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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Trader Joe's Chicken-Less Mandarin Orange Morsels

Look it up on here if ya want: Trader Joe's has a pretty good rep with us for fake meat products. Soy chorizo? Veggie sausage? Beefless ground beef? Meatless corn dogs? All winners with us. Another winner with us is the inaugural member of the WGaTJ pantheon: Trader Ming's Mandarin Orange Chicken. Nathan and Sonia gave it a 9.5 way back in the day, and Sandy and I would give it at least that many in Golden Spoonage. Not everyone feels that way, though. Just read the comments there...I won't repeat them here because some of them's are naughty words...but yeah, there's a couple complaints about the quality of chicken for those. My take is, if it's not unhealthy/bad for you type stuff, and you can overcompensate by making it extra tasty with some great flavoring, well, why not? Use what's usable. Not every clucker ought there is destined for Chick-Fila glory, for goodness sake, and sincerely doubt those or any other Trader Joe's product was made from whatever it is in the picture of pinkish glop that McNuggets are made out of (that's been mostly disproven, anyways). Anyways, let's do an experiment here...combine one of Trader Joe's strengths in fake meat technology, and replace the component most often criticized in one of their otherwise universally successful dishes, and what do you get? Trader Joe's Chicken-Less Mandarin Orange Morsels, of course. Sandy and I saw it, and we were immediately intrigued enough to purchase it ($2.99, I think) and make it that night for dinner.

Making it is easy - it's the same process as the regular ol' chicken-full mandarin orange morsels. Dump the frozen bits out of the bag onto a cookie sheet and slide into the oven until they're done, then stir them up in a bowl with the orange sauce to get each piece coated. Serve over rice (at least that's what we do). Tastewise, I have absolutely no issue with the pollo dementira part - it's some combination of quinoa and grains and what not made up who-know-how into a fine tasting chunk of what would pass off as decent chicken - not the best, certainly, but really good. In fact, I'd say I wouldn't have thought it'd be fake unless I saw the bag. The problem I have is with the sauce - it's not nearly as good as what comes with the real mandarin chicken. It's thinner, runnier, and not nearly as strong flavored. I'm not sure what the difference is (maybe the vegan recipe lacks a key component) but it just doesn't work as well. What's left is this thin, vaguely sweet, watered-down orange soda-y type taste. Like other sauces that lack something, I was pretty tempted to try and add something to what TJ's had provided but...

...there was another issue. On the chicken-less orange morsel bag, it clearly says that there's two servings, approximately ten pieces each. That says to me that anything less than 18 fake chicken chunks would be a ripoff and any more than 21 would be a bonus. In our bag, there were only 15. That's unacceptable, even though all were fairly sized. That left us with the classic problem of "too much for one, too little for two" that some other TJ products suffer from. I also find it kinda disheartening that TJ's habit of meat skimping is making it's way towards the meat substitute product line, too. Anyways, I felt like I didn't have enough to really experiment with, so between that and being hobbled by tendonitis, I just stayed put.

Sandy loved it though, but not as much as the regular one, mostly because of the sauce-y lack factor. "The sauce kinda sucks for this one," she said. I agree. It does suck. So does the paucity of chickenless nuggets in the bag. Throw a few more in, and fix the sauce, and there's another pantheon contender out there. As is, Sandy gave it a four and I decided to go a tad low with a 2.5. To me, for having two major problems, it can't rank any higher than "not bad" no matter how good the rest of the dish is.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chicken-Less Mandarin Orange Morsels: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Trader Joe's Pomegranate and Lime Juice in a Box

When I see the name of this product, I should think of a jack in the box toy or the Jack in the Box fast food chain, but unfortunately, I think of the musical stylings of Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg on Saturday Night Live a couple years back. I can't help it. "It's my juice in a box! My juice in a box babe. It's my juice in a box! Ooh, my juice in a box, girl..." Except, if you know the song, they weren't singing about juice. Terrible.

It's been a while since Sonia and I have done a beverage review. And you should know before you read this review, as I've mentioned many times in past posts, that I love sweet beverages. I'm like a hummingbird. Not because I'm tiny and fast—I'm quite awkward, really. I'm like a hummingbird because they like nectars and so do I. Sonia doesn't like super-sweet drinks. Her tastes are more refined.

Not sure why TJ's decided to put juice in a box. This article points out some interesting advantages and disadvantages of juice boxes. Apparently there's some debate as to whether they're better or worse for the environment than traditional packaging. Either way, I suppose I should rate the product rather than the container, but considering that the word "BOX" is the second biggest word on the label, it is worth mentioning. Now, on to the taste...

