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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Nibs

Courtesy of the Hershey Chocolate World factory ride, which I've done roughly 5000 times where their song still haunts my dreams occasionally (think "It's a Small World After All," only about chocolate), I didn't even have to look up what a chocolate nib is. It's the cocoa bean, before being ground and smushed down to cocoa liquor or butter. It's sorta like chocolate in its purest form that's in some type of edible state. All there is, there ain't no more. But I had to look up up again why dark chocolate is good for you - some, in moderation, is acceptable on my interpretation of the paleo diet (close to 50 pounds dropped now!), and I've heard that there's benefits but have forgotten what they were. Well, about to drop some science on ya here: theobromine. Not related to actual bromine. What it does: Lower blood pressure. Helps you pee. Can even (maybe?) help prevent tooth decay. And it means "food of the gods." Not too much else you can ask from it, except for maybe some tax advice and to make Justin Bieber disappear forever. Darker the chocolate, the more theobromine, and since nibs are pretty much 100% dark chocolate, you can't do any better.

Though you can buy and consume just straight cocoa nibs, that doesn't sound overly appetizing, at least not to me. So what can you add to pure chocolate to make it taste better? How about....more chocolate? Brilliant!

Hence the existence of Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Nibs - nibs in a form that's palatable to the masses.  Take a nib, bathe it in some 65% dark chocolate, put it in a tin by the checkout, charge $1.99, intrigue guys like me who'll gamble a couple bucks on a whim - good strategy. If you've done the chocolate-covered coffee bean thing, these aren't too far off that mark, they're just a little smaller, like the size of a large Nerd. Once your teeth sink through the cocoa-coating, it's just the crunchy nibby middle. Though it can feel a little gritty with a large mouth full, just a couple at a time are texturally pleasing enough.

Now, 65% dark might seem like some pretty dark, bitter chocolate for some, but that outer layer is downright sweet compared to the actual nib. It takes a couple bites to really flush out the nib taste, and though there's not a lot, it's potent, the very definition of bittersweet. On one hand, I'm kinda surprised how much flavor can come from a toasted cocoa bean before adding milk and sugar and all that jazz - there's a slight nutty/fruity thing going on. Very slight. On the other, I'm not sure how much of just that taste I really want, so that little hit of "chocolate chocolate" from the outer layer adds a nice balance that helps smooth it all over. As an added bonus, the nibs come in a little pocket sized tin that I will have absolutely no practical use for, but will insist on holding on to anyways, much to the wife's chagrin.

Speaking of the wifey, Sandy tried a small handful and wasn't overly impressed. "They just kinda taste like crunchy choco-bits, and I could eat all of these at once and not mind," she said. While I agree on the first part of her statement, I couldn't disagree more on the second. This is coming from a guy who loves dark chocolate and is still learning about things like "self control", but only like five or six of these bitty bits are enough for me when I need a hit. Seriously, I've had the tin for about a week, and there's still about a quarter of it left. Maybe the nibs have struck the balance of "good enough to keep eating, not good enough to do all at once" for me, or perhaps they're just a little too potent as is. Not sure. Matching threes from the two of us.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Nibs: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, January 19, 2015

Trader Joe's Crispy Crunchy Broccoli Florets

It's time to check out Stoner Joe's Crunchy Chronic Cannabis Kernels, rushed overnight from the Denver TJ's. Just kidding. They're broccoli florets. Not quite as creative as "Inner Peas" or anything like that, but I suppose "broccoli" doesn't lend itself to that kind of play on words. I racked my brain for something to prove I'm nearly as creative as TJ's marketing department, Russ, and reader **Tammy**, but all I could come up with is a new kale product that might have Caesar dressing instead of zesty nacho, which of course would be called "Kale, Caesar!" 

Which conveniently brings me to my first actually-relevant point about the product itself—taste and texture-wise, these aren't all that dissimilar from the aforementioned kale chips, the biggest difference being the lack of a "dressing" type flavor in these broccoli florets. And if you go back to that kale chip review, you'll find that it's a highly polarizing, love-it-or-hate-it product. The comment section reads like a death threat followed by a love letter followed by a death threat, and so on. 

