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Friday, February 28, 2020

Trader Joe's Vegan Chicken-Less Seasoning Salt

I find it kinda funny how they decided to market this particular blend of spices. I wouldn't limit myself to only using this seasoning with vegan dishes...unless, of course, I were vegan. And I would think just about any spice would be considered vegan to begin with, unless it contained cheese—like the elote blend.

Anyway, onion, garlic, and turmeric are some of my favorite flavors on earth, so how do they go together? Quite well, just as I'd assumed. Tastes like chicken? Hmm. Well, lots of things do—particularly other non-red meats. This product? Not so much. Again, I'm totally fine with that, I just can't get over the marketing wizardry at play here.

I mean, it does sorta taste like the broth you get with chicken-flavored ramen soup. It's much more potent and flavorful than that, and a lot better quality, too. I don't think they put a lot of turmeric in ten cent fake chicken ramen, although maybe they should. Not only does the flavor go well with most soups, but it flaunts loads of health benefits, as well.

The flavor is somewhat salt-forward, by my estimation, but it's hard to stifle the savory flavors of garlic, onion, and turmeric together. None are significantly bolder than the others. Combined, they add a nice pungent zest to foods that otherwise might be on the bland side. We tried it with some potatoes and green beans and weren't disappointed. We had it with salmon, too, and were pleasantly surprised. 

I think this product is significantly more versatile than the aforementioned elote seasoning that we looked at earlier this week. Almost anywhere you'd want garlic, it's not going to hurt to have sea salt, onion, and turmeric as well. This seasoning just brings a broader spectrum of taste than any single one of its constituent parts. Sonia agrees and gives the product a thumbs up. She immediately compared it to Knorr Chicken Flavor Bouillon, something she grew up with. She likes this blend at least as much as Knorr's, so I think we're looking at four stars a piece here.

January and February 2020 have been long months. I think tonight we'll get warm, watch a movie, and have some chicken-less soup for the soul.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Trader Joe's Pearl Sugar Cookies

Um, sorry. Just sitting down to write this review, and I realize it's potentially very bad timing for some of you. It's gonna be the start of Lent when this gets published, it's a common deal to give up sweets...and here we are, leading off with a review of Trader Joe's Pearl Sugar Cookies.

My bad.

Let's get less awkward and just talk cookies. After all, if you're still reading this, you're either not observing a no-sweets Lent, or you feel pretty strong in your resolve, which is important so early in the game.

Mmm, pearl sugar. The only other experience I have with pearl sugar is with Belgian liege waffles, which are AMAZING. So, forgive me, but I really wanted these cookies to taste like Belgian liege waffles. I wanted them to magically be Belgian liege waffles but only in cookie form.

Spoiler: they're not. What these cookies are, though, are very decadent sugar cookies. Extremely. They may have been soft and crumbly when we first bought, but then by some voodoo I forgot we had them while my lovely bride was out of town for a week, so they sat atop our fridge until her return. That's the likely reason my most recent experiences with the cookies have been that they're still plenty bite-able but absolutely kinda dense and chewy, not the advertised "soft" word.

The batter itself is pretty rich. You can tell by the taste that there's a lot of eggs and butter ugh margarine in it, maybe enough to make Paula Deen repent. Sugar cookies aren't my favorite type - it'd take a extremely good sugar cookie to pass by an above-average chocolate chip, in my opinion - but if you're into sugar cookies, you'll like these quite a bit, I'm sure.

And then there's the pearl sugar, of course. Big ol' sugar beads are studded everywhere about the cookies. There's a really fun crunch to them, as one may expect, but with not as quite as sweet, sugary taste. It's...more refined than standard refined sugar? I don't know how to say that right. But it's different, if you've never experienced. And it's goood.

