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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Trader Joe's Shrimp Corn Dogs

This is one of those items that I have to smile about every time I think of it. Not just because it's tasty, but because it's a silly idea. I wonder who came up with the concept, initially. I wonder whether there was some particular task assigned to Trader Joe's Research and Development department that might have read something like this:

"Corn dogs are awesome. Even fake-meat corn dogs are awesome. Your assignment: put different foods on wooden sticks and cover them with cornbread. Report back with your top three new corn dog discoveries. Go!"

The lucky jerk whose job it was to accomplish this task dutifully paraded out of his office with a handful of cheap wooden chopsticks or perhaps popsicle sticks—or maybe he just grabbed a couple of his cubicle-buddy's no. 2 pencils...he strolled down some boulevard, presumably in Massachusetts or Monrovia, CA, approached some random food trucks and plopped various foods on the sticks, then took them back to his "lab," dipped each item in a cornbread batter and then dunked it in a deep fat fryer. As he tasted each one, he taped his thoughts in a little hand-recorder:

"Hmmm...grilled cheese corndog...very yummy, but messy and impractical."

"Carrot corn dog...certainly edible...with a vegetable tempura-quality...but lacks the zing required of corn dogs."

"Doughnut corn dog...promising for carbivores and the health-unconscious...but we'd be sued for negligent homicide or something..."

"Burger corn dog...hrm...if they weren't circular, this might work..."

"Shrimp corn this is wrong, then I don't wanna be right."

He pitched the idea to his boss the following day, complete with prototype samples and an experimental predecessor to the sweet and hot chili sauce for dipping. The presentation resulted in promotions, bonuses, and accolades for the aforementioned lucky jerk, and thus, Trader Joe's Shrimp Corn Dogs were born.

Yummerific. The sweet and hot chili dipping sauce isn't hot at all, but other than that, no complaints. Another 4.5 from me.

Sonia says she doesn't like corn dogs. They should be able to deport people for such blasphemy. She's really only a 1st generation American. "Back to Oaxaca, Mexico with you and your misguided family, ma'am...until you learn to appreciate our culture!" She wanted to give them a 3. I told her that was too low. So she said, "Fine. 3.5." She added that there wasn't enough shrimp on the stick. I'll give her that. They should totally go with jumbo shrimp for version 2.0.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Trader José's 99% Fat Free Bean & Rice Burrito

Ah, the first few days after New Year's. I really don't know how common it is for folks to make New year's resolutions any more. All I know is, after last New Year's, it was darn near impossible to get into the gym where Sandy and I have been members until sometime in mid-March (while it was no-mans land all around November and December). I guess that goes with the typical "lose weight/get in shape" mindset that strikes each early January. My New Year's resolution this year was to stop putting up with my crummy wisdom teeth and so I got them yanked a day or two ago.* Now that's a fun way to start your year, barely able to eat or talk, and with an ample supply of Vicodin on hand. For some undetermined and probably at least half-inaccurate reason this makes me feel like I'm Gary Busey.

Anyways, back to the "be healthier" idea...yeah, I could go for that, too. I mean, you should see what all I ate over the holidays, mostly homemade (hence the not so many reviews recently). So I'm looking for healthier food options, like low fat, possibly organic stuff that tastes good and at least for work lunches, can be quick to grab in the morning and simple to make at meal time.

I think as much as microwavable burritos can fit into a semi-healthy diet plan, the Trader Jose's 99% Fat Free Bean & Rice Burritos work. They're $2.69 locally a pair and zap within a few minutes in the microwave. Of course you can also bake them for like 25 minutes but I have neither the time nor the oven at work for that. Once made, they're neither utterly terrific nor barf inducing. Inside the flour tortilla it's a warm bean mush with a little rice, the typical Mexican spices, and allegedly some cheese. I wish they had more rice, actually. There's no more than a small spoonful of it per burrito, and there's more than enough room for more rice while keeping the same amount of beany lava. As for the cheese, well, naturally it's the light variety, so it's not as present of a taste as I'd like...okay, I'll admit it, I really didn't detect it other than looking over the ingredient list. All that being said, they're semi-tasty enough, and definitely fairly filling. I'd say these TJ burritos are a couple steps above the drive-thru variety, but probably won't rock your world either. And of course, with all the sodium they don't make an ideal health food, but they're better for you than most drive thru/microwave options available, so I'll cut them some slack.

