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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Trader Joe's Mango, Red Quinoa and Chicken Salad

Given that my last review covered both chocolate-covered potato chips AND pumpkin cheesecake, does it really surprise you that I thought to myself, "Hmm, maybe I should eat a salad?"

Salad can mean a lot of different things, of course. Perhaps it's a simple bed of greens and some light dressing. Maybe there's a flower-shaped radish around or it's heaped with croutons and Bacos (ugh) or it's every veggie in the book. Know what a traditional-style Pittsburgh salad is? Take lettuce, tomatoes, onions and other assorted veggies, toss together, then top with a half metric ton of cheese and a large mitt full of fries, top with some type of meat (sometimes steak, I prefer buffalo chicken) and then drowned in dressing (ranch or bleu cheese, usually, for me)..delicious, though not exactly healthy, and it
renders the consumer immobile for about three hours afterwards.

A faithful reader on our Facebook page (if you're not a fan yet, why not? Click the thingy at the bottom!) tipped me off to the TJ's Mango, Red Quinoa and Chicken Salad, which sounded both delicious AND healthy to me. Like other really long named items, I'm just going to shorten this to the TJMRQCS from here on out. On a solo shopping trip, I got two of these, one for me and one for Sandy, with the intention that we have them for a work lunch, and for $3.99 each, not a terrible deal.

Let me t
ell you: I love this salad. It's tasty in pretty much every way possible. Open it up, and the bowl is literally packed with baby spinach which is crisp and leafy and fresh, with some carrot strings and diced onion. That's it for the veggie portion of the salad - simple yet fresh and tasty, and there's a deceptively copious amount of it in there. The mango? It's aside in a little cup, chopped up and ready to go on, and firm and sweet. Perfect. The red quinoa? Lots of it. It tends to tumble down towards the bottom, of course, but while kinda easy for the palate to skip over, it's there serving its role perfectly, adding some weight and merit to the whole package. And the chicken? I'll admit, it looks a little funky at first, kinda like it got marinated in lemon-lime Gatorade, with nary a noticeable explanation for its isotopic appearance on the label. Read the back a bit, or channel your inward intrepid food adventurer like me and just chomp on down, and you'll realize it's yellow curried to add a rich flavor dimension. And unlike other TJ dishes that tend to skimp on the meat, there's a pretty good, I'd even say appropriate, amount. And lastly, the coconut chile dressing...man. It kinda caught me off guard the first time I sampled it. You see, it starts out sweet and mellow, like coconut milk, with some mango (and perhaps lime) flavor, bordering on almost too sweet, before it drops the people's elbow with a load of chile-laden spice that I wouldn't have anticipated. It's absolutely fantastic tastewise, though it's kinda like slightly-watery mayo in its composure, so it plops instead of pours. I suppose you can dip your forkful instead, but when you also have quinoa, that makes it a harder task to complete successfully. That's the only minus I can think of, because on the whole, I can quantify the TJMRQCS as one of the best salads I've ever had, at least in the prepackaged variety. And naturally, because of the leafy roughage, lean protein, and grainy goodness, the salad is filling and will keep you going all day.

So...what did Sandy think? Wish I could tell you exactly. I'm almost certain she would've loved every bite of it, as the only potentially undesirable bits would be the onions that she could easily flick aside and carry on. Sandy took hers to work, and somehow, for some reason or other, forgot to eat it... *smh*...shame shame. I guess the preschool fish sticks were just too tempting for her, and since she has this fairly strict and sensible rule about never eating something past its supposed "best by" date, the window for her to try it this week has unfortunately passed. Doh. Fortunately for me, Sandy brought it back home, and since I lack such a strict and sensible rule, and hate for such things to go to complete waste, I had a bit of it with my lunch today to remind myself yet again how good it is. It was only two day's past its best-by date, and still impeccably fresh and not one bit funkified, so don't judge me, alright?

I think I've decided that TJMRQCS stands for more than just Trader Joe's Mango, Red Quinoa and Chicken Salad. It also stands for "Trader Joe's Made Russ Quite a Craziscrumptilicios Salad," because that they did. I can give it only the slightest of knocks for the dressing's consistency, and given how minor an offense that is when weighed against the whole, it seems only right that we have a new entrant into the "What's Good at Trader Joe's" Pantheon.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, October 28, 2011

Trader Joe's Peanut Butter & Oat Bars

These remind me a little of Tiger's Milk bars. Remember those? They're little energy bar kind of snack things. I think they still sell 'em in 7-11's and such. I always liked Tiger's Milk bars. Funny name, though. It sounds like some bad line from Charlie Sheen during his heavily publicized psychotic period. "What are the three things in my tummy? I was hoping you wouldn't ask that. Um...let's see: bile, intestinal fortitude, and tiger's milk." Right, Charlie.
But anyway, I like them. They're filling and flavorful and reasonably-priced. At first, I thought I saw actual peanuts floating throughout the bars, however, after munching away for a minute or so, I realized I hadn't really crunched anything at all. It was all chewiness all the way. Upon closer inspection, what I first assumed to be peanuts proved to be peanut butter chips: perhaps not as healthy, but at least as tasty. I certainly wouldn't have minded a few peanut-halves. In fact, that's my biggest complaint about this mostly successful product. Why make something peanut-flavored and not add peanuts? It's not like peanuts cost $8 a jar like macadamias. And although the chewiness was nice, I'm always down for a little crunch-factor.

I can never predict what Sonia will think of products like these. Sometimes she thinks things are too dry, or that they make her too thirsty. Fortunately, she thought to bring a spot of milk with her when she tried these for the first time. No, not tiger's milk. Cow's milk, I believe. But at any rate, I recommend them. They're peanut-buttery, filling, and they have a nice flavor. Four out of five stars from me. Ditto from Sonia. Bottom line: 8 out of 10 stars.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Trader Joe's Milk Chocolate Covered Potato Chips and Trader Joe's Pumpkin Cheesecake

There's a lot of perks to being one of the world's foremost amateur-hack foodie reviewer of all things Trader Joe's. I love whenever Sandy and I walk into the local store, we're greeted by the cashiers ringing their bells to the glorious tune of "Ode to Joy" as one of the stock boys approaches us both with a lei to place around our necks and gives us a hint to where the stuffed elephant is this week. Well, okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration. What isn't, though, is the sheer influx of all sorts of recommendations to try this or try that. In fact, one of our best finds was pointed out to us by a friend of mine, and further confirmed by lots of Facebook comments to the general effect of "You gotta try the chocolate caramel sea salt bar! OMG!!!" I'll admit that I generally love all the recommendations we receive, even though it makes our "to try" list almost as long as the tax code but far, far tastier.

Anyways, one item that's come up over and over and over again is Trader Joe's newish Milk Chocolate Covered Potato Chips. I get the appeal. Sandy and I were making a quick trip for some chips and hummus before heading to a friend's get-together, she saw the new bright shiny display, and immediately looked at me, eyes wide open, strained cheeks, teeth slightly bared. I can be a little slow on the uptake, but the meaning was quite clear: Pleaseohpleaseohpleaseplease pleaseprettyprettyplease we should eat these in the car plllllllease. Well, okay. You can tell our rush to try them out as Sandy quick snapped the picture on my iPhone after quickly plopping them on a windowsill inside the store. And sorry, we neglected to get the nutriotion info snapshot as enough employees were already giving us the stink-eye. We'll remedy this soon.

I'm not sure they were worth the rush, hub-bub and hype. I mean, they're good and all, don't get me wrong. They're just not as good as I hoped. First off, they have way too much chocolate and not enough chip. You know how, if you order a plate of nachos, and there's always one or two that have all the melty cheese attached to them? Think of every chip in the bag, except it's chocolate. It's good, tasty chocolate, to be sure, but it's just too much. Also, consider the chips. On the plus side, they're big, crunchy, full of ridges and definitely noticeable even in the cocoa flux. I like them, but there's two problems: First, namely, there's not enough of them. And second, well, I don't think they're salted, which I was kinda expecting. These are like the polar opposite of the Sea Salt Brownie Petites, which were way too salty. Not to go all Goldilocks on you, but these weren't salty enough (the aforementioned sea salt/caramel chocolate bar? Just right).

Sandy and I pretty much agree on these: not a bad munchie, but there's better irresistible snacks at TJ's. Sandy goes with a respectable three, I'll go with half a spoon better.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Annnnnnnnnd....here's a quickie bonus review of Trader Joe's Pumpkin Cheesecake, another well-recommended item from our readers. Not that I'd recommend combining the chocolate potato chips and the cheesecake into one dessert...that's a combo even I wouldn't try...but if it's your thing, well, who am I to judge? This was another quick stop pick-up for a family dinner on a day when we didn't have a chance to make a homemade dessert. However,as you can see by the far-snazzier looking picture, Sandy had much more time to make it look all fancy on her iPhone. It's in the freezer section, and the instructions say something to the effect of thaw for an hour or two at room temperature and it'll be good to go. Well, like other TJ desserts of this ilk, the results left a little to be desired. We waited the two hours to slice it up, and there were still some frozen bits here and there, and it had the unmistakable just-frozen taste to it. That's not a huge minus to me. I quite enjoyed it, actually, as it was tart, tasty, and kinda creamy, though it could have been creamier (see: just frozen). And kinda like the pumpkin pancake mix, the cheesecake was sort of pumpkin-pie tasting, while probably erring on the side of not pumpkinny enough, which I can appreciate. The graham cracker crust was pretty good, too, and for $6.99, not a bad price for a family-sized dessert. Most of our clan liked it enough, with even an enthusiastic "five" rating from the under-six crowd, while the rest of us gave a few satisfied Mmms. Only my dad had any mildly negative flavor comments ("not pumpkin pie-like enough"), and if you knew how well he's been spoiled over the years by tasty homemade desserts, you wouldn't blame him. I'll go ahead and give it a four, I think, while Sandy sticks with a three for mostly texture-related issues (related to being just frozen, of course). I'd say it's worth getting for a easy dessert to share if you don't have the time for homemade goodies, just give it plenty of thawing time before serving.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons