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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Trader Joe's Sweet Potato Tortilla Chips and Trader Josè's Chunky Spicy Guacamole Autèntico

Peanut butter and jelly. Peaches and cream. Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. So many classic pairings out there, they just deserve to go together. Such as it is with Trader Joe's Sweet Potato Tortilla Chips and Trader Josè's Chunky Spicy Guacamole Autèntico that we're gonna review them both right here and now. If you've listened to the first episode of Let's Talk TJ's, our brand-spankin' new podcast, you mighta known this review was comin', but there's some ground to cover, so let's get to it.

First: Trader Joe's Sweet Potato Tortilla Chips. This isn't their first go around with a yam-inspired tortilla chip, but it's a little different from previous incarnations. TJ's has had a longstanding product in an orange bag that has somehow escaped the scrutiny of this blog despite repeated pick-ups from me, at least. Those, while good, were a lot like typical corn tortilla chips - heavy on the maize aspect, with just enough sweet potato to turn them that requisite rustic hue and offer a little hint of taste. Not bad, right, but kinda "meh" after a while. This is a whole other something else. These chips smell more sweet potato-ey. They taste more sweet potato-ey. And they, by design, are in fact more sweet potato-ey - 18%, to be exact, according to the blurb on the back. That doesn't sound like a lot, but apparently that's the most amount of sweet potato flour one can mix with corn and still get something resembling a tortilla chip and not some mess. There's still a fair amount of typical corn chippiness for the flavor, but I'd say the sweet potato flavor dominates. These chips are lighter and crispier as well, while not being overly greasy, and fairly lightly salted with a little touch of lime. The ingredients also list "honey granules" which I presume are meant to enhance the sweetness of each chip (well, duh), but there's nothing that seems forced about that, either. These are some darn good chips. Bonus points for being gluten-free.

Of course, nothing makes a good chip even better like something worthwhile to dip it in. So glad to have spotted Trader Josè's Chunky Spicy Guacamole Autèntico for the snacky sidekick. I haven't tried that avocado salsa yet, but I can tell you this is on the completely other end of the texture spectrum already. In the package I bought, there where probably at least half a dozen big, soft, creamy chunks of avocado that were multi-chip worthy. Love it. In between them were some small chunks of pepper and onion (nothing too noteworthy) with plenty of smushed avocado that was again very soft and creamy. I honestly didn't consider this to be too spicy, but others might - there is a little tingle from some jalapenos and black pepper, bt that's about it. Some bites tasted a little salty, though. Looking at the ingredients, there's nothing weird in there, nothing out of line - just good, honest guacamole that tries to replicate homemade as best as possible. I don't think I could make a better one myself. One quibble: the packaging. It's the curse of avocados. No one else in my house likes them, and I can't (and by that, I mean shouldn't) eat one of these in one setting, or even over the course of just two or three days. But it's a cheap, flimsy, peel the plastic back thing which I covered up as best I could with Saran Wrap and a Ziploc bag, and it still got brown around the edges. Listen: If literally right down the road from me people are working on driverless cars for Uber, we can find a way to keep guacamole fresh for more than a day.

Together....delicious, delicious snacking. I bought both the sweet potato tortilla chips and chunky guac two shopping trips in a row, and will continue to do so until I get sick of them, which I hope will not be for a long, long time. The slightly more fragile composition of the chips caused a fair amount of breakage while digging through the avocado chunk minefield, but with a little care, the damage was kept to a minimum. At present time, I can't think of a better chip-and-dip pairing. Sandy wholeheartedly enjoyed the chips just plain or with some ranch on them, so these will be around pretty often, I think. As for the guacamole, I couldn't pay her to touch it, which isn't a bad thing - there's more for me! Too much textural funky stuff for her. For only like $3 each, they're both steals. Let's 9 them both up.

Bottom lines:
Trader Joe's Sweet Potato Tortilla Chips: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Trader Josè's Chunky Spicy Guacamole Autèntico: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Trader José's Avocado Salsa

When Sonia and I saw this stuff on the shelf at TJ's, we began inspecting it through its semi-transparent plastic tub, and we noted its signature pale-green color and thin consistency. We immediately thought of two different green sauces from our California days. Sonia began dreaming of Olvera Street, an historic Mexican marketplace in Los Angeles with old-timey architecture and tasty taquitos. One vendor in particular garnished their little tacos with a mildly-spicy green sauce that Sonia was hoping this Avocado Salsa would replicate. My mind went to Wahoo's, where I'd frequently order their delicious fish tacos that came with a creamy green sauce in a little salsa cup. I only JUST became aware that there is at least one Wahoo's in Center City Philly. I'll have to find an excuse to go there soon...

Because this green sauce was not exactly like the delicious green sauce from Wahoo's. It was exactly like the mildly-spicy green drizzle from Olvera Street—much to Sonia's delight. We happened to have some non-TJ's tacos on hand and we tried pouring the Avocado Salsa on them. It was amazing. We also enjoyed using this as a chip dip, but in the latter case, we missed the chunkiness of a normal guacamole or traditional salsa.

Make no mistake, this stuff is quite thin as salsas go—and even thinner as guacamole goes. It's almost like a lightly-spiced, pureed—or even...dare I say liquefied?—guacamole. No chunks of anything—just a smooth texture and a nice avocado flavor with a hint of a kick. As I mentioned, you could use it as a stand-alone salsa, but I think it truly shines when used as a drizzle for other Mexican foods or blended into other dishes. I could see this going great on chili or even as a dressing for a taco salad or southwest salad.

Sonia wishes it were a little bit thicker and a little bit spicier, but overall, she enjoyed it. Four stars from her. I absolutely agree.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Trader Joe's Pastrami Style Smoked Atlantic Salmon

It's kinda crazy, the busy lives we live. Most if not all of you know what I mean. Might look like different things to different people, but at the base, there's a common truth - we're just busybusybusy people. Sandy and I are no exception. Both of us have more than fulltime jobs, a couple young kiddos, a house hitting the century mark this year (so lots of upkeep, and that doesn't even include the laundry), family, friends, errands...the list goes on. That's why I really treasure our weekend mornings. We make it a point to have at least one leisurely weekend morning meal, where we can actually sit down, chat, drink a couple cups of coffee, and just hang out for an hour or more. It's the best, and it's a great re-centering point for the week. It also helps that breakfast is probably our favorite meal, foodwise, so we usually go with the classics - eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, fruit, etc.

Well, this past weekend we had only shot at this, on Sunday morning. I got roped into some early morning weekend OT at the day job, which preceded another busy day of errands (Huzzah Costco!) and kid-wranglin'. As mentioned on our new podcast, Let's Talk TJ's, Sunday morning is the best time to go shopping at TJ's, so we headed out early, pre-breakfast, with bacon on our mind. Then we saw this, Trader Joe's Pastrami Style Smoked Atlantic Salmon, and were intrigued enough to give it  try.

Make no mistake: this was a gamble. This was our one true laidback family meal of the week, and if the food stunk, that'd be a real stinker. TJ's, in the history of our blog, doesn't have the shiniest track record with salmon products (like this or this). Plus...Sandy doesn't usually like salmon. Pink meat kinda creeps her out. It's only because this blatantly said "Pastrami Style" that she was willing to try it - she loves my dad's smoked pastrami (yes, I know, another pink meat) so semi-begrudgingly we got this, with a pack of bagels to make some sandwiches for a brunch with blueberries and coffee. 

Glad we rolled the dice. We both are very happy with the purchase. In the packages there's about eight or nine slabs of fresh fleshy fish a few inches long by maybe a millimeter or so thick, so just about the right amount for two decently-stacked sandwiches. The salmon is pretty clean and mild, for the most part. From my dad's aforementioned smoking prowess, I'm fairly certain I can tell the difference between different smoking wood chip varieties. For my part, I sensed more sweetness from the apple and cherry than depth from oak and maple, which isn't a bad thing for a meat like the steak that swims.

One thing not present throughout the salmon: all those pastrami spices. That's because all the black pepper and parika and whatnot were rubbed in post-smoking, not before. I'm thinking that's a good call, as we were able to enjoy both the sweet smokiness of "plain" salmon and the spicy peppery bite from around the edges in about equal measure.

I'm not sure if this a brand new product, but it's definitely the first time we saw it. The four ounce package cost $4.99, about which I'm indecisive about the value. That equates to $20 a pound, so yeah...that's a lot. Then again, we're not frequent salmon purchasers, so maybe that's the going rate, but the curse of TJ's is I sometimes just expect an exceptional value, which I'm not convinced this is. Regardless, I'm glad we overcame our reservations to give our relaxed morning a little changeup Matching fours from the wife and me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Pastrami Style Smoked Atlantic Salmon: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons