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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Trader Joe's Poutine

If you're not familiar with poutine, Canada's most popular contribution to gluttonous cuisine, it's simply fries and cheese curds topped with gravy, and occasionally some other stuff. Apparently, with its status as a cult favorite of sorts in Quebec, it's growing in popularity as McDonald's just recently announced they will start selling it Canada-wide. I'm certainly not doggy-paddling across Lake Erie or driving up to Niagara Falls (about four or five hours from the 'burgh) just to try a big ol' McMess, but I've had poutine a few other times, most notably at a pretty sweet little neighborhood restaurant. Although I'm not the biggest fan, I'd like to think that I have some sort of idea of what poutine ought to taste like, so when Sandy spotted a freezer bag full of Trader Joe's Poutine and put on her "OOOOOOOO PLEEEEEASE" face, well, I guess we just had to try.

Not gonna lie: We're both a little disappointed. The disappointment certainly isn't on the scale of something like, say those silly Chicken Parmypops or whatever they were called, but still. Each individual component kinda underwhelms. There's nothing too special about the fries, but to us they were the standout. They're the big, soft inside, slightly crispy outside type, though I wish they got crispier on the outside to withstand the gravy and cheese curds a little better. The gravy? Meh, which seems to be the norm for TJ's gravy. Those cheese curds though...listen, I may not know any better, so if I offend some cheese curd superfans out there, I apologize in advance. But these were not good. The bag kinda touts them as a "mild cheddar" but the curds are much closer in taste to a fresh mozzarella. That part's okay. The part that isn't is, these are big, rubbery, chewy chunks. The size doesn't bother me as much as the texture. If they were a little softer and creamier, the curds would stand a chance of being fantastic. Instead they just seem like cheese blubber, with emphasis on the blubber. Even my cheese-lovin' toddler tried to eat a little teeny piece, made a face, and spit it out. I wouldn't go that far, but I don't blame her either.

Plus, the part that gets me a little is the preparation. It's pretty standard oven-heating for the fries. But the cheese curds and gravy? You're supposed to keep them in the bag, heat a small pot of water, put them in the pot on the stove while continuing to heat. Most other TJ's dishes that come with a frozen packet of sauce or whatever don't have you actually "cook" the packet, and there's something about doing so that gives me the skeevy-jeevies a little bit. I'll trust that they're BPA-free, so that's not quite it. But there is something there.

Anyways, as I've stated, although we're not poutine experts, we're underwhelmed. I'd go as far to say that if this were my first experience with poutine ever, I'd be fairly unlikely to try again. That's the blessing and curse of TJ's - they make so many "exotic" dishes so well that when one misses the mark, it seems overly disappointing. If you really want to try poutine, scrounge up a couple extra bucks (TJ's version cost $4, we got "fancy poutine" for $8) and find some on a local menu somewhere, and probably skip the McD's too. Sandy kinda agrees and gave 'em a two, maybe more out of pity than much else. I'll go one and a half.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Poutine: 3.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Trader Joe's Milk Chocolate Orange

Since we'll be harping on about the joys of Christmas for the next few weeks, let me throw this out there now before it's too late: Happy Hanukkah! Who knew it came so early this year? For our kosher readers: if you can find it, check out the fruit and nut log before the Festival of Lights is over! 

And now, on to my mandatory semantical pondering of the day: shouldn't this product be orange chocolate? I mean it's chocolate that tastes like orange. It's not an actual orange covered in chocolate. Just sayin'. 

Leave it to a Japanese YouTube channel to enlighten me about real chocolate-covered oranges. And leave it to the Germanic peoples of northern Europe to give us Christmas classics like pfeffernüsse, which you can find at Trader Joe's, along with festive American offerings like chocolate peppermint cupcakes and eggnog.

Since I've furnished you with enough snarkiness to last us through December, I won't even mention TJ's advent calendars, although I will say that the chocolates in the one we bought this year taste vastly better than the first one we tried. I think the calendar we used in 2011 might have had chocolate from 2010 or 2009 in it. As much as I appreciate vintage wines, and in some cases aged cheeses, I don't think chocolate works that way.