Good cookies. Just one seems more than enough. And if you're doing a no sweets Lent but all this sounds so good, here's a pro tip to run by your local priest: right now it's 46 days until Easter. Lent is supposed to be 40 days. Why the discrepancy? Because on Sundays, you're supposed to take a Sabbath from all work...including your fast. Lent has built in "cheat days." So go to TJ's, grab a box, and wait til the weekend. Cookies were $4 or $5, well worth the cost for a dozen. Double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Pearl Sugar Cookies: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, February 24, 2020

Trader Joe's Everything but the Elote Seasoning

Circa 2008, while living in California, Sonia and I and some of our friends took a Saturday afternoon to visit the L.A. Zoo. We'd all been there before, but the zoo was just one of those things we'd do if we were bored since it was close-by and not too expensive. It paled in comparison to the San Diego Zoo, but the two hour drive and heftier price tag made our visits there slightly less frequent. We'd had our fill of Disneyland that summer, so the local zoo was decided upon. 

After watching some listless, despondent animals and groups of tourists reenacting the Three's Company intro, we started to get hungry. We rounded a corner somewhere near the hippos, and spotted an unassuming Latina lady with a big metal cart. One of our friends shouted, "Let's get elote!"

I had to turn to Sonia and ask what elote was. Moments later, I was watching the other members of our crew slather mayonnaise onto corn on the cob. "You put mayo on corn on the cob?"

And not just mayo. But cotija cheese, sour cream, lime juice, and generous amounts of red chili powder. For a moment, I thought it strange. But after I tasted it? Love at first bite. I'd eaten corn on the cob my whole life, and all I could think was, "Why didn't white people think of this?" 

Salt, pepper, and butter seemed so boring after having my first taste of real elote, but since it's not readily available on street corners outside the Southland, we haven't had true elote in a while. But let me throw my initial thoughts about this product out there to start things off: 

Is Trader Joe's Everything But the Elote Seasoning a unique, delicious condiment? Absolutely. 

Does it taste like actual elote? Well...kinda.

There are definitely detectable amounts of tangy cheese, spicy chili, chipotle, and salt, all of which I consider good and authentic as far as elote flavor goes. But I'm a little mystified as to why sugar is the number one ingredient—and you can taste it. It's definitely much sweeter than any other elote flavored thing I've ever had. Sonia's guess is that it's emulating the sweetness of sweet corn, or trying to at least. I still feel like the product would have been a tad stronger had it not been so sweet. I also wish there were a little more lime flavor. There's some "citric acid" on the ingredients, but nothing really lemony or limey comes through. I guess we could always mix it with the chile lime seasoning since it's a bit more lime-a-licious.

It's definitely a little spicy. There's an almost immediate warming sensation on the tongue, and if you eat a good bit of it, you feel it in your tummy, too. It's not super intense, but it's noticeable. I think you have to enjoy spicy heat to some degree to really get into this product. Sonia and I both love a little flavorful spice.

We found it went well with popcorn. Just sprinkle a good amount on the top of a bowl and it will cascade off the top layer and coat the kernels farther down. It's also great with actual corn niblets. We heated up a plastic baggie of Bird's Eye and tried it that way. It's a little more authentic when you have real corn. We squeezed a lime wedge into the mix and found it helped with the flavor immensely. My mother-in-law made some sopa de fideo con pollo with this seasoning. She felt like the Everything But the Elote made it much more flavorful and interesting, and she's been eating authentic elote for decades. 

For us, the final test will come when we can get our hands on some local corn on the cob, not in season in the northern midwest right now. Come August-September, we'll definitely try it and report back. Or somebody who can secure good corn on the cob this time of year leave a comment below.

Zero calories. I'm guessing since you sprinkle such a relatively small amount on the food, that you're looking at like half a calorie per serving or so, and there's some FDA loophole that allows them to round down to nothing. I'm sure some food scientist will enlighten us in the comments below while finding a way to make me sound stupid for not understanding the comprehensive FDA rules and regs for food labels. I'm just making an off-handed observation that I find puzzling, since sugar obviously contains some calories. No biggie.

My biggest complaint is the sweetness. Sonia's main reservation is the flavor of the parmesan cheese vs what real elote tastes like with cotija and sour cream. In general, though, we like it and will be experimenting more in the coming days and weeks. We're thinking we'll pair it with tortilla soup, beans, white fish tacos, and maybe even shrimp...? 

At the very least, it's a neat idea, and it yields some pretty unusual flavors of corn and popcorn. Three and three quarters stars each from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.