There's nothing overly wrong with these. It's just that nothing really sets them apart either. I'm not above buying them again, but for about the same price there's much better available at Trader Joe's. Like most of my lunch dish reviews, this is me flying solo on this, as Sandy works at a preschool with an edible lunch provided to her most days. Maybe this is the hunger pangs of not having solid food in a couple days talking, but I'll give these a little higher grade than I might otherwise with some matching 3s. You have no idea how grateful I'd be for some solid chow right now, even if it's a couple burritos that put the "meh" in Mexican.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons
* Once you use all the gauze the oral surgeon provides, they recommend using tea bags to help stop things up. For this, may I recommend the Cinnamon and Vanilla Black Tea? Makes for a tasty treat, and doesn't quite have the bite of the Candy Cane Green Tea. This is the kinda info you read us for.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Trader Joe's Pastry Bites with Feta Cheese and Caramelized Onions

Sometimes Sonia and I buy things from TJ's and I never get around to reviewing them for some reason. I eat the product, I analyze the product, I think about maybe writing something about the product, and for whatever reason, I just don't get around to the review. The following is a review of a product that we've bought no fewer than three times and never reviewed. I'm not sure why. I like them alright. I think we've always just had them as hors d'oeuvres for little parties and get-togethers, and I've always gotten distracted by our company or the other food we had or maybe just the general craziness of life. Whatever the reason, a review of these little guys has been a long time coming, and I'm anxious to share my thoughts about them.

For starters, the fact that we've bought them at least three times should tell you something. Our ultimate goal is to review as many TJ's brand products as possible (that goal of reviewing EVERY Trader Joe's brand product is looking more and more unrealistic every day) so repeat-buys are rare; reserved only for the really good stuff. Also, these pastry bites have been available at TJ's since before the inception of this blog until now. TJ's is known for discontinuing products at the drop of a hat, so for something to last for over a year and a half is no small feat. Not only that, but Sonia and I started out by reviewing Trader Joe's products in the Los Angeles area, and now we're reviewing them in the Philadelphia area. (The Shelly's are in Pittsburgh). And those of you who've ventured into Trader Joe's stores in multiple cities are probably aware that their delectable fares vary from region to region. So the very fact that this item has been readily available on both the west coast and the east coast should tell you that it's a popular product.

As mentioned in previous posts, I'm comfotable eating goat cheese with sandwiches, soups, salads, or any savory or salty snack, however, it should not be partnered with sweets or dessert foods in my humble opinion. As I have just learned, thanks to Wikipedia, feta cheese is made of mostly sheep's milk. Weird. All these years I thought it was a type of goat cheese. Apparently, it may be made with a combination of sheep's milk and goat's milk, but sheep's milk must be the primary ingredient. At any rate, I would put feta into that same grouping of cheeses that work only with non-dessert items.

Thankfully, these are not dessert pastries. And caramelized onions, though somewhat sweet, are still in a family of foods that belong with non-dessert items. Can you imagine eating caramelized onions with ice cream or cake. Yuck!

I think these pastry bites are the first and only food I've tried with both feta and caramelized onions. And I gotta tell ya, I'm feelin it. Totally. This is one of those combos like peanut butter and jelly in which its ingenious inventor should get the Nobel Prize for Food Discoveries or some such prestigious award. The onions are slightly sweet and very tangy. The feta gives it this wonderful, zesty savoriness. The pastry part of this hors d'oeuvre is very similar to other Trader Joe's brand oven-ready hors d'oeuvres like these Scallop Bites. It ain't the Ritz, as they say, but it's certainly not bad, either. It's a crispy, flakey, crown-shaped little bowl of yumminess. And in it sits more yumminess.
Sonia gives it a 3.5. I think her score might have been higher, but for some reason she is in a bad mood currently. She won't tell me why yet. But when I ask, "What's wrong?" her reply is an immediate "NOTHING," which, I've learned is not a good sign. Undoubtedly, I've done something wrong. I suppose I shall find out in the sweet bye and bye what it was.

I was torn between giving them a 4 and a 4.5, as these are some of the best snack-foods I've had from Trader Joe's. I finally decided to go with the 4.5 to counterbalance Sonia's inaccurately low 3.5. At any rate, we wind up with an 8. So be it.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10 stars.

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