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Friday, January 20, 2017

Trader Giotto's Oven-Baked Cheese Bites

"You wanna taste something truly amazing?"

I'm not asked that question nearly enough.

But forgive me for being a skeptical when my lovely bride Sandy asked me that the other night while motioning to the half-eaten bag of Trader Gitoo's Oven-Baked Cheese Bites on the shelf. I've heard from other folks that they're pretty tasty little snackers...but truly amazing? I'm in favor of not cheapening our language, so to me, those words should not be carelessly tossed about. These bites better be something else.

"You know when we make, like, real homemade mac 'n cheese and there's those little pieces of slightly burned or crispy cheese? They're just like those. Promise."

Well, that's definitely a good step towards being truly amazing.

Giotto's cheesy tidbits are something else. Yet not. That's the thing: the only ingredient is cheese! Well, technically two cheeses. There's the mysteriously labelled semi-aged cheese (now that sounds like a gamble) and grana padano cheese. Never heard of grana padano? Me neither. I'm a sheltered 'murican.  But apparently it's at least somewhat akin to parmigiano reggiano if you're familiar, a really good parmesan if you're not.

I'm going to presume that it's the grana padano from which the cheese bites derive much of their flavor, because there's a definite strong parmigiano/parmesan vibe to them. Very strong. This isn't quite right, but the words "pleasantly pungent" come to mind. The taste also strays a bit towards salty for me - after a few I really wanted a tall glass of water - but it's a very cheesing and pleasing taste that makes it hard to eat just one.

It also helps that even though oven-baked, there's a crumbly, slightly greasy comfort food vibe. But so crunchy! Very, very crunchy. I'm not sure of the all the science into baking nothing but two types of mysterious cheese into a crunchy shelf stable form without adding anything....but here it is. Sandy said that the crunch form also held up very well when she tossed a handful into her black bean soup at lunch. Crunch retained, no sogginess even after several minutes. Nice.

Sandy loves these. Most times I have to tease her opinion out a little bit for my reviews. Not this time around. "Five. No question. Five. Pantheon worthy." Well...I'm not entirely certain of that. I'd be inclined to go more of a four (that aforementioned saltiness is a bit much) but...apparently in the last six months or so I've spontaneously developed this amplified crunching ability which rattles my wife's eardrums to no end. Like, it's really loud. I don't know, sounds the same to me, but apparently this newly bestowed gift was on full display with these cheese bites. I had to apologize, and part of my retribution, I'll bump another half point. Not sure of cost, but inexpensive enough that Sandy bought two bags without feeling guilty, so not too much. Check 'em out...if you want to try something truly amazing.

Bottom line: Trader Giotto's Oven-Baked Cheese Bites: 9.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Trader Joe's Crispy Crunchy Okra

Ah...dry, salty, crunchified plants. America has a love/hate relationship with you, doesn't it? 

Just look at the raging debate in the comments section below our Trader Joe's Kale Chips review. "I loved these!" "I hated these!" "Great review!" "Terrible review!" There's no "These were moderately enjoyable" comments. People are passionate when it comes to their opinion about kale chips. Broccoli florets, too—which I also enjoyed. Heck, I'm a pretty big fan of Trader Joe's Contemplates...Inner Peas for that matter. 
Also see: chiptastic parsnips and beets.

But now, it's okra's turn to get snackified. 

Appropriately, Sonia and I are still meandering around the Dirty South, where okra is a popular ingredient in many local and regional cuisines. Also known as "ladies' fingers," (not to be confused with ladyfingers) each of these plants is about the size of...well, a lady's finger. They're green, full of seeds, and normally somewhat slimy on the inside. But in this case, they're delectably crisp, arid, and brittle.

There are plenty of suggestions for ways to consume these crispy little fellows on the packaging—but I'll be honest, I never got a chance to try them any way other than popping them directly from the bag into my mouth. 

Sonia only had a handful, and that was plenty for her. She said, "They don't taste like anything!" After pressing her for more details, she mentioned that she thought they tasted like green beans, but even more bland. I can understand the comparison to green beans, but I think their flavor is slightly more squash-like than that. Plus, they're salty, and the tiny bit of rice bran oil gives them flavor as well.

I didn't enjoy them quite as much as the kale chips or the broccoli florets, but I did like them and would consider purchasing them again. At $1.99 a bag, they're the least expensive of the three, and they pack plenty of vitamins, protein, and fiber along with their salty snackability. I give them four solid stars. Sonia can't give more than two. It's a definite thumbs-up from me, thumbs-down from her. Fair enough.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Trader Joe's Soft Licorice Twists

I hold these truths to be self-evident; that not all licorices are created equal.

There's the common licorice currency of Twizzlers. Chances are, it's the first brand you think of when you think licorice. But...c'mon. You even been satisfied by a Twizzler? No? Me neither. Those chewy, mostly flavorless wax sticks always made better straws than snacks, IMHO. Then there's the mystery plastic baggies at candy stores - could be decent stuff, could be (speaking from personal experience) harsh, salty, impossible to chew hard rubber nuggets.

So when Trader Joe's introduces not one but two new sacks o' licorice - Trader Joe's Soft Strawberry Licorice Twists and Trader Joe's Soft Black Licorice Twists - it's worth the ol' college try.

Naturally, they're both pretty similar in appearance and texture. It's a medium single cable style, cut up in roughly one inch sections. The chew feels a lot like, well, Twizzler Pull 'n Peels, except in singular strand form. That's been the sweet spot for licorice squish, personally - harder is too much a struggle, any softer feels too mushy. So, both bags got that going for them.

For flavor, though, there's a decided difference, that's more than black and red. Both Sandy and I preferred the black. It's a very mild, pleasant flavor, with a decent amount of anise, like a good black licorice should. It's enough to get the point of the flavor across without being offensive to the masses. Even if you're not a fan of black jelly beans, like my wife, it's an agreeable taste. The strawberry though? Not as good. The tart edge of strawberry comes across but doesn't have enough sweetness to really back up and fully develop it. It's only a halfway flavor, if you know what I mean.

Regardless of flavor differences, I like the lack of preservatives, the natural coloring, and the fact that even after sitting out opened overnight, each bite I just partook off was just as soft as when the seal was first cracked. And the price was pretty agreeable too: a half pound of decent candy for $2.49. Didn't have the little kiddos try it, it might still be a little chewy for lil chompers. It won't be an every time purchase by any stretch, but as long as these are on TJ's shelves, Twizzlers will never be on mine.

Bottom lines: Trader Joe's Soft Black Licorice Twists: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons and Trader Joe's Soft Strawberry Licorice Twists: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons.

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