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Trader Joe’s Marinated Beet Salad

Trader Joe's Marinated Beet Salad

Beets – The Devil’s Vegetable

Beets. Is there any item of food more loathed by man than the heinous beet? Just the word alone, the very act of articulation, is enough to make the tongue whimper. Beets.

This is probably all my own fault. I learned my fear of beets in childhood. I liked broccoli, I was okay with Brussels sprouts, but beets – the third member of that alliterative triumvirate of kid ire – that was what got me. I dare say it’s possible I’d even have been able to tolerate that dripping, unfortunate vegetable if and when it had ever been served to me fresh and raw from the earth, untainted by the hands of man. Unfortunately, that was never my experience. I knew beets solely as they emerged from the darkened insides of tin cans: sodden by their odoriferous preservative bath, pre-cut into unidentifiable strips or chunks, gleaming a bright, queasy magenta utterly dissimilar to the color of any other natural product given to us by God. Beets. And why the hell are they always pickled? Pickled, or all things! Easily the most extreme, polarizing way to prepare an already borderline food. God damn beets.

It was with a heavy heart that I convinced myself I had to buy this marinated beet salad (ingredient: beets, some spices) and test its merits. That is my way, though. To give a second chance to what I don’t spare a second glance.

To my utter surprise and shock, I actually enjoyed! I expected “marinated” to simply be a euphemism for “pickled”, but nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, the beets had a rich smoky and peppery flavor to them, a pleasant foil the familiar beety taste I was expecting – a result, no doubt, of the beets being roasted. Not just savory but pleasantly crunchy to boot, these guys enlivened an otherwise boring lunch by bringing a flavor that was strong, but not overpowering. To top it off, the dreaded beet after taste, which can linger on the tongue long after it’s welcome has worn out, was mild and short lived. Consider me flabbergasted.

My only complaint is the size and shape of the beet chunks. Weighing in at about the size of small ice cubes, these guys would be impossible to incorporate into any but he most outlandish of sandwiches, despite the claims of the package’s copy. They’ll do fine in salads or on their own, but I’d like to see some slimmer cuts for enhanced versatility.

Would I Recommend Them: Yes, even if you don’t like beets.

Would I Buy Them Again: These are my go to beets from now on.

Final Synopsis: Beets, edible at last.

Trader Joe's Marinated Beet Salad - Nutritional Facts

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OKF Organic Aloe Vera Drink

OKF Organic Aloe Vera Drink

Better than Orbitz?

It’s hard to find a good Aloe Vera based drink in this city. Now I had better fess up to the fact that I belong in that distinct subclass of people who enjoy things floating in their drinks, the kind of guy who likes pulp in his my orange juice. Funnily enough, when it comes to peanut butter I fall firmly on the smooth side of the smooth/chunky debate, but that’s a story for another time.

You may or may not remember Orbitz, but I sincerely hope you do. Released in the early 90’s, during that time when a mass madness had gripped the populous that compelled it to produce an endless succession of gimmicky soft drinks, Orbitz was king of all gimmicky drinks. This clear soda was imbued with a loose matrix of what amounted to slime which served to kind of hold aloft “flavor orbs”, little chewy candy balls. The idea was that the balls would appear to be levitating in some sort of futuristic super soda to be cherished by all. The practical effect was that everyone hated the look and taste of Orbitz immediately. Everyone but me that is. The audacity of these floating balls immediately captured my heart, only to break it when they left me forever following the almost blindingly quick bankrupcy of the company.

Some years later, my older brother returned from a trip to Korea with the very first bottle of Aloe Vera drink I had ever seen. The weird color, the floating bits of chewy stuff – aloe vera drink immediately conqured that place in my heart that Orbitz had cleared before. My brother, a kind and gentle soul of a teenager at the time, immediately forbade anyone from drinking any of the Aloe Vera Drink but himself and certain, select friends. I didn’t care. Tip-toeing up to the refridgerator at a moment when the house was absolutely empty, I snuck my first sip. The taste was more wonderful than I could have imagined!!!! I immediately forgot all about Orbitz – Aloe Vera Drink would be my new refreshment king. Go to hell, Orbitz! Rot and die, for all I care. Aloe Vera drink would be seeing to all my needs from then on.

