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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Trader Joe's Soft Pretzel Stick

Despite multiple promises to review more gluten free products, here's another review of something that is most definitely not gluten free. I hope this doesn't come as a slap in the face to you gluten-intolerant folks out there—it's just that we haven't seen anything interesting in the gluten free category in quite a while, and we couldn't pass up this tasty-looking 99 cent soft pretzel.

I never realized how many pretzel products we've reviewed on this blog until I searched for the keyword "pretzel" just now. As Russ observed a few years back, it probably has something to do with the fact that the German-speaking settlers who brought pretzels over from Europe many generations ago kinda made this area (southeast PA to central PA) the pretzel capital of the US—and possibly now the world. One could argue that the Germans who invented the pretzel should have that title, but while our Deutsche freunde balanced their interest in twisted bread with beer,
sauerkraut, and chocolate cake, we Americans took to marketing the pretzel as far and wide as we possibly could. We not only have the headquarters for several famous hard pretzel brands in this area, but we also have pretzel-based restaurant chains like Philly Pretzel Factory and Auntie Anne's. So we Pennsylvanians know our pretzels.

And considering that this pretzel is pre-packaged, shelf-stable, and inexpensive, I have to say that it's not bad at all. In my opinion, it's not particularly pretzel-like. It's more like soft white bread if you ask me, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It does have the typical brown "skin" of a pretzel, but even that is pretty soft. Sonia was mesmerized by the softness of this pretzel. She sat there staring at her piece, squeezing it, and smiling strangely. I asked if she was going to eat it, and sensing that I might snatch it away from her if she didn't, she quickly wolfed it down. She loved it. It tasted like lightly salted fresh white bread. It made great sandwiches and tasted good with cheese and chili. 

It's nothing very fancy. But the genius of a pretzel is its simplicity. Sonia gives this a near-perfect score of 4.5 stars. It's certainly not bad, but I might have marked it higher had it been more pretzel-esque. As it is, I give it a respectable 3.5.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Trader Joe's Crème Fraîche

I was entirely unfamiliar with crème fraîche (krem fresh) until I was enlightened by Wikipedia and this recent Trader Joe's purchase. It's apparently somewhere between cream cheese and sour cream—not unlike unflavored Greek yogurt, but significantly more fattening. I'd also like to go out on a limb and say that it's slightly more in the direction of sour cream in terms of flavor, because it tastes better with the same types of foods that you'd eat with sour cream. Sonia tried it with biscuits and jelly and was thoroughly disappointed. It's apparently more suited for consumption with salty and savory foods, rather than sweets. So a good rule of thumb is that if you'd consider eating a food with sour cream, you could consider eating that same food with crème fraîche. But be warned: it's much thicker than sour cream.

We had it with Trader Joe's Veggie Chili, some cheese, and some corn chips. It was delicious that way, although it was difficult to distribute the crème throughout the mixture. It kept occurring to me that we might as well be dumping lumps of lard into our chili. It makes everything richer, thicker, and more indulgent, but I'm not sure that it enhances the flavor enough to make all the extra fat worth it. I think I'd just prefer sour cream in most cases. And as we've discussed before, plain yogurt makes a great substitute for sour cream, in case you want even less fat.

This is one of those rare cases in which I have no frame of reference to judge TJ's product against other brands' offerings. So if I'm harsh with my score, you can assume I'm just not a crème fraîche kinda guy. It's certainly not that I'm assuming that TJ's version is worse than others. In fact, kudos to Trader Joe's for making international-type products like this accessible for relatively low cost. However, Sonia has had crème fraîche before, and she thinks that the other times she's had it, it was fluffier and lighter than in this case. And while that may have to do with the way it was prepared, she was still a bit disappointed with the consistency of this product. But on the other hand, she's in love with all things European, particularly French, and she liked the taste enough to give it a 3.5. I like to think of myself as cultured, worldly, and open to new things, but when products like this come along, I realize I'm just a sour cream-loving 'Merican boy. If I'm dining out and I order a dish that happens to have crème fraîche in it, then so be it. But I can't feature myself purchasing this $3.49 product ever again...from TJ's or anyone else. 2.5 stars from me.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Trader Joe's Crunchy Slaw

Yup, another week, another salad here.

Let's get right to it: In all honesty, Trader Joe's Crunchy Slaw is certainly the best TJ's salad I've had in recent weeks. It's simple, straightforward, and pretty darn close to uncompromising in almost every aspect. Unlike last week's southwestern stroll, every bite of lettuce and cabbage had plenty of fresh, fleshy crispiness and bite to it that tasted practically like I just dug up the leafy veggies and chopped them myself. Absolutely nothing to complain about there. Some carrots, green onion and cilantro are tossed in, and also very fresh, for a very simple yet flavorful combo. Those crispy lo mein style noodles add even more crunch and add a great texture layer and a little filling out, while the peanut dressing...mmm mmm mm mmm mmm. Ask any of coworkers who have borne witness to my past Easter Reese's Cup binge (stop bringing them in!!!) and they will tell you I love me some peanut butter, and while peanut dressing and peanut butter are obviously not the same exact thing, the dressing was definitely very peanut buttery-esque in taste. It's like pad thai without the noodles.  There's plenty of the sauce, too, so there's more than enough to cover up every bite without using the whole packet if you want to save some caloric content. And it's just all simple and straightforward enough that it works, effortlessly.

The one downside: chicken content. There's not enough. The Chick-Fil-A cow would go picket about this, provided it weren't Sunday, of course. In my salad, there's were two respectable-sized strips (one big bite or two medium chomps each) and a smaller one about half the size of the other two. Going on the theory that a serving size of meat is about the size of a deck of playing cards, this is pretty close to a half-serving. I guess, arguably, some of the lack of poultry protein is made up for in part by the peanuts in the dressing, but still, another couple bites would have been a welcome addition, especially because it was some pretty decent bird otherwise.

Major thanks to one of our longest tenured and most loyal fans, Kalei's Best Friend, for tipping me off to this particular salad after last week's bummer. It's always to nice see your comments and whenever we agree, is it strange to say I personally feel legitimized? Maybe. Anyhoos, this was $4.49 fairly well spent once that will be spent again. I'll just try to find one with a little more chicken next time.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Crunchy Slaw: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons