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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Trader Joe's Unsweetened Organic Açaí Puree Packets

Stepping out of our comfort zones and trying new things—that's what it's all about when it comes to venturing the wilds of Trader Joe's like our team has these past six years. Not that I'm uncomfortable with acai. I've been singing its praises since before this blog began. No, I'm not uncomfortable with acai as an ingredient. But when it comes in a bag pureed all by itself and I'm the one who has to figure out what to do with it—that's a challenge for me. I mean sure, there are suggestions on the packaging and there are tons of recipes and ideas online. But up to this point, the acai in my world has always been pre-measured, pre-mixed, and pre-sweetened. And I liked it that way. 

But could I like it like this? It was worth spending $4.49 to find out.

Sonia and I have been brewing up fruit smoothies in our little generic wannabe "bullet" blender as of late, and we knew acai would be a welcome addition to our concoctions, which generally feature bananas, strawberries, yogurt, almond milk or coconut milk, and agave sweetener. It seemed like acai would probably blend pretty seamlessly with those ingredients. But knowing the berry's properties of earthiness, natural caffeine, and high levels of fiber, there would be certain potential pitfalls associated with using too much or too little in our homemade mixtures, namely: creating a beverage that might not taste great, missing a decent amount of sleep, and/or extra visits to the bathroom. But despite these inherent risks, we dove right in to acai-land and got a-mixin'.

Once thawed, the product is a fascinating purple goo. I had never tasted acai by itself before. It's far less sweet and much more earthy/nutty than I ever imagined. Those mixologists at Robek's and Jamba Juice always told me acai had a "natural chocolate-type flavor." Well, it certainly does when sweetened. But by itself, the flavor might be likened to some unusual, berry-ified bitter cocoa bean paste. If anything, our smoothies needed more sweetener than usual once we added the acai, in order to cancel out its natural bitterness.

Once sweetened, however, it added a very welcome complexity to our beverages that one simply cannot achieve using more traditional fruits and berries. It wasn't quite like those store-bought mixtures or a "professionally-blended" smoothie, but it certainly wasn't bad. We never did quite achieve that chocolatey taste we've had before, but we created an interesting fruit-based beverage with a velvety texture and an inviting richness seldom attained outside an actual smoothie joint—where you'd pay upwards of $5 for a single acai drink. 

Both Sonia and I are finding this one a bit hard to score, since it's just a single ingredient that begs to be used with many other ingredients. But for what it is: a convenient, relatively-reasonably priced (acai ain't cheap) exotic berry puree that can enhance your homemade smoothies and shakes, we think it deserves to be rated "really darn good."

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Trader Joe's Korean Style BBQ Sauce

In case you were wondering, I am completely not fluent in Korean. And I've read/seen enough of those clickbait-y type articles that show someone's tattoo that they thought was a Chinese/Japanese/Korean character for "Peace" or Love" or what have you and what it really meant (at least to some) was "Goofy White Person" or "I Have Three Nipples" or something along those lines. I have no idea if those are actually true.

So when I see some Korean tramp-stamped along the bottom back of Trader Joe's Korean Style BBQ Sauce, pardon me if I'm a little apprehensive. It's probably something really nice. But if it could be translated as "Silly Foodie Hack Blogger, Are You Really Going To Review Me Even Though You Never Had Korean Barbecue?" It'd be what I deserve.

Because it's true.

Yes, I know. Shame on me. I know Korean barbecue is a thing. A very popular thing. Presumably, a very good thing. Unfortunately, it's not a very present thing here in the Pittsburgh area, far as I can tell. So pardon me that TJ's is my first foray into this particular area of cuisine.

Since I have only its own merits to judge it on, I'll start off by saying I generally like the sauce...but now I'm very interested in trying to compare to something a little more authentic. I'd think the particular blend of flavors could be a little better executed. Upfront there's a heavy soy sauce-y hit met with a fairly sweet dose of sugar. What kinda struck me is how similar, in some ways, that the taste mimics regular barbecue sauce once that soy gives way, but there's no tomatoes involved. Instead, it's gochujang sauce for the main body of the flavor. What's gochujang? I barely know myself, but looks like a blend of cayenne pepper, miso, vinegar, pear puree, and water. And more sugar, of course. The sauce has a fairly smooth body, aside from smallish pepper flakes here and there, with medium/average consistency.

There's a good bit of spice on the back end, which honestly I didn't notice until trying a spoonful of the sauce by itself. Any of the heat seems to dissipate easily into the rest of the dish, such as the pulled pork we had the other night, or the burger I dumped some on top of tonight. That being said, I could see this being a little wild for those with a sensitive palette - my kiddos avoided after a small taste or two, for example. It's not exactly an even flavor throughout, and perhaps a little less soy/a little more spice would have helped in that regard.

Between the wife and I, we'll get the bottle finished without too much struggle, but we don't have a new favorite on our hands here, either. It'll do, and as stated, the TJ's sauce does make me eager to try out authentic Korean barbecue. For a tasty mealtime condiment and possible gateway sauce to a new food world, we're game.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Korean Style BBQ Sauce: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

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