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Friday, April 16, 2021

Trader Joe's Cocoa Chile Spiced Pecans

Up until the age of 5 or so, I lived less than a block from famous Cocoa Avenue in Hershey, PA, walking distance from Hersheypark. The whole town smelled like cocoa, mostly from a cocoa bean mulch that everybody used in their gardens, but also because of the nearby chocolate factory. Being married to a Latina, I've tried all kinds of things slathered with chile powder or cayenne pepper that I probably wouldn't have otherwise—corn on the cob, mango, pineapple, papaya, hard candy, you name it—just about everything but pecans. So this product should be right up my alley, right? Leave it to Trader José to introduce...whoops! Didn't mean to offend anybody! Leave it to Trader Joe to introduce me to Cocoa Chile Pecans.

These pecans aren't as sticky sweet as I thought they might be. They are "candied" as noted on the bag, but not overly so. I think if they had been much sweeter, the chile wouldn't have shined through quite as much. The cocoa flavor is similar to a rich, earthy dark chocolate. It's not nearly as candy-esque as a typical chocolate coated nut.

The spice level is decent. There's not much kick up front, but it's one of those heats that creeps up on you at the finish. It builds up on your tongue as you gobble pecan after pecan. I'd say the cocoa is more prevalent initially, and it slowly gives way to a warm, throat-tingling cayenne pepper essence. There's also cinnamon listed in the ingredients, but it's barely detectable as an independent flavor by my estimation.

There's a little bit of a cough factor. That is, there's enough cocoa powder, chile powder, and powdered sugar that if I inhale at exactly the wrong moment—probably somewhere between the nut entering my mouth and getting it chomped down a good bit by my teeth—I have to hack a minimal amount of said powders out of my lungs. The cayenne pepper is particularly troubling to my respiratory system. Spice in the lungs is no joke, but I must admit, there's something invigorating about chile pepper in the old alveoli. That would make a great band name. "We are The Spicy Alveoli and we're here to rock!" 

$4.49 isn't super cheap for a product like this, but I can't say it isn't worth the price tag, either.  As long as you aren't hoping for something sticky sweet and don't mind the spice, these are worth a purchase if you ask us. Three and a half stars from yours truly. Cuatro estrellas de mi Sonita.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Trader Joe's Oven-Baked Cheese Bites with Tomato and Chili

"You know what they called these back in the day?"

Okay, Grandpa, nope. 

"Well, they still called them oven baked crunchy cheese or something like that. i thought it was meant to be like the the burnt corners of ooey gooey cheese that your Grandma would make...but anyways, it wasn't 'Trader Joooooooooooe's' was 'Trader Giotto's.' Had none of them fancy spices on them either."

It's true....kinda. Trader Joe's Oven-Baked Cheese Bites with Tomato and Chili are a newer take on the popular product formerly known and reviewed on this blog as Trader Giotto's Oven Baked Cheese Bites. 

There's been talk elsewhere about the rebranding/name changes being done at TJ's. The official corporate stance is consolidating and unifying the "Trader Joe's" brand, as corporations like to do on a continual basis. That's likely not the only reason, and that's valid too. While on the record here on this blog as saying I personally liked the former names TJ's used to market products, I don't really mind the change either....I just hadn't noticed its implementation on store shelves until purchasing this snack. It's probably because I'm totally oblivious. 

Speaking of noticing things....wooo. Open up a bag of these snackers. Again, perhaps it's that I'm oblivious or have a little cold still, but I didn't the cheesy odors wafting up. My wife sure did though. "Smells like odd cheese," she said, without much further explanation, but she kept commenting about it without much further explanation. I don't know either. 

But odd cheese is a good way of putting it. There's...something amiss here flavorwise. The first couple I had, nestled atop the bag, were very tomatoey, and not in a great way. The bites started out like their predecessors - salty, crunchy, cheesy - not bad - but then switched flavor profile to "sweet juicy tomato" without any of the juice of course. It was a bit strong.  

Further down into the bag, there seems to be where the spicy chili seasoning settled in. We're not exactly talking Dante's Inferno here, but the further down I went, the hotter it got. There was still the perhaps-a-bit-too-cloying tomato, but the medium heat chili spices helped tamper it down some....but it still wasn't that great. Something like a little more even seasoning distribution, with perhaps some garlic snuck in to help bridge the gap, coulda made a better snack in my opinion. 

Whatever. My opinion isn't the only one out there. My lovely bride sure likes to eat them up and is more gungho than I, although i think we'd both agree the plain version tickles our particular fancies a little bit better. Something like a combined seven from us probably fits the bill. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Oven-Baked Cheese Bites with Tomato and Chili: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Monday, April 12, 2021

Trader Joe's Hearts of Palm Pasta

If you've lived in a northern climate most of your life, you probably think palm trees are exotic. I'm guessing you've seen them on vacations when traveling to tropical or Mediterranean climes, and understandably, you probably associate them with good times and easy living. I sure did until I moved to Southern California. I was in awe of the majestic palm trees lining the streets of Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley for my first couple years there on the west coast.

But at least for me, the novelty eventually wore off. Palm trees are actually kind of messy. Their large, cumbersome leaves fall all over the place and litter the sidewalks and roadways, they provide relatively little shade, and at least the ones in our old neighborhood frequently smelled like urine—and, um, you know, not from dogs urinating on them. I guess I can't blame the palm trees for that one, but the point is that my perception of palms changed.

Likewise, I had no idea that any part of a palm tree was edible. I'd heard of hearts of palm before but didn't realize they came from actual palm trees. I don't think most Angelenos know that either, otherwise they'd be chopping down the trees in their neighborhood and selling hearts of palm from a little street cart as a side hustle.

But if there aren't any hearts of palm vendors in your area, there's always this simple option from Trader Joe's. It's ready to heat and eat right out of the package. It comes in a vacuum-sealed pack, and all the little noodles are densely wadded together in a light liquid. At first, I thought it might be some kind of oil, but there's only one ingredient listed on the package: hearts of palm. So it must be the natural juice that comes from the palm plants.

At any rate, the pasta slides right out of the pack and into your pan with a decent amount of moisture. There's an earthy, planty, almost bittersweet smell at first. It's not unlike that of an artichoke heart. As the product cooks, the noodles disentangle and the smell evolves into something more squashy, or maybe even sweet potato-esque. It's a subtle fragrance.

Likewise, the taste is very neutral and understated. Without any fixins of any kind, I think it tastes like a white squash more than anything else. We mixed ours with some other veggies, tomato cream sauce, and some parmesan cheese, and it worked out quite nicely.

As far as texture is concerned, it's much more like zucchini spirals or other vegetable-based "pasta" than any real linguine. It's a great base for anything you might put on regular pasta, but it's just a tad stringier than grain-based noodles.

Scoring this as just a regular guy walking into a TJ's store from off the street rather than a hearts of palm connoisseur, I'd give this about three stars. I don't think I'll pick it up again any time soon, but it was another adventure in exotic-to-me foods, thanks to my good buddy Trader Joe. It's vegan, gluten-free, and super low in carbs, so if you're on a restricted diet, this is something to consider. $2.99 for the three serving box. 

Sonia concurs with my assessment and liked the product even a little more than I did. Looks like a four star affair on her end.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.