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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar

Do yourself a favor, and hear me out on this:

Whatever you do, do not buy Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar.

Instead, allow me to buy each and every one of them out there. Heck, for only $1.99 each, it's at least a somewhat dreamable way for me to utilize the extra bedroom.

Believe me, this would be a service to all of you out there, because in all seriousness, there's only two viable outcomes. You will either: 1) fall totally in love with this candy bar, ruining all others for you for now and ever more, or 2) be totally and completely repulsed by them.

I'm in the first camp, in case that'd be a surprise to any of you. Once I caught wind of these, I knew I had to make a special trip to TJ's just to procure a handful for me, Sandy, and my coworkers to testdrive, and first chance I did, I skeedaddled right on over.

As among the first tasters (as of the time of writing this review, the bars have been available for less than 48 hours), I'm going to guess that these bacon boys will be a true love or hate item, with very few folks in the middle. Bacon and chocolate have been a known combo on the festival/flea market food circuit for years, but this is truly a unique item as far as I can tell.

Here's what I like: First, the dark chocolate. Most bacon/cocoa combos feature milk chocolate instead of dark, in order to play up the sweet/salty dichotomy. While generally I prefer even darker chocolate, 70% is still pretty nib-laden, and goes more for the savory jugular. Love it - it's about time someone pulled it off. Also, the "hint of smoked salt" - it's alderwood smoked salt, at that. That's a pretty nifty little touch that adds a great flourish at the end of the bite to make each nibble even that much more decadent.

What's going to make or break the bacon bar for you is the ganache filling. My original photo didn't do a great job capturing it, so here's a great one courtesy of Facebook superfan Amarantha Medici - each square there's a goopy, caramel-y ganache reservoir that remained soft and fluid even after chilling it in the firdge for over an hour. It's also where the bacon resides, but taste carefully. There's little itty bitty bacon shards, adding a slight, occasionally granule-y crunch, but that's not quite it, either - it's more baconlicious than that. After a few tastes and consulting the ingredients list, it became apparent to me what it is - bacon fat. Chocolate ganache, after all, is basically chocolate, cream and butter - replace the butter with bacon fat, did we? I think so.

The result? In my estimation, there's a well balanced flavor all the way through - savory dark chocolate, a little salt, a little smokiness, with some bacon undertones that hold it all together without overpowering it all. I had some coworkers try it, though, and some were outright repulsed, stating it was too bacon-y/too weird/too out there. There was more love than hate - one of them called his bite "piggy crack", while another one cracked a smile and declared his unabated happiness for the first time in three years I've known him, but I did get a few pretty adamant thumbs down as well.

As for Sandy....she'll be one of the few in the middle, I think. "It's not bad, but I wish this were more like a Nestle Crunch, with bigger bits of crunchy bacon, instead of like a Caramello," she said. I agree, more crunch would have been a welcome addition...but I really, really like how the flavors all came together that it's hard for me to argue too ardently. I haven't been this excited about a debut of a new Trader Joe's product in possibly all of eternity, and by in large, the bacon bar lived up to the hype I made up in my mind. I'm going 4.5, while the wife is going a few notches below.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons  

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Trader Joe's Israeli Couscous

Prior to spying this box on the shelves of a local TJ's, I wasn't aware of the existence of Israeli couscous. Regular couscous, yes. But I didn't know this other special version existed. Otherwise known as "pearl couscous" for it's shiny, spherical form, this type of couscous is popular in—you guessed it—Israel, where it is known as "ptitim." 

And since I'm fond of celebrating my 1/16th or so Jewishness, as I've mentioned before, I decided this inexpensive box ($2) of grain/pasta was a suitable selection for my next misadventure in foodie-hackery.

I was about to heat up the saucepan on the stove top when Sonia stopped me and encouraged me to go tend to our animal friends while she did the cooking. I'm pretty sure that's a subtle commentary on my culinary abilities, but she insisted that she just felt like cooking. And wow. Not only did she cook the couscous properly with a bit of olive oil, but she made a whole lovely Mediterranean-themed meal, complete with cucumber salad, hummus, and meat, as shown in the pic to the right.

Strangely, I enjoyed this "Ben-Gurion rice" significantly more than any normal couscous I'd ever had, while Sonia expressed the reverse. I liked the larger size, chewier texture, and lightly nutty flavor of these, while I've always felt as if regular couscous were just a notch above seasoned sawdust. Sonia just prefers her couscous smaller and less chewy I guess. Or maybe she's just not as in touch with her inner-Jew.

