Friday, December 17, 2010

The Trader Joe's Invader Show

Every season, Trader Joe's bestows upon its brethren a slew of new products. They talk them up in the Fearless Flyer, and give them prime shelf space in the store, but for eagle-eyed regulars like myself, these promotional lengths are not necessary. I know the items at Trader Joe's like I know the Radiohead discography or Arrested Development quotes. That is to say, quite well. I know that there will be a mosh pit of elderly folks in the cheese section, and a swarm of housewives near the wine. The produce section will resemble Wario Stadium and I can skip the entire section of frozen seafood. So when a new item pops up in-between the Shredded Beef Tamales and the Paneer Tikka Masala, I take notice. Typically, I greet new products with a wary eye, having been played a fool on more than one occasion (SALTINE GOLDFISH), but that fear is unfounded at TJ's. Nearly everything I have had the pleasure of ingesting from Trader Joe's has been delicious, and this goes for new and old items alike. Their quality control is impeccable, and they don't slap their name on just anything (you hear that "Best Yet"?). To prove this theory correct, I bought several new TJ's items last week, and ate them for the benefit of this blog and its followers.

Item 1: Trader Jacques' Milk Chocolate Salter Caramel Butter Cookies

There is no shortage of holiday-themed goodies at TJ's, but rather than drop $12 on a box of truffles, these caught my eye. Shortbread + Caramel + Chocolate sounds like a pretty indomitable combination, and being imported from France scored it some Ooh Ahh points from the Missus. 

Here they sat in the dim living room light, looking like a chocolate-filled ice cube tray.

This is for size approximation. Good weight, awkward size. Difficult to eat in one bite, but perhaps that is the point. Enjoyed having the cookie portion to grab so as not to get chocolate on my fingers.

A profile view of the innards. I apologize for the poor lighting. The chocolate portion was thicker than I expected (a pleasant surprise), and the caramel was more Caramello than Rolo, if you know what I mean. The shortbread was nothing special, but yielded a satisfying crunch. The chocolate was quality, and there were 16 in the box (two sleeves), which made it a pretty good deal at 2.99 (<20 cents each!). Trader Jacque, merci beaucoup. 

Item 2: Coins of the World

The foil-covered chocolates you know and love have come to Trader Joes! But these aren't your Grandmas coins, these are cultured currency. Coins from all over the world are represented in this golden pouch that AG insisted that I save and give to her.

Oopsies, I'm so clumsy. But look at that shiny Euro! There are pennies and nickels for the US, as well as Canadian, Austrian, Danish, German? coins as well. It was fun to try and figure out exactly where they came from, and catalyzed the realization that US coins are lame, and don't get me started on the bills!

Look at the attention to detail! Ignore the terrifying cuticle! There may very well be a chocolate coin mint next door to the national mint in each of these countries, that's how realistic they looked.

AG and I enjoyed them on ice cream. They were good and much better than your run-of-the-mill sack o' coins that normally turn up this time of year. I was so impressed by them already that them not tasting like dirt was just gravy. I brought the rest into work the next day and played Santa. By the end of the day I had almost mastered the "What's that behind your ear?" trick. There must have been 40-50 coins in the bag, and at 1.99 for the lot, another TJ Bargain.

Item 3: Mac and Cheese Bites

Oh Mama. These were the devilish snacks that inspired this blog post in the first place. I had no business buying these, but by rationalizing it as "research", they somehow found their way into my cart. TGI Fridays and Texas Roadhouse better check themselves, because Trader Joe's has raised the bar on heart-attack appetizers. I suggest they use the name "Trader Bubba" for goods in this class.

Sweet Mary and Joseph just look at that thing. Crispy golden shell. Cheesy, soft inside. 15 minutes in the oven and all my cares melted away.

They were packed with macaroni and even more stuffed with cheese. They wilted a bit in the oven, but I won't hold it against them. Even Flora tried to get in on the action. It is said that there are some things that can only be described in French. Macaroni and Cheese bites are one of those things. $3.49 for 10. Worth triple.

Item 4: Lentil Chips

If Trader Joes has mastered one thing, it is the chip. They have an entire aisle devoted to chips, and are tirelessly reinventing the chip. Their Pita chips? Best in the business. They have 8 kinds of Tortilla chips. There are pretzel chips, plantain chips, bagel chips and green bean chips. Just when you think they have exhausted the possibilities of the chip, they come up with something else. This week's version: Lentil Chips.

Lentil chips are an intriguing prospect. I suppose anything that can be mashed can be chip-ified, but does that mean it should be done? I'll leave that to Congress, but I say more power to them. Currently, Lentil Chips come in only the sea salt and black pepper iteration, an interesting choice, because the black pepper really gives them some kick. Texture-wise, they feel like a glazed pita chip, and I mean that in the best-possible way. Sort of like a rice cracker, if you've tried those before. Very light and super crunchy. Good taste, satisfying flavor. No troubling aftertaste to speak of. I could see myself buying them regularly, especially if they come out with other flavors. All in all, one small step for TJ's, another giant leap for chipkind. 2.49 for the bag. More than pita chips, but something you should try at least once.

This concludes this episode of the Trader Joe's Invader Show. Tune in next time!

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