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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Trader Joe's Apple Bourbon BBQ Sauce

Let's see...Nathan has had some very favorable reviews recently on products that predominantly feature apples or bourbon, so how about something that has both apples and bourbon?

Indeed, there just may be a small revolution or passing trend going on with TJ's products: bourbon. First, there's that pecan pie filling (which of the many things my Aunt Brenda puts in hers, I am quite sure that bourbon is not one of them). I've also seen a bourbon barrel aged maple syrup which I haven't had the occasion to pick up yet, but really, I should (here's a quickie review here). And for those fortunate few who live in the right areas that fully recognize the 21st Amendment, TJ's actually has a pretty decent housebrand bourbon as well.

Now, there's Trader Joe's Apple Bourbon BBQ Sauce. You can't tell me that doesn't sound gooooood. I'm not  huge condiment guy - I like food to taste how it "should" taste - but I'll admit to a little puddle of drool when I first heard the word. I was due for a good mix up from my go-to barbecue sauce of choice anyways.

Gotta say I'm pretty well pleased overall. This is some thick, goopy, slow-movin' sauce, which is how it oughtta be. "Pretend there's a 57 on it and tap it!!!" Sandy cried out when I was trying to pour the first load onto my plate one night. If you have no idea what that means: here. I hate ketchip, but yeah, that method got the proper flow going. This was also when I first noticed little apple tidbits flinking around here and there - not enough to add any crunch, but a slightly noticeable textural variant.

And there's definitely more apple than bourbon going on here. In a lot of ways, this sauce tastes mostly like a pretty solid, decent barbeque baste with a hefty dose of added appley awesomeness. There is a soft bourbony undercurrent, but there's certainly not enough to make it terribly boozy by any stretch - it's possible I would have missed it if I knew not to try and find it. Sandy said she didn't really taste any, but then again, she's pretty much never had bourbon. There is a little added acidity to it, which looking over the ingredients, could be the somewhat curious inclusion of both apple cider vinegar and pineapple juice. Regardless, the emphasis should be on sweet and apple more than bourbon or smoky if doing it straight up.

Just wish we gave ourselves the chance to really try it out with some good pork. Not like the sauce didn't make our grilled chicken and fries taste fairly delish, but after first taste, my immediate thought was ribs followed quickly by pulled pork. I then wondered about the best way to try to incorporate it with some bacon. But alas. We also enjoyed it in place of ketchup in some homemade meatloaf (although Sandy's mom hated it, probably because it had actual flavor), and with some meatballs as well. Cooking with it certainly mellowed out the sweetness a touch while bringing other flavors to the surface.

No real complaints - it's a worthy pickup, for sure. Not the best out there, but pretty decent, so here's to hoping it'll stick around for a while.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Apple Bourbon BBQ Sauce: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Trader Joe's Rustic Apple Tarte

  1. 1.
    of or relating to the countryside; rural.

  2. 2.
    constructed or made in a plain and simple fashion, in particular.

I'd say both definitions of "rustic" apply pretty well to this apple tarte. Sonia and I, now residing in rural South Jersey, have never lived anywhere more rustic in our lives. And as chance should have it, we got a free slice of homemade apple pie from a local roadside produce stand just the day before we heated up our Trader Joe's Rustic Apple Tarte. The farmers' apple pie was scrumptious. Absolutely amazing. 

Sonia and I both agreed it was possibly the best apple pie we had ever had. Granted, nether Sonia nor I grew up in homes with mothers or grandmothers cranking out fresh-baked apple pies at, ever. Sadly, McDonald's apple pies in the little green cardboard boxes were about the best we had ever had as kids. But we were in absolute agreement that this roadside stand had just set the bar for near-perfect country-style apple pie. 

But the very next day, TJ's gave our local farm market a run for its money. We could get into the semantics of how tartes (or tarts) are very different from pies, but if we're honest with ourselves, we'll all agree that their similarities outweigh their differences. They're basically the same animal as far as I can tell—at least when comparing this tarte with this most recent sample of apple pie.

Trader Joe's offering would never have stood out in our minds had it not looked, felt, and tasted homemade. But it did. Straight out of the oven, the smell was heavenly. I was shocked how soft everything was when I cut that first slice. The crust was buttery and flavorful, and there was just the perfect amount of it. It was perfection in and of itself, and yet it took nothing away from the apples. There were tons of apple slices and slivers throughout the pie. In my mind, they were definitely the main attraction. They still had enough crispness to feel like apples, but they were supple and sweet enough to feel like a delicious baked dessert. The syrup was very sweet, and if anything, was the weakest part of the pastry. It was just a tad too sugary, even for me. And I feel like had it been just a mite bit less overpowering that it could have let the natural apple flavors through even more. But to complain about it would be unfair, since it is dessert after all, and is meant to be quite sweet.

The most pleasant surprise—and in many ways the most "TJ's-esque" thing—about this tarte was the layer of candied almond slivers on the top of the confection. At first, I thought it was granola of some kind, but upon closer inspection, they proved to be little pieces of almond. They added a welcomed crunch to the texture and...well, a nuttiness to the flavor. Also the use of "Northern Spy" apples prompted a Google search for the origin of the name. It conjured up images of Civil War treachery in my mind, perhaps the 1860's version of TURN. But, alas, I found nothing so dramatic—just that they're native to New York state and frequently used in making pies.

The only other complaint we might make about this product is that there's a significant amount of saturated fat and calories...if we wanted to be picky. But, as mentioned before, it is a dessert after all, and both Sonia and I will tell you that it's worth a few extra minutes at the gym. It's another item you might bring to your family's Thanksgiving Day dessert spread in lieu of something made by hand, and it might just make you the hero of Turkey Day. It's absolutely delectable. Four and a half stars from me. Perfect five from Sonia.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

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