Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Trader Joe's Black Currant Juice Beverage

I had eaten dried currants long before I tried this beverage. They're very similar to raisins in taste and texture. So I guess in my mind I was expecting this beverage to taste a little like raisin juice. "But raisins are just dried grapes, you airhead," I scolded myself internally. So before partaking of this beverage, I adjusted my flavor-hypothesis accordingly and primed my tongue for something red grape juice-esque. I had also been warned by the check-out girl at TJ's that she cuts her currant juice with a bit of water—so I was expecting it to be strong, too.

But if anything, I would say the taste of this juice is significantly subtler than good old, traditional Welch's 100% Grape Juice. It looks almost identical to red grape juice—perhaps a tad darker. And I've never been one to cut anything with water. I'd rather have half a glass of thick syrupy juice by itself and then chase it with a separate glass of plain water. Which is what I did in this case.

It wasn't so pungent that it blew me away with its tartness or tanginess, but it certainly left a bit of an aftertaste in my mouth. Not a terrible one, but any aftertaste is unwelcome in my book.

However, the overall flavor is quite pleasant. It's a really refreshing and summery flavor somehow. There's an undertone that I would compare to cherry juice or cherry cider. And it's not unlike the flavor of an acaĆ­-based drink or blackberry drink, although all three of those juices are a tad more pungent than this stuff.

The only thing they add to the "juice beverage" is some cane sugar. I think they could have gotten away with just calling it "juice," but you know the true health nuts would have had a conniption if TJ's called it "juice" and then added sugar.

It's not overly sweet by any means. I think if they had gone the purist route and not added any sugar of any kind, it would have turned me off. I think it is what it's supposed to be, just the way they have it...if that makes sense. 

Even so, in the future, I think I'll go for the stronger stuff over this one. But if you're someone who really appreciates lighter, subtler flavors, I could absolutely feature this being a beverage of choice for palates more refined than mine.

I give it 3.5 stars. So does Sonia, who added, "It tastes like a diet drink, almost like a weird Crystal Light flavor."

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Trader Joe's Mango Green Tea

I've probably written this before, but green tea is one of those things that can easily go either way for me. Sometimes it's cool and refreshing (or warm and welcoming), but other times, if it's a bit too herbaceous, well, it tastes like a puddle I could've lapped up from my lawn after a storm. Minus the mud. Overall, I can't decide if green tea is something I like or not. It's kinda the same with mangoes, too. Mango products I've reviewed have typically done well on here (like the granola or these candies) but fresh mango? I've tried to like it, but there's just somethng a little off about it that I don't really like, which is odd because pretty much any other fresh fruit gets a free pass. Except bananas. Don't get me started on those.

So, here's Trader Joe's Mango Green Tea. Two things I like to be wishy-washy about combined into one product. Wonderful. You can probably figure where this is headed. One word of advice right off the bat: be sure to shake this pretty well, or it just tastes like some two-toned flat-out nasty juice. I made that mistake once, and once was enough.

What if well-shaken and well-chilled? Hmm. Depends on the context, methinks. Any flavor it has is pretty subtle. To be honest, what I tasted mostly was the pear juice they stuck in as a flavor filler. The green tea portion isn't too potent at all, which is appreciated, while the mango isn't too overpowering. The label says there's 14 grams of sugar per one cup serving, which seems like a ludicrous number, not as much for the nutritional aspect as...I would've guessed 2 or 3 grams, tops, because sugary and sweet are two words I definitely would not use to describe the tea. When chilled, it actually really doesn't like much at all - it kinda has to warm up a bit, and that's when it becomes a bit more flavorful, but not by leaps and bounds.

I said what I said about context because it was a welcome refreshment from our dinner last night. On the advice of several readers, I took our remaining Thai chili lime cashews and some dried green mango and tossed them into TJ's yellow curry sauce (I reviewed the red a while back) with some rice. Deeeeeeeeeeeeelish! But pretty spicy, so having some mango green tea on standby for fire duty was pretty welcome. Other times, though, when I've sipped some just to have a drink, I've come away not so impressed. Sandy's pretty much in the latter category. "Meh. Meh. Mehmehmehmeh. It tastes like nothing," she said. "Meh again." Yeah, that sounds about right to me. With a little more flavor (I'd vote for mango), this would be pretty fabulous. As is, meh resounds within me as well. Split our score as you see fit.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Mango Green Tea: 5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Trader Joe's Indian Fare Madras Lentil

If you like veggie chili, I can't imagine you not liking this dish. It's another winner in TJ's "Indian Fare" line. At a mere $1.99, this product's an incredible value in my opinion.

