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Monday, November 7, 2011

Trader Joe's Organic Tortilla Longboard Chips and Organic Tomatillo & Roasted Yellow Chile Salsa

Ok, so I'll admit it. I was kinda tempted to look up some surfer lingo for reviewing the Organic Tortilla Longboard Chips to drop in and make myself sound cool or something. Thing is, Sandy and I aren't even close into fitting into the surfer crowd, and me trying to sound like I do would, like, totally sound bogus or something. Busted, man.* All it took was a couple short hours at Huntingdon Beach in California on our September vacation to confirm that, during which time due to a sunscreen spray snafu I ended up with a second degree sunburn on my back. Unrighteous, dude. But I guess that's just the price I pay for my pale ginger beauty. Sunburns at night are a real thing and those who suffer from them shouldn't be mocked.

Okay, I made that up. It's better than me trying to make up too many other surfing similes while trying to review a bag of chips and jar of salsa. Other than being shaped vaguely like surfboards, there's no relation I can make from these chips to surfing at all. I can't even say that Sandy and I channel surf while munching on these, because we decided to not have cable and any shows we watch (currently "Law & Order: SVU" and "Phineas & Ferb" ... interesting combo...) we stream from Netflix via our Wii. I thought couchsurfing might be a term, and it is, but not what I thought it was (although fortunately a work-safe link to click).

So yeah, anyways, the tortilla chips. Pretty decent, actually. They're long, flattish ovals (hence the "longboard") made from stone-ground white corn and lightly salted. There's not much to them tastewise, of course, which isn't a bad thing. They're really not too much different from a typical crunchy, salty, fried, tortilla chip aside from two things: 1. They're organic and 2. The shape. Somebody thought, apparently that these were an ideal shape for dipping, which I can see if you're going for the bottom half of a tall skinny jar of salsa or something. Dump your dip in a bowl, though, and it loses that advantage and makes it no more and no less than just a chip. They're all kinda wrinkled and crinkled a little differently, so I don't see what makes these so exceptional for dipping. Also, I'm not sure if it was directly because of its long slender shape, but there seemed to be an inordinate amount of busted-in-half tortilla chips in our bag. The Tostito Tortilla Scoops seem to be the best for salsa-bearing capacity and capability, though I like the overall taste of the TJ tortillas better and appreciate that they're organic and lower sodium per serving (as if we can stick to those, unfortunately). For a bag of chips in the $2-$2.49 range, they won't change your life or anything, but chances are you won't be too displeased.

And of course, a good tortilla chip needs a good salsa. I could make a joke about TJ's Organic Tomatillo & Roasted Yellow Chile Salsa bringing in a "tidal wave of taste" bringing in a "flavor wipeout" or something, but nah. What I will say is, darn good salsa. Let's see, first ingredient is tomatoes, which are generally red, tomatillos, which are green, and yellow chiles, which my sources tell me are, in fact, yellow. Add them all up with some onions and other stuff like garlic and cilantro, and it makes the greenish reddish brownish jar of tastiness. Everything seems fairly well pureed so it lacks any big chunks, much to Sandy's delight, and goes down easy. The tomatillos, which salsa verde is made from, adds some mild depth to the flavor while the yellow chile adds some roastedness and a kind of sweetness. It's far from being a spicy salsa, but it seems to me to be one of the most flavorful of the Trader Joe salsas, and for once not in a nasty overly vinegary kinda way. It's so good I can eat it by the spoonful, and I'm already envisioning using it in some of our soup recipes which call for a jar of salsa. We made some tortilla soup a week or so ago that I put just plain salsa verde, and that lacked a requisite snap. This salsa won't have that problem. I just went shopping again yesterday and have already made it a repeat purchase. For $2.29, it'd be hardpressed to be beat, although a little more spice would make it absolutely killer.

