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Monday, June 24, 2013

Trader Joe's Dried Kimchi

I've mentioned my feelings about kimchi in one or two previous posts. It scares me. It's foreign, it's fermented, and it's cabbage. It's just a bit intimidating. 

And it's not just kimchi that terrifies me, but all forms of fermented cabbage, like sauerkraut.

But you can't say I'm not a trooper. I've eaten sauerkraut on hotdogs and with porkchops. I've tried kimchi in fine Asian restaurants, mostly Korean barbecue places. And I've tried multiple different kinds of it. I did appreciate some of the varieties a little more than the traditional cabbage-based one, but none so much that I'd snack on them on any normal occasion. I just can't get into it.

Recently, an excellent article about fermented foods by Ellen Byron went up on the Wall Street Journal site. (If that link takes you to a "Get the Full Story" screen, that means they've placed the article behind their paid subscriber wall). And it really got me thinking. It got me thinking that if a delicious condiment like Sriracha is actually fermented, a fact I was previously unaware of, that maybe I should give this whole kimchi thing another whirl. 

I thought that maybe the dryness of this Trader Joe's product would cut down on the grossness of the kimchi. When it's all wet, I just can't get it out of my mind that it's cabbage being broken down into a liquid slowly by millions of little bacteria. So, after postponing the consumption of the dried kimchi as long as possible, I finally decided to be brave and open the bag. There were dozens of chunks of dried kimchi with a dusting of a powdered version of the traditional red spices you'd find on any regular kimchi. It looked and felt like the bag of kale chips I reviewed a while back. The taste, however, was very different from the kale chips.

Chalk it up to my aversion to kimchi if you must, but I simply can't recommend this stuff like I did that delicious bag of dried kale coated in a weird nacho sauce. This stuff STILL TASTES LIKE ROTTING CABBAGE!

I found it a shade more palatable when I ate it in a bowl of ramen instead of straight out of the bag, but in the former case, it gets wet again. I imagine that the millions of little bacteria responsible for the sourness of the cabbage have been in suspended animation for months, and then when I drop it into my bowl of warm soup, they come to life again like a package of Amazing Live Sea Monkeys and begin swimming about, devouring bits of cabbage and ramen, rushing to establish a culture of their own in my bowl before I can gag them all down and digest them.

My wife Sonia, who generally appreciates regular kimchi, felt like TJ's Dried Kimchi was mostly flavorless. I disagree. I think it tastes sour like authentic rotting cabbage. And I also tasted the spices, which I might have actually enjoyed if they were sprinkled onto, say kale, instead of ... rotting cabbage. Neither Sonia nor I could ever feature ourselves buying this again, but perhaps for slightly different reasons. I can only recommend trying this product if you're a big fan of regular cabbage-based kimchi. I know you kimchi fans are out there, and I wish I could join your ranks. But this is one food I fear I may never fully develop an appreciation for.

Sonia gives it 3 stars. I give it 2.5.

Bottom line: 5.5 out of 10.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Trader Joe's Chicken-less Strips

A few months back, the wife and I decided to become more or less vegetarian, or perhaps more accurately, pescetarians who don't dabble too much with other types of meat. That's not to say we're perfect, like the other night when we were in such a rush to get down to PNC Park for the MLB debut of the next great Pittsburgh Pirates savior AKA Gerrit Cole that we kinda forgot about the whole "we should eat dinner" thing, were dissuaded by obscene concession lines and even more obscene prices ($9 for fries?)   and so were left with Wendy's late night drive thru afterwards. But we're working on it, and our efforts have paid off. I've personally dropped about 30 pounds and 20 points worth of systolic blood pressure (from high normal to perfectly normal) at least in part to our new diet. It's fantastic.

The kinda funny thing is, since beginning this a few months back, I swear we've eaten more fake meat options than we ever ate actual meat before. Maybe it's just how we try to placate our inner carnivore. From old stand-bys to new favorites, TJ's sure has a few worth checking out, and with most if not all being absolutely tasty (even veggie corn dogs, for crying out loud), we bought Trader Joe's Chicken-Less Strips on a recent trip.

And hate to say it, but these poultry fake-outs are the worst we've had from TJ's. It doesn't make them flat-out awful, but they're certainly a disappointment. Sandy and I decided to try them in more or less their purest of forms, which meant sauteed then served in a mixed greens/strawberry/almond salad. Every other bit of our dinner was delectable, but any bite with chicken....ugh. It wasn't quite the flavor, because they tasted like chicken, and indeed lightly seasoned, although I wouldn't label them as "delicious" or "tasty" or "pleasing." It may have been more the texture - it lacked the fleshy goodness of real, authentic chicken and was certainly fake and a little rubbery. Whatever it was that turned these guys, it wasn't good. Actual chicken strips would have made our salad an absolute killer. With these fakers instead, our dinner was much more ho-hum. Sandy even left a small pile on her plate and said "No mas", and instead of helping myself to them, I wasn't too bothered by throwing them away.

We'll be gracious, though. It's entirely conceivable our opinion would have been different if we have chosen to make fajitas or fried rice or some other type of dish that would help hide the flavor and texture deficiencies a little better. So there's some potential there, and while we're not completely enamored, both Sandy and I haven't completely written off the possibility of a repeat purchase. Based on that, and that alone, a score that hovers between "meh" and "not so great" seems fair at this point.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chicken-less Strips: 4 out of 10 Golden Spoons    

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Trader Joe's Barbeque Popped Potato Chips

Picking up on the success of PopChips, TJ's has, predictably, offered their own version of a "popped" chip. And I must say I'm just as much a fan of Trader Joe's brand as I am the original. They're neither baked nor fried. They're simply popped in a pressure cooker of sorts. The back of the bag says they take potato slices and "apply heat and pressure." The same could be said for the butt of my pants every time I sit down—minus the potato part of course—but that's never generated anything as snacktacular as these little BBQ chips.

The chips are very round and flat, and they're super-crunchable. They're light, airy, and they do taste slightly of actual potatoes. You know, I really wish they would call them POPtato chips. I think that's the proper way to market these fellas. "Poptato Chips." Yep. I will expect my check in the mail, TJ's. You're welcome for the idea.

But the best part about these little guys is their barbecue flavor. It's really tangy, and it mixes well with the potato taste. Somehow it's way better than the taste you would get just by dumping a bunch of barbecue sauce on a baked potato. Just recently, I had the misfortune of sampling a really, really revolting BBQ flavored chip, so these, in contrast, seemed even more tasty than they might have without the Honey Barbecue Ribs Chips as a reference point.

TJ's has done potato chips in the past, but these aren't traditional chips. Plus, these guys won't weigh you down. They're relatively low in fat and calories for a potato chip, and that's something my gut and I are always thankful for.

Sonia was blown away by them, too. 4.5 stars from her. 4.5 stars from me.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

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