It's tomato-based, with some kidney beans, lentils, and subtle spices. It goes great with rice, and I'm certain it would pair up nicely with Indian naan bread. It's not particularly chunky other than the beans, and unlike other veggie chilis, you won't find big pieces of tomatoes or other vegetables, but the lentils add a welcome heartiness that adequately fills that void.

The box suggests using it as a burrito filling, in case you're going for that "Indi-Mex" vibe. And I think it would work fine in any context you might use plain old American chili, too. You could put it on baked potatoes, create an interesting dish of international chili fries, or make your own Indian-American chili dog.

But at least part of the fun of dishes like this one is experiencing a small taste of another culture. You can be adventurous without breaking the bank at a fancy Indian restaurant. Apparently, Madras Lentil is also known as Dal Makhni, and it's usually "cooked on special occasions," according to the packaging. Click here to take a gander at other Indian-inspired product reviews from the WG@TJ's gang.

Like the Punjab Choley, this product requires no refrigeration, and like the Indian "hot pockets," it can be prepared in the microwave. It is, of course, vegetarian, but not vegan, as it does contain some cream and butter. It's not as hot as I would have liked it to be, but I guess not every Indian dish is supposed to be a spice-fest.

Considering the low cost, the ease of preparation, and the no-maintenance shelf-stability, this is one of the most hassle-free items we've come across at TJ's—or anywhere for that matter. Sonia and I are both impressed. 4 stars from each of us.

To see the prepared product close up, check out our video review on YouTube.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Trader Giotto's Tiramisu Torte

Loyalty. Listening. Attention to detail. A cursory Google search mentions all these qualities as the difference between being merely good, and being great. I can see these when talking about people and their roles and whatnot, but for certain things and inanimate objects, I'll confess I really don't know what the difference is. Like cigars, for example. I know the difference between a bad gas station cigar and a moderate to good one. That's pretty plain to sense. It all depends if you can tell the difference between cardoard and actual tobacco. But the difference between a good cigar and a great cigar? No idea. I know what I like, and that's about it. My choice of adult beverages usually falls in this category as well.

As does tiramisu. Now, I've had tiramisu plenty of times. I'd wager that I've had some not-so-good, some average-to-good, and some absolutely fabulous tiramisu. I haven't too many that look like the ones on the tiramisu Wikipedia page, which I'm sure would fit in the "absofreakydeliciosomazing" category.

So where does Trader Giotto's Tiramisu Torte fall on the spectrum? Well, you can probably figure from my intro where this is going. This particular adaptation certainly purports itself to be fancy. The package proudly proclaims "Handcrafted in Italy" and they slapped Giotto's name on it, after all. It's yet another frozen dessert to thaw out for a few hours in the fridge before consumption. When it came time to slice it up, well, the picture above tells the basic story. There's the thin layer of espresso sponge cake at the bottom, with a thick layer of mascarpone and a solid dusting of cocoa powder on top. The mini choco-bits that float around amidst the mascarpone aren't terribly noticeable, but that's okay as there's plenty enough flavor and richness abounding. There's not too much that I can say about it that differentiates it from most other tiramisu - everything tastes just about right. It's the usual rich, creamy, semi-decadent fare that my tastebuds have come to expect over the years. It does seem to have more cocoa powder than most, which I'll consider a plus. Other than that, there's not a whole lot to say.

It's $6.99 for the whole shebang, which isn't too pricey for this type of deal.  If we were to purchase a slice or two at a restaurant (whch would probably cost like 5 buck each), and this were on our plate, I think both Sandy and I would be reasonably happy. Actually, Sandy liked hers quite a bit. "Ooo, you'll hate this. You shouldn't even bother eating your slice," she said in her usual tone that means "I want your piece, boy." Then, when I dared mention that it was merely "decent" as my first opinion she shook her head, rolled her eyes and I think even growled a little. "You don't like anything, do you?" Well, enough that I went for seconds, based mostly on the fact that the label says a serving is 1/7th of the torte (how you cut something like this into sevenths, I have no clue) and I had only about 1/8th. Sandy gives it a four, while I'll go a smidge lower.

