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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Trader Joe's Sunflower Seed Spread

September! Back to school time...or for Sandy and me, time to get our firstborn daughter, M, off to kindergarten. Time flies...seems like just yesterday I wrote this.

M impresses me. She does, for real. Like when we took her grocery shopping for lunch supplies for school. We got a big packet of info for the upcoming school year, discussing all the different school rules and policies. Understandably, there was some space spent on peanuts and nuts, etc. The school rule is, for lunch, things like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are allowed to be brought in...but those who are allergic to peanut butter and can't be near it have to sit at a different table than everyone else. It's probably not a perfect solution, but it's what the school can do to keep everyone appeased.

Anyways, we kind of explained of this to M as best we could. Now this girl has no food allergies and loves peanut butter and jelly. Loves it enough to rival mac 'n cheese. So there we were, at Trader Joe's, near the PB shelf and presented M with a choice: Get peanut butter like she'd be allowed to get, and only sit with some certain kids...or try Trader Joe's Sunflower Seed Spread and be able to sit and make friends with anyone at lunch time.

She chose the sunflower seed spread.

Granted, it's not awful. But I'm a PB guy, through and through. This particular seed butter is medium-thick, oily, kinda goopy, decidedly salty, and unmistakenably made from sunflower seeds which I like, but not nearly as much as the earthy goodness of a good ol' peanut. If it seems similar to other TJ's products, you'd be mostly right. Big difference is lack of added sugar as this spread is composed of just seeds and salt. It's more functional than snackable, I guess.

M feels the same. Those eyerolls she tosses out right now when we ask what she considers a dumb question - man, those upcoming teenage years oughtta be a hoot. I got one for the ages when I asked her if she likes peanut butter or sunflower seed butter better. "Peanut butter" she muttered with as much implied "Duhhhh" in her tone as she could muster.

Still, M chooses it every time for her sandwich, simply because this little girl wants to be friends with everyone. She wants to be able to sit down and happily chomp away at her lunch with any set of kids and be able to talk about what happened on the playground or favorite colors or bugs or farts or whatever kids talk about at cafeteria tables. She's willing to meet other kids where they are, and sacrifice some of her preferences and entitlement to do so. She's willing to see that even though some other kids are different than her, they're not wrong or bad or to be avoided. They're all just some kindergartners wanting to enjoy lunch together.

Maybe I'm being particularly sappy and sentimental with her going off to school...but dammit, that's kinda beautiful to me. Maybe we'd all be better off if we could all see the world the way she does when choosing her lunch. I know I'd be. 

When I asked for her opinion of the seed spread, M just gave me a sideways thumb and a scrunchy faced grimace. I think that's actually a slight there's that. I feel strangely the same, actually. But I'm glad to slap some on bread with some blueberry jam for her any time she wants for lunch, so she can enjoy with anyone she wants.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sunflower Seed Spread: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Trader Joe's Riced Cauliflower Stir Fry

Trader Joe's has cauliflower filling the shoes of rice, pizza crust, mashed potatoes, and burger patties, among other things. Here, it's reprising its classic ricey role, but this time, it's part of a complete stir fry meal—well, complete if you're fine eating stir fry sans meat, or even fake meat of any kind. Surprisingly, I was more than happy with it that way. Sonia was too.

Not only is it full of peas, corn, and peppers, but there's already a good bit of savory flavor thanks to the blend of tamari, onion, sesame oil, and ginger. I had to look up "tamari." In this case, it's soybeans, salt, and spirit vinegar. Then, I had to look up "spirit vinegar." Is it related to spirit gum? Is it really that close to Halloween? We haven't even started pumpkin pandemonium yet. Turns out it's a vinegar that's distilled from the ectoplasmic residue of ghosts and otherworldly beings. Oh, no wait. That's what I assumed it was before I looked it's actually...well, here's the link I found. You can read it yourself if you're as culinarily ignorant as I am...ahem, was.

The blend of veggies is very well balanced against the base of riced cauliflower. In our case, each veggie was pristine, whole, and was extremely high quality in both taste and texture. The combo of seasonings is subtle, but goes a long way toward making this a stand-alone side dish. I wasn't even craving extra salt or pepper. There's something surprisingly addictive about this product. I mean, I thought the same thing about the riced cauli by itself, but this particular mixture is even more enjoyable in some ways.

We even tried adding it to some leftover food from the local Chinese place since we had run out of white rice. It worked surprisingly well with my Kung Pao Scallops. I'd be willing to bet it'd go just fine with less exotic selections like beef or chicken, too.

A normal bag of riced cauliflower will run you $1.99 at TJ's, and this offering costs exactly a dollar more. Couldn't you simply buy a bag of mixed veggies and stir it into a bag of riced cauliflower while altering the amount of veggies to suit your personal taste? Sure could. And it would probably cost about the same, or maybe even a little less. But as far as pre-mixed concoctions go, I can't imagine a much better blend—certainly not a blend with more universal appeal than this one. It seems pretty safe to me. If you like mixed vegetables and riced cauliflower, you're probably not gonna hate this.

Four stars a piece here.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Trader Joe's Gochujang Flavored Almonds


Gotta admit: Never heard of it. Not sure how to pronounce it. Every time I type it, I've had to look back and make sure I'm spelling it right. Go-chu-jang. I'd butcher that any which way I could, for sure.

Must say something about how relatively sheltered my palate has been that a lot of my exposure to imported flavors have come from Trader Joe's. I mean, I'm a guy who's excited that Panda Express and their legendary orange chicken is finally coming to Pittsburgh. So, once again, forgive me here, as I have no other gochujang experience to relate to Trader Joe's Gochujang Flavored Almonds...

...but holy smokitos, these are some blazing almonds. These just be the spiciest widely commercially available product I've had. These nuts are the kinda deal where it doesn't really hit you right upfront, but more steadily builds and builds with each bite. Sandy's only had a few and has said she doesn't think they're that hot, but trust

And, even better, it's a somewhat complex spice as well. Gochujang is apparently the name for a certain type of red chili paste that's a little sweet, a lot spicy, and definitely multilayered. I almost hate making the comparison, but think of the seasoning of Chex Mix condensed down into a more concentrated, potent powder. Some soy/Worcestershire sauce. Garlic salt. A few extra shakes of chili powder. Intensified. It's the best, easily relatable comp I can think of. Even then, it's not quite that. There's just this little sweetness, this little kiss of sugar, that somehow sneaks in through all of that just to keep it all grounded. Also, there's almost like a fermented savoriness at work here - makes sense with what I've learned about gochujang - and it just all ties together unbelievably well.

The almonds make a great base for really showcasing the spice, as well. Nicely roasted, crunchy, very munchable. The gochujang mix doesn't stick to the nuts all that well, which is just as well, as it's very potent...but man, the nuts at the bottom of the bag are gonna be spicy af. I'm looking forward to them, but not without some trepidation.

The bag cost only like $5 for 12 ounces. Not a bad deal. I'd be remiss of my duties that consumers may, like myself, experience some, um, digestive consequences after eating. Nothing so awful I won't go back for more, but there's a, um, pattern that's been established here. Let me keep that at that, please. After all - fermented product. I honestly have no real complaints and will probably snack on them and buy as long as they're available, and I'm sure I can get Sandy hooked on them too.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Gochujang Flavored Almonds: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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