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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Trader Joe's Veggie Sausage Patties

So a few posts ago I shared a little about giving up meat for Lent, and Trader Joe's has already really pleasantly surprised me with their soy meat products, so when they had their Veggie Sausage Patties at the sample station a week or so ago, it made for a natural pick up. It also led Sandy to think a little, like "Okay, we like Trader Joe's goods overall, but how do they compare against rival brands?" So this post, I'm going to do something a little different than the usual.

< insert Michael Buffer >

Ladies and gentlemen, today you are about to witness history, the first head-to-head heavyweight championship of frozen vegetable sausage patties. The Soysage Showdown. One brand, known throughout the land, the undisputed champion. The challenger, an underdog, with a devoted following, its quality known to its devotees. Only one can prevail. Are ... you ... ready?

I said .... are .... you .... ready ....

LLLLLLLLLLLLet's get ready to crrrrrrrrrrrrrrumble!!

< /end Michael Buffer >

Ringside Introductions: In the left corner, the defending world champion, in the green box, from Battle Creek, Michigan, weighing in at 228 grams, costing $3.39, it's MorningStar Farms' Original Sausage Patties! (applause)

On the right, the plucky underdog challenger, in the white and light blue box, from Monrovia, California, weighing in at 227 grams, costing $3.29, it's Trader Joe's Veggie Sausage Patties! (mild smattering of hand claps)

Round One: First Impressions: The picture on the Morningstar box shows a serving suggestion of just tossing them on a plate. Also, one singular serving is clearly and consistently referred to as a "pattie." Hrmm. Trader Joe's shows them on top of some awesome looking openfaced sandwich with tomatoes and spinach and some sort of cheese/dressing. I get hungry just looking at it. And they call it a patty. I like the fonts they use better, too. Judges' decision: Trader Joe's

Round Two: Nutrition: M'star has less fat and more protein. That's good. TJ's has less calories and sodium. Also good. But in wondering what all has to be done to a scoopful of beans to make them meat-like, I began to look at the ingredients. TJ's has something called carboxymethycellulose in it, and carrageenan in it. Don't know what those do, and don't want to. I can pronounce everything else in it though. M'star though has tasty stuff like tripolyphosphate, hexametaphosphate, disodium inosinate, and loads of other stuff the spell check underlines in a red squiggly. So, this could be wrong but, my thoughts ... Judges' decision: Trader Joe's

Round Three: Appearance and Preparation: The patties of both brands are roughly the same size (M'star maybe a little thicker, TJ's maybe a little larger circumference). Both are strangely fairly not-that-cold when taken out of the freezer. The M'star patties look browned and ready to eat, except frozen, whereas TJ's has more of an icy sheen that quickly cooks off. M'star looks a little "meatier" where as TJ's looks a little ... I don't know ... indistinct? I'll go with that. Preparation of both is pretty identical, and sizzle up within a couple minutes, smelling sausage-y enough in the process. Judges' decision: MorningStar Farms

Round Four: Texture: Okay, for both, not bad, but not nearly as good as the real thing. I think I may have slightly overcooked them (not necessarily a bad thing) so the outsides of both got a little browned and crisped up. The insides ... eh. M'star is definitely meatier in texture, but it strikes me as akin to a well-done burger made of slighty chunky firm mush. Which is more or less what it was. TJ's didn't have as much of a meaty bite (definitely more towards the mush end of the spectrum, this makes it sound worse than it was, but don't know how else to describe it) and was more greasy, though not over-abundantly so. Both were decent enough in their own way. Judges' decision: MorningStar Farms

Final Round: Taste: This is always what it comes down to, isn't it? For me, at least, it is. M'star definitely decided to go the well-done burger route and make a meaty, kinda smokey, solid, but kinda plain tasting patty, er, "pattie." TJ's starts off tasting roughly the same, but mid-bite there's like this savory inflection that introduces itself to the flavor that makes it taste more authentically sausage-like. Mind you, it doesn't taste just like it, but a reasonable facsimile for a bunch of beans. I think it's the extra 1.5 gram of fat that the TJ's has to give it just a little more greasy breakfast meat essence. First time we chomped down, Sandy and I made "Soysage Egg McMuffins" and thought the TJ's was the winner, hands-down. I resampled both tonight with my dinner, and realized the taste was closer than originally thought. They're both good, but in their own distinct way. Depends what you like more. For Sandy and I, the choice was still simple. Judges' decision: Trader Joe's

Winner, and new world champion, by judges' decision .... Trader Joe's!!!

Post-Fight Wrap Up: Again, I was pretty surprised with the quality of a soy-meat Trader Joe product. Maybe it was the lack of real meat playing with my mind, but while enjoying the sausage patties, it wasn't as easy to recall I wasn't chomping my way through the real deal. MorningStar, while decent, was too unsausage-like despite its meatier appearance and texture to have the same effect. I think even if I sampled both in a blindfolded taste test, I'd choose the Trader Joe's. Sandy usually isn't too big of a sausage fan, but she legitimately liked the TJ's more than the MorningStar as well. "It just tastes better," she said. "If you told me we'd make some muffin sandwiches with the MorningStar patties, I wouldn't be like 'Bllllllllaaaaaahhhhhherrrrrrggggggahhhhhhhhhh' but I'd be happier with the TJ's." I wish I took a picture of the face she made while making that noise I cannot hope to ever replicate. She said if she were grading both brands, she'd give MorningStar a three ("solid, okay, but not great") but give the Trader Joe's a whopping five out of five. "Savory. Mmmm." Well, I wouldn't quite give it a five, but I recognize its goodness and understand it cannot ever be as good as the real thing. I can appreciate it for it is, though. It's the closest I've tasted, and definitely closer than MorningStar. I'm only grading the TJ's ...