But that was one of the strengths of this chocolate orange. The chocolate just tasted fresh. The orange flavor helped give it a little extra splash of tartness that tingled the tongue and enhanced the milk chocolate sweetness. Similar to Terry's famous chocolate orange, you must whack this one on the counter to separate the 20 thin slices. In fact, it's so similar to the Terry's oranges I've had, I'm wondering if this is just a re-packaging of Terry's brand...? Don't quote me on that. It's just one of my speculative musings about the secret world of Trader Joe's suppliers. Either way, this is a pretty good product if I can't tell the difference between TJ's brand and the original.

I guess this is something you're supposed to get as a stocking stuffer on Christmas morning. Sonia and I didn't wait. The review wouldn't do you much good after the holidays are over, now would it? Despite Sonia's slight aversion to eating plain chocolate, she managed to muster enough enthusiasm for three and a half stars. I think I'll give it four and a half.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10 stars.
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And yes, that is Yoda in a Santa suit next to the chocolate orange under our Christmas tree.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Triple Ginger Snaps

Since it's December and Turkey Day has now passed, it's officially time to start enjoying the Christmas season and to look forward to all the goodies ahead. That's not to discount Thanksgiving at all - quite the opposite actually - I'm just a one-holiday-at-a-time kinda guy. I love the Christmas season for so many reasons, but most pertinently to this post, the cookies. And I must say this: this is entirely because of my mother, who each and every year, literally pours her heart and soul into making batch upon batch upon batch upon batch of dozens of different cookie types. Chocolate mint? Check. Anise seed? Check. Jelly thumbprints? Candy cane? Cranberry lemon creme? Homemade biscotti in dazzling arrays of flavors? Yes, yes, and yes, and yes to so many more. She will not settle for anyone placing his/her foot in her house without an absolute abundance of at least nine of their favorite ten varieties of cookies ready for mass consumption on a whim's notice. It's absurdly delicious and so, so appreciated, more than what I can put words to. Now that's something to be thankful for and eager about at the same time, so, yeah, it's all timely here.

Naturally, it's pretty unfair to hold some store-bought confectionery trinkets up to this measure. Regardless, in their own way, Trader Joe's this time of year shines, with some of their best seasonal work. And it's never a bad idea to take something so-so (which the Triple Ginger Snaps are certainly much better than) and coat it in dark chocolate just to see what will happen - sometimes it's absolutely transformative.

Sadly, the Dark Chocolate Triple Ginger Snaps are also a transformative experience, but that's not meant in glowing terms. Changes and twists aren't always good, and here's an example. You might think that this product is simply one of the regular ginger snaps coated in dark chocolate, but while that's technically true, I s'pose, it doesn't exactly tell the story. There's something about the dark chocolate that robs the ginger snap of its two main alluring qualities. First, in quite literal terms, it sugarcoats the balance-yet-spicy ginger bite from the snaps. It's too smooth, too unbalanced, too much chocolate and not enough ginger. I know how good those ginger snaps can taste - I want to taste them! And I want them to crunch the way their naked forefathers did. That's the second thing. My presumption is that in the non-choc'ed-up ones, the crystallized ginger adds slight bit of stiff occasional chewiness to an otherwise tough, crunchy cookie that works so, so well. That all gets lost with these guys, and so they're texturally pretty boring.

Other than that, well, they're a decent enough cookie. I mean, my arm didn't have to be twisted to eat them. But the sleeve of maybe about twenty of them lasted around the house for almost two weeks, so my tastebuds weren't exactly clamoring for them, either. Nor were Sandy's, who noted much of the above, shrugged, and gave 'em a three. That sounds just about right to me as well. They could worth a pickup for the office holiday lunch potluck - for about four bucks a box, you could do worse - but they certainly do not belong at the centerpiece of any holiday cookie spread. Don't believe me? That's fine. Just ask my mom.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Triple Ginger Snaps: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons