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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Trader Joe's Ridge Cut Sweet Potato Chips

TJ's track record with sweet potato products is pretty stellar. Probably because it's pretty hard to screw up the sweet potato. Fry it, mash it, bake's aaall goood. So far Sonia and I have checked out the Sweet Potato Pie Bites, and Russ and Sandy tried the Sweet Potato Frites. These products garnered scores of 8.5 and 9, respectively. Not bad. We're tough graders. Now, I'm not exactly sure where the term "frites" came from. I would have assumed it's some British nonsense, but I know that they generally call their fries "chips," and they call their chips "crisps." Well anyway, these are "chips" in the American sense of the word. Ridge cut chips, a la Ruffles brand.

These have a lot of good sweet potato flavor. They're nice and crunchable. Yes, "crunchable." As in "crunchable chipses." As in, that's what Gollum would call them. As in, I wish it were December already so I could watch the new Hobbit movie. But alas, I'm off on one of my notorious rabbit-trails.

Sonia says these chips are a good alternative to regular chips. If you're a chip kind of person, these do break up the monotony of regular old potato chips. And they're not super-sweet. If TJ's had decided to add some kind of brown sugar or mapley flavoring to boost the sweetness level, these would have been much more dessert-like and confection-ish. In my opinion, that would not have been a terrible idea—but I do have a bigger sweet tooth than the average bear. Sonia likes them just the way they are. There's just a hint of salt. When I think of them in my mind, though, I think of them as being more salty than they actually are. Not sure why. They're just... so... chip-ish, and chips tend to be salty.

My only complaint would be that they're not super sweet, and they're not super salty. They do taste natural, which is good. But for me, when I crave a snack, I'm usually looking for a sweet snack like a cookie, or a salty snack like regular chips. These kind of get lost in the middle somehow, and I don't find myself actually craving them ever, although they're absolutely snacktastic if you're down for something slightly salty, slightly sweet. I give them a 3. Sonia gives them a 3.5. If you're on the fence about trying them, and this review didn't sway you either way, I'd say that if you like sweet potatoes or sweet potato products at all, these are absolutely worth a try.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Trader Joe's Corn Penne Pasta

Although I know it's kinda ridiculous to, I feel kinda bad for people with celiac disease or who are otherwise gluten-intolerant. I know it's not pity that those people want, but guess it's just a mild case of inherent self-guilt that while I can eat pretty much anything I want to, those with different allergies and intolerances just can't, and dangit, gluten is pretty much in everything and anything, and, from the outside looking in, that sucks for you all. In a purely jesting way, it doesn't seem that glamorous to have - the most well known celiac celebrity is Keith Olbermann, for goodness sake, and when I think glamorous, I do not think Keith Olbermann. Although, both Drew Brees and Posh Spice make the gluten-free list, so there's some hope, I guess. I also guess that Trader Joe's does a better job than most shops for having a gluten-free selection but my experiences have been kinda hit and miss. Maybe that's because, in my recollection, I've found only one passable treat (Nathan found a great one), I once tried the TJ's rice flour tortillas and, oh goodness, those were so gawd-awful I cringe thinking of them. Just take my word: YUCK. BLAHHH. DISGUSTING. Enough said about those, let's talk about something much tastier...say some Trader Joe's Corn Pasta Penne?

Corn's used for pretty much anything and everything these days, but this is the first I've seen it used to make pasta. That seems like such a simple, yet semi-brilliant, idea, despite the slightly redundant name. Other than the packaging, there's pretty much no indication that this isn't the normal semolina fare. The penne seems perhaps a little thicker and slightly more yellow than the standard, but it'd be hard telling them apart in a police line-up. I'd also say they take a little bit longer to cook. Other than that, boil some up and put on some sauce and whatever else (pictured here with the roasted garlic marinara [meh] and meatless meatballs [see this for my general thoughts on them, it's close enough])*, and you got a plate or bowl full of a pretty tasty dinner. Sandy swore she could taste the difference - "It kinda slides in here and there, and tastes kinda-but-not-really like a corn chip," she says - but me? Nah. It looks and tastes so close to the "real thing" that it's tough for me to draw the distinction. I think that's a pretty high compliment.

There's not really anything bad I can say about the corn penne, and in fact I hope TJ's extends the line to include other pasta types. Really, I could see these taking off, and for $1.39 for a pounder, they're reasonably priced. They're that good, and who knows, maybe they're a game changer for the gluten-free crowd. That's not to say I'll rate them among the stars. Sandy, as usual, said it best. "I'd rate them higher except...well, they're not 'special' enough," she said. "Like I wish they were a little more different from normal pasta that they stood out more." That's a pretty accurate statement, and I think a pair of matching fours from the two of us fit the bill pretty well.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Corn Penne Pasta: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

*Let's see, for dinner I ate pasta made from corn and meatballs made from, well, something not meat. If the sauce wasn't made from tomatoes, I *do not* want to know what it was.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Trader José's Spicy Hot Cocoa

Uhoh. Trader Joe's is at it again with their flavor-mixin' ways. While I'm a fan of most of them, there's been a couple that I've been pretty impartial to downright depressed by. And in this particular case of mixing sweet classic cocoa taste and spicy cayenne pepper, they decided to market under "Trader Jose" just in case it didn't work out right. I'm convinced they do that. Hence, upon a Facebook tipoff from one of our loyal readers (and the fact there was a huge honkin' end cap full of it when we made our weekly trip), when Sandy and I saw the Trader Jose's Spicy Hot Cocoa (put in the "organic" and "fair trade" as you will), we knew it made for a natural investigation, especially as we're both fans and semi-amateur connoisseurs of a good steamy mug of Mexican hot chocolate. For $4.79, it was worth a taste.

And daaaaaaaaang....I'm glad we did. I'm not going to lie, I love it. Upon cracking the foil seal I took a big whiff of the cocoa powder waiting to for hot milk to dissolve its every granule. It smells absolutely delicious, and pretty similar to Nestle's Abuelita, which is the closest approximation we've found stateside to the hot chocolate we've enjoyed in Mexico. Imagine classic cocoa-roma with a healthy dose of cinnamon, and yes, a tinge of cayenne. A few minutes later I got to pour in some hot milk and stir it up and take a doesn't hit you right at first, as evidenced by Sandy's reaction. "It's not so spicy...oh wait...*cough* it is," she said with a slight pain-free grimace. For some, that first hit might be a little much, but trust me, it gets better as tastebuds adjust. The spicy cocoa has the classic hot chocolate taste of "too rich to be milk chocolate, too sweet to be dark chocolate" with a heavy, heavy dose of cinnamon, like there's a full stick of it right in your cup. I'm almost convinced that's what most of the "spice" comes from, except there's enough cayenne to throw its weight around in there without getting out of whack. This cocoa's absolutely delicious from first sip to last gulp.

There's a few things I could quibble about, I suppose. First, $4.79 strikes me as perhaps a little high for hot cocoa mix, especially given the size and the directions to use a couple tablespoons (which is a wee overboard) for each cup. I would say something more about that, except somebody on our Facebook page said they spent three times as much on a comparable brand that wasn't nearly as good, so maybe it's not a bad deal after all. And secondly, this is dumb, but man, I hate heating milk. Don't get me wrong, milk makes waaay better hot cocoa than water ever will, and I can't imagine this being any good with water, but I actually have to pay attention while heating milk instead of waiting for a whistlin' kettle as I'm blocking all of my mom's Frontierville requests. Also, you can't heat milk as hot so it cools off faster, meaning I had to enjoy this a little quicker than I prefer. Other than that, I literally have no complaints about the cocoa picante. And as always, bonus points for being both organic and fair trade.

Sandy's not a huge fan, which to me is kinda surprising. If one were to make an action figure of her, her accessories would be, in this order: 1. iPhone 2. A book 3. A warm blanket or four and 4. Some type of hot beverage. That's how she survives these winter months, and since she's off coffee and craving sweets (the joys of pregnancy), I though this would be right up her alley. "Meh" is about what she says. "I wouldn't make a point of making it, but if you were making it I wouldn't mind having some." Possible interpretation: Heating milk bothers her way more than it bothers me. No matter, she gave it a three and she's sticking to it. That's way too low in my book. If it were up to solely me, we'd have another pantheon member, or at least the TJ spicy hot chocolate would be knockin' on heaven's door for it. At least I can say I got it as close as I could with a perfect five.

Bottom line: Trader Jose's Spicy Hot Cocoa: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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