Sandy and I ate quite a bit of the chips and salsa few nights ago while relaxing, and this was a definite winning combination for the both of us. Neither one of us have anything too bad to say about the chips, nothing overly affirmative either except hey, they're organic, so they must be good for you or something. Or at least better, so we can feel less guilty while chowing down. I think we settled on matching 3.5s for the surf-inspired longboard chips. The salsa? Sandy's judgement: "Mmmmm it's sooooo goooooood...let's eat more tonight!!!!" That translates to a four. My call is, I really like it, quite a bit, actually, but wish it ended on a slightly less sweet/spicier note. Really, just a tidbit more spice, and we got ourselves a pantheon candidate here. As is, I'll give it a 4.5 just to taunt it a little bit.

Bottom lines:
Trader Joe's Organic Tortilla Longboard Chips: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Trader Joe's Organic Tomatillo & Roasted Yellow Chile Salsa: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
*See what I mean?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Soufflés

I actually wrote the bulk of my previous post (about the peanut butter oat bars) in a little journal while riding on the train home from work. For some reason, it felt like I had written a novel, and yet, when I transcribed it into this blog, the post actually turned out significantly shorter than my average post. I had completely forgotten how tedious writing by hand can be. I guess some might say how cathartic and therapeutic it is, but really, I do much prefer typing on a keyboard. (I'm writing this entry by hand right now, and my wrist is already tired and sore after one measly paragraph). Thank goodness for modern conveniences. It's so easy to take them for granted. But anyway, I imagine you're interested in the soufflés...

Prior to this blog post, I'm not sure if I could have told you precisely what a "soufflé" is. Something sort of puffy came to mind when I heard the word, but I don't think I knew what it was made of or what it tasted like or anything. I suppose not knowing the properties of a traditional soufflé gave me somewhat of a disadvantage when it came to comparing and contrasting a pumpkin soufflé with a usual one. But that's not really the point, as I am a foodie-hack that knows what he likes and what he doesn't like and that's pretty much what this blog is all about, take it or leave it.

Here's what I found about souffles from a quick Google search:

souf fle /ˈso͞ofəl/
Noun: A low murmuring or blowing sound heard through a stethoscope.

Wow! Pumpkin indeed must have transformed these strange murmurs into something different entirely. These souffles are more like oven pastries than blowing sounds within the body (though they may create such noises after consumption). Ah, but silly me—these are soufflés, not souffles. The accent over the "e" makes all the difference, even if it does slow down my typing, hitting "alt+0233" every time I type the word "soufflé." It's still much faster than writing by hand, so I won't complain about the alt least not until there's some kind of app that reads your mind every time you want to type a letter with an accent as opposed to the organic, non-accented version.

But seriously though, apparently, a soufflé is a cupcake-like pastry of sorts that puffs up while you bake it and then deflates like a cheap children's jumping castle at a frat party once you take it out of the oven. The box recommends baking these in cupcake pans for 25 minutes. We didn't have cupcake pans, so we baked them on a regular baking tray. They took 40 minutes for us—perhaps for want of the proper culinary tools. And they were still very squishy in the middle. But I rather enjoyed them that way. Sort of like warm bread pudding, texture-wise. They tasted like pumpkin pie filling. Which, unless you're like my friend who, on the subject of pumpkin pie, once said, "Um, yeah, like, I'm not big on vegetables as desserts," is a fairly good flavor.

My big complaint with the Pilgrim Joe's Pumpkin Ice Cream was that it tasted like pumpkin pie, but lacked the duality of textures featured in pumpkin pie: bread and puddingy filling. Well, this product was sorta like a combo of both of those textures, more greatly resembling the former on the outside, where it was cooked better, and more greatly resembling the latter on the inside, where it was slightly more raw. So, if you can get something to taste like pumpkin pie and have a bit of complexity in the texture department, it's a winner in my book. I give it 4 stars.

My score might have been slightly lower, but my wife enjoyed neither the texture nor the flavor of these. Not exactly sure why. She said she just didn't like them. She shafted them with a paltry 2 stars. That's just too low. These shouldn't be lower than a 6 overall. And that's exactly what they shall be.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10 stars.

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-Cambrésis 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

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