Unfortunately, I had to cut my felonious aloe vera sipping to an absolute minimum, lest I incur the vicious, teenaged wrath of my older brother. Always since that day have I searched the shelves of our bland America stores in hopes of finding an aloe vera drink that did that one justice. Always have I been disappointed. Worst of all, is to find over and over again that malicious, deformed contender El Sol brand Aloe Vera Drink. Looking in all the unseeming ways like authentic aloe vera drink, El Sol masks any enjoyable aloe vera taste with a heavy grape flavoring. What the hell, El Sol? Let the Aloe Vera speak for itself, man – dare to taste its beauty. The consumer public can handle it.

This old quest was rekindled when I happened across OKF Organic Aloe Vera Drink at Trader Joes. This product deserves full high marks on many fronts. It keep additives to a minimum (no preservatives, artificial flavors or coloring), uses organic aloe, includes plenty of aloe vera bits into the drink along with aloe vera gel itself. Was it good enough to do to that Korea Aloe Vera Drink what Korean Aloe Vera Drink did to Orbitz? Alas, no. Aloe Vera Drink ventured too close to bland for me. There is no sugar added which means while there are only 60 calories per serving it tastes more like water than soda – similar to the new coconut water beverages. So while it may not have been what I was looking for, it was the most enjoyable Aloe Vera drink I’ve had in years. I give it my full recommendation to people looking for a healthier alternative to soft drinks or just a new beverage to try.

Would I Recommend It: If you’ve never tried an aloe vera drink, this isn’t a bad one to get started on. For everyone else, this is likely to be the healthiest aloe vera drink you’ll find.

Would I Buy It Again: It’s not perfect, but I predict I’ll be coming back for more.

Final Synopsis: Let’s the aloe vera speak for itself, but doesn’t have quite enough to say.


Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Roasted Pistachio Toffee

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Roasted Pistachio Toffee

Will this fill the void within me?

What do we seek, in this world, beside a little sweetness in our lives? Is it toffee? Today, I decided to find out.

The Trader Joe’s by my house has an impressively diverse toffee selection, but of them all these crazy little buggers always leapt out at me. Pistachio, right on man, sea green pistachio slapped almost drunkenly all over the outside of an otherwise normal looking toffee morsel. The moment I saw them, I was captivated by how off-putting they looked – something about the way the crushed nuts sit on the chocolate coating make them look like they were picked up of the laundry room floor. Overcoming my momentary repulsion, I brought them to the counter and had them rung up. After all, eating strange, off-putting things is what this blog is all about.

As one does when one comes into possession of some toffee, I freely offered it to those around me the rest of the day. Interestingly, everyone responded in almost exactly the same way I did: with an initial chilly refusual followed by a slow change of mind that came almost to their own surprise. I think the thought process goes something like, “Those look weird,” followed by, “Wait a minute, pistachio and toffee?! This could be a brilliant new taste sensation!”

Alas, all high hopes were dashed. Crushed pistachios on dark chocolate toffee taste, basically, like toffee. As one of my fellow taste tasters put it – “it tastes like Almond Roca”, which is basically what it is. But what of the dark chocolate, the pistachios? Do they not elevate this into a more elite form of toffee? Man, I gotta tell you – really they do not. The intense butterscotch blast of the toffee effortlessly overpowers the nuances of the chocolate and nuts, and the nutty coating effectively prevents you from sucking on a piece and appreciating it. Is it still awesome? Sure, it’s toffee – but that’s about all it is. I will say that if you eat a couple pieces then wait – wait until after the butterscotch has faded, then wait until after the chocolate has faded – at somewhere around the 3 minute mark BAM!!!, the lingering taste of pistachios will totally be there.

Is that what I thought I was getting? No. Was I naively conflating the taste of sweet pistachio ice cream with the real taste of ordinary pistachio nuts and imaging some sort of sublime transcendent treat to match this toffee’s awkward exterior? Perhaps. If you are seeking that exotically flavored toffee look elsewhere, it is not here.

Would I Recommend It: Can’t think of a reason to recommend it over any other.

Would I Buy It Again: Naw.

Final Synopsis: You can do what you want to toffee, the toffee don’t care.

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Roasted Pistachio Toffee - Nutritional Facts


Trader Joe’s Organic Tomatillo & Roasted Yellow Chili Salsa

Trader Joe's Organic Tomatillo and Roasted Yellow Chili Salsa

So many adjectives, drool, drool, drool...

This little pot of salsa enticed me with it’s name. Most any time a food product puts three or more adjectives in it’s title, I can’t help but be enticed by it’s purported charms. Sometimes this works out, but far from always. Today I was unable to resist, and sat down to give it a shot.

The packaging proclaims that it has a mild zesty flavor, and it very much does so. It’s a tremendously mild salsa, a bit more burn than our papaya-mango medley, but not by miles or anything. This is a very fluidy salsa, without even chunks of onion or pepper to mix things up. The packaging also pitches the salsa as a potential “spread”, and it could certainly go over your bread without much trouble. Is it worth the effort though? There was one taste in particular I kept being brought back to as I supped my way though this slurpy sauce – the Spaghetti-O’s of my youth. Between the loose, tomato-puree base of the salsa, and the somewhat tangy, somewhat zesty herb choices, my tongue was repeatedly thrown into a flavor flashback. While it wasn’t exactly bad, for me this wasn’t what I was looking for in my salsa, nor what I was expecting from such an elaborately named sauce.

 

Would I Recommend It: To those in search of a good mild, tangy salsa.

 

Would I Buy It Again: Not to my liking, thanks.

 

Final Synopsis: Like the love child of Chef Boyardee and the Chalula Lady


Trader Joe’s Edamame Hummus

Trader Joe's Edamame Hummus

Far East meets Middle East...in your mouth!

I’m a cool enough dude to know what edamame is – it’s Japanese for “delicious & healthy soybean snack” I’m also cool enough to know how to eat them – you squeeze the bean pod between thumb and forefinger and the slippery little bean pops into your mouth in the most satisfactory way possible. What I guess I wasn’t cool enough to know was that you can make hummus out of things other than garbanzo beans. In all seriousness, the second I saw this thing my brain did a little freak out flip in my skull. Who knew these two foods, Japanese Soybeans and Middle Eastern Hummus, intersected? I, for one, did not see this ven diagram coming.

Hummus, it turns out, can be made from basically any legume – it’s just that the chickpea is has just been the solid go to bean for the last 7,000 years or so. In the mad world of the go-go 21st century, however, hummus has caught on in some non-traditional cultures (ex: America) and they’ve decided to make some non-traditional hummus. The range of hummus is actually startling, and includes such variations as black bean hummus and pumpkin hummus. Swear to god. Check ‘em out.

While I can’t speak for it’s bros above, edamame hummus is a delicious treat. What makes it so good? The fact that it tastes exactly like any other hummus. To my ordinary palate at least. Try as I might to savor the flavor across numerous mediums, I could not detect any difference in taste between the edamame and the garbanzo other than it’s cool greenish hue. I’d imagine that there are hummus aficionados out there who are doing a comical spit take at such a bourgeoisie sentiment, but as far as I’m concerned, there’s no reason to buy this hummus over your existing preferred brand unless, that is, you really get a kick out of stylish, art noveau-esque packaging which, in this case, is really top notch.

 

Would I Recommend It: Only if you love hummus but hate chickpeas.

 

Would I Buy It Again: I’ll stick with my  Sabra, thanks.

 

Final Synopsis: Cool to say, ordinary to eat.

 

Trader Joe's Edamame Hummus - Nutritional Facts


Trader Joe’s South African Smoke Seasoning Blend

Trader Joe's South African Smoke Seasoning

Let's all start smoking! (Our food!)

