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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Trader Joe's Shaved Cheese Blend

Cheese is an absolute currency in our household. It's an easy bribe for the kiddos, and if I give them even the teensiest nibble of cheese to one of them, without them asking, their excitement rivals what mine would be if you handed me a crisp $100 bill. Pretty please with a piece of cheese....yes, that's a thing here. Just another part of the fun of having a couple kids in the 4-and-under crowd.

But man...I love cheese too. Even when I was doing hardcore paleo a few years back, it wasn't chocolate or bread or anything else I really missed. It was cheese. Good cheese of course. Don't insult me with a block of Velveeta.

Trader Joe's Shaved Cheese Blend makes the cut as good cheese, in both mine and my kiddos' eyes. It's a simple yet sophisticated mix of toscano, "unexpected" cheddar, and Parmesan. Unexpected cheddar? If the tub tells me it's in there, I kinda expect it to be....unexpected cheddar is something that as far as I can tell exists solely in the world of TJ's and is a blend of cheddar and Parmesan. So think of the whole shebang as toscano, cheddar, and a double shot of Parm.

It's sweet. It's nutty. It's sharp and dry with a small touch of creamy. There's not an overabundance of saltiness or anything, and is decidedly not all that mild. But in all, it's a very smooth, even flavor, with the small crumbles being just as scrumptious as the big flakes. It melts pretty decently as well, though it seems perhaps a touch of flavor gets lost in that process. Regardless, deeeelish.

Most mornings, I'll toss some of the shaved cheese in some eggs with kale for a filling get-up-and-goer. I'll also admit to having a few pinches here and there, and to giving my two year a spoon to eat the last few crumbs straight. She was in heaven. Aside from that, I can't imagine the blend not working with almost anything. Salads. Pasta. Mixed into homemade bread and melted on top. Mac and cheese. Chicken dishes. Mixed into burgers. All that awesome stuff. Yes.

Sandy more shrugs about it, preferring the world of feta a bit more for all those aforementioned uses. No problem here, just her preference, and it pays off as it means more for me. As long as I can pry it away from the kids. It's a major winner, and at $2.99 for a 5 ounce tub, a pretty decent value.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Shaved Cheese Blend: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, April 24, 2017

Trader Joe's Vietnamese Coffee Caramels

So at this point, you must think I'm pretty daft to keep reviewing coffee items. Sure. Well, I'm not denying the fact that I'm a fool, but there's a little bit more to it than that, since I'm quite aware that most of you, like us, are sick of coffee-flavored things at Trader Joe's and have already made up your minds about most of these coffee products anyway. 

But as some of you may know, as of late, Sonia and I have been nomadic. And as we pass by Trader Joe's locations, we just buy up as many hot new items as we can at the time and try to make them last for a few weeks. During our last TJ's run, the vast majority of new products we saw were coffee-flavored. But I must point out at this juncture that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and I believe (don't quote me on this) that this will be our last coffee item review for a while. So don't touch that dial, coffee-haters.

And now that we've gotten that silly disclaimer out of the way, we can go ahead and review these Vietnamese caramels. What makes them Vietnamese, I'm still not quite sure. And there's no uplifting spiel on the side of the tub to enlighten us any further, I'm afraid. I did a little Googling into the matter, as I'm known to do from time to time, and I did find out something about "nuoc mao," which is apparently a nearly-burnt caramel sugar sauce—a cornerstone of Vietnamese cooking. But as far as I can tell, there's nothing nuoc mao-ish about these candies. 

However, the image on the front of TJ's tub did provide a clue about the Vietnamese inspiration for these candies. Apparently, it's a Vietnamese coffee press, used in making Vietnamese iced coffee, which strikes me as being akin to one of my favorites: Thai iced tea. But anyway, I think Vietnamese iced coffee is what they were going for here.

It's a sugary, milky coffee flavor that's well-balanced and works perfectly as an after dinner sweet treat. It leaves a faint coffee aftertaste in the mouth. The texture is very similar to saltwater taffy—not quite as "stretchy," but just as soft and pliable. Both these caramels and saltwater taffy contain sugar, water, butter, and salt, so even the flavor is similar. There's no ground coffee here, which is good. Real coffee might have ruined this product's smoothness. We do have "natural coffee flavor," though, which seems to work just as well.

Neither coffee nor caramels are really my thing, but I found this product to be a pleasant surprise. So did Sonia. Three and a half stars from me. Four from her.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Trader Joe's Matcha White Chocolate Bar

The topic of "punishment meals" have been brought up before on this blog. The short version: days that us kids were being brats, my mom would make us a dinner we'd be sure to hate just to get back at us. usually it was tuna fish casserole. Blecccccccch.

Well, a punishment meal can have a punishment dessert, right?

Unfortunately, that pretty much exactly sums up how both Sandy and I feel about Trader Joe's Matcha White Chocolate Bar with Matcha Green Tea Filling. Sounded intriguing enough to plunk down $1.99. I really wish we hadn't.

First off, look at our product shot inside the wrapper. There's so much wrong with that picture. First off, it looks like that bar got runover by a dump truck. I get that shipping and transit is what it is, and stuff happens, but seriously? That's a bit much. Then the colors...ugh. Maybe I'm jsut much too basic, but chocolate is not supposed to be that color. It doesn't even look appetizing. Then there's that filling, oozing out everywhere, looking like little puddles of melted green Army guys. Appeal factor definitely went down a few notches there.

A lot of that can be forgiven if tasted No. No. Look, kudos for effort, I guess, but swing a miss here. The chocolate portion is actually decent enough, decidedly on the sweeter side, with a hint or two of green tea mixed in. Or maybe that's its that greenness playing tricks on me. Regardless, it's not the problem. It's the filling. Very strong green tea flavor. Very herbaceous. You could have told me it was spinach jelly and I would have believed you. And it alternately doesn't jive that well with the rest of the chocolate casing while also in conjunction with that chocolate tasting like way too much green tea.

Dark chocolate with the green tea filling might have worked. Green tea white chocolate with a regular chocolate filling would have worked. Or heck, even like a berry filling of some type with that green cocoa concoction. But as is? Too much...and I like green tea. So does Sandy.

Check here for the nutritional stats and ingredients...we neglected to get a pic before trashing the box. "Good," Sandy said. "It's awful and no one should eat it anyways." She's going with a 1 for the inspiration, but, man, that execution...ugh. I gave it a second try right before writing it and really could not think of anything all that positive to say. Candy so bad it gets thrown out in my house? Must be pretty awful.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Matcha White Chocolate Bar: 2 out of 10 Golden Spoons