Food Geek: Gourmet Flambé a la TJ

“Snacks are really important,” my roommate Zoë once told me. “On the hierarchy of needs, snacks are at the top.”

This speaks to me. Since I’ve become a perpetual black hole of hunger–AKA stopped eating meat and most animal products–I have fully transformed into a snack fiend from the third level of hell.  Luckily, I’ve found a mentor in Zoë. I had no idea, when I was moving into my current house, that one of my roommates would eventually become my guru in the Way of Snacks.

A few weekends ago, Zoë and I decided to invite a handful of friends over for a Trader Joe’s snack tasting. Trader Joe’s takes the art of snack food to levels undreamt-of even in our household. I’m convinced that there’s a test kitchen where TJ’s chefs do nothing but dream up ever more things to dip in chocolate.

Down at their Michigan and Roosevelt store, I bought a handful of chocolatey goods plus a couple bottles of wine, including a $2.99 Charles Shaw shiraz (or “Two-Buck Chuck” as it’s known in some circles). Zoë bought shortbread cookies, edamame rangoons and mushroom mochi dumplings. Jessi, Johnny, and Kyle all braved a late-winter blizzard to provide some amusing audio and eat some snacks.

Jonny: What kind of rangoons are these?

Jessi: Do they have cream cheese in them?

NC: Mmhmm. Are you still… no with the dairy?

Jessi: [shrugs] I mean, you do have two bathrooms in the house.

Kyle: And a backyard.

Jessi: If it really needs to happen. It’s bad outside. I mean, it’ll freeze and become very shovelable.

Kyle: Also, the snow’s really nice for cleaning your booty off.

NC: Is it?

Kyle. Oh yeah.

NC: I don’t think I’ve ever tried that.

Kyle: Real good.

Jessi: Again, I wouldn’t want to, but if it came to it…

NC: I feel like it’s probably better than just water.

Zoë: Guys, we’ve got some serious flambe over here.

NC: Oh really? Wow.

Zoë: Oh yeah. Gourmet.

NC: Gourmet flambe. A la TJ.

Kyle & Zoë: Oooh!

Jessi: Tweet it!


Zoë and I originally planned to swamp the Trader Joe’s twitter with updates about our snack night, using the hashtag #TJTreatTweet. However, Trader Joe’s, unlike every other next-gen supermarket, does not have an official twitter. And since we were all drinking, it was probably for the best that we kept away from social media.

Among the sweet treats, we had chocolate-covered edamame, almond bark, and chocolate-covered toffee with pistachio. The definite winner of the night was the chocolate-covered potato chip. Here’s the blurb on the back of package:

Our Milk Chocolate Covered Potato Chips gild the potato chip lily by adding rich milk chocolate to a salted, crunchy, thick cut ridged potato chip. The result? A lip-smacking decadent confection with delicious combination of flavors and textures.

And even though it sounds like a thick, gilded line of bullshit, the chips actually are that good.

NC: Yeah?

Zoë: Good?

Kyle: Look at that face!

NC: That was a really good face.

Jessi: Better than the other ones I’ve had, because look. You’ve got–

Zoë: A lot of chip in there.

Jessi: Chip mass.

Johnny: Chipmas!

Kyle: Okay, I have to try the Chipmas.

Zoë: I’m really glad we got two bags on accident.

NC: Yeah.

Jessi: When they try to do a single chip dipped in chocolate–

Kyle: Oh!

Jessi: I don’t care for it that much because the ratio is wrong. This ratio is correct.

Kyle: And you’re still getting enough of the salt because you’re definitely… tonguing the chip. Which sounds very sexual, but.

NC: I got the mama.

Zoë: WHOA.

Kyle: You got the giant-mass.

Jessi: And they’re ruffled too, which is really good.

Zoë: These are really good.

Jessi: This is the best chocolate covered potato chip I’ve had.

Not everything was received as well. The mushroom mochi dumplings, in particular, were very polarizing.

Johnny: These things are kinda hot.

Zoë: And kind of gross.

Jessi: Yeah, I don’t really like the initial flavor. I haven’t really gotten into it yet. It tastes fishy.

Johnny: Yeah, the edge of it was a little weird for me.

Jessi: Johnny, I don’t think you’re gonna like that.

Zoë: It smells and tastes like cat pee.

Jessi: Oh my  god, that brought something so clear into my mouth.

Zoë: Or like dirty baby diaper pee–


Zoë: It’s like the old pee that’s been around for an hour or so.

Kyle: I haven’t even had this yet.

Jessi: It’s not good. It’s made up of a lot of things I like, too.

Zoë: Never have I had anything so disgusting from Trader Joe’s.

Johnny: Mmhmm.

Jessi: Did it go bad?

Zoë: [laughs]

NC: You know, some mushrooms have that weird funk taste.

Zoë: But I feel like it’s the outside.

Johnny: It is, but the bottom tasted fine.

Jessi: Where it was fried?

Zoë: With the butter on it?

Johnny. Well, yeah. Butter.

Zoë: It didn’t even call for butter, I just added it.

NC: Good job.

Kyle: I actually like it.

Zoë: Huh? You don’t get the dirty baby diaper?

Kyle: No.

Zoë: Really?

Kyle: No.

Zoë: Do you have a sense of smell?

Listening to the audio that I recorded that night, I’m struck by how little we actually talked about the food. Two hours of audio contained only about twenty minutes of conversation directly related to the snacks we were eating. (There was no discussion whatsoever about the wine, which is really a couple of steps up from a box of Franzia.) The rest of the time, we chatted about whatever came up: weird experiences with gynecologists, overreactions to horror movies, Zoë’s childhood crush on a guitarist in Tears for Fears.

“Welcome to your life.  There’s no turning back,” they sing in the hit “Everybody Wants To Rule the World.” Snacking is part of my life now. There is no turning back. I’m just happy that my friends are enthusiastic about it as I am.

When I asked my snack guru Zoë if she had any departing wisdom for readers of this column, she replied: “Yeah, Trader Joe’s should get a Twitter.”

A sexy, fully-edited podcast of all this can be found here.

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