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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Trader Joe's Fully Cooked Pork Belly

Mmmm.... bacon bacon bacon. Bacon. Bacon!! I've consumed a lot of bacon over the past few months - at least a couple times a week. That's part of the glory of a paleo diet - eat bacon as often as you want! It works, too - I'm down nearly 45 pounds since August, even after pillaging my mom's and mother-in-law's holiday cookie spreads in a couple days of unbridled Christmassy sugar gluttony.

But dare I say it but - bacon gets kinda old after a while. Like, it's still delicious and all, but a good change up is needed. Fortunately my dad cures and smokes his own bacon, and is only too happy to share (Maple bourbon bacon? Yes please!) but when that runs out, well, a little variety would be welcome.

Fortunately, there's an alternative to get my inner Gimli all fired up again - Trader Joe's Fully Cooked Pork Belly. There's a train of thought that fresh pork belly, when prepared properly, is better than any salty, cured bacon. This being my first foray into pork belly world, I'm not ready to stake that claim, but I can see where it comes from.

Pork belly is, of course, the slab of meat from which bacon is made. Our particular cut seemed to be almost more of a pork roast/bacon hybrid, as it was certainly meatier looking than most bacons I've ever had. And by cut, I mean it's a solid piece - despite the thick cut slabs pictured on the completely unnecessary box, it's a solid chunk that you must cut yourself either before or after cooking. Since we wanted it for a potato soup topping, and I wasn't sure what to expect, I sliced up a few pieces then started dicing the remaining bit once my fingers were beginning to get in potential harm's way.

My goodness, the end result was delicious. It took a while over some low heat, but eventually we got crispy, chunky, savory, melty-in-yo'-mouthy baconlicious bites that even our normally meat-averse toddler couldn't help but gobble right on up. The thicker cut chunks that got crispy on the outside but remained tender on the inside - oh man, oh man. I'm not sure if there was just more greasy gristle, or the meatier girth, but whatever it was, this pork belly had it. If you even remotely like bacon, you'll probably love this. Just be careful during cooking - the extra fat makes some extra-aggressive spatter when provoked - wearing one of these Quailman style might not be a bad idea. 

A quick Google search of pork belly recipes seems to imply that cooking and prepping your own from raw to edible takes quite a bit of work and/or time (couple hours, minimum from what I see) so this is definitely a fully cooked convenience pack, perhaps not made for the connoisseurs but instead to introduce the masses. Well, consider me hooked - I think I just might start trying to make my own. In the meantime, if I get a real hankerin', this TJ's version will make a quick sub at a fairly reasonable price of $6.49 for the package. The wife and I agree: deeeeeeeeeeelish. Double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Fully Cooked Pork Belly: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, December 29, 2014

Trader Joe's Petite Fig, Pear and Cranberry Tart

So far this holiday season, I've seen some incredible Christmas lights, had some excellent beer and great food, played some fun games, watched some classic movies, and read a great, inspiring book. And unlike certain eventful Christmases past, my family members came and went without anyone wishing eternal hellfire on anyone else. 

It's been a whirlwind of awesomeness, and it's not over yet. At the moment, I'm so content, I'm not overflowing with that cynical, sarcastic sense of humor that graces so many of my reviews here on this blog. It's a weird feeling, actually—but not entirely unwelcome.

This year was the first year my wife and I hosted Christmas at our house, so naturally, we tried to impress people with decent food. This tartastic little product was one of the desserts we had on hand. It's not exactly what we expected, but it's certainly not bad.

It's spongy, not flaky. In my mind, and apparently in the minds of Sonia and my parents alike, the word "flaky" signifies a pie crust-style breading. However, this crust is more like a sponge cake than a pie crust. And that's our biggest complaint. It was tasty enough, but we felt the description was a tad misleading. "Buttery," yes. Soft, yes. "Flaky," not so much.

The filling was pleasantly tart and sour. It's also slightly sweet, but nowhere close to a traditional pie filling. Even the sweetness of the pears is overshadowed by the tartness of the cranberries. And there's not much "jelly." It's mostly actual fruit. The overall effect is satisfying, yet lighter and subtler than most desserts.

My dad seemed to like it a bit more than the rest of us, but we all settled on a consensus of 8 out of 10, which puts this squarely in our really darn good category. In our humble opinions, it's worth checking out.

If I don't get another review out before 2015, let me say "Happy New Year!" and thanks for reading!

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Trader Joe's Mini Gingerbread Men

In the South, they say "y'all." In Pittsburgh, they say "yinz." Here in Jersey and most other places, they say "you guys" or some variation of that. Let's face it: "you people" is somehow offensive. But every once in a while, when I use the phrase "you guys," I get criticized for leaving out the women folk. So let's just agree right here and right now that "you guys" currently means "you persons," "you humans," or "you (plural)." Just as Spanish words like "niños" can mean both male and female children together, or it can mean just boys.

In that same vein, Sonia wonders why there can't be gingerbread women included in this box of merry holiday cookies. Why is it always gingerbread men? Or are we to assume they're genderless gingerbread persons? 

Sonia's whimsical musing isn't necessarily out of a desire for political correctness. It's more because she wishes to see happy cookie couples pairing off with one another to face the excitement and uncertainty of being consumed together, rather than solitary male cookies heading off to the great beyond all by their lonesome, like so many brave soldiers being whisked away to war. However, I sense that this metaphor will very quickly devolve into absurdity within the next few sentences here, so I'm going to abruptly transition to the actual food review. Ready?

Here goes. The cookies are covered in white fudge icing. I like that. Finally, something NOT covered in dark chocolate. They're not too hard and not too soft. I like that, too. Their flavor is gingerbready, sweet, and spicy. There're enough gingerbreadish spices to warm the back of your throat slightly, thus prompting you to clear your throat excessively, which in turn may cause some slightly awkward social situations. Yet the cookies are good enough that you'll continue eating them, which may cause said awkward social situation to escalate into a nightmarish episode of outright public embarrassment. Not really. I'm exaggerating. But no seriously though, they really do kind of tingle at the back of your throat a bit.

I'm not sure what it is about cookie butter that makes it so amazing. It tastes very much like gingerbread, but so much better. If we had any on hand, I would definitely try making gingerbread sandwich cookies with two of these little men and some cookie butter in between. As tasty as these cookies are, I can't really even put them in the same ballpark as most of those cookie butter products, score-wise. They're good, but they're not that good. Plus, I get hyper when I have too many cookies. Three and a half stars from me. Four from Sonia. 

You guys excited Santa is coming next week?

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

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