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Monday, December 5, 2011

Trader Joe's Latin Style Black Bean Soup

There's a cookbook that Sandy and I own that we're both kinda squeamish about and very hesitant to use. Strangely enough, it was a wedding gift from our pastor.* Its name? "Intercourses," and yes, that is a double entendre. Aside from being full of artistic and, umm, interesting yet tasteful photos of food and people**, is all sorts of information about food and its various uses besides filling your belly, along with some recipes. One short chapter is devoted to black beans. Now, it isn't cited, so I'm not sure how true this is, but according to the authors, around the year 400 AD an edict went out forbidding nuns from eating black beans because for those "avowed to celibacy, black beans were bad news." Aside from making one randy, they also allegedly have something to do with fertility, and have been used as a symbol as such going back centuries.

Now, Sandy and I enjoy our black beans, but I'm pretty sure that I speak for both of us when I say it's for reasons completely unrelated to any of the above. First of all, they're tasty. Secondly, there's a lot of dishes that we enjoy that quickly and easily incorporate them into a satisfying meal. And of course, with all their fiber and protein, black beans have a lot of health benefits that shouldn't be denied. Anything else they do is extra credit in my book.

I guess if any black bean product had any chance of sweeping us off in a torrid love affair, it'd be Trader Joe's Latin Style Black Bean Soup. You see, it's Latin-inspired, so it sounds a little exotic, a little mysterious, and definitely Antonio Banderas-y. Interpreting it differently, Latin is the origin of all of the world's Romance languages, though in seventh grade it really wasn't apparent what was sexy about sentences like "Britania insula est."***

Anyways back to the soup...not to go all Yoda on you, but whisk us off our feet it does not. I mean, it's okay and all, I guess, and not a bad option, but that being said, I'm not a huge fan. First, and this is ticky-tacky, to get it out of the box, it doesn't really pour. You have to squirt the soup out, and that's just plain weird, and something that I have a minor hang-up about. Squirt boxes, squirt bottles, etc, just aren't my thing. I don't know why. Tastewise, it's pretty nondescript to be honest. You taste a little bean action, before being hit with a wall of black pepper (the last ingredient listed so supposedly the least used...yeah right) before it mellows out to a kinda beany/milky finish. The cumin and garlic and everything else? Don't really taste it, to be honest. It's all smooth and creamy, too, which some may like, but I'd prefer actual beans in there.

Don't get me wrong, it's not a terrible soup. In fact, I'd say it makes a decently tasty pairing with a grilled cheese sandwich for a simple, hearty meal on a cold winter day. It's just I guess my wife's homemade soup more, with whole and pureed beans, and flavor perhaps evened out better by using chicken or veggie stock as a base and not water like Trader Joe's. Sandy makes hers with marginally more effort than heating up a pot of this soup-in-a-box, and hers tastes at least ten times better. I guess hers is what I'm used to, and however unfairly I'm using hers as a measuring stick for the Trader Joe's soup. I can't vouch for the TJ's authenticity, but can say it was a good buy ($2 or $3, misplaced the receipt) and it lasted us two meals.

I asked Sandy what she thought about it. She took the opportunity to kinda half-glare at me, and utter a semi-halfhearted, "I don't know, 3.5 or 4" which I took to mean the lower of the two. To be fair, it was as she was working on some take-home reports from her work, and right before she was going to run out for her usual Monday night babysitting gig, so I can't blame her for being too unenthusiastic, but it just goes to show that she wasn't too impressed either. "It's yummy but I like to have actual beans in my soup," she offered. I agree. It's decent but lacking something, whether it be real legumes or a little extra flavor to finish it off better. It's not the worst black bean-based Trader Joe's offering, but it's not the best either (that's still TBD). I'll go with a 3.

Bottom line:
Trader Joe's Latin Style Black Bean Soup: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

*Apparently it's his standard wedding gift. "The burritos in it are great," he says with a wink.
**For some reason a certain episode of Seinfeld comes to mind. Believe me, the book is much classier.
***Yes, I know. Different meaning.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Joe Joe's

If there's one thing that Sandy and I continually do not see eye to eye on, it's the question of when it's appropriate to start playing Christmas music each year. I'm a proponent of enjoying each holiday as it comes; ergo, certainly no Christmas music before Thanksgiving, and preferably not until at least a few days into December. That way, I have a fighting chance of not wanting to claw off my bleeding ears from being pa-rum-pa-pum-pummed by the ubiquitous "Little Drummer Boy" for the umpteenth time. Sandy, though? She probably wouldn't play it year-round, but anytime after Labor Day seems to be fair play for her. Ugh. We've come to more or less a truce where she can listen to whatever when I'm not around (of course) and we can play it around the house after our annual "Elf" viewing (probably the greatest Christmas movie in the non-Jimmy Stewart genre, and possibly ever). Too many good scenes...just too many.... 

 I kinda employ the same rule for Christmas-themed treats. We've reviewed plenty of tasty pumpkin-related Turkey Day treats on the blog. Well, now that Thanksgiving is done with, and "Elf" has been satisfactorily watched, it's on with the carols and Christmas cookies. Bring it, I say. 

 Long time readers (umm, let's mom? Maybe?) may recall last December I reviewed the Trader Joe's Candy Cane Joe-Joe's. Rereading that, I probably sound like more of a grinch than I should have, except I remember not being overly wowed by them. It's probably not surprising that these, the Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Joe-Joe's, are pretty much the same thing, except, obviously, being coated in yummy super delicious dark chocolate. And man, what a difference that makes. It's like Inspector Gadget got the assist from Penny or Cher found her auto-tuner. These, the choco-covered ones, are that much better. The candy shell just adds this cacao-richness that helps accentuate all the crumbly cookie wafer yumminess and the minty creaminess of the filling. It also helps that the white mint chunks on the outside aren't hard crunchy candy cane shards like they appear to be but instead soft and full of flavor, too. Altogether, each cookie, even by itself, is a rich and filling treat that satisfies my sweet tooth. 

It's a good thing, too, if you gander over at the nutritional info. Like other extremely tasty TJ sandwich cookies, these are something to be taken in moderation. But unlike the Maple Leaf Cookies, I can't knock them too much for that for two reasons: First, it's Christmas. And second, whereas I want to eat as many of the maple cookies as I can, just one of the chocolate-coated minty Joe-Joe's is enough for me. Granted, I may want to eat one of them and maybe then a small something else (50/50 on that), but two of these? That's a bit much, and that means something coming from a big-boned cookie-lovin' kid like myself. They're just too rich for any more. 

Sandy liked the regular candy cane cookies last year but she's in love with these. I've seen her munch one pretty much every night since we got them, and usually a big smile accompanies it. "Whatever I gave the other ones, give these a full spoon more," she said. Well, that would make them a perfect five from her. I like them almost as much, except when it comes to holiday cookies, pretty much nothing can beat my mom's or mother-in-law's. I'm lucky and spoiled. That and $3.99 for a sleeve of ten seems perhaps a slight bit high, but not overly so. Just tonight I repurchased some for a workplace potluck (along with some other holiday goodies), and they do seem to be a perfect easy option for a get-together like that if you're not one of those "hoard-them-all-for-me" type folks. Something around a four seems about right to me. 

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Joe-Joe's: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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