Bottom line: Trader Giotto's Tiramisu Torte: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Trader Joe's 6 Chocolate & 6 Vanilla Coconut Macaroons

Yeesh. It's been one of those weeks. Maybe you can relate. Baby M's been up pretty much all night every night screaming unless she's been held. I guess I'd be the same way if I had a passing tummy bug while (probably) teething and a much-worse-than-usual diaper rash. For a recent three night stretch, I got a total of maybe about 7 hours of sleep, which I'd complain more about except that's more than my poor wife, who also doesn't have the luxury of sitting in a cubicle sipping coffee for a living like I do. Combine that with this being the week that we're beginning to get serious about getting ready to put our little house on the market, so there's a whole list of things to do and stuff to buy from Home Depot. I get lost in there, which only adds to the time. That and work and family in town (great to see you, Aunt Alice et al!) and yeah...I guess we shouldn't be too terribly surprised that Sandy and I forgot we even had these from a shopping trip a couple weeks back, until we decided we needed some sugary motivation for yet another late-night-baby's-maybe-sleeping cleaning rampage. Most normal weeks, we'd be all over these.

So, Trader Joe's 6 Chocolate and 6 Vanilla Coconut Macaroons. No, there's neither six types of chocolate nor six types of vanilla contained in each macaroon. That'd be a record. The macaroons are another one of TJ's frozen sit-and-thaw dessert types which have a little bit of mixed success with us, and honestly, I'm not up on my macaroon maintenance methods and whatnot, so I'm not sure why they're frozen to begin with. Seems to me they'd be shelf-stable enough. Anyways, as a concoction requiring thaw time, the macaroons are finally fit for consumption after forty minutes of sweating it out at room temp. Fortunately, that gave us a set deadline for fiddling with our bedroom laundry again. That part's the worst.

So, finally it was time to scarf them down. And yeah, we did. But to be honest, we weren't too impressed by them. As a helpful guide, the nutrition label states a serving of these consists of one chocolate and one vanilla macaroon....have mercy if you ate two of one flavor, apparently. So that's we each had. I liked the chocolate one a little bit better - they're not exactly straight-up dark chocolate, but the flavor tilts more that way than milk chocolate, for sure. Maybe it was the novelty of probably my first-ever chocolate macaroon. Conversely, Sandy enjoyed the vanilla a little more, which pretty much taste like, well, vanilla. Naturally, each had plenty of shredded coconut, and probably too much sugar, and were fairly soft and texturally pleasing, if still a little chilly. They're certainly rich enough that I was pretty satisfied with stopping at two.  

Sandy and I "playfight" as we call it. We rarely argue, but if there's a point we want to be made to one another, we usually get a little sarcastic, make fun of each other, say whatever it is, make more fun of each other, and usually laugh along the way and work it out. That was kinda our night while cleaning our room (adding in gently throwing a Beanie Baby platypus at each other), so it wasn't surprising that before I had a chance to ask my lovely wife her score, she looked at me and started doing her "Russ impersonation" - namely, making a stupid looking face, lowering her voice and mumbling something. It's surprisingly accurate. In her Russ-voice while making her Russ-face, she mumbled something like "Oh they're okay I guess, they're not bad. I've had better...uhhh...maybe I didn't really like them....uhh, maybe I did...uhhhh, since you know all about macaroons and (stuff), what did you think?" She settled on a 3.5 for them, adding that she likes the plain ones with maraschino cherries you can find at most grocery stores better than these. I'm not swayed one way or the other by them, so right down the middle for me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's 6 Chocolate & 6 Vanilla Coconut Macaroons: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Trader Joe's Banana Chips

As Sonia tore into the bag and began crunching voraciously on these banana chips, she exclaimed "Oh my gosh, these are so good! They're amazing!"

Puzzled at her uncharacteristic enthusiasm, I replied coolly, "They're pretty much like any other banana chips I've ever had."

"Well, I've never had banana chips before. These are brand new to me," she explained.

