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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Trader Joe's Italian Roast

Y'know, Trader Joe's has had some odd names and silly packaging for some of their products before, but this one...this might be the most out there in a way. First, the name. If you weren't giving it much thought, or were completely ignorant of what section of the store you were in, and just saw a can labelled "Trader Joe's Italian Roast," well, isn't it conceivable it could cross your mind that this is a big o' can of tasty tender savory meat? Okay, probably not, but it's coffee, why not put it in the name? It'd be kinda like naming something "Honey Nuts" without an "O" in the title to tip you off it's cereal. Then there's the design on the canister. My picture cannot fully encompass the absurdity of it, but take a gander at it next time you're at TJ's. From left to right, you got Edward and Bella of "Twilight" fame pictures. Bella, of course, has kinda spacey, lost-in-the-sparkly-dreaminess-of-Edward gaze upon her face. Meanwhile, Edward has an arm growing out of the back of his head that's pouring a lady with a honky-tonk badonkadonk in a red dress a cup of coffee, while simultaneously apparently thrusting his spittle on a disproportionately huge steaming mug, served by a dude with a funny shaped head, skeevy 'stache, gigantor arms, and strong-as-all-heck fingertips. If that's not enough, there's the Tower of Pisa, the Red Baron flying by, and some chick who kinda looks like Mona Lisa sipping a cartoon drink through a straw. If you're a fan of bad puns, in the product write-up, there's a reminder that this'll make you a cup of guiseppe because it's Italian. Get it? Har-de-har-har. That's pretty lame.

Know what isn't lame though? A good full cup of this dark roasted coffee. I usually brew my own coffee at work with a French press (much to the continual amazement of my coworkers) and recently I felt the need to switch from my usual go-to get-up-and-go. I'm glad France and Italy got over any hard feelings from the Treaty of Cateau-Cambr├ęsis a few years back and managed to combine efforts to make this kind of caffeinated beverage possible. For me, a good cup of coffee is strong, vibrant, with a little character, and it sure as heck shouldn't taste burnt. That's pretty much this. There's three types of beans (Costa Rican Tarrazu, Colombian Excelso, New Guinea Koban, if you're a coffee bean buff) which have much more flavor than, say, Sanka or whatever brown mulch my work uses for coffee. Each cup I've had of this has tasted well-balanced yet bold, and rich and well-flavored enough that I can usually get away without putting any sugar in it and only a sparse amount of cream. Not that's it's sweet or anything, because it's not. It's just good, kinda earthy, kinda nutty, and has more than enough caffeine to put me in a good mood for the day without buzzing like a banshee.

I've brought this home on the weekend for Sandy and I to enjoy...well, enjoy's too strong a word for her. Tolerate? Maybe. Sandy just doesn't like her coffee tasting like, well, coffee, and has to have all sorts of flavor shots and loads of sugar a la Dunkin Donuts to really like her coffee. Eh, I enjoy that stuff, too. "It's just too dark for me," she says, "although not burn-y. That's good." She's going through more of a green tea/steamed milk/hot chocolate kick right now anyways, so that may contribute slightly to her non-enthusiasm. We had a couple over for brunch the other weekend where we served this, and it was a definitely hit for me and the other guy ("wow," he said), so apparently it's all dependent on your preference. To be honest, I don't recall the exact price of this, but I think the can runs somewhere in the $6-$7 range, which isn't bad at all. I still like the chicory-laced brew a tad better, which I gave a four, so I think I'll go 3.5 here. Not a bad change-up, and it'll definitely make my work-coffee rotation. Sandy? For the aforementioned reasons, she's slapping it with a 2.5.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Trader Joe's Mango, Red Quinoa and Chicken Salad

Given that my last review covered both chocolate-covered potato chips AND pumpkin cheesecake, does it really surprise you that I thought to myself, "Hmm, maybe I should eat a salad?"

Salad can mean a lot of different things, of course. Perhaps it's a simple bed of greens and some light dressing. Maybe there's a flower-shaped radish around or it's heaped with croutons and Bacos (ugh) or it's every veggie in the book. Know what a traditional-style Pittsburgh salad is? Take lettuce, tomatoes, onions and other assorted veggies, toss together, then top with a half metric ton of cheese and a large mitt full of fries, top with some type of meat (sometimes steak, I prefer buffalo chicken) and then drowned in dressing (ranch or bleu cheese, usually, for me)..delicious, though not exactly healthy, and it
renders the consumer immobile for about three hours afterwards.

A faithful reader on our Facebook page (if you're not a fan yet, why not? Click the thingy at the bottom!) tipped me off to the TJ's Mango, Red Quinoa and Chicken Salad, which sounded both delicious AND healthy to me. Like other really long named items, I'm just going to shorten this to the TJMRQCS from here on out. On a solo shopping trip, I got two of these, one for me and one for Sandy, with the intention that we have them for a work lunch, and for $3.99 each, not a terrible deal.

Let me t
ell you: I love this salad. It's tasty in pretty much every way possible. Open it up, and the bowl is literally packed with baby spinach which is crisp and leafy and fresh, with some carrot strings and diced onion. That's it for the veggie portion of the salad - simple yet fresh and tasty, and there's a deceptively copious amount of it in there. The mango? It's aside in a little cup, chopped up and ready to go on, and firm and sweet. Perfect. The red quinoa? Lots of it. It tends to tumble down towards the bottom, of course, but while kinda easy for the palate to skip over, it's there serving its role perfectly, adding some weight and merit to the whole package. And the chicken? I'll admit, it looks a little funky at first, kinda like it got marinated in lemon-lime Gatorade, with nary a noticeable explanation for its isotopic appearance on the label. Read the back a bit, or channel your inward intrepid food adventurer like me and just chomp on down, and you'll realize it's yellow curried to add a rich flavor dimension. And unlike other TJ dishes that tend to skimp on the meat, there's a pretty good, I'd even say appropriate, amount. And lastly, the coconut chile It kinda caught me off guard the first time I sampled it. You see, it starts out sweet and mellow, like coconut milk, with some mango (and perhaps lime) flavor, bordering on almost too sweet, before it drops the people's elbow with a load of chile-laden spice that I wouldn't have anticipated. It's absolutely fantastic tastewise, though it's kinda like slightly-watery mayo in its composure, so it plops instead of pours. I suppose you can dip your forkful instead, but when you also have quinoa, that makes it a harder task to complete successfully. That's the only minus I can think of, because on the whole, I can quantify the TJMRQCS as one of the best salads I've ever had, at least in the prepackaged variety. And naturally, because of the leafy roughage, lean protein, and grainy goodness, the salad is filling and will keep you going all day.

So...what did Sandy think? Wish I could tell you exactly. I'm almost certain she would've loved every bite of it, as the only potentially undesirable bits would be the onions that she could easily flick aside and carry on. Sandy took hers to work, and somehow, for some reason or other, forgot to eat it... *smh*...shame shame. I guess the preschool fish sticks were just too tempting for her, and since she has this fairly strict and sensible rule about never eating something past its supposed "best by" date, the window for her to try it this week has unfortunately passed. Doh. Fortunately for me, Sandy brought it back home, and since I lack such a strict and sensible rule, and hate for such things to go to complete waste, I had a bit of it with my lunch today to remind myself yet again how good it is. It was only two day's past its best-by date, and still impeccably fresh and not one bit funkified, so don't judge me, alright?

I think I've decided that TJMRQCS stands for more than just Trader Joe's Mango, Red Quinoa and Chicken Salad. It also stands for "Trader Joe's Made Russ Quite a Craziscrumptilicios Salad," because that they did. I can give it only the slightest of knocks for the dressing's consistency, and given how minor an offense that is when weighed against the whole, it seems only right that we have a new entrant into the "What's Good at Trader Joe's" Pantheon.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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