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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Trader Joe's Partially Popped Popcorn

"Oooooh these are going to be trouble," Sandy said the other night when we finally ripped the bag of Trader Joe's Partially Popped Popcorn open. "You know this is gonna be good."

No doubt, wifey. Few things beat out popcorn made on a stove top, but one thing that can, at least for her, is the all the leftover little kernels that didn't quite pop in time. The "widows," as I've heard some people call them. For me, I find them a little too hard and crunchy to truly enjoy. It also might be that I'm too mindful of the dollars I've invested in my mouth to keep it semi-functional and toothache free. I like the idea, though, and the Partially Popped Popcorn packaging promised them to be "easier on the jaw," so these were a must buy on our last trip, along with that new-fangled cookie butter confection all you kids are raving about.

Now, I'd have no idea how to even make such an item possible, but fortunately, Trader Joe's provides a patent number and Google provides the rest. Here's Patent US7579036. If I'm reading this correctly, the corn kernel gets soaked to a certain moisture point before popping. The result? The patented popping protocol produces palatable partially popped popcorn precisely perfect for perfunctory party or proper peaceful powwow pickings. Phew.

By that, I mean, these are some seriously snackable suckers. It's been a while since I've had a bad case of trigger food syndrome, but these brought it back. First, the crunch and texture. They're much unlike the Peruvian corn we reviewed a few months back (think: mummified maize), but instead hold very true to the kernel. Yet, there's the edge taken off, and what's more, while still very crunchy, the inside has a softer fluff to it. I was going to use the analogy of perhaps a twice-baked potato, but I don't think I can pull that together too coherently. So, instead, imagine if, at the very nanosecond of popping, as that kernel precisely at the very start of the abrupt phase change from crunchy seed-type-thing to fluffy, glorious popcorn....the whole process just stops. It's frozen in time. Like a note from Clarence Clemon's saxophone, it's pushed right to the very verge of bursting wide open but instead, somehow, it keeps entirely contained.

There is some white dusty glaze on the outside, visually and texturally reminiscent of the stuff on Muddy Buddies, except it's salty and buttery instead of sugary. It's not quite "move theater style" flavor, but is still very salty and buttery and comfort-foody like that. It leaves a slight greasiness on your fingertips, but not as much as a handful of chips, so don't let its appearance sway you.

Sandy loves these. Her only complaint? She wishes they would come in different flavors. "Cheese!" she says. "These just need some cheese and they'd be perfect!" I personally would love a little cinnamon/sugar combo, or perhaps some caramel. Maybe we can compromise and ask for a Chicago-style mixed bag - we have no such qualms as our eastern counterparts. Still, for a measly $2.49, we may have found a new favorite salty snack at TJ's. Until they put cookie butter on it, at least. Matching 4.5s.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Partially Popped Popcorn: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons   


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Trader Joe's Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake Bites

If it isn't time to file a class action lawsuit against Trader Joe's for their obvious attempt to kill us all, then I'm just not sure what course of action to take. But we must do something. They could be spending their time and energy making more tasty fruit snacky things or bags of heroic kale...but it seems like nearly half of all their new products are cookie butter-oriented these days. Cookie Butter Cookies, for cryin' out loud! And as if it were necessary, they developed something that could be more easily shoveled down their customers' gullets than the original Cookie Butter Cheesecake—which was quite possibly the best-tasting item I've ever had from TJ's, or maybe anywhere.

I fully realize my own role in this sick scheme—bringing more fame to the fiendish cookie butter phenomenon and lavishing these indulgent products with perfect scores and glowing reviews, sending word about these addictive substances all across cyberspace. Believe me, I'm not proud. And why even review this product at all? Don't we already know everything we need to know about this sinister cheesecake?

Well, yes and no. Aside from the obvious size and shape difference, TJ's has found a way to dramatically reduce the calorie-count in each serving down to a measly 90. (Hooray! This is practically diet food!) But that's probably due to the fact that each serving is an extremely tiny square—a square that will do nothing but make you want to eat at least 5 more. The price has dropped from about $7 for the original cheesecake down to $4.49 for these bites at our local store—but there's less than half as much cheesecake in there (10.6 oz as compared with 22.5 oz).

The cheesecake bites still have the same signature speculoos cookie crust and the same amazing cheesecake base, but the cookie butter topping is significantly different. If you look back to the photo of the original Cookie Butter Cheesecake, you'll note that it was a firm, solid mass spread evenly across the entire crown of the cake. Now with these bites, you'll find a creamy cookie butter swirl unevenly applied across the top of the cheesecake. Honestly, I like the swirl a lot better. And because of that, I can't lower my perfect score. The value isn't as good, the size and shape is less practical—unless, as one reader put it, you're looking for "built-in portion control" (Good luck with that, my friend). BUT, if it were possible, I'd say the cookie butter swirl topping results in an even more pleasing taste and texture. Sonia prefers the original topping and will dock half a point for the drop in the cake:cost ratio. But still, I feel obligated to bestow this decadent dessert with Pantheon status. I've had some extremely delicious cheesecake bites in my day, but these Speculoos Cookie Butter Bites take the cake.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

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