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Friday, September 25, 2020

Trader Joe's Organic Spicy Pozole Verde

May 5, 1999, I was sitting in a now defunct Chi-Chi's restaurant in State College, PA with some friends and acquaintances after classes. We were celebrating Cinco de Mayo. I didn't know a lick of Spanish back then. "I wonder what Cinco de Mayo means..." I mused in my ignorance.

"Fifth of May," replied Stacy.

"I know when it is, but I mean what does the phrase 'Cinco de Mayo' literally mean?" I asked.

"Fifth of May," she implored. "It's like Fourth of July for Mexicans."

My head exploded. "So it's the Mexican Independence Day? Whoa. I never knew that."

Many years later, I'd learn that it was not, in fact, the Mexican Independence Day. I'd also learn that the phrase "chi-chi's" is actually a slang term for "breasts" or "nipples" in Spanish. And here I thought it was a family restaurant. I always wondered what went on in that 21+ bar area.

The actual Mexican Independence Day is September 16, just over a week ago. There was a decisive battle against the French in Mexico on May 5, 1862, but the day they declared independence from Spain was actually September 16, 1810. I guess "Dieciséis de Septiembre" doesn't quite roll off a Yankee's tongue like "Cinco de Mayo."

At any rate, Mexican Independence Day is a good excuse to eat pozole, as are other special occasions like Christmas and New Year's. Sonia grew up with it. She explained that it usually takes a while to make, so it's often reserved for holidays and celebrations, not unlike tamales or menudo. It's usually served with pork or chicken, while Sonia grew up with a version with beef.

This variety is vegetarian—vegan, in fact, and doesn't suffer from want of meat, at least not in our opinions. There's a good bit of hominy and beans to give the soup a hearty texture. It's full of green chiles and onions, too. There's a nice, even, moderate spiciness in the mixture, as well. I'd put it at a 4 or 5 on the spice-o-meter, on a scale of 1 to 10.

Complaints: some of the onion slices are very long, spindly strands of onion that are a little difficult to eat. I found the plastic seal very difficult to remove and thought maybe the "onion" Sonia was finding was actually pieces of plastic that didn't stay attached to the rest of the covering. Upon further inspection, we determined that they were, in fact, pieces of onion. And I mean, we both love onions. Sonia also wanted more hominy. She's a big fan of the puffy kernels of corn. I don't know that I've had much hominy in my lifetime, but I really liked it here and wouldn't have minded a tad more of it.

The soup isn't much to look at. I think it resembles Eowyn's stew from Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers...minus the strand of hair. But hey, looks aren't everything.

You can put it in a pot and heat it on the stovetop or just puncture the plastic covering and put it in the microwave for 3 minutes. It's very easy to prepare. $3.99 for the 2.5 serving container—probably 2 servings in actual practice.

All things considered, this product gets a thumbs up from both a gringo who's never really had pozole before and a Latina who's been eating it her whole life. We're not vegan, but we're always happy when we find vegetarian and vegan products that have enough "meatiness" and flavor without the dead animals. Four and a half stars from Sonia. Three and a half stars from me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Trader Joe's Apple Fruit Snacks Mango Jalapeño

While not quite completely in love with the analogy, it does make the point so I'm just gonna roll with it. 

If my house were a prison, and my family the inmates, fruit snacks would likely be the equivalent of cigarettes. This excludes my lovely bride, which works because if we're going this way with with the metaphor I may as well just call her the warden. Just don't put me in solitary, babe.

Fruit snacks are not just for bribery or trade. As evidenced by the occasional trove of found and opened wrappers, we all got a stash somewhere that gets sourced from the large Costco box in the basement. I work down here all day, so when I need an early afternoon sugar hit, it's the easy get. We've found them in couch cushions, in kid's beds, stuffed in pockets at laundry time, tucked away inconspicuously in the trash, beside the beer name it. But there's a bit of the code: don't touch my stash, I won't touch yours.  Not that there's not temptation to do so.

With the introduction of Trader Joe's Apple Fruit Snacks Mango Jalapeño, we may have found a basis for a truce. In the words of the great James Brown, papa's got a brand new bag. 

The magic word here is "jalapeño." My kids see that, figure they're way too spicy, and spicy fruit snacks sound weird anyways, so they'll just pass without question, leaving me with the whole bag to consume at my speed and not worrying about little grubby hands sneaking in. 

That being said, the jalapeño really does add a nice little touch, more on the backside of the flavor experience. It takes few chews to kinda get it going, as the fruits take first turn. These fruit snacks are primarily fruit based, with natural fiber and just a touch of pectin, instead of corn syrups and starches and whatever else, so there's legit verifiable actual apple and mango going in here, which balance out each other well in a sweet, understated yet flavorful way. The little specks of jalapeño add just the smidgiest of amounts of noticeable heat. It's delicious, kinda like a decent simple fruit salsa in fruit snack form, if that makes any sense. 

Going back to the ingredients, this shouldn't be a surprise, but if you were expecting/hoping for the big soft gummy kinda of fruit snacks, these are not them. Move along. Instead, the snacks are more of a tougher, more fibrous variety, kinda like fruit leather chunked up instead of rolled out. Those with dental work, be appropriately cautious. At least they're not really all that sticky or anything. I just noticed all the mango jalapeño guys are actually shaped like little hot peppers. That's so cute! I love it.

I think the pouch was only about $2 or maybe $3 at most, which is a decent enough deal for the 5ish servings each contain. That's good enough of a deal to make them a regular buy. Not sure what all else to say, so time to lock down this review. Double fours. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Apple Fruit Snacks Mango Jalapeño: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Monday, September 21, 2020

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Empanadas

I always thought of empanadas as a uniquely South American food. There was a great Argentinian restaurant within walking distance of my Hollyweird apartment, and I'd always get the empanadas there. I've seen them on the menu at Brazilian places, too. But apparently Spain, Portugal, Indonesia, the Philippines, and pretty much every Latin American country does empanadas.

Mexico does empanadas for sure, but Sonia isn't particularly familiar with them. She grew up eating more sauce and cheese-based foods typical of southern Mexico, where her family is from. She thinks empanadas are probably more popular with the Norteños.

And now Trader Joe's is getting in on the empanada action, and since it's almost fall, they went with pumpkin. Who could have seen that coming?

Thank goodness it's a pumpkin empanada and not a pumpkin spice empanada. Or is it? In my opinion, it's walking a fine line between the two. 

They could have gone in the dessert direction and made something akin to the legendary caramel apple empanada from Taco Bell. They could have made it super sweet, glazed it with sugar, and packed it with loads of pumpkin pie spice. Or they could have gone the savory route and filled the empanada with butternut squash and veggies.

But what we have here is a pastry shell filled with super smooth, semi-sweet pumpkin filling, and most of the requisite pumpkin spices like cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and ginger. I don't think it's quite sweet enough to be considered a dessert item, although some may disagree. Since pumpkin puree is the number one ingredient, there's enough actual pumpkin flavor to offset the brown sugar sweetness.

The outer shell is excellent. The crust is just firm and flaky enough, yet supple and soft. It's crispy, but slightly doughy, and it has a nice bready taste. Also, it isn't oily or greasy—another plus.

These would function pretty well as appetizers, or as a side dish with a fall-themed meal. $3.99 for four empanadas. 1 empanada = 1 serving. They were fun to try, but we probably won't be picking them up again on our next TJ's run. Something like three and a quarter stars a piece...

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.