Sunday, November 30, 2008

Crunchy Peanut Butter Granola Bars

Price: $2.29 (6 packets)
Features: Crumbs all over the place, 20g whole grains, vegan
Found in: Granola bars

I suppose these are a good value, and they taste fine, but somehow I am not that enthusiastic about them. I get exactly what I would expect from a crunchy peanut butter granola bar, but nothing special. They work as a mid-morning or afternoon snack, just be sure to stand up and brush off all the crumbs if you are eating them at your desk!

Now playing: Sleepthief - Just Say It (feat Kyoko Baertsoen)
via FoxyTunes

Heart Healthy* Whole Grain Cranberry Instant Oatmeal

Price: $3.49 (8 packets)
Features: Lots of sweet & tart cranberries, 12 vitamins & minerals, and flaxseed for Omega-3's!
Found in: Near cereals and granola bars

I love this stuff! I have purchased countless boxes of this ever since I consumed my first two packets for breakfast on a cold and wet backpacking trip on the Olympic Peninsula. It was perfect: easy to prepare, hot, just the right sweetness, full of cranberries, and really sticks with you. Now I eat this oatmeal all the time: for breakfast at work, on the weekend, as a snack, and it is always in my pack when I am camping or backpacking. Just add hot water or microwave for a minute.

Eating whole grains for breakfast really keeps you full for a long time. I like that this oatmeal provides a healthy dose of B-Vitamins and Omega-3's. B-Vitamins help regulate your response to stress (and can be depleted by the caffeine in your morning coffee), while Omega-3's are good for your heart and may have a mood stabilizing effect. I'm not as confident in the proclaimed benefits of other ingredients, but regardless, this stuff tastes great!

Trader Joe's Heart Healthy Whole Grain Cranberry Instant Oatmeal take the wholesome goodness of oatmeal and ratchets up the nutritional benefits and the flavor profile to create a hearty hot cereal that will warm you from the inside out.

Whole grain rolled oats are enriched with flaxseed for their Omega-3's, plant sterol esters for their cholesterol-fighting properties, and inulin, a soluable fiber derived from the chicory root that promotes healthy digestion.

The oatmeal is lightly sweetened and sprinkled with sweet tart dried cranberries for added flavor. It is also an excellent source of 12 vitamins and minerals and goes from package to table in about a minute.
Now playing: The Fugees - Ready or Not
via FoxyTunes

Monday, November 24, 2008

Scalloped Potatoes with Quattro Formaggio

Price: $3.99
Features: Contains 4 different cheeses, somehow doesn't taste very cheesy.
Found in: Refrigerated prepared foods section

I can think of a number of things that don't thrill me about this product, and one semi-positive thing to say. Let's get that one thing out of the way right now: This scalloped potato dish is refrigerated as opposed to frozen, so it microwaves in 6 minutes rather than 25 minutes.

On the other hand, I found this dish to be rather bland, especially considering all the trumpeting about the four different cheeses it contains. I expected a medium to strong cheese flavor, but instead I tasted... "blah." At $3.99 per small dish, I didn't feel this product delivered nearly as much value as many TJ's items do. One package was barely enough to serve four people as a second side dish along with a main course, veggies, and a salad.

The bland and unimpressive taste of these potatoes makes them not worth the large dose of fat, saturated fat, and salt in each serving. I've made a potato gratin before with cream, cheese, and bacon.
Healthy? No.
Tasted like it was full of cream, cheese, and bacon? Heck yes!
Good and hearty? You bet!

So, you want scalloped potatoes or a delicious gratin? Why not just make your own and serve it as the main dish? People will be much more impressed, and I am willing to bet you can make a heartier dish for less than $1.00 per tiny serving.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Goddess Dressing

Price: $1.99
Features: Creamy sesame, lemon, and garlic goddess goodness!
Found in: Near oils and spices

I have my favorite goddess Benita to thank for introducing me to this goddess! She makes a fantastic salad using this dressing, mixed greens, shredded carrots, sliced raw almonds, strawberries, and fat-free crumbled feta to top it all off ...and the best part: all these items are available at Trader Joe's for excellent prices!

Both Benita and I can attest that TJ's Goddess Dressing is every bit as good as Annie's Naturals Goddess Dressings (both Organic and regular), but costs half as much. Now that is serious value. Benita says that people who try this dressing always end up asking what it is and where to get it for themselves, and that the goddess-like aroma alone can entice the curious to give it a try.

We love this dressing because it is big on flavor, but not overwhelmingly heavy like some creamy dressings. A small amount goes a long way. The strongest flavor is definitely of sesame tahini, followed by the tang of lemon and cider vinegar, and rounded out by garlic and chives. Simple, yet amazingly delicious. Go to TJ's and get your own goddess right now!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Lemon Ginger Echinacea Juice

Price: $3.49
Features: Massive blast of ginger!
Found in: Juice aisle, or it may randomly hop in your cart from a display by the checkout...

I've been trying to figure out what to say about this juice. If you like ginger, you can keep reading. If you're not a ginger fan, 1) there is something wrong with you and 2) quit now while you are ahead! This beverage has a major fresh ginger kick to it, similar to that found in Reed's Extra Ginger Beer.

