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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Trader Joe's Twigs, Flakes & Clusters

Growing up in my family, it was pretty easy to tell which parent made the grocery store trek for the week simply based on the cereal on the pantry shelf. If my mom made the trip, we’d be stock full of Cheerios, Chex, Special K, and stuff like that. If she felt wild and crazy, it meant it was time for Crispix. My dad, on the other hand, loved his Cocoa Puffs and would always snag a box when given the chance. One time, he must have found one heckuva coupon and came back with at least six boxes of them, a boatload of Trix, and who knows what other kind of sugary goodness galore. I’m sure he got at least a good Marge Simpson-esque groan when my mom found out. One of my favorite memories from growing up is, on my birthday one year before my mom woke up, my dad made me an awesome ice cream sundae with all the fixings and added Cheerios so we could semi-truthfully tell her that I had Cheerios for breakfast. It’s kind of how my folks were, and they’ve peacefully coexisted and enjoyed each other’s company for 35-plus years despite not always seeing eye-to-eye on breakfast cereal choice.

I kinda am beginning to see a similar pattern developing with Sandy and I, with the two of us playing the same roles. Sandy loves her healthy, plain, simple cereals. I, on the other hand, immensely enjoy chomping down on pretty much any cereal with chocolate, marshmallows, copious amounts of sugar, and/or a deluge of artificial food color and flavor (i.e., anything with “Froot” in its name). If it makes my teeth hurt afterwards, all the better. This is what you get when you have sundaes with cereal for breakfast in your formative years. This isn’t to say that sometimes Sandy doesn’t get a little swayed into having a bowl or baggie of my choice of stuff, or that I can’t enjoy some of the healthy stuff, but when making our cereal choices, we both definitely have our tendencies. We found a happy medium at TJ's with the Honey Nut O’s, but my buddy Nathan already reviewed them, and though his post is relatively pretty short compared to even this one so far, I agree with it enough to not step on his toes and re-review it. So on our latest Trader Joe trip, Sandy and I set out to find another cereal to try out for this week.

It was kinda hiding in an almost-embarrassed kind of way on the bottom shelf, but my eyes spotted the box of Twigs, Flakes & Clusters and thought it just might be worth the try. There were no cartoon characters trying to tempt me into rotting my teeth out, so I’m not sure why it did, but it did and Sandy thought it sounded good to her, the ever sensible one, too.

The Twigs, Flakes & Clusters aren’t too bad. I’ll start with the positives. As far as cereal goes, it’s pretty healthy - lots of fiber, protein, important stuff like that. Low sodium, too. Usually when I wake up, I have the appetite of a bear coming out of hibernation and when cereal is on the breakfast menu, I eat one-and-a-half decent sized bowls of whatever. Because this stuff is so fiber dense, it filled me up with eating a lot less, and it carried through from about 6:30 a.m. when I ate it to about 11:30 a.m., which is a personal record. That’s a big plus, and I liked the fact it was crunchy all the way to the last bite instead of degenerating into mushy nastiness. A rough, pre-caffeine content analysis says this stuff is probably about 75% Twigs, 20% Flakes, and 5% Clusters. Though I certainly would have liked more of the tasty oat clusters, I didn’t mind all the Twigs because they’re what maintained the crunchiness (think Chinese-ish lo mein noodles from a canister, and they’re roughly like them, except better), while the flakes drowned and sank in the milk by the end.

As for the downside … they don’t necessarily taste bad, but they could be better. The twigs, flakes and clusters actually have some decent flavor by themselves to them that could have been enhanced by maybe a little sugar or some honey. I was thinking that maybe some nuts or berries might have helped, but then, they’d probably have to opt for a different name (think about it). After glancing at the ingredients, I think it’s a matter of them trying to be a little fancy. Instead of one of the aforementioned choices, TJ”s opted to try to sweeten them with stuff like pineapple juice. Also it lists “organic evaporated cane juice” - I realize that’s probably different then the overly refined, bleached granules you can pour out of a bag of Domino’s, but still, that’s sugar. Actually, I know it’s different because of the overall aftertaste - between that and the pineapple juice, it’s vaguely sweet, almost tinny, and definitely weird because the twigs, etc, don’t taste all that sweet when biting in - a little sweet, sure, but enough to warrant such an aftertaste. For me, it’s somewhat off-putting, and while it may not prohibit me from getting another bowl, the jury’s out in regards to another box.

True to form, Sandy likes this stuff a fair amount. It’s the healthy aura, the crunch, and the fact that it also filled her up for a full morning as well. She had nothing negative to say about the taste, so maybe it’s just me, but she didn’t say anything overwhelmingly positive about it either. She claims one of her kids at the school she teaches at loves this stuff, or at least twigs in general. She gives the Twigs, Flakes & Clusters a solid 3.5 out of 5. I can’t quite say the same but I’ll give them some extra credit for the texture where the taste falls short to give them a respectable 2.5.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Trader Joe's Seasoned Beef Sirloin Carne Asada

When Sonia made tacos last night, she chopped up little pieces of peppers to add to our carne asada. Don't let the package deceive you: there's nothing but meat in this $7 bag o' beef.

