in long enough that I’d forgotten what things they had that I liked and disliked. Thus this post – to remind me of what to get again, and what to avoid. I’ll be adding items to this review as we consume them. Note that the prices are Instacart prices.

Sprouts Pastrami on Multigrain Bread Grab & Go Sandwich

Sprouts Pastrami on Multigrain Bread Grab & Go Sandwich ($5 for an 8 oz sandwich)

I got this for my husband to replace a chicken salad croissant sandwich that wasn’t available. He thought it was “ehh,” the sort of pre-packaged sandwich he’d expect to get at a convenience store. He felt it was dry, probably as it doesn’t seem to come with condiments. He wouldn’t order it again.

Black Garlic Chicken And Mushroom Saute ($6/lb, tray was 1 3/4lb)

I bought this thinking it was a ready-to-heat meal, as others I’ve gotten at Sprouts. Instead, it’s a ready-to-saute meal which requires you to dump the ingredients on a saute pan and cook for about 10-15 minutes. The chicken is raw, so don’t be tempted to use your microwave.

While it was very simple, it was surprisingly tasty and served two people adequately. I’d get it again.

Chocolate Custard Twists ($4 for 6 small twists)

This has to be my favorite item from Sprouts. When we spent a month in Paris, a lifetime ago, my husband would go to the bakery every morning and get us a very similar pastry. These are just as delicious – which is amazing, giving how badly even the best American bakeries do at imitating French pastries. At 70-cents each for the pretty small pastries, this is not a cheap treat, but mostly because it’s just impossible to eat just one. Still, they are great so get them!

Lakewood Organic Pure Orange Fresh-Pressed Juice Not From Concentrate ($6.5 for a 32 oz bottle, on sale for $5)

I’m always in the quest for the best commercial orange juice – something that tastes as close as possible to fresh squeezed but that I can buy already squeezed. Unfortunately, fresh squeezed OJ is not available at any of my local supermarkets, though they do have it at the Saturday’s farmer market. Alas, we don’t always make it.

So far, my favorite commercial orange juice is Costco’s Kirkland Signature Organic Orange Juice. However, the last two times I’ve gotten it, it tasted like it was already going bad – I’m sure you know what rotten oranges taste like, and this was half way there. So I’ve been looking for an alternative – I’ll give Kirkland another try in winter, but it’s obvious the OJ can’t handle the summer heat.

Unfortunately, Lakewood Organic Pure Orange Juice suffers from the exact same problem. The lid may say the juice doesn’t expire until 2023, but it already has the tell-telling bitterness of OJ going bad. It is also extremely sweet. I don’t know if this is a consequence of it being almost rotten, or if it’s made this way to hide the rotting flavor. Either way, it’s initial taste is disgustingly sweet, and its finish rottenly bitter. I would not buy it again and I have half a mind of writing to Lakewood and asking for a refund.

Clara’s Kitchen Chile Verde Breakfast Burrito ($5 for 10 oz burrito)

I had ordered the Clara’s Kitchen Cheese & Bean burrito but this is what Instacart brought me instead. My husband ended up eating it and he was quite disappointed. He felt it had very little flavor. He wouldn’t have it again.

Reds Organic Cheese Quesadilla Burrito ($3.3 for 5 oz burrito, on sale for $2.5)

Organic Cheese Quesadilla Burrito - Red's All Natural Burritos & Entrees

I got this and other Reds burritos for my cheese-and-bean-burrito loving teen daughter and it was a bust. She liked the tortilla well enough, but didn’t like the filling, it just tasted wrong for her. Won’t get it again.

Sprouts Cheese Puffs and Cheese Curls ($2.3 for 6 oz package, on sale for $1 each)

Sprouts versions of cheetos are not bad. They seem to have less of an intense flavor than the brand name, and less annoying orange powder to get all over your hands, but they are tasty enough. The puffs are, IMHO, better than the curls. I’d order the puffs again, particularly at the sale price.

Roast Beef ($13/lb)

This was pretty generic deli roast beef, which means it was perfectly acceptable without being remarkable good. I’d buy it again.

StoneRidge Ranch Pastrami Review

It didn’t make it into the sandwich

Stoneridge Ranch Shaved Pastrami - 14 Oz
For my second attempt at a home made Reuben sandwich, I decided to try pastrami. Safeway didn’t have much in the way of choices, so I ended up ordering StoneRidge Ranch shaved deli style pastrami pretty much by default. This time, it ended up being a good choice.

As advertised, this pastrami comes in very thin, irregular pieces. It has a subtle flavor, with only a limited chemical pungency and tones of sweetness. Unfortunately, I can’t say how well it holds up to the rye bread as I opened up to taste it, and ended up eating half the bag on its own (and the next day, the other half). As half a bag ended up being my dinner, I’d say that the package ($11 at Safeway) should produce two generous sandwiches.

Blakey’s Original Firefighters BBQ Sauce – Review

You definitely can taste the smoke

I was in the mood for BBQ sauce last week, and decided to give a new BBQ sauce a try. I’m a fan of sweet sauces, but dislike anything that tastes like Kraft BBQ sauce. My favorite bottled sauce is Everette & Jones, but I’m fine with Kinder’s and even Sweet Baby Ray’s.

Blakey’s Original was on sale at Safeway, so I figured I’d give it a try. All in all, I was pretty pleased. It basically tastes like a generic BBQ sauce, but it has a bitter/smokey flavor that makes it unique. The flavor does come from liquid smoke or something similar, but it’s not as blunt as liquid smoke usually is. Given that all the profits go to the California firefighters, I felt it was appropriate.

I used the sauce for meatloaves and it worked pretty well. The 18 oz bottle is regularly $6 at Safeway, but was on sale for $4. I wouldn’t buy it for $6, but it’s fine for $4.