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Friday, August 28, 2015

Trader Joe's Green Dragon Hot Sauce

The 1972 martial arts classic Return of the Dragon used to be in heavy rotation in my DVD player back in college whenever me and the roomies needed a "brews and Bruce" night. I mean, the climactic fight scene between Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris? Invest nine minutes of your life and watch it here. The cacophony of joint crackage, the random cat, the chest hair grab....not to mention plenty of roundhouse kicks and a couple masters going at it in their prime, even if scripted. Great stuff, I love it.

Admittedly, high level martial arts flicks have little to nothing to do with Trader Joe's Green Dragon Hot Sauce, but I thought of the movie title when I first saw this sauce for sale. "Return of the Dragon." We've seen this particular scaly scary hombre before, not too long ago - namely, on TJ's branded sriracha, which I recommended calling dragon sauce - hey, I think some royalties are due here, Big Joe.

Regardless, I thought that this green glop wouldn't be that unlike a salsa verde or the Hatch Valley Salsa, except in saucier form. That's a mistake, as there's a little bit more going on here, despite some similarities. The first ingredient with any real substance to this dragon drool is pureed jalapeƱos and the last is habaneros, so there's some seriously spicy bookends. The habaneros don't come thru too strongly, though, which is appreciated, but they're still there, even if just slightly. But it's not just heat and nothing else. There's plenty of roasted sweetness from tomatillos with some added flavor depth from lime juice and garlic to add a bite, and cilantro to add a herby twist. All of these flavors seem present and proportionately balanced for a strong but not overbearing spicy sauce with some character to it. There's also "spinach powder" in there....I guess that's present for greenery insurance. Or maybe they're just trying to sneak us some extra veggies. Who knows.

It's all a pretty smooth consistency too, all things considered - not too watery, and certainly not chunky. The sauce definitely pours more than plops, making it ideal to use in most anyway one can enjoy a hot sauce - I've used over various meats, in sandwiches, on eggs, in tacos and so on. I've yet to find something that didn't mesh well with the flavor profile - even with the spiciness (which I'd rate as moderate) and other flavors present, none seem to completely overpower whatever I'm putting it on. Good sauce.

Both Sandy and I seem to be pouring it over any meal we can the past week or so. My mother-in-law who's been staying with us the past few weeks just kind of looks on in amazement. Eh well. The dragon sauce might not be for everyone, but I think it'll be a staple for us going forward because of its tastiness and versatility. Like that Lee-Norris fight scene, this sauce just might be pretty tough to beat.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Green Dragon Hot Sauce: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Trader Joe's Portobello Mushroom Fries

There are occasions when I feel like I should role play on this blog—times when I can't fully appreciate a product, regardless of its popularity or nutritional value or uniqueness, yet I feel like scoring it based solely on my own personal hang-ups would be doing it a grand injustice. Sometimes I want to write a review from someone else's perspective. This is one of those times. 

I think I've mentioned it on the blog once or twice before, but I have very strange reactions when eating mushrooms (and not just the "magic" kind—in fact, I've never had the best of my knowledge, anyway). After consuming a food-grade mushroom, my stomach instantly feels like it's on fire, and my heart beats harder and faster than usual. Coincidentally, Sonia has similar reactions to certain varieties of mushrooms, particularly button mushrooms. But apparently, portobello does not produce any reaction for Sonia—which is good for the sake of this review, and good for Sonia, because unlike me, she really enjoys the taste of most mushrooms, despite her unusual response to certain species. And both of us do, on occasion, simply bite the bullet and eat mushrooms—even the kinds that we're sensitive to, and we just suck it up and deal with the palpitations. Such was the case for me in this instance. All that to say, I feel like shafting this product just because I can't fully enjoy it would be doing a disservice to the vast majority of our readers.

I was already starting to notice a buzz about these portobello mushroom fries on Facebook and Twitter, when I received a fascinating email from a reader who pointed out that there are some things that truly make this product unique and progressive in the world of packaged, frozen foods. These mushrooms are harvested, battered, cooked, and frozen over the course of just a few hours—not the usual formula for pre-packaged, fried foods. In that reader's own words, these mushroom fries "could be the start of a trend to reverse our walk toward the edge of the industrial food cliff." He thinks success with these mushroom fries will bring "hope that more (foods) will be brought to us in this most life-sustaining manner." Thanks for your unique insight, James, and thanks for the heads up on this product. Click here to check out more of James's thoughts on this product and others.

When we removed the fries from the oven, some of them were quite crispy, and some not so much. The crispier fries were much better than the others, both in texture, and in my opinion, in taste as well. So I'd say err on the side of "burned" unless you like your mushroom fries juicy and moist, but like most anything you heat in the oven, there's a magic sweet spot in between "soggy" and "burned to a crisp." I think we had ours in for the full 15 minutes but maybe wouldn't have minded another minute or two in the heat.

I did appreciate their taste—at least more than most mushroom products I've tried. They have that subtle, earthy, almost nutty flavor that good quality mushrooms tend to flaunt. The batter was nice, too, though Sonia wishes there were more of it. It's a thin layer of wheat batter with a hint of garlic and pepper—so thin, in fact, that in many spots, it doesn't completely coat the mushroom. But I guess that's helpful if you're trying to keep your carb intake to a minimum. We served them with Trader Joe's Sriracha Ranch and also tried them with marinara sauce. We both agree the Sriracha Ranch worked best, although the hot sriracha flavor dominated the subtle taste of the mushroom fries.

Sonia gives this a four. Despite my aversion to mushrooms, if I were to score it, I'd probably give it a 3 or 3.5 or so for virtue of it being the best mushroom product I've ever tried. But instead, I'll score this product according to the chorus of fans it's already gathered on social media, Sonia's co-workers, and people like readers James and Janice, and I'll go with a 4.5 on their behalf.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

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