Bottom line: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Trader Joe's 100% Kauai Coffee Beans

If it's alright with you folks, I'll review the coffee that is produced by percolating hot water through these coffee beans, rather than the coffee beans themselves, as I have never eaten the beans au naturale, and I imagine you don't intend to either.

Well, at first glance, you can be pretty certain this stuff's from Hawaii. I'm sure they wanted to dress each can in its own button-down Hawaiian luau style shirt, but decided that would unnecessarily raise the cost of the product. So instead, they just covered the label with stereotypical Hawaiian flowers, palm trees in the background against a lovely orange Hawaiian sunset. Legend has it this beautiful cove is where some of the writers of "Lost" hid after the final episode aired to avoid the wrath of disgruntled fans, furious about that cop-out ending to the series.

Kauai is indeed the northernmost of the Hawaiian Islands, and they apparently grow the best coffee beans there...on the "leeward" side of the island. To save you from Googling "leeward definition," like I had to, I'll go ahead and let you know that "leeward" is a nautical term meaning "the direction in which the wind is blowing."

The can boasts that these medium-roasted beans are "aromatic, earthy, and sweet," and that's exactly what they are - or rather, what the coffee derived from these beans is. I'm not used to coffee being so bold, and yet so sweet. There's usually an unpleasant bitterness that I need to cover up with cream and sugar in any "bold" coffee. Not so with this magical island blend. I imagine the beans were grown and harvested by the Menehune's themselves - that's part of what gives the coffee such unusual properties...oh, no's the volcanic soil, according to the can. But of course, Trader Joe's can't claim publicly that they're exploiting the Menehune's. So it's probably both. Both volcanic soil and magic from the Menehune's. The Menehune's were on that episode of "Full House" where Danny Tanner took the whole fam to Hawaii; that's how I know about them. Man, that show ended way better than "Lost" did. I'm really bitter about "Lost." That whole debacle really tainted my feelings about Hawaii.

But, thankfully, this coffee is among the things that are restoring my opinion of our great 50th state. Remembering that episode of "Full House" didn't hurt either.

Anyway, the coffee is good. 4 from me. 4 from Sonia. Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Trader Joe's Organic Lowfat Yogurt Wildberry Probiotic Smoothie

If you're a fan of Dannon's "Frusion," you'll probably like Trader Joe's Yogurt Smoothies. They taste great, they're very smooth, made with real fruit and yogurt. Unlike Dannon's, these are organic and contain probiotics.

All yogurt has "yogurt cultures," which, I understand, help your digestive system. Their little yogurt civilization travels from its container into your gastrointestinal areas, where they set up shop helping you digest other foods and regulating the flow of foods into the intestines...or something like that.

Probiotics go one step further. They are helpful, microscopic little dudes that usually get added to the already helpful yogurt cultures, and they all work together to achieve gastrointestinal regularity. If the normal yogurt cultures are the army and navy, these little probiotic fellows are the marines. I don't think any microorganisms are sophisticated enough to have an air force yet.

Anyway, I'm not a biologist or a doctor, so please disregard the two previous paragraphs completely. Unless you're a doctor and you would like to correct my silly probiotic analogy, in which case, you may do so in the form of a comment below. I never took many biology or medical classes in school because I was far too squeamish. I would have fainted at the first discussion of blood-borne pathogens or communicable diseases. The hypochondriac in me would have immediately began drawing similarities between said diseases and the symptoms of my last cold, and it would have made me quite miserable and paranoid.

On the downside, Trader Joe's Organic Lowfat Yogurt Wildberry Probiotic Smoothies are not ultra-filling like the cream yogurts and the bottles are incredibly small. I could easily polish off all four drinks in one sitting. They are one or two gulps-worth a piece. Somehow my wife can draw out the consumption of these things for 20 minutes or so, but that's really not saying much. I once saw her - and I am not exaggerating at all - take two entire days to drink a single can of diet soda. She carried it with her sometimes, she'd put it in the fridge, then take it back out...then she'd have it on her desk. I must've asked her if she was done with the can like half a dozen times, and she would say "no." Apparently, she enjoys flat soda as much or more than fresh soda. But anyway, my point is that if you're a really, really slow drinker, you can nurse these probiotic smoothies for a few minutes max. They're very small and not very filling, and they're not dirt-cheap, either. We payed something like $3.79 for the 4-pack.

We also tried the strawberry version. It's good, too, but Sonia and I agree that Wildberry is ever so slightly better, though.

In review, TJ's yogurt smoothies are delicious and good-for-you, but there's not enough in the bottle. Sonia gives them a 4.5. I would have been tempted to give them a 5 if the serving size were bigger. 4 from me. Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

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