It's cheap, shelf-stable, kosher, vegetarian, and relatively high in fiber. It's most definitely not gluten-free...and it's not exactly a party food by itself. But it goes great with vegetables, hummus, fish, or poultry. If you're looking for a wheat-based alternative to rice or regular couscous, I've gotta say, I'm a fan. Four stars from me. Three from Sonia.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Trader Joe's Inside Out Carrot Cake Cookies

Hrmmm, let's see. Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Maine, Massachusetts, Indiana, California, Utah, and now Michigan. Sandy and I have started a somewhat odd tradition of checking out Trader Joe's in different states when we have the chance just, well, because, I guess. As Pennsylvania residents under the regime of olden blue laws, there's some obvious privileges to out of state trips (especially NJ), but that's not completely it, either. There's the little, smaller differences, the unexpected stuff that makes it a little fun. Prime example: our trip to the Salt Lake City store seemed like it'd be ho-hum until it turned into perhaps our most memorable ever (you can hear the full story on our first podcast episode here!). Or sometimes it's just finding stuff that the local TJ's don't carry, like my favorite store bought tortillas which every TJ's except Pittsburgh carries, apparently.

We tacked Michigan on to our list with a stop at the Royal Oak store last week right before a Detroit Tigers - Pittsburgh Pirates game to grab a quick bite without being gouged at the stadium* and to procure some goodies to keep our adult and kiddie tummies happy for the night and next day for the way back home. Huuuge store there, biggest I've been in - almost the size of a regular grocery store! A stroll through the baked goods revealed the Trader Joe's Inside Out Carrot Cake Cookies, and having never seen them anywhere else, we couldn't resist.

An excellent call. I've always been a sucker for those Little Debbie oatmeal creme cookies, and these are in a very similar vein, except better. The cookie portion is a pretty classic carrot cake confection - shredded carrots, with some ample raisins and I swear there walnuts in there, too, even though they are not listed on the ingredients list....maybe I'm making that up, but if nuts are a concern, doublecheck before buying these. Of course, since the cookie has to do it's part to hold together with some cream filling, it's a little more rigid of a texture to the bite than regular carrot cake, but still, it's soft and chewy and fairly delectable in its brown sugary-cinnamony-carroty goodness. The sweet vanilla cream filling is pretty good and refreshing, as kind of an odd choice, perhaps. There's part of me that would have really liked more of a cream cheese frosting filler, but that'd make a pairing that's been done over and over again, so I'd like to say that vanilla was an inspired choice...but it's vanilla. Granted, it's really good vanilla, and definitely sweet, and melds well with the carrot cake cookies, but if going for something different than the tried-and-true. go all out. Maybe something like butterscotch and pecans. Vanilla's playing it pretty safe, I guess.

Speaking of nuts, that's what the product name drives me. There's nothing "inside out" about these cookies....because primarily, first and foremost, IT"S A COOKIE. Sandwich cookies are supposed to be exactly of the same structure as these - cookie outside, cream filling. It's cake inspired, and not a cake, where it's the frosting on the outside and cake inside the frosting. Maybe they were just naming these as "inside out" cookies in some sort of weird attempt to get a crossover marketing ploy with Eve 6, I don't know.

Anyways, the wife, the toddler, and I all greatly enjoyed these cookies. The six pack cost us something like three or four bucks, which for a bunch of tasty cookies the size of these is a pretty good deal. I mean, look at the picture...these are big cookies with a huge swath of filling. On a few occasions I had only half of one, which was more than enough. Sandy gives them a four, noting she also wishes the filling was a different flavor while acknowledging its tastiness, while I concur with her assessment completely. just hope we don't have to drive back to Michigan to find them again.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Inside Out Carrot Cake Cookies: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons


* Quick note: Comerica Park - what a stadium! I've been to at least a dozen different ballparks now, some of them pretty ho-hum (like Nationals Stadium in DC or Citizens Bank Park in Philly), while Comerica Park rivals maybe only PNC Park here in the 'burgh for overall awesomeness. Loved the tiger statues, and as a family we also really enjoyed the carousel and baseball Ferris wheel. PNC Park has a clear location/viewing advantage - from inside the stadium you can easily look out over the Allegheny River, the Clemente bridge, and right into downtown Pittsburgh where when the evening light hits it just right, it looks unreal. Kinda better than just glaring at Ford Field. - but other than that, and some hometown pride, Comerica is just as good if not better.  

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