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Archive for the ‘review’ Category

Review: Pita Puffs

In review on 01/30/2010 at 4:46 am

Let us begin with a brief history of the store-shelf pita and its carby spawn.

In the beginning, there was pita bread. A staple of Mediterranean cuisine, one would use this thin, flat bread to complement the thick, savory goodness of hummus. Pita bread could be found on the bread shelves of Trader Joe’s for a minimal price.

Then there was the pita chip. Elevating the pita to crispy, salty new levels, the pita chip arguably usurped the position of the pita bread as it was eminently dippable and delicious by itself– sans hummus. One could not say the same about Trader Joe’s pita bread. Alone, it was rather dry and historical-tasting.

Then came the pita round cracker. A classier addition to the Pita portfolio, these crackers could also withstand the weight of cheese,  jam,  and other heartier fare. A delicious cracker, it would not buckle under the weight of artichoke dip, whereas the less-versatile, less-sturdy pita chip might. The pita round cracker also looked better on silver platters next to the olives, whereas the pita chip was only fit for party bowls and disposable trays.  One would bring pita round crackers to a wine-tasting, pita chips to a Super Bowl party.

Then there was the reduced-fat pita chip. An attempt to expand the pita bread fan base, this product reached out to health nuts who were previously unwilling to relinquish celery and carrots as hummus-dippers due to the fat content in pita chips. Sadly, the reduced fat pita chip under-performed, as the lack of fat was compensated by an overdose of salt.

For awhile it seemed that Trader Joe’s had exhausted all the potential from the humble pita. Until…

The pita puff arrived. I first was attracted to the large Roman figure on the packaging. A sucker for antiquities and other museum relics, I was intrigued by such a cultured piece of cellophane. I also happened to stumble upon some samples in the corner of the store. The pita puff is essentially a mini-pita round with a puff of air blown into it. It was light, airy, and crunchy with just the right amount of sea salt. I was hooked. I became a PitaPuffGirl (sorry, couldn’t resist!)

It captures all the flavorful goodness of pita without the heaviness that sometimes accompanied the chip or cracker. It also was a capable dipper– especially if you eat half of it first, you can use the other half to scoop the hummus!

Pita Puffs: 5/5 pelts

Yum. My only problem is with the packaging. As much as I love TJ’s quirkiness, I do wish they would take more care to write better copy on the back. Aside from the fact that I don’t actually know if Romans ate pita (their Greek counterparts did, however. I hope Athena is not turning in her grave…err….cloud), the rambling text on the back of the bag confused me completely. As long as they don’t start labeling their sushi with “Trader Ming,” however, I’ll be good to go.

But let it be said: Trader Joe’s, if you ever need someone to write the back of your packaging, I’m your lady.

Meanwhile, pass the bag of pita puffs.

Review: Shepherd’s bread

In review on 09/28/2009 at 3:31 am

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Thanks everyone for your suggestions about what to review next! I will definitely buy and do one of them soon, but in the interim, I will review a product that I bought for general use (rather than for just reviewing, as I have been doing as of late).

Well… “general use” in this case still meant I bought it for a special occasion. It was a friend’s birthday, and we all were supposed to bring small bites/appetizers. I decided to make FlufferNutters (I hope that’s not trademarked) also known as sandwiches with peanut butter and marshmallow creme (Fluff), since the Fluff Festival took place the same day in the neighboring town of Somerville (where Fluff was invented– a crowning achievement of culinary excellence).

I realize that bringing a variation of peanut butter sandwich to a somewhat-classy 30th birthday celebration is the equivalent of bringing a six-pack of beer to a wine tasting, so a few friends helped me cut them into little hearts. Because then you got the whole Valentine’s-Day-celebration-for-3rd-graders thing going on to distract from the fact that it’s a PB sandwich, and it will make birthday boy feel younger to boot.

Anyway.

I wanted to find the perfect bread for the Fluff, peanut butter, and Nutella (plays well with everything, no?). I scoured TJ’s bread aisle with high hopes, as there are roughly a dozen varieties there. More specifically, I was looking for a nice pillowy white bread to nicely complement the sweet stickiness of the spreads.

I chose Shepherd’s Bread (“sweetened with honey and malt”) because it was white and simple, it had minimal sugar, and let’s face it, the picture of the shepherd tending to the lambsies on the packaging tugged at my religio-cutesy heartstrings.

Bad choice. The texture of the bread was heavy and denser than I thought. The bread itself tasted fine, but was a lot heartier, stiffer, and more rustic than what I had desired for my heart-shaped FlufferNutters and NutellaFluffers and NutellaPBers.

So, ratings wise, I’d give it 2.5/5 pelts as FlufferNutter material, and 3.9/5 pelts by itself.

It might be a better complement with hummus and turkey, or just as toast, or even as croutons. But in general marshmallow creme and peanut butter need a softer, gentler crumb that cushions the sticky goodness. It made me sad that eating the many, many scraps became a bit of a chore because of the stiffness of the bread. Maybe I should have just stuck to Wonder Bread.

However, I will be the first to advocate for Shepherd’s bread to be used for communion. Saltines are cool, but the Shepherd imagery just fits in too well.

Look at the jelly in my belly

In review on 09/22/2009 at 3:42 am

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I think this blog is going to cost me a pretty penny. Seeing as I buy completely superfluous products like above, things I would never, ever buy unless I was say, reviewing them for some random blog, the frivolous purchases will start piling up.

But who can blame me when TJ’s comes up with something so ridiculous as translucent gummy penguins with juice in their bellies? A throwback to the elementary school reign of Gushers (remember those? ), these candies are imported from France, of all places. Mais oui, le pingouin!