So my advice to you now is, if you hated the kale chips, you're probably gonna hate these bad boys and should consider avoiding them. You may still issue death threats via the comments section if you feel they're warranted. Love letters are also appreciated, but do note that I am happily married.

I thoroughly enjoyed the kale chips. And I'm enjoying these happy broccoli bites. I do wish that they had some kind of dressing, as well, though. They're weird, brittle, and crumby. They're also "planty," but they really don't taste or feel like broccoli to me, except for maybe the aftertaste. They're salty, and there's almost a nutty quality about them. 

They're surprisingly fattening for broccoli, which I guess can be attributed to the presence of palm oil. They're chock full of dietary fiber and vitamin C, so I think we can still declare them "healthy-ish." At $2.79, we're looking at a significantly lower price point than the kale chips. Plus the florets are filling and satisfying, so I'd call them a success in the "value" department. 

On the flip side, I'm dubious to declare that they could ever be a staple in our household or a regular TJ's purchase. So I think a 3.5 is an appropriate score. If you liked the kale chips and the idea of dried, crunchy broccoli doesn't turn your stomach, I say give 'em a whirl. Sonia echoes my sentiments with a matching 3.5.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Trader Joe's Jumbo Raisin Medley and Trader Joe's Just Mango Slices

Particularly astute readers may notice that thus far in 2015, we've been persistently (perhaps overwhelmingly) positive and glowing in our reviews. I mean, in the four previous reviews this month, there's been not one, not two, but three new pantheon entries? Those are some hallowed halls there, and we don't just hand out that badge to just anyone. For proof, it took three months for Nathan and I to give out our last three crested jackets (which seemed a bit quick then, but for primarily cookie butter-related reasons, we had no choice), and I, Russ, once went over a year between giving out pantheon grades (see here and here - again, the cookie butter!) , so three Hall of Fame passes in four reviews is really quite something.

Of course, look at what we reviewed. Salted caramel gelato - how can that not be awesome? Oh, it is. Sriracha bacon jerky- how can that not be awesome? Oh, it is. And organic sriracha and garlic barbeque sauce...well, you get the drift. Listen, if something sucks, we'll tell you. Like this. Or this. Or especially this. Big Joe isn't paying us to spread his gospel, we just picked a particularly good run of products, is all.

So let's take a step back and focus on something not so flashy - like raisins and mangoes!

I can't imagine how different my childhood would be if I associated the word "raisin" with things like Trader Joe's Jumbo Raisin Medley, and not the smushed up dry fruit shards in a tiny cardboard box that the neighborhood jerk gave out on Halloween, or the sinking "oh wait, that's not chocolate chip" feeling of not inspecting that oatmeal raisin cookie closer. I'd probably like raisins a lot more, because man, these are much different. These raisins are big and full and fleshy and full of bite, and the fact there's three kinds in there - what I'd call "regular" dark jumbo raisins (tastes like a raisin raisin), golden (lighter flavor, still plenty sweet) and then the exotic sounding red flame raisins (the most vibrant of the three) - make them a great snack. They work just as well eating as a small or large handful, one type or all three at a time. For $3.69 for a one pound bag, it's not a bad deal.

And as far as Trader Joe's Just Mango Slices go - listen, obviously, if mangoes are your thing, you'll like them. There's nothing funky added on, unlike that well-intentioned fling while chile powder that didn't go over so great, or any extra sugar or preservatives or weird stuff - it's, as the name implies, just mango slices, dehydrated to a chewy, sticky, state. It's like fruit jerky. And beware if you have some intricate dental work or sensitive teeth - once dampened by saliva, these fruity fellas will find a way to stick to any part of your enamel possible. Have toothpicks on hand for extraction missions, you'll need them. $2.99 seems like an okay price, although I wonder why the other mango slices with stuff added to them are half the price.

The jumbo raisins and mango slices are being reviewed together because I feel basically the same way about them both - I'm not overly impressed by either one, yet I've picked them both up several times to keep primarily as a work desk drawer snack stash. It's fruit, it's healthy, it's easily portable, and a bag of each will last me a week for a reasonable price, so while not overly special, they're worthy enough to be considered a staple, at least for me. Good to know Trader Joe's can do that kinda stuff well, too.

Bottom lines:
Trader Joe's Jumbo Raisin Medley: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Trader Joe's Just Mango Slices: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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