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Monday, April 30, 2012

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter

If you're like me, or rather like I was just several short minutes ago, you haven't the foggiest clue what speculoos are. But now that you've checked out that wikipedia link, you feel somewhat enlightened. The first time I had ever seen or heard this word was right there on the jar of this product.

But a bigger - and perhaps slightly more revealing clue to the taste of this Cookie Butter is also right there on the jar, but closer to the bottom: "gingerbread." Ah, now you're speaking my language, Trader Joe. I know what gingerbread is. I know what gingerbread cookies are. I know what gingerbread men are. I think most of us have seen Shrek.

And the part about being "deliciously unusual" kind of made me raise an eyebrow the first time I read it. Any time you use a word like "unusual" on the label of a food product, you had better add something about deliciousness, or you simply won't sell your product. It's just kind of a marketing no-brainer.

But at any rate, marketing gimmick or not, the phrase "deliciously unusual" pretty much nails this TJ's Cookie Butter in my opinion. "A deliciously unusual spread reminiscent of gingerbread and made with crushed biscuits." That whole spiel is pretty darn accurate, if you ask me, except for maybe the very last part.

Oh—and for those of you who don't speak British, "biscuit" is what they call a cookie in the UK. However, I find no evidence of any cookie texture at all. If this stuff ever came in the form of a biscuit or cookie or whatever, it has been pulverized well beyond recognition. The phrase "crushed biscuits" makes me think of chunkiness. But this stuff is smoooth. Aww yeeeah. Smooth like you should be imagining Isaac Hayes saying "smooth" instead of a nerdy foodie-hack white boy—which, incidentally, is how you should be imagining the rest of this article being spoken—if, in fact, you imagine food reviews being spoken out loud as you read them at all.

This stuff is...just...good. We tried it on pancakes and toast. Win. Win. Tried it just off the spoon. Win. It's not at all oily. It's smooth like butter, but it's actually better than butter.

"Better than butter, baby," interjected Isaac Hayes.

That's right. If you like - or really even just tolerate gingerbread, I can't imagine you not liking this product. It's in the upper echelon of spreads. It's right up there with Peanut Butter, Nutella, and Marshmallow Fluff. Really probably better than Marshmallow Fluff. And I like Marshmallow Fluff.

Sonia agrees that it's a winner. This is exactly what we expect from Trader Joe. A weird product that's actually good. Uniqueness done right. TJ's takes risks—and while many of those experiments fall flat on their faces, this Cookie Butter is case in point for why this blog exists.

4.5 stars from Sonia. 5 stars from me.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10 stars.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Trader Joe's Chicken Breast in Poblano Sauce

A poblano is a type of pepper. Beyond that, my wife and I aren't sure if the word means anything—and Sonia is fluent in Spanish. If we had to take a guess just based on the sauce on this TJ's dish, we'd probably guess that "poblano" means "bland." If we had to take a guess based on the dish as a whole, we'd probably go with "nasty."

At some point not too long ago, we had a TJ's fan write on our Facebook page that this particular Chicken Poblano item was excellent. Now, mind you, we know that from time to time there are extreme discrepancies between regions when it comes to people's experiences with Trader Joe's products. The Sockeye Salmon comes to mind. Apparently, in most places, the salmon Trader Joe uses in that product is barely fit for consumption by your cat, let alone yourself. But here and there, you'll find a batch fresh enough that it's not only passable, but relatively tasty.

So I'm not going to call that person out there who claims that this Chicken Poblano is delicious a liar. I'm merely going to state matter-of-factly that our experience was something entirely different—and Sonia and I are 100% on the same page about this one. We were both thoroughly disappointed.

The chicken itself was barely enjoyable. It was fatty and gristly. Both Sonia and I got at least one bite that we had to spit into our napkins because of an excess of...??...something unchewable. Overall the chicken lacked flavor, and the bites of tender, juicy white meat were far and few between.

The sauce was even worse. It was virtually flavorless. With so many ingredients, we both hoped that at least one of them would come through to spice up the dish. But nothing. Just a bland mush. We were both independently shocked by the lack of flavor. We both expect more from TJ's.

I never want readers to think we're taking a cheap shot at Trader Joe's. We're fans and always have been. But once in a while, we come across a product that is so sorely disappointing that if it had been our first experience with TJ's, it may have also been our last. This was one of those meals. I'm not saying that someone else couldn't have had a very different experience...because I know at least one person out there is somehow a fan of this product. I'm interested to see what kind of comments we get with this one. Whose dish was the anomaly? The person who loved it? Or Sonia and I?

Sonia gives it 1 star, stating simply, "terrible." That sounds about right to me. We'll never buy it again.

Bottom line: 2 out of 10 stars.

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