Other flavors (taking a backseat to the brewed ginger root, of course) include lemon, white grape, and apple juices. There is a boost of Echinacea extract as well. I know I railed on a different product for containing unpronounceable extracts of dubious health value, but somehow echinacea seems more acceptable to me. When Arabinogalactan and Shizonepeta become more mainstream maybe I will be accepting of them too. Until then I maintain my original stance: wtf?

Aside from the herbal controversy, I have to say, this stuff is pretty good. I'd buy it again if I am feeling crumby and need a lift, or have a ginger craving to satisfy. That seems to be happening a lot lately. Otherwise an entire jug might be too many servings for one guy to down in a week or two.

Now playing: Doujah Raze - 360°
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Monday, November 17, 2008

Gummy Tummies Penguins (with Soft Tummies)

Price: $2.49
Features: Fat free, liquid full!
Found in: Random location between the dairy case and the bagged salad. Perhaps where trial products tend to show up?

Trader Joe's penguin shaped gummies have a soft spot for you. There are three natural flavors of cherry, lime, and strawberry and each gummy tummie has a fluid, fruity center that pleasantly melts in your mouth. They are made in France especially for us.

Aww, how cute! Little gummy penguins that ooze fruity goo when you bite into them. I couldn't resist giving these a try when I saw them hiding away on a random shelf in the store. I've never seen them before, so I think they are a new product.

The texture and flavor are actually pretty good, and the liquid tummies are not gross, but they are truly soft! I bet kids would love these, and I don't mind eating them either. Plus, they look so silly and cute on the bag, how can you not put them in your cart? Though, their square eyes do make them look rather robotic...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Pumpkin Ale - Buffalo Bill's Brewery

Price: $7.99 / 6-pack
Features: Pumpkin pie's drunken cousin, 4.9% Alc by Vol (?)
Found in: Beer aisle

"Pumpkin pie in a bottle" they say, more like pumpkin pie beer in a bottle I say. Yes, I know that sounds disgusting, but the combination does actually work. Brewed with roasted pumpkin, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, what really comes through to me are the spices. The pumpkin gives it a bit of sweetness and body, but isn't overwhelming. Don't be too afraid! Remember, all those world class Belgian beers have all kinds of spices and sweet things in them. Worth a try, and hey, if you don't like it, just stick it at the back of your fridge for 3 years like we have done with a lone bottle of Sea Dog pumpkin ale (which is terrible).

Apparently this stuff is brewed by the locals at Pyramid Brewery (who have a shiny website, but a gloomy stock outlook), on behalf of Buffalo Bill's, located in Hayward, CA.

This Pumpkin Ale once took second in a blind taste test we held with at least 3 other pumpkin offerings. It was trounced by the Elysian Brewing Company's Night Owl Pumpkin Ale, but anyone who has ever had the Night Owl, or the Elysian's brews in general, will know that they are tough to top!

Now playing: Captain Dan And The Scurvy Crew - The Black Mongoose
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Air Armor

Price: $3.99
Features: Unappealing taste, questionable benefit, unpronounceable ingredients
Found in: Vitamins

Air Armor is TJ's generic equivalent to Airborne, the supposed "immune boosting*" effervescent tablets that so many people swear by these days. Do I sound a little skeptical? Well, that little star up there next to immune boosting corresponds to this warning, printed no less than 4 times on the package: "This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease."

At least they are upfront, because they are forced to be by the FDA, in saying that their product is basically useless. No study has proven with any conclusive evidence that Airborne is at all effective. In fact, the study which purported to have positive results was disqualified because it was paid for by the manufacturer and conducted improperly. Read about that here.

I have tried both the lemon-lime and orange flavors of Air Armor. The lemon-lime flavor is less unappealing, but still tastes like bad medicine. Personally, I have not felt that this product did anything to prevent a cold from coming on or decrease its duration. I do find it to be an extremely effective method of increasing flatulence (perhaps that is a type of Air Armor in itself).

Questions of effectiveness aside, I'm not even sure this stuff is good for you. Each tablet contains 1000mg of Vitamin C, 1667% of the RDV. The directions say to take one every three hours up to 4 times a day. That is a mega-dose of Vitamin C, and far over the RDV of Vitamins A and E, Zinc, and Manganese, plus 44% of your RDV of sodium. Not to mention alot of "Herbal Extract Proprietary Blend," with things like Arabinogalactan and Shizonepeta extracts. What the heck?

The bottom line is that this product which claims to boost your immune system but then also states that it isn't supposed to do anything is best left on the shelf. The only good thing I have to say about Air Armor is that it is $2.00 less of a rip-off per package than Airborne. So if you must, at least waste less money!

Twigs, Flakes & Clusters

Price: $2.99
Features: High fiber, high protein, low sodium, not too sweet
Found in: Cereal land

This is one of my favorite new finds at TJ's. I struggle to find cereals which are not too sweet (ex: Strawberry Yogurt O's) and not too bland (ex: plain shredded wheat). Twigs, Flakes and Clusters strikes a balance with three crunchy components and a light brown sugar sweetness throughout. A bowl of this cereal with some TJ's milk (free of crazy growth hormones, $1.19) makes a surprisingly substantial quick breakfast. Must be all that fiber and protein!