How someone—a self-proclaimed banana fan nonetheless—can go for 34 years in this country without having a single banana chip, I'm not quite sure. But that's the thing with marriage. Years into the journey, you're still discovering new things about your spouse that surprise you. Admittedly, the surprises tend to have less impact the longer you go—you get the big surprises out of the way in year 1. "You've never had banana chips before?!" carried fewer long-term implications and prompted a much more civilized discussion than "You've got how much credit card debt!?!?" did.

But as usual, I digress. Let's get back to the banana chips. As I implied above, I've had them many times before. Mostly in trail mixes. I'm not a particularly big fan of them by themselves, although they're pretty good just dipped in peanut butter. They're a close relative of Trader Joe's slightly-more-exotic Plantain Chips.

And just in case you're wondering, the ingredients list didn't get cut off in that pic on the right. That's it. That's the whole thing. And that's what we like to see. 4 ingredients total. No hydrogenated oils like the ones I used to eat as a kid.

By the end of the bag, Sonia's enthusiasm for the banana chips waned. I'm pretty sure her initial score would have been a 5. But she downgraded that to a respectable 4. I'm really not a huge fan of banana chips like I said, but considering the simplicity of their ingredients, their convenience, and their snackability, I can't go lower than 3.5.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Trader Joe's Blueberry Cultured Coconut Milk

Until I laid eyes on this product, I didn't know you could make yogurt out of coconut milk. But there it is. They don't call it "yogurt," instead it's "cultured coconut milk," but, well...it's essentially yogurt.

It's packaged like yogurt, it looks like yogurt, and it feels like yogurt, too. And honestly, it tastes pretty much like blueberry yogurt infused with coconut. But amazingly, it's completely non-dairy. In fact, it's vegan.

And I've been on a bit of a yogurt kick for a while now. Recently, a Yogurtland location opened up in Delaware County, PA, that we've already made several visits to, and just last week I crowned myself "the world's leading expert on Archer Farms yogurts." I may just do the same with Trader Joe's yogurts, since I have reviewed numerous TJ's yogurt products, however, Russ might also have a legitimate claim on the title as well.

So just trust me when I tell you that this stuff is good. If you like yogurt, you'll like this. That is, unless you have some weird aversion to coconut. In that case, don't even try it. It doesn't gush with coconut flavor—blueberry is definitely the dominant taste, but you can tell that the base is coconut. After all "organic coconut milk" is the number one ingredient. And furthermore, there's an allergy warning: "contains coconut," just in case you hadn't figured that out already.

I like seeing the word "organic" next to some of the main ingredients, including "dried cane syrup." It makes me feel like I'm not polluting my body too much.

Sonia was out and about when I gluttonously inhaled this cup of non-yogurt. So I'll just score it without her...but I'm pretty sure she would have liked it. I'll give it 4 stars on behalf of each of us.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Trader Joe's Thai Lime & Chili Cashews

I'll admit it: Sandy and I bought this bag of Trader Joe's Thai Lime & Chili Cashews fully expecting to not like them. I do that sometimes, for the sake of the blog, otherwise we'd never review ca-taste-trophes like the meatloaf muffins or the watered down raccoon p...I mean Name Tag lager. You see, years ago, well before becoming a TJ's regular, I happened to stroll in one day to see what the big fuss was about TJ's, saw these and bought them, gagged on the first handful, and promptly returned them, and didn't really come back to the store 'til a few years later. I had kinda forgotten about them, but then my folks, who've become recent TJ regulars themselves, made the same rookie mistake I did, bought them, hated them, and returned them right away, and made sure I knew about it. I figured it'd be worth the time and obliterated taste buds to revisit this bag o' nuts, if for no other reason to spread the word about their grotesque existence, and maybe indirectly get TJ's to spend their precious shelf space on some other worthy snacky food.  Doing that based off a five year old memory wouldn't be fair, hence our purchase. I think I even talked Sandy into them by saying we'd buy them, be grossed out, return them and then go get ice cream with our returned dollars.

But a funny thing happened: Sandy ripped the bag open, popped one or two in her mouth, and then kept going back for more and more. "Mmmmm," she said, unbelievably to me. "I like 'em." So, I grabbed a few myself.