Overall, our taco dinner wasn't bad. But we dressed it up with tortillas, salsa, the aforementioned peppers, and some refried pinto beans, and we still found it slightly wanting.

The quality of the meat simply doesn't warrant its price tag. If you're going to buy carne asada, TJ's might not be the first place to do it. Again, it's not terrible, but for $7, I want something I can create a ficticious adjective for and put a few exclamations after ("Tastetastic!!!" or "Stupidelicious!!!"). "Not terrible" just isn't good enough. The texture of the meat wasn't really an issue for either of us, it was more its lack of flavor. Maybe the guy on the assembly line that was supposed to add the seasoning to the "seasoned beef" called in sick the day they packaged our bag. The poor cow that gave its life for last night's taco dinner died in vain. Rest in peace, Bessy.

To be fair, we should mention that the 12 oz. bag did provide well more than enough food for the two of us. There are still leftovers in the fridge.

The tortillas that served as the soft taco shells were decent. Trader Jose's Reduced Carb Whole Wheat Flour Tortillas are light and healthy, but again, I would complain that they're not super-flavorful. Some whole wheat products can really add a grainy, almost nutty taste. These didn't add or detract much in the flavor department, but their texture is near-perfect, they're a nice size for filling with taco ingredients, and they don't fall apart as you eat them.

The refried pinto beans are good. Sonia says a lot of other brands of refried beans have a bunch of preservatives and additives, but Trader Jose's Low Fat Vegetarian Refried Pinto Beans are all natural. (Please note: your meal no longer qualifies as vegetarian if you eat this with carne asada.) I like the taste. Just as good as anything else I've tried in the refried bean department.

And finally, we'd like to take a look at the sauce we used: Trader Jose's Habanero and Lime Salsa. The package says "Medium Hot" but Sonia and I both say it's mild. It's a tad vinegar-y for our taste, but it's got that dash of lime "sabor," and it's something different than the run-of-the-mill tomato-based salsa. It's got bits of vegetable matter, but it can't really be considered chunky.

So, let's review: First we looked at Trader Joe's Seasoned Beef Sirloin Carne Asada: Sonia gives it 3.5 Stars and I give it 3, for a bottom line of 6.5 out of 10.

Then, we talked about the Trader Jose's Reduced Carb Whole Wheat Flour Tortillas. They get a 4 from Sonia and a 3.5 from me, yielding a bottom line of 7.5 out of 10.

Next up: Trader Jose's Low Fat Vegetarian Refried Pinto Beans. 4 from Sonia, 4.5 from me. Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

And finally, Trader Jose's Habanero and Lime Salsa. Sonia gives it a 3, and so do I. Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Trader Joe's Organic Oats and Flax Instant Oatmeal

Toot toot! Hear that? I was pretty sure that was the whistle blowin' on the train headed for Blandville. And I was pretty sure this Oats and Flax nonsense was going to be my ticket there.

However, I wound up in a much more pleasant town. We'll call it Tastyburg. Mayor: Trader Joe, Points of interest: flavor and whole grain goodness.

Silly, I know. But it's high time we reviewed this oatmeal. Sonia's been eating it for months now. I was a little reluctant...a little scared even. I just tried it for the first time today, and I was pleasantly surprised.

Sonia and I both make ours with milk and water, although the box only calls for water (Who makes oatmeal with just water? Blech.) Texture-wise, it's got enough body to keep your teeth busy; it's not just a bunch of mush. There's a pleasant mix of flax seeds in with the oats. It's "hardy." ...or is it "hearty"? Well, it's one of get the idea.

The flavor was what I was really worried about. I like brightly-colored, fancy oatmeals and breakfast cereals with fluorescent, fruit-shaped pieces made of high-fructose corn syrup and partially-hydrogenated oils. But it is the new year and that resolution about being healthier is still fresh in my brain, so I braved the oats and flax.

It was surprisingly sweet. They do add cane juice solids to liven it up a bit. It was a little nutty, too. It reminded me of the maple and brown sugar flavored oatmeal that Quaker offers, but I actually liked this one even more. It made me feel all warm inside and gave me a good start to the day. If that Wilford Brimley guy had ever tried this stuff, he surely would have ditched Quaker and started doing commercials for TJ's brand. Is he still alive? C'mon, somebody get Wilford Brimley's agent on the phone!

Anyway, Sonia gives it Four and a half Stars out of Five. I give it Four out of Five Stars. Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

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