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Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Trader Joe's Beef Birria

Like any good dad, I could mumble under my breath about any number of things my kids have done. Leave their wet swimsuits on their bedroom floor? "Forget" to feed the cats again? Take my cell phone charger and knock my pillow right from it's perfect spot, all in one swoop?

Yes, to all those, almost every day. 

And man, to top it off this past week, none of my kiddos left Dear Ol' Dad any tortillas, so when I finally had a few hours to myself one night and wanted to make tacos with Trader Joe's Beef Birria, alas, I could not. 

At first, I'll admit, I was fairly sad about about having to make the birria as more a stew then a taco. The first few bites, with that amazing warm, welcoming sauce (or perhaps more aptly here, broth)....man. I just wanted something carby to help soak all that up. If we even had some rice (did my kids eat everything...again...did they eat uncooked rice???), it would've been welcomed. Mildly spiced, but just pleasant overall, until....

Eating the TJ's beef birria this way, no sidekick style, made me have to really focus on the quality of the broth. And unfortunately, this stuff suffers tremendously from the law of diminishing returns. The more of it I ate, the less I liked it. It still tasted "good" in some ways, but was increasingly one-noted, kinda flat, and as you can likely guess, incredibly salty. There's so much good flavor in the world, why does sodium overloadium have to be so prevalent? It's not like I have much authentic birria exposure, but I'm reasonably confident that most quality iterations have complexities and layers to their flavor profile. Here, it's not so much. It's just...salt. Red salt, I guess, with some scant notes of chili and garlic or whatever else, but really, it's almost all salt. If my newly established cardiologist would have seen me chowing down, I'd hope she'd properly slap me. 

Obviously, that's the biggest detriment. Everything else seems alright. The beef is a little mushy, as one would expect from a frozen entree, but still had a good quality to it. It wasn't too stringy or fatty or anything, and had a decent pot roast kinda feel to it. It was a good sized portion, but for the price I paid ($7.99!), I'd hope for a few bites more. That'd make it a more feasible tacos-for-two kinda dish. 

And, well...that's about all there is to it. 

My lovely bride didn't have a chance to try, as she was out wrangling those kiddos. When I made my dinner report to her, there was some initial disappointment, but assuredly, love, you're not missing much here. This will be hard pass from here on out. Not a fan. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Beef Birria: 3 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, August 8, 2022

Trader Joe's Organic Coconut Aminos Seasoning Sauce

Many years ago, while living in coastal North Carolina, I had a neighbor/friend who happened to be vegan. After repeatedly offering to cook me a vegan meal, I finally took her up on the proposal. She served me a dish featuring veggies and rice with a few bits of seitan sprinkled with amino acids. She explained that the amino acids made up for any general lack of protein in her diet since the human body synthesizes proteins from aminos. Flavor-wise, it functioned the way soy sauce does, adding a salty, savory, umami essence to the food. I liked it.

But I never bought my own bottle of amino acids until now, nearly twenty years later. It's got a big coconut on the label, as if to indicate it will taste like coconut. I mean, I doubt it will, but we're about to find out. Ingredients-wise, we're looking at "coconut sap" in case you couldn't read it from the picture. Sap? I've had coconut milk, coconut water, and coconut cream, but never coconut sap. Wouldn't that come from the tree itself rather than the fruit? I'm getting off track here...

Sonia and I heated up some instant rice in the microwave, some kidney beans on the skillet, and added a few splashes of Trader Joe's Organic Coconut Aminos Seasoning Sauce. First impression: wow, it's sweet! There's just a hint of saltiness and savoriness.

No, it doesn't taste like coconut by my estimation, but it's syrupy sweet. Sonia thinks it's like a watered-down tamarind sauce in both flavor and texture. I definitely don't disagree, but there's much less in the way of tangy, fruity flavor here. It's more like a sweetened soy sauce or like a very thin slightly salty maple syrup almost.

It's not exactly what we expected, but it's still a nice flavorful addition to rice and beans. I'm sure there's a million other things people are doing with this. If we get adventurous, we'll report back with our discoveries.

$2.99 for the 8.5 oz bottle. Product of Sri Lanka. Gluten-free. Kosher. Organic. It's not labeled as "vegan," but I don't know why it wouldn't be. Not sure if we'd purchase again, but not sorry we tried it. Three and a half stars a piece.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Trader Joe's Crunchy Chili Onion Peanuts

Peanuts, meet Trader Joe's Chili Onion Crunch

Trader Joe's Chili Onion Crunch, meet peanuts. 

I'm just gonna assume everything worked pretty well between those two, because here, a couple years down the road from their first potential meeting, here's Trader Joe's Crunchy Chili Onion Peanuts. 

Peanuts have never been high on my list of nuts of choice. Cashews, pecans, walnuts and even almonds regularly rank higher. And while I had to look back to remember, I wasn't overly fond of the chili onion crunch when first debuted. Maybe the hint we haven't repurchased was a hint. 

So, then, for this new spicy peanuts to be the offspring of a perfect marriage of two otherwise kinda lackluster in my mind ingredients...wow. 

I don't think I can get enough of them. There's a near 99% chance I ate the whole bag myself, I have no shame, and I cannot wait to go back for more. Sure, would it be even better as a cashew or almond? Almost absolutely! But this combination is almost perfect as is. 

All it is, almost obviously, is some roasted peanuts with aplenty chili onion crunch dried and presumably all roasted in, perhaps in the oil itself. This process seems to transform both nut and crunch mix. Most notably, the overly stanky garlickyness I previously associated with the chili onion crunch is gone. Sure, there's still enough garlic to ward off alliumphobes and vampires alike, but it's actually pretty pleasant this time around. 

And the heat - wow. I don't recall the chili onion crunch being nearly this spicy. My spicy scale is slipping as I'm approaching 40, so perhaps this is a bit high for all you whippersnappers out there, but I'd rank the heat around 7 or 8 out of 10, with water being the low end and TJ's bomba sauce being the high end (which is as much as I can not-painfully tolerate most days any more). That's higher than most items out there, for sure, and gets even more intense the closer to the bootm of the bag with all the spicy crunchies at the bottom. Deelish. 

The one thing I'd say though is this: really, added salt? There's enough going on here that added salt isn't a necessity, at least to the degree that above everything else I can taste some strong saltiness. A little sprinkle to help boost all the flavors? Sure. Enough to leave me thirsty and not all because of the spice? Nah, fam. 

Regardless, here's to a snack I hope to routinely stash away and enjoy. A couple small handfuls definitely do the trick, and at $3 or $4 for the half pound bag, it's a decent enough value. Highly recommend. It's really nice to see something together being greater than the sum of its parts - wish there was more of that around. Double fours. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Crunchy Chili Onion Peanuts: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons