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Friday, April 5, 2013

Trader Joe's Crispy Jeju Mandarin Orange Slices

How long does a bag of mandarins or clementines last in your house? Around these parts, not long at all. The wife and I can inhale a two pound bag in literally a day. It must be our completely irrational fear of scurvy. As an aside, we have to save one for Baby M, who loves holding one in her little hands as she tries to impersonate the two of us by trying to cram it into mouth. Like father, like daughter, I guess. Scary thought. She literally held one for hours at school one day until a bigger kid came by, swiped it, and chomped it as Baby M burst into tears. If someone stole my little orange, I'd have much the same reaction.

Anyways, when I see the words "crispy" and "Mandarin orange," my mind automatically inserts the word "chicken." So it's a little jarring to see the full name, Trader Joe's Crispy Jeju Mandarin Orange Slices, and know it's an obviously orangey poultry-free product. In case you whiff on this observation, TJ's conveniently slapped on the phrase "nothing added". No, friends, what's about to go down is a crispy orange slice, in all its crispy orange slice glory, and there's nothing to add or subtract from that.

Except the juiciness, naturally. Texturally and sensorially, the orange slices are kinda bizarre at first. Visually, they look like something you'd find in a potpurri jar. Imagine leaving an orange slice in the desert sun for a week or two, and coming back and finding a withered skin-frame of what used to be a regular mandarin orange slice. That's about what they look like, and kinda what they crunch like, too. Each bit is light, airy, and definitely crispy, like a potato chip but much lighter, like crispy paper, perhaps. It's strange until you get used to it.

What it doesn't lose is taste. Despite the abject absence of any water, the orange slices still maintain a lot of the citrusy acidic bite. Some were even downright tart. Once I got used to the texture and mouthfeel of these lil' buggers, I could begin to really enjoy the taste. Unfortunately, that's also just about when the bag ran out.

The crispy oranges made an interesting little snack for the drive home post-work and shopping/pre-exercise/dinner/baby caretaking evening. Sandy's pretty hyped on the idea of getting them again before having guests over, to try and fool them into thinking we eat potpurri. Other than that, she stated she wasn't sure if she'd buy them again. I think it's because ultimately there isn't much substance to them. That's also my knock aganst 'em, though the edible potpurri shenanigans sound good to me. Sandy says a three. I say they deserve better, just for being willing to be a little weird, so a four from me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Crispy Jeju Mandarin Orange Slices: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons        

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Trader Joe's Gourmet Jelly Beans

The past couple days have been significant double-holidays. In case you weren't paying attention, yesterday was April Fool's Day—not to mention, Holy Monday. And the day before that was Easter—and also, Cesar Chavez's birthday. The whole Cesar Chavez thing is way bigger out in L.A., where we used to live. Heck, they have streets named after him there. And here in Philly, Easter is a bigger deal. Most of the stores are closed, and everyone has family dinners in their fancy spring suits and Easter hats. We saw one lady wearing a two-foot tall Easter bonnet. She was the Mistress of Ceremonies at an Easter egg hunt in a nearby park, and a personal friend of the Easter Bunny himself.

Circa 1983, at the age of 3 and a half, I'm quoted as saying "Look what that rabbit brought me!" in regards to a basket full of goodies that I found on Easter morning. It had some carob bunnies (I was forbidden chocolate in my early years) some small toys, and yes, those timeless Easter classics: jelly beans.

I guess they're sort of shaped like little eggs and that's why it's sort of appropriate to eat them on Easter. But hey, why limit yourself to one Sunday a year? They taste good all the time...that is, unless you're talking about a popcorn-flavored Jelly Belly.

And like Jelly Belly, this mixture of beans from Trader Joe's contains both scrump-dilly-icious flavors...aaand a few not-so-scrump-dilly flavors. Sonia and I especially enjoyed the coconut, grape, and strawberry smoothie flavors, but we were less enthused about licorice and pomegranate. That's not to say those latter flavors are bad, it's just that they don't blend as well when you grab a handful of random beans and shovel them into your mouth all at once. The beans are made with natural flavors, and they're even colored with "fruit & vegetable sources."
Just look at the ingredients list pictured here. They were thinking outside the box with these additives. When's the last time you saw currant, pumpkin, hibiscus, and gardenia extracts listed on the back of a food product?

I felt like these jelly beans were slightly stiffer than other brands—at least when you first start to chew them. It could have just been that they were cold when we ate them, though. I'll have to turn the heat up in the kitchen... Anyway, please comment below if you found the same thing.

All things considered, these were a nice little Easter treat for my wife and I. We enjoyed eating them and trying to identify each of the 18 flavors. We're still not sure if we got every single flavor in our box, but most of the ones we did get were tasty and unique. Click here for a close-up of the beans out of the box. Sonia gives these beans 4 stars. Me too.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Trader Joe's Everlasting Organic Fair Trade Free Range Salmon Breakfast Muffins

Well, friends, there's not much more that can be said other than a few years' worth of hard work on this blog has finally paid off. Big Joe (as in THE Big Joe, ruler of the Trader Joe kingdom) has finally noticed us, and has reached out to us in light of our usually positive-if-not-glowing, always-free-for-them publicity we give his company, and has decided to reward us. No, it's not with our dream jobs with the Fearless Flyer. It's not an on-the-house case of two-buck Chuck. No, friends, this is something much, much better.

We've been selected via plume of white smoke at the Monrovia headquarters to be the very first to sample a brand new product and have been allowed to write about it only after some long, late night negotiations. Now, we may have let this go to our heads a little, and so may be a little biased and all when we say this, but it's the best thing we've ever tried from Trader Joe's: TJ's Everlasting Organic Fair Trade Free Range Salmon Breakfast Muffins.
Okay, yeah, that might sound a little...unsettling at first glance. Well, trust us, because as always, we're right, and even if we're not, our opinion counts more than yours anyways. These are amazing. Each bite is like kissing the lips of God. They are lifechanging. You'll never go back to any other breakfast muffin again.

They're a bit difficult to describe though. "What's so difficult to explain about a slab of salmon on an English muffin?" you ask. Well, first off, the salmon is puffed into "culinary foam," via blasts of air from N2O cartridges. The process not only turns the fish into a fluffy, whipped gourmet treat, but it extends the flavor and shelf life of the product indefinitely, hence the "Everlasting" part of the product's title. Each of the toppings, including cream cheese, lox, and bran flakes, are deconstructed to the molecular level in a top secret particle accelerator, overseen by the very same physicists who rose to fame with their exploits at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland. Their latest project resulted in the confirmation of the existence of "the deliciousness particle," first theorized in 1985. And each of these muffins abounds with liberal amounts of deliciousness particles—they are delectable indeed.

Even more astonishing than the flavor is what's included in each and every package. To verify that each salmon used is in fact organic, fair trade, free range, happy and otherwise socially well-adjusted at time of harvest, there's a small booklet inside that gives the salmon's entire life story, starting from when their forefather first spawned upriver and up thru their awkward salmon teenage years. Our particular salmon's name was Henry, and he mostly just enjoyed swimming and being in school. One day he aspired to be the right tackle for the Miami Dolphins. Well, Henry, you got yourself a better fate than that. 
Henry's foamed-up form, and those of each and every salmon, rests atop a bed of the finest fair-trade Ecuadorian quinoa, Indian oats, and Chinese amaranth, cooked to golden-brown perfection in an energy-efficient solar oven. And incredibly, the farmer of each of the grains has autographed the packaging and included a statement certifying that he got equitable treatment when he exported his product.

One part of our agreement with Big Joe was, we were not allowed to take pictures of the packaging or actual product, so as to not tip off the competitors too much. However, they didn't say we couldn't try to replicate them using MS Paint, hence the, umm, incredible and nearly authentic reproductions we provided. Speaking of competitors....word on the street is, Whole Foods will be offering a version of these, and though the pricing isn't official, we hear it involves a 15% down payment and two-thirds of your left pinkie. That's a bit steep - Trader Joe's will be selling them for $1.99. 

We're not sure why these are marketed as breakfast muffins. Don't get us wrong, eat one first thing in the morning and automatically the sun shines a little brighter and the birds chirp just a little louder and your stocks are guaranteed to hit an all time high in just a few hours, but these everlasting, shelf stable sandwiches are so amazing, and require no refrigeration or freezing or anything, and actually can be stored in temperatures of up to 194 degrees Fahrenheit without compromising product quality, so buy a whole stash! Keep some in the desk at work, some in the minivan for the kiddos, heck, even stash some under the couch for, you know, one of "those nights." They're appropriate whenever, so don't be shy.

For the culinary and food-science benchmarks that they set, for their unbelievable taste and texture, and for their incredible value, these muffins earn top ratings from all four of us here at WG@TJ's. For the first time ever, we offer a better-than-perfect score.

Bottom line: 20 out of 10.