Sonia liked it. It's tart. Tangy. It's surprisingly clear. It's not a thick juice. It looks and tastes a bit like Juicy Juice, like certain other Trader Joe's juice products that we've reviewed. This tastes pretty light going down, but I feel like it leaves an aftertaste and some kind of sticky residue in my mouth. It's not overwhelming, but it's the worst of both worlds if you ask me. I'd prefer a drink that has some real bite going down, but that finishes clean. I can't really identify pomegranate and lime juices when I taste this product. They could slap any number of random fruit names on the label that could describe the taste just as accurately (or inaccurately, depending on how you look at it).

Not every sweet-tart juice blend can be a big winner. I'm going to give exactly half of my 5 coveted stars. 2.5 from me. Sonia gives it a 3.

Bottom line: 5.5 out of 10 stars.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Trader Joe's Chocolate Cheddar Cheese

Want to know the best thing about having a pregnancy in the household, besides the obvious impending joy of welcoming a child into the world and the ongoing daily discussions about the comfort of your spouse's pants? The power of suggestion, especially for food, is so strong. Sandy will just be reading something that mentions a cookie, and she'll say "Mmm, I want a cookie!" That was definitely the case with one of Nathan's latest cupcake reviews and so we got the same tasty ones just a day or two later. But I definitely have this power as well. A few weeks back, for no other reason than that I'm a guy, I really wanted a buffalo chicken pizza. Pre-pregancy, this *might* be open for debate - "Where from?""What do we have here?""Can't we just get pepperoni?" - but with the bun in the oven, immediately once I said it, Sandy's eyes lit up and said YES. Bingo, we ordered Pizza Hut that night. But like Uncle Ben told Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility, so I try to not pull off that trick too often. I also try to be fair and indulge most of hers, which are limited mainly to things like tasty fries.

There's the every-so-often Trader Joe's indulgence as well, of course. So many crazy things in that store...We were perusing the cheese selection when she saw the TJ's Chocolate Cheddar Cheese. Kinda like the Yeti, I've heard rumors of such things but had never seen it, 'til right then in my wife's hand with the all-too-familiar pretty-please look in her eye. Truth to be told, it didn't sound like a good idea to me, but she had found the smallest chunk (good thing, it's 10 bucks a pound, our piece cost like $2.80), and well, I guess I owe it to you all, too, so I said sure.

There's only a few things out there that I'd find too weird to enjoy, but this is definitely one of them. I like the cheddar part of it, quite a bit actually. I'm not exactly a cheddar aficionado, but have had enough of the good (like Cabot's - I've been to their factory!) and not so good (can you say Valu-Time?) to know what the good stuff tastes like. This is good stuff. It's sharp, rich, crumbly cheddar at first taste...which totally falls apart once the dark chocolate kicks in. I suppose it's good chocolate, as most TJ's dark stuff is, but I find it just muddies up the overall flavor. At the end, my mouth and tongue just feel perplexed and not remotely satisfied, and my stomach's definitely discombobulated. The dark sweetness just contrasts the sharp bite of cheddar way too much. There's not an over-abundance of chocolate taste, but what's in there just ruins it all for me. It might be better if the cheddar wasn't as sharp as it is. Blecch.

I have a theory I think I've mentioned before called my "chocolate gum theory," which actually has two applications. They are 1. Just because two things are good separately doesn't mean they're good together. Also see: Mick Jagger and David Bowie. 2. Just because something is good in theory doesn't mean it's good in practice. Also see: Subaru cupholders (that's the least controversial example I can think of). This chocolate cheddar cheese fits both corollaries of my theory well - separate good, together bad and could be tasty in thought, but it just isn't. It's just not a winner for me.

Sandy, though, with her pregnancy hormones and whatnot? She actually likes it, but not overly, and I think it's because she said she can't taste the chocolate as much. "I mean, I kinda do taste it, but not really," she said. "It's okay for a bite here and there but I don't think I could make a whole snack around it." Indeed, I was kinda glad that after we sampled it, her craving switched to a small bowl of mint chip ice cream. She took a slightly positive middle-of-the-roadish 3.5. Me? Generally speaking, I think this is probably a love or hate item for most folks, my lovely wife not included. I think I've made it clear where I stand. I just hope Sandy eats enough of it so it won't get all moldy in the fridge. I'll give it a 1.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chocolate Cheddar Cheese: 4.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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