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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Trader Joe's Chocolate Almond Smooth Non-Dairy Beverage

The plethora of food allergies I suffered from as a child included ones to wheat, sugar, and milk. The cow's milk allergy prompted my parents to feed me goat's milk, soy milk, and occasionally something more obscure like rice milk or almond milk. So I'm no stranger to "alternative" milks. And in recent years, soy milk and almond milk have become more and more popular—almost mainstream. The most ubiquitous brand of almond-based beverages is of course Almond Breeze, put out by parent company Blue Diamond.

And both Sonia and I agree that TJ's Almond Smooth blows Almond Breeze away. That was sort of a pun. Get it? "Blows the breeze away." Because breezes usually do the blowing away... oh never mind.

This is the first flavor of Almond Smooth that we've tried, so we can't really vouch for the others just yet, but we've heard nothing but good things. They also offer a sweetened vanilla flavor and an unsweetened vanilla. The sugariness of the chocolate is perfect. It's not overbearing, but they didn't underdo it either. Likewise, the chocolate flavor blends with and enhances the almond base. It doesn't compete with it, as I've often felt was the case with beverages like Silk Chocolate Soymilk. But then, you never hear about chocolate-covered tofu or anything like that. But there are a few classics that come to mind when you think about chocolate paired up with almonds.

In the past, we've taken looks at other non-dairy milks from Trader Joe's. Just check out our reviews of TJ's Light Coconut Milk and their Vanilla Coconut Milk. So far, this one takes the cake. It's super smooth and highly-drinkable. Click here to see a nice cold glass of it, straight out of the box.

We also got a little crazy and made smoothies with it. We dumped it into the blender with ice cubes, bananas, and peanut butter. And yee-haw, that was friggin' delicious. It was smooth and rich, akin to the legendary Peanut Butter Moo'd smoothie from Jamba Juice.

Sonia went crazy immediately. She was extremely pleased with this product from her first sip. 5 stars from her. I enjoyed it right away, but wasn't completely blown away like she was. After our smoothies, however, I started thinking about the potential and versatility of such a beverage. Furthermore, it's one of, if not the best non-dairy milk I've ever had. So I'd feel like this product were getting robbed of its due if I gave it anything less that 4.5 stars. So it looks like we're going to record this happy box of almond love in the hallowed halls of our Pantheon.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Trader Joe's Crispy Jeju Mandarin Orange Slices

How long does a bag of mandarins or clementines last in your house? Around these parts, not long at all. The wife and I can inhale a two pound bag in literally a day. It must be our completely irrational fear of scurvy. As an aside, we have to save one for Baby M, who loves holding one in her little hands as she tries to impersonate the two of us by trying to cram it into mouth. Like father, like daughter, I guess. Scary thought. She literally held one for hours at school one day until a bigger kid came by, swiped it, and chomped it as Baby M burst into tears. If someone stole my little orange, I'd have much the same reaction.

Anyways, when I see the words "crispy" and "Mandarin orange," my mind automatically inserts the word "chicken." So it's a little jarring to see the full name, Trader Joe's Crispy Jeju Mandarin Orange Slices, and know it's an obviously orangey poultry-free product. In case you whiff on this observation, TJ's conveniently slapped on the phrase "nothing added". No, friends, what's about to go down is a crispy orange slice, in all its crispy orange slice glory, and there's nothing to add or subtract from that.

Except the juiciness, naturally. Texturally and sensorially, the orange slices are kinda bizarre at first. Visually, they look like something you'd find in a potpurri jar. Imagine leaving an orange slice in the desert sun for a week or two, and coming back and finding a withered skin-frame of what used to be a regular mandarin orange slice. That's about what they look like, and kinda what they crunch like, too. Each bit is light, airy, and definitely crispy, like a potato chip but much lighter, like crispy paper, perhaps. It's strange until you get used to it.

What it doesn't lose is taste. Despite the abject absence of any water, the orange slices still maintain a lot of the citrusy acidic bite. Some were even downright tart. Once I got used to the texture and mouthfeel of these lil' buggers, I could begin to really enjoy the taste. Unfortunately, that's also just about when the bag ran out.

The crispy oranges made an interesting little snack for the drive home post-work and shopping/pre-exercise/dinner/baby caretaking evening. Sandy's pretty hyped on the idea of getting them again before having guests over, to try and fool them into thinking we eat potpurri. Other than that, she stated she wasn't sure if she'd buy them again. I think it's because ultimately there isn't much substance to them. That's also my knock aganst 'em, though the edible potpurri shenanigans sound good to me. Sandy says a three. I say they deserve better, just for being willing to be a little weird, so a four from me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Crispy Jeju Mandarin Orange Slices: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons        

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