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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Trader Joe's Embrace Your Inner Bean

Straight from the folks who previously brought you oddly inspired snack sticks with groan-worthy puns for names comes....Trader Joe's Embrace Your Inner Bean! What's next in this line of veggie tranquility inspired munchies? Some Lettuce Be? Romaine Calm? Bay Leaf in Yourself?

Why can I come up with only puns for shrubbery-esque veggies? I dunno, leaf me alone!

Regardless, before branching out to any other snacks of this ilk, TJ's really needs to buckle down their craft. Just like those Inner Peas were borderline good but missing a little somethin'-somethin', so do these beanie bad boys. They're just on the cusp of being really darn tasty but just don't get there. It's not the texture - a little foamy, but reasonably crunchy but it's the taste itself. First, they're made with rice flour, which doesn't have the same supporting flavor of a regular corn or tortilla chip. I'm not a fan of rice flour at all, I guess, despite its gluten-free properties....wait a minute...these aren't gluten-free? Well, let's read the gluten in any of that...hold on..."May contain traces of wheat, milk, soy, fish, and shrimp"???? What the heck kinda of cross-allergen control polices are in place at that manufacturer? Bad enough that their product cannot reasonably be labelled as either gluten-free or vegetarian/vegan? This is a snack whose main ingredients are beans, rice, and salt. Ay-yi-freakin'-yi. That's some serious point dockage there.

In case you can still ingest these, like I can, the flavor profile also kinda lacks. Silly as it sounds, these sticks might taste too much like black beans (over 60%, says the blurb on the back) and black beans, taste like, well, not much. That's why if we're making them up for some tacos or making a black bean soup, we're sure to add lots of stuff like cumin, which perhaps tricks us into thinking we like black beans more than we actually do. There's a little salt here, which is kinda boring tasting - really, a little cumin or paprika or slight chile powder dusting would have been better, in my opinion.

Anyways, these Inner Beans make an okay dip stick - I dunked some of them into a little homemade guacamole I made and was reasonably happy with the results. Yet, after a few bites, the flavor just kinda goes back to the rice flour more than anything, and I can't shake that lingering essence off my molars. Meh.

Sandy enjoys these kinda things more than I do, usually, and this time was not an exception. "I'd get these for a car trip or something for a light snack," she said. But I can tell she's not overly enamored, especially when she gave them a half-hearted three.That's more generous than I can go. As is appropriate for their buck-fifty price tag, I'm going 1.5.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Embrace Your Inner Bean: 4.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Trader Joe's Jingle Jangle

I thought $7 for Cookie Butter Cheesecake was pretty steep, even though, admittedly, it was worth every penny. Well, this stuff was $9 at the Marlton TJ's. You'd think for that price, they'd at least give it some highfalutin name like "Extra-ordinary Random Chocolate Covered Nonsense of the Finest Collection," like that weirdness that Russ checked out recently, or something pretentious like that. Nope. Just Jingle Jangle.

There were milk and dark chocolate covered pretzels, mini peanut butter cups, Joe-Joe's, M&M-like things, and dark chocolate covered caramel corn—the latter of which was about the only novel element in the mix. Everything else felt like something I'd had before. To my great disappointment, there were no white chocolate covered items, although some of the pretzels had a wee bit of white chocolate drizzle on top. It was practically untasteable, though—more for decoration than anything else.

The tin was filled to the brim with the aforementioned goodies and was actually quite heavy. If you're battling rain or snow as you carry it out of the store in one of TJ's famous paper bags, be wary that the bottom doesn't drop out on you. It's a good bit of food and a great lot of calories, but in my opinion, the five species of candy in the tin still aren't enough variety to justify the price. They get old pretty quickly. It's definitely a product you'd want to consider for large office parties, big family gatherings, and grand soirees. It's not to be shared by one lonely couple and two pets who can't have chocolate. Thank goodness we'll have some company later in the month to help us finish it.

As someone who's not a huge fan of dark chocolate, I'm just not sure this is the best way to spend $9 at Christmas time. The quality of the ingredients is fine. I wouldn't call that into question. But hey, you dark chocolate fans, wouldn't you rather enjoy the flinty undertones of your sophisticated candy alone in a bar form, rather than coated all over a generic Oreo? There was some milk chocolate, but not nearly enough to suit me. If it weren't for the joyous holiday spirit soothing my cynical soul right this moment, I might have snubbed this product even worse, but I'll be Christmassy and throw out three stars. Sonia likes dark chocolate, so she'll muster enough enthusiasm for three and a half.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Trader Joe's Cookies Beyond the Pail

And now for today's lesson in rarely used English idioms: "beyond the pale." Basically, it means outside an acceptable bounds, such as my language and use of middle digits during rush hour traffic. Deplorable. Disgraceful. Disgusting. Like the driving actions of others that facilitate my own improper response during said rush hour. But where does this expression come from? Um, here's a pretty lengthy breakdown...something about stakes and Ireland and colonial resentment...I'll admit I stopped less than halfway through.

What the h-e-double-bendi-straw does that expression have to do with the naming of Trader Joe's Cookies Beyond the Pail? These aren't cookies gone wild or behaving badly. No bleeps. No blurs. Just some butter cookies hanging out in the bucket with a windmill on it. Yeah, fine, there's the "pail" they come in, and the chance to make a stupid pun (which I always appreciate), so perhaps we'll just to settle for that.

Butter cookies are always everywhere this time of year, usually in fancy tins that I feel guilty about tossing but foolish for wanting to hang on. In lieu of festive decorative packaging, to get us all more in the spirit, focus more on the beautiful LL Bean table wreath my folks sent us a few days ago. At least Big Girl M is already excited about the prospect of having a "cookie bucket" to play with when we're all said and done, and it won't look all that ridiculous.

Packaging aside, there's four types of butter cookies here: pretzel shaped with vanilla-y crystals, snickerdoodles, almond bars, and chocolate chip. Each are pretty representative of the general butter cookie genre in their own right - good bite, crumbly, sugary, rich but not too much so, nothing too fancy but yet so satisfying. I prefer the vanilla pretzels the most, as they seem a little tougher and crunchier than the rest, but man, those almond bars practically melt...Not a huge fan of the chocolate chip ones, though. There's only a few chips in each cookie, and any chocolate flavor is so muted compared to the rest of the cookie that if I didn't see them, I wouldn't know they were there. The snickerdoodles could use a tad more cinnamon, too, in my opinion, but they're pretty decent as is.

I'd rank them in this order of preference: vanilla pretzel, almond bars, snickerdoodles, chocolate chip. It's funny and probably very beneficial for the two of us that Sandy's list would go the complete opposite, so we can each focus on the cookies we like best. There's nothing too above and beyond about these nominally brash buttery bites, but man, we like them, and for the price (big bucket for like $4, cheaper than most!) they're definitely worth checking out.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cookies Beyond the Pail: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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