What have we here? Smoke-flavored seasoning, it promises us. But can anyone really bottle smoke? I mean, it’s smoke man. It’s famously elusive. If you could stick that flavor in a pepper mill and sell it for a couple bucks, then what the hell are people laboring over charcoals in smoke houses at minimum wage for? Let alone selling it in the very same pepper mill / pepper grinder doohickey you’re already selling your sea salt and flower pepper in? A prelimary whiff of the unopened container imparted the strong smoky musk of a dying campfire. Skepticism overruled by curiosity, I decided to give it a shot.

I tried Smoke Seasoning out on a couple different meats – some hamburgers I was grilling up outdoors and a nice, skinless chicken breast. After a few liberal grinds of the (to me) incredibly satisfying built in pepper mill apparatus and both items suddenly smelled a whole lot better. Smell, of course, is one thing. Taste? Quite another. One bite though, and I was stunned. The bastards over there at Joe’s did it. God know’s how, but it effortlessly infuses your food with a seductive, delectable waft of smoke. Just perfect.

What the hell’s in this stuff? Just smoke and paprika, a little salt and garlic? Seriously? And, as we all know, paprika does basically nothing aside from lending color – so basically, yeah, it’s just bottled smoke. But wait, now you’re telling me that the smoke in question is made from a renewable south african hardwood? Man oh man, Joe – you have out done yourself again.

The effectivness of this product is undeniable, but it’s scope is somewhat limited. I only tried it on meat, but the imagination suggests it might go well on grilled veggies too. Even if so, even the toughest of men, men who barbeque their every meal, don’t

want to have their every dish taste strongly smoke. This is an item best used in the height of summer revelry, a delicate but savory flavor to grace the periodic hedonistic grill session. As such, I predict this item will be sitting in a cherised spot in my cupboard until next summer comes.

 

Would I Recommend It: Without hesitation

 

Would I Buy It Again: Once this one runs out.

 

Final Synopsis: Smoke your food the easy way.

 

Trader Joe's South African Smoke Seasoning - Nutritional Facts


Trader Joe’s Super Seeded Tortilla Chips

 

Trader Joe's Super Seeded Tortilla Chips

Doesn't the name suggest that this chip has already been outdone?

 

Okay, let’s get real here again – real about really delicious tortilla chips. Today’s delicious offering are the nuttiest chips you’re likely to find – nutty because they are chock full of organic seeds that make your chip’s crunch crunch. As the bag boldly proclaims – these chips are made with organic flax, hemp, poppy, caraway and chia seeds. That’s right, chia seeds aren’t just for growing afros on novelty porcelain busts anymore – they’re in your chips! Forming the substrate for the seeds you’ll find a mix of organic white corn flour and “expeller pressed” safflower / sunflower oil. Expeller pressing is simply a method of extracting oil from seeds and such by crushing the hell out of it in a big press, as opposed to the more efficient method of dousing it with poisonous chemicals (generally some sort derivative of crude oil derivitve). Healtheir? Arguably, but it definitely sounds better.

So this product gets full brownie points for being hippie-friendly as all get out, but are they good? In this case, the hippies win. The extra crunchy, nutty flavor the chips suits the tongue just right – a welcome change up to the entirely mundane plain tortilla chip. That said, these chips are as all-purpose and utilitarian as your ordinary sack of chips. The caraway seeds, organic or not, still pack that overpowering caraway flavor. Since you don’t taste one until you happen to crunch down right on it, it’s not a taste you can expect in every bite. Eat your salsa with these chips and every few bites it’ll taste like you’re eating salsa on rye bread. Limit these chips to heavier, savory tastes – hummus and guacamole.

 

Would I Recommend Them: Absolutely, but plan for the caraway seeds or you’ll be sorry.

 

Would I Buy Them Again: If I needed to casually impress a vegan.

 

Final Synopsis: Combine a good new taste with a clever pun and I’m sold every time.

Trader Joe's Super Seeded Tortilla Chips - Nutritional Facts