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Monday, October 8, 2012

Trader Joe's Cinnamon Apple Snack Sticks

From what I can gather, unlike most of you, I don't get all that much into the pumpkin-everything craze every fall. Sure, I'll enjoy a slice of pumpkin pie or the occasional pumpkin beer, but yeah, pumpkin this, pumpkin that, pumpkin this-other-thing and pumpkin-that-other thing? Meh. I guess I'm the anti-Linus, not in search of the Great Pumpkin. In the autumn I get much more excited about crockpot goodies like potato soup and chili and pretty much anything on my second favorite blog ever.

For the fall time, if I had to say I'm excited about any seasonal fruit or vegetable, I'd choose apples. Yeah, I know, they're not "seasonal" in the traditional sense like pumpkins, but you know what I mean. Going apple picking. Apple sauce. Apple cider (or as my four year old nephew calls it, "apple-spider juice"). Apple crisp. Apple pie. Now, that I can get behind.

As for Trader Joe's Cinnamon Apple Snack Sticks, I can get behind them too. Don't get me wrong - they're not nearly as good as any of those aforementioned tasty treats. But, like anything else, they have a time and a place. And get this: they're made from real apples, too. Sure, they're all pureed up and tossed into a multigrain mix, but they're in there, with the sweet, slightly tart taste poking through here and there. Tastewise, using Apple Jacks as a base comparison, these snack sticks are probably at least ten times more actually apple-y. Add in the cinnamon that's liberally blasted on each stick, and the end result is a pretty munchable treat that's a much welcome break from the norm.

Count me as a fan. These will be making my list as a repeat buy, even if Sandy's not as big a fan as I am. "They could be a lot more apple-y," she says. I'm not sure if that's completely accurate for a snack food that's in a similar vein as Funyuns, except, well, better. She does note they'd go well with a bowl of vanilla ice cream or a mug of hot cider. Now you're talking, sweetie. Her score's a measly 2.5. For me, I like the well-balanced taste between the apples and the grains and the cinnamon, yet they're not addictive enough I feel like I have to eat them handful after handful. They're not a bad treat at all.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cinnamon Apple Snack Sticks: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons        

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Butter

We both eyed the pumpkin butter from the middle of the aisle, peering over a number of other TJ's shoppers scurrying by. One other woman did a double take as she perused the jellies and syrups. It seemed the pumpkin butter aroused curiosity more than anything else. As Sonia and I debated whether to buy and review the item, one question rose up in our minds, "What would go well with pumpkin butter?"

For that reason, the jar has no fewer than 6 different suggestions for how to serve the product within. They recommend using it in soup, on ice cream, or as a poultry glaze, among others. Its uniqueness is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, TJ's Pumpkin Butter is versatile enough that you can use it to make almost anything taste like pumpkin. On the other hand, even if you find a bunch of different foods that you want to make taste like pumpkin, you find yourself doing little more than experimenting with a culinary tool that you're barely familiar with and don't fully understand. It's kind of like the Twitter of the kitchen-world: obviously there's a lot of potential there...but ultimately, what's the point?

Furthermore, if you wanted something like pumpkin ice cream, for example, it would probably be best to just buy Pilgrim Joe's Pumpkin Ice Cream—a product whose pumpkin-properties have been balanced and blended by professional ice cream folks, rather than creating your own haphazard version using Pumpkin Butter and whatever you've got kicking around in your freezer. Although some people might prefer creating their own ice cream so they can tailor the mixture to suit their own tastes...

Texture-wise, the product is not unlike apple butter. There's pureed pumpkin, sugar, and honey. It's very sweet, but traditional pumpkin spices are definitely there. We tried it on toast. It's okay by itself, but we found that the most palatable way to eat it was with some cream cheese. Not wanting to waste time, energy...and potentially food, we steered clear of creating things like Pumpkin Butter and sour cream soup. And I'm pretty sure our Thanksgiving turkey this year will not be basted in this stuff.

I can't deny that there's something fascinating about it. It's good to try something new once in a while. But I just can't figure out what niche this product should fill in my diet. It's certainly no replacement for apple butter, jams, or jellies. It's just a bit of novelty. Three stars.

Sonia feels the same way, but because all things pumpkin remind her of autumn, her favorite season, she couldn't help but enjoy it. She almost gave it four stars, but decided on three and a half.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10 stars.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Rice Pasta & Cheddar

I've gone on a whole diatribe about macaroni and cheese before, so I'm not going waste yours and my time rehashing it all. Let's just get down to business here.

Truth be told, Trader Joe's Gluten Free Rice Pasta & Cheddar was not a product I was particularly eager to buy, much less consume. I think it's the "rice" part. Now, I have nothing against rice, per se, as Sandy and I keep a sealed bucket in the kitchen full of it, and we eat rice probably at least twice a week. It's just that I've had rice step outside the realm from which it belongs and total ruin something. A prime example is some TJ's rice flour tortillas which really ought to be discontinued - I bought them once, nearly retched upon first bite, threw them out (this was before I knew about their awesome return policy), and have refused to buy since. Just keep away from them. Far, far away. So there's that, and there's the fact that TJ's has already made a perfectly good corn pasta for the gluten-free crowd. If I were in charge of the whole shebang, that would be the route we'd take here.

But I'm not in charge (not yet, at least), so here we are with ricey mac 'n cheese. Eh. I'll be honest, I'm not a huge fan. There's just something that tastes a little off. Maybe it's all the gluten that's not in it. Sandy made up the pot, and while admittedly she may have undercooked it by the tiniest bit, the noodles were a little too dense and chewy. For whatever reason, the thought that came to mind for me was thick newspaper. That's kinda also how the noodles seemed to taste. Also, in my experience, I've always mixed the powdered cheese, milk and butter right on top of the noodles in the pot. Not this box. It actually instructs you to mix all that together separately, then pour over. Sandy, as always being the directionally obedient chef, obliged without too much questioning. I could be completely making this up, but as a result I don't think the sauce clung to the noodles nearly as well, and yeah, seemed to taste a little off. Is there gluten in regular mac 'n cheese cheese sauce? Don't know. But that could be it. Fortunately, it was all something that a little hot sauce could fix.

For the record, Sandy thinks I'm full of it. "You made up your mind before even trying it that you weren't going to like it and now you're going to write a review nitpicking it left and right just because it's different," she said. Talk about being put in your place. She's probably at least partially right. Sandy deemed it worthy of a four, and has reiterated several times how much she likes it, as if the brand needed her personal, continual affirmation to make it thru each day. Me? I'm trying to be fair but it's just not that great. For the gluten-free folks, this simply isn't how boxed mac 'n cheese tastes. You don't deserve another not-so-great imitation of an American classic, especially when better glutenless noodle technology not only exists but lurks only a mere shelf or two over. I'll play nice with a 2.5.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Gluten Free Rice Pasta & Cheddar: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons     

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