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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Trader Joe's Tropical Mango Pineapple Salsa

One of the perks of my moonlight gig as one of the nation's foremast amateur-hack foodie reviewers of all-things-Trader-Joe's is getting to hear from friends, family and colleagues about whatever they've tried from TJ's. I get some of my best tips this way. In particular, I love hearing from recent Trader Joe's converts too - heck, anything they can get excited about, I figure it's worthwhile. The store hooked me with fake meat, of all things, so I'm willing to try most anything that gets a newbie's heartstrings.

Except...Trader Joe's Tropical Mango Pineapple Salsa. Chrissy, one of my supervisors at my real job, came up to me a few weeks back after visiting the new North Hills Pittsburgh TJ's all worked up about this particular dip. Unlike almost anything else she says (promise, Chrissy!), I kinda let this go in one ear, bounce off something hard, and go back out. I have theories for this: Was still working on the first cup of coffee. Heard "mango pineapple" which somehow translated to "peach" in my head (not a fan of the TJ's brand). Not a fan of fruity salsas in general anyways. Like my usual go-to too much to deviate too far off course. Had to get those TPS reports done before taking the printer out to the field with a baseball bat. You know how it is.

Alas, it ended up in my cart the other day anyways, courtesy of the wife. No tomatoes equals a winner in her book right off the bat, and she wanted a little "something different" to go with some chips, veggies, and sausages for dinner. Fine, I said. Sigh. Fine.

Man, was I wrong.

Listen, I'm not gonna say this is the best salsa I've ever had. But, coming from a guy who doesn't like fruity salsa, this stuff is freaking delish. Fo' reals. It's thick and chunky but soft and plenty goopy from the agave syrup base, which had me apprehensive at first. I mean, that's a lot of fruit to begin with, and add in a sugary base? I thought it'd taste like candy salsa. Nawww. There's plenty to balance out all the sweetness - good bite from cilantro, some onion pungency, good jalapeno spice - that it all works out really well. There's a lot of the sweet upfront but plenty of spice with hangtime, if you know what I mean.

Still, it seems to me that the agave syrup was a bit much, but that being said, I can't offer a viable alternative at the moment. There's just a smidge too much sugar in there that coats everything, but the rest is so good, and so fresh tasting, that I can't mount too much complaint. You'll find this for $2.99 in the refrigerated section, not with the jarred variety, and tastes like it'll be a constant companion for summery snacking. Chrissy, the boss lady, loves this stuff enough to give it a five, with only the small caveat she wished there was a little less onion but everything else was "perfectly balanced." My other boss lady, I mean my wife, states more or less the same giving it a four. My score would nestle itself somewhere in there as well, so with some fuzzy math, we're gonna call it almost Pantheon worthy.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Tropical Mango Pineapple Salsa: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Trader Joe's Rosemary & Thyme Maple Toffee Sunflower Seeds

There's some food combinations out there that should be pretty obvious to put together. For instance, for a mac 'n cheese cookoff this past weekend to benefit a neighborhood race, I may have invented one: exploded pierogi mac. I mean, think about it: there's two main common ingredients, namely cheese and dough/noodle. There's no recipe out there, far as I can find, though, so I just pulled one out of an impolite place to mention on this here blog. So here's what I did - homemade pierogi dough cut up to bite-sized noodle bits, then boiled and fried (talk about a PITA process), bacon, onions, and a potatoey cheese sauce with a good dose of seasoning to top it all off, and baked for a while. Darn good stuff, if a bit indulgent. But good enough to win the People's Choice vote and some folks even wanted to take my picture - kinda weird, and not quite my fifteen minutes of fame, but it was a good solid five, at least. If so inclined you can read more about the event here with a new food blogger buddy I met at the event, Breelicious Bites.

Other combinations: not as obvious. Like coffee and garlic. Cheese and chocolate. Or these new-fangled snackers I discovered the other morning: Trader Joe's Rosemary & Thyme Maple Toffee Sunflower Seeds.

Rosemary and thyme? Yes, that works. Maple and toffee? Absolutely. But all four? Well, well, well, that gets interesting, so let's get this as clear as we can by breaking it down. Maple syrup = basically sugar. Toffee = sugar + butter. And butter makes almost anything taste better, including a classic herbal pairing worthy of song and bad British TV. So really, we're talking a buttery rosemary and thyme concoction...only with lots of added sugar.

It's kinda weird, and I'm not sure if I'm completely on board with it...but it sure is intriguing, I'll give it that. But it works. Kinda. Maybe. I think. Part of the fun of this particular product is each bite tastes a little different - some bites are more herbaceous, others lean much more towards the maple and sugar. There's always some of each flavor present, just in different ratios, and there doesn't seem to be a discernible pattern to which way the flavors hit - sometimes it's savory first then sweet, other times vice versa. Just depends. Plenty of salty butteriness regardless, so it's almost like there's a trifold of flavors continually jostling for attention, with each one winning on occasion.

Everything else is remarkably tasty. Based on sheer texture, I could munch these for hours - the seeds are roasted thoroughly in the maple glaze to give them a light, airy, crispy snacky bite to each. And maybe by then I'd have an idea if these are actually, truly good, or just an intriguing oddity out there. I can't quite make my mind, and neither can the wifey, but as this point we'll grade them fairly positively. Also, the wifey wanted it to be mentioned that these would probably be a great addition to a salad - I can be on board with that.

Now, what do you think? Comment away!

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Rosemary & Thyme Maple Toffee Sunflower Seeds: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Trader Joe's Hobo Bread

This product is called "Hobo Bread" because hobos used to make it during The Great Depression. They'd cook it in old tin cans, hence the cylindrical, tube-like formation. I imagine them baking the bread over large barrel fires under bridges and overpasses, feeding scraps to stray dogs...although dogs aren't supposed to eat raisins...and I'm not sure if the average hobo knows that. I mean, I don't want to sound arrogant. Hobos probably know as much as I do. Although, most of what I "know" comes from Wikipedia and Google searches. So really it probably boils down to whether the hobos have internet access or not. I guess most do if they use the library. But I mean, this is just silly, since nobody had internet access during The Great Depression. I bet it cost like a week's wage for internet service back then. Right?

Anyway, hobos no longer have to bake this bread themselves. They can buy it at TJ's for about $3. Not a bad deal since it's quite filling, plus there are 12 servings in the bag. It's a simple treat—moist bread filled with raisins, walnuts, brown sugar, and molasses. I've never been a huge fan of molasses, but in this case, it's not overwhelming. Noticeable, definitely...but bearable even for me.

The bread's not super sweet, but it's richer, denser, and "wetter" than traditional raisin bread. It crumbles apart very easily, and similar to the Irish soda bread, it would be difficult to heat it up in a toaster without losing a few chunks to the infernal abyss. Conventional oven or toaster oven? Go for it. But I preferred mine at room temperature, sans fixins. So did Sonia, who thinks the bread might have lost a bit of its signature softness and moistness had we eaten it heated. She's a much bigger admirer of molasses than I, and accordingly, she gives this Hobo Bread four stars. I'll throw out three.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

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