Of course, these gummies are only a novelty. They didn’t taste particularly interesting. In fact, the gelatin was quite hard to chew. The fruity insides were not overly sweet, and didn’t taste as artificial as I had anticipated. I passed these out to everyone at a party, and the verdict seemed somewhere between ambivalent and positive.

I don’t know if it’s just me though, but it seemed slightly… morbid to be decapitating a gelatin penguin while sucking up its insides. It also summoned my complicated feelings about gelatin. I’m not a huge Jello fan (unless you’re talking about the almond variety), and I only occasionally eat gummy bears. But if ever you want to passively aggressive annoy your vegan friends, I suggest sending them a package of these Gummy Tummies Penguins With Soft Tummies. Not only will you a) encourage the consumption of a replica of an animal but also b) symbolically affirm dismemberment of said animal representation AND c) subversively send them something MADE from animals. Gelatin, after all, is animal collagen (well, whatever’s left over after zebras get Botox), also known as the substance from animal joints.  Forget Omaha steaks, nothing says “your lifestyle sucks” more than this cutesy-grotesque animal death candy. I’m sure somewhere in PETA headquarters, there is a campaign being cooked up to stop this atrocity. 2/5 pelts.

Challah back young’un

In review on 09/18/2009 at 4:49 am

To honor Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year (which starts tomorrow), I decided to compare challah bread from TJ’s and Whole Foods. Well…to be honest, I stepped into TJ’s today and immediately made a beeline for the round raisin challah on the bread shelf without knowing why it was there. “Oooh, goody!” I thought. “A new kind!”  Challah (and brioche) are my favorite breads ever, as exceptions to my normal whole-wheat-carb-only thing. It was only at the checkout line that I realized it was for Rosh Hashanah, when the cashier mentioned it as I happily, naively, cradled the bread in my arms.

I pretended that I knew what he was talking about and promptly went home to do Google-Wikipedia research: the bread is round (versus traditional braid) on the Jewish High Holidays as a symbol for God’s crown and/or the never-ending cycle of the world. Challah also represents manna, which God provided in the desert in Exodus, and is used as a Sabbath bread. The word “challah” is also in Leviticus 24:5, which automatically makes Leviticus 10x cooler.

So much symbolism for such delectable bread. Challah is an egg bread, and as such is light, rich, and soft. The only taste/texture equivalent I can think of is Asian breads or brioche, with an airy but rich crumb. Since I have become neighbors with Trader Joe’s, I’ve bought four challah loaves and eaten them all pretty much by myself in two or three sittings. I can’t figure out why I wasn’t more vigilant about finding good challah in Manhattan last year aka Jewish Baked Goods Promised Land when I lived there. Well, I’m making up for it now.

To continue this eternal Sabbath, I went to Whole Foods and picked up a $5 raisin challah round to compare with TJ’s. Was it worth the extra $1.20 and 5o calories?

Winner: The Whole Foods challah was better, mostly because it had more butter in it. It tasted a lot like an Asian butter loaf, and the raisins were plump and sweet. TJ’s, by contrast, was not nearly as moist, but also lighter in taste. I don’t know if it’s worth the price difference, however. (3.9/5 pelts)

Real Winner: Me, for the excuse to munch on so much challah. I’ve had it as French toast before, but it’s the best right out of the bag, with a big glass of milk.

I was first introduced to challah in 2006, when I worked for a Jewish bakery in San Diego for one random, challenging month. My job was basically janitor-baker. I arose at 5:30am in the morning to scrub the giant mixer and ovens and mop the floors. One time I brought a sandwich into the bakery, and the owner yelled at me because the bakery keeps kosher. “Oops!!” I said, and then without thinking, threw away the sandwich into the trash can in the bakery. I still remember her glare.

But I digress…

Besides getting into kosher trouble, I rolled bagels, cut dough, weighed flour, and braided challah. I can’t braid my own hair to save my life, but it was fun to braid challah, and more worthwhile too. You can’t eat your pigtails, after all.

Review: PB&J Bar

In review on 09/16/2009 at 4:03 am

For my first item, I chose this outlandish-sounding bar from the “New Products” shelf.

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PB&J Bar: with peanut butter, milk and dark chocolate, raspberry jam, and crushed potato chips on the inside.

Mind you, I would never of my own volition choose to eat such a concoction. No, dear reader, I chose to spend $1.99 and more importantly, 19% of my potential love handle allocation to review this for everyone’s collective curiosity.

My roommates also generously partook in this review. We cut the thick bar into thin slices and analyzed the confluence of flavors. (We are not professional food critics, but I’d like to think we have semi-discerning palates that rank somewhere above kid-friendly-I-only-like-frosting but probably below that of Anton Ego from Ratatouille.)

There was a definite crunch at first, but you couldn’t see the potato chip pieces, which was frustrating. I had envisioned the potato chips being sprinkled on top of the chocolate for a pleasant sweet-savory sensation, but instead it was embedded inside synthetic-tasting peanut butter. The bottom layer was raspberry jam, and the whole thing was encased in a nondescript milk/dark chocolate layer.

It was sadly unsatisfying. I didn’t really know what this bar was trying to achieve. The saltiness did not stand out or complement, and the gumminess of the peanut butter was a turnoff. Furthermore, the $2 price tag and excessive fuchsia packaging (a box and a wrapper for one bar!) probably alienates TJ’s treehugger fan base. Not to mention it clocks in at 300 calories and 40 percent saturated fat/daily value. Tsk tsk.

In sum, this bar screamed “pet project!” or “throw darts on a board product” all over it. I imagine the dialogue at some Trader Joe’s product development office to be as follows:

Read the rest of this entry »

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