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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Trader Joe's Salad with BBQ Flavored Chicken

After all that cookie butter ice cream you've no doubt been cramming down since Nathan's last post, you surely think you oughtta go get a salad, right?

I wish I could say the stomach volume displacement value of Trader Joe's Salad with BBQ Flavored Chicken was at least some variant of equality, but it's not. There's a lot of promise - beans, cheese, tortillas, spicy chicken, all of which are right up my alley - but in actuality, the spork on the front sticker should've been a key tipoff: this is one salad that can't decide what it is or what it wants to be. Kinda like freshman year, I suppose. It's an okay lunch pick-up, but there's too much that's off to make it worth a regular rotation spot.

Let's count the ways. First, the chicken. The word "flavored" in the title should have been another hint that I whiffed on. The chicken is not barbecued, nor is it, technically, BBQ flavored. Instead, the BBQ flavor comes from a mini bucket of some invented product called "BBQ Vinaigrette." Let's be serious here - have any of you ever encountered the existence of such a product before? There's no such item listed for sale on Amazon, which means, to me, it's not real. It's kinda tangy and BBQy but definitely tastes like watered down sauce, but watered down with vinegar. Okay, but not that great. The ranch dressing is only semi-awful and doesn't add a lot. And the beans? Well, they're mixed in with some corn and diced red pepper, which is okay, but instead of being at least somewhat fresh, it's more of the canned variety, with some sort of goop coating them that makes them taste a little pickled, almost. With the two different dressings and the beans etc, that makes for not one, not two, but three (!) little cups inside that take up a lot of space in both the salad container and your friendly local landfill. Seriously, there's got to be a better way.

On the plus side: Lettuce is fresh and crispy, has that "just chopped" feel to it. The MJ cheese seemed particularly good (though perhaps an overstatement - first cheese I've had in a while) and the tortilla chip strips add a good little crunch. If you happen to like the dressings, a little goes a long way - I barely blipped mine in, gave it a good mix, and still had a couple small pools at the bottom. That helps cut down the more unsavory nutritionals too, of course.

Getting back to that point of "not knowing what it is": it's just a weird mix. If it wants to be a BBQ chicken salad, then put in actual BBQ chicken, some greens, some cheese, maybe a pepper or two, and skip the black beans and corn and whatnot. If you want to keep the beans and corn, nix the BBQ and go for a chipotle ranch dressing. Or maybe even better, just skip both dressings, or maybe just skip this salad altogether. Perhaps I'm being harsh after a long, frustrating day, but I'd prefer more tastiness for something that looked like it held enough promise for me to drop a hard-earned $4.49 on it - I could have gotten a buffalo chicken salad from the work cafe for the same price and been much happier. I'll try to be kind, but in the end, best case scenario to me, it has "meh" stamped all over it.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Salad with BBQ Flavored Chicken: 4.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, August 11, 2014

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter Ice Cream

What hath Trader Joe's wrought?

Cookie butter ice a thing. I repeat: there exists at Trader Joe's a product which is both speculoos cookie butter...and ice cream.

Now I can die a happy man. A morbidly obese, yet happy man. It has a vanilla-esque base and it's full of speculoos cookie flavor. There are big globs of actual cookie butter throughout it. I couldn't figure out if it was the smooth variety or the crunchy. It strikes me as being somewhere in between the two, perhaps, but's actually probably original. It's just firmer than usual because it's cold. Does it really matter? They make cookie butter ice cream. I repeat: the product in these pictures is real...and it's speculoos cookie butter flavored ice cream.

What's next in TJ's diabolical plan? Cookie and Cocoa Swirl Ice Cream? Slap the words "cookie butter" on a Trader Joe's product, and you pretty much have a big winner every time...with maybe one exception so far. I started shaking when I heard the news. Sonia and I started calling all the TJ's in our region to see who had it in stock. As I mentioned in my last post, Sonia and I just moved. And thanks to the customer service wizards at Comcast, we were without internet for a few days. A big thanks to Russ for holding down the fort during our transition. We're still buried beneath boxes and swamped with address changes, phone calls to realtors, and new utility accounts, but the magic of the interwebs floweth once more to bring you good tidings of great cookie butter.

This ice cream is on par with the discontinued classic Lemon Triple Gingersnap Ice Cream—and maybe even exceeds it in some ways. It's a legend, in every way fit for the halls of the Pantheon. It really actually honestly seriously tastes just like the original cookie butter, and it blends perfectly with the sweet ice cream surrounding it. Sonia says it could use just a bit more in that gingersnappy, cinnamony department. And I agree, it does err on the side of sweet, rather than spicy, but I think it works. I think the flavor is perfect. If a madman held a gun to my head and forced me to make a complaint about this product, I'd simply ask for larger globs of cookie butter in the mix. But until that hypothetical lunatic starts waving his Glock in my direction, I'm sticking with my story that this is a near-perfect product that just needed to be here on Earth right now...even in light of its $5 price tag. From the bottom of my heart, Trader Joe, thank you for making Cookie Butter Ice Cream. I give it a perfect 5. Sonia gives it four and a half.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

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