Surprisingly....they're not bad. Granted, they're hotter than a pair of sweat pants full of barbeque, so their appeal to the general population may be somewhat limited. That "lime" you see in the title? If you were expecting these cashews to be mostly lime flavored with a little Thai spice, or perhaps offer some relief from the heat (like, say, bleu cheese dip for some hot wings), you're about to be very gravely mistaken. The lime is very, very, very subtle. The packaging says it has something to do with the lime leaves it comes from, or something like that. What's not subtle at all is the literal barrage of Thai chili seasoning coming from each and every nut. It's unrelenting. It's liberally dusted over each nut, and by the end of your snack it will not only cover your fingers but also seemingly every bit of your existence. Behold the power of Thai chili, and have water nearby just in case. If you do not absolutely love very spicy Thai food, you stand no chance of liking these whatsoever. Buy carefully.

If I recall correctly, I didn't like them years ago because they were way-off-the-chart-too-spicy, even for me back in my younger days. I phrase it that way, because I used to be able to eat a habenero and not even wince, and these days, on the other side of 30 with a wife, kid, mortgage, full-fledged bald spot and regular chiropractic appointments, anything much more than Frank's Red Hot make me want to take a knee for a spell. So either these have toned down over the years, or there's some part of me wishing desperately to ignore all the radio ads about my supposedly declining testosterone and to hold on to the days of my youth, and for whatever reason this has all subconsciously manifested into a newfound tolerance for a sack full of spicy nuts. Or maybe I just don't want to look like a sissy next to my wife. Not sure. 

They're $6.99 for the pound, which isn't too bad for cashews these days. And while they're not something we'll inhale, or even necessarily buy all that often, they're good enough for the occasional handful. We'll have to finance our next ice cream trip thru different means after all. Sandy does seem to enjoy them a smidge more than me, and I like them to the tune of about three Golden Spoons, so add half of one for her.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Thai Lime & Chili Cashews: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Trader Joe's Chocolate Almond Smooth Non-Dairy Beverage

The plethora of food allergies I suffered from as a child included ones to wheat, sugar, and milk. The cow's milk allergy prompted my parents to feed me goat's milk, soy milk, and occasionally something more obscure like rice milk or almond milk. So I'm no stranger to "alternative" milks. And in recent years, soy milk and almond milk have become more and more popular—almost mainstream. The most ubiquitous brand of almond-based beverages is of course Almond Breeze, put out by parent company Blue Diamond.

And both Sonia and I agree that TJ's Almond Smooth blows Almond Breeze away. That was sort of a pun. Get it? "Blows the breeze away." Because breezes usually do the blowing away... oh never mind.

This is the first flavor of Almond Smooth that we've tried, so we can't really vouch for the others just yet, but we've heard nothing but good things. They also offer a sweetened vanilla flavor and an unsweetened vanilla. The sugariness of the chocolate is perfect. It's not overbearing, but they didn't underdo it either. Likewise, the chocolate flavor blends with and enhances the almond base. It doesn't compete with it, as I've often felt was the case with beverages like Silk Chocolate Soymilk. But then, you never hear about chocolate-covered tofu or anything like that. But there are a few classics that come to mind when you think about chocolate paired up with almonds.

In the past, we've taken looks at other non-dairy milks from Trader Joe's. Just check out our reviews of TJ's Light Coconut Milk and their Vanilla Coconut Milk. So far, this one takes the cake. It's super smooth and highly-drinkable. Click here to see a nice cold glass of it, straight out of the box.

We also got a little crazy and made smoothies with it. We dumped it into the blender with ice cubes, bananas, and peanut butter. And yee-haw, that was friggin' delicious. It was smooth and rich, akin to the legendary Peanut Butter Moo'd smoothie from Jamba Juice.

Sonia went crazy immediately. She was extremely pleased with this product from her first sip. 5 stars from her. I enjoyed it right away, but wasn't completely blown away like she was. After our smoothies, however, I started thinking about the potential and versatility of such a beverage. Furthermore, it's one of, if not the best non-dairy milk I've ever had. So I'd feel like this product were getting robbed of its due if I gave it anything less that 4.5 stars. So it looks like we're going to record this happy box of almond love in the hallowed halls of our Pantheon.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

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 me. 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.