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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Trader Joe's Organic Popping Corn

Every year at the holidays, it's the same. My mom and dad go all out in making and prepping quadruple batches of probably ten different kinds of cookies, homemade bread, pies, and other assorted treats (like Swedish tea ring for Christmas breakfast) just so when my siblings and I descend on their house for a crammed chaotic weekend of food and festivities, not a single one of us would have to face the horror of going more than five minutes without having one of our favorite treats more than an arm length away. I love it for more reasons than it being great homemade food. It's how my folks show their love, of course, and naturally we can make a few good-natured jokes at their expense, like how when they put out platters of cookies on the shelf with their pictures of all their grandbabies, that was their "cookie offering" at the "grandkid shrine." All of us laughing and enjoying each other with some good food - no matter which holiday you celebrate, and whether more secular or religious, and no matter who you celebrate it with, that just may be the very best part.

Strangely enough, though, despite all the homemade cookies and cakes and treats, there always has to be homemade Chex mix there. Always, or it seems a little off, to the point where upon realization one of us will spring into action to make it right away. I don't know if it's the contrasting crunchiness or saltiness against all the sugary delights my family makes, but Chex mix, while certainly not the star of the show, has its own important place amongst everything else.

That's kinda how I also feel about popcorn, more specifically, the non-microwaved non movie-theatered butter-blasted super salty lipid explosion Reddenbacher stuff. Although I like that stuff too, its the simple stovetop variety I like the best. For this, of course, you need good popcorn kernels to start with, so with that in mind, once Sandy and I spotted Trader Joe's Organic Popping Corn, we knew we ought to fire it up and give it a try.

I tell ya what: it works well. Really, really well, actually. The corn pops up fairly quickly in a little olive oil and makes big, fluffy popcorn guys that have the needed munch and crunch while still being a little Styrofoamy. Perfect. In the couple times we've made it, there's been a good popped to unpopped ratio of kernels (probably at least 9.5:1) which I can't always say about other brands...there was this one jar we bought once, can't remember which one, but it was nearly 50/50. That's unacceptable. Sandy loves burnt kernels and all, but there's only so much that should be there before you begin feeling a little cheated. TJ's popcorn was just about spot on. Naturally, it works well with whatever kind of seasoning we choose to go with - whether prepped with some chipotle olive oil or some piri-piri sauce we still have from our Portuguese honeymoon, or a little butter and garlic salt once popped, or even just plain. That's another good reason to go with homemade popcorn - you can control what it tastes like and how good or bad it'll be for you.

I don't recall what the cost is, but it's fairly inexpensive, probably around $2 or $3 for bag that'll last a long while. Fearing it'd be a one-and-done sighting like one or two of my other favorite TJ treats, we bought this bagged corn-ucopia of fluffy yumminess a while back right after we just opened a different bag of corn kernels, so we had to wait to crack this one open. It was well worth it, and glad to say, I've still seen it every trip since. The only semi-negative thing I can say about it is, some of the kernels pop so quick that by the time the rest of them pop, they can be a little burned. Those are the ones Sandy goes for, though, and there's plenty enough of unblemished bits to go around. I'm not sure how to interpret the "organic" part of the product except to suppose that, potentially unlike other brands, the corn isn't turbo-blasted with chemicals and popcorn steroids to make the biggest, fluffiest ones possible. That's probably a good thing, and Trader Joe's popping corn does well enough without any of that. Well enough to get dueling 4.5s from the Mrs. and me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Popping Corn: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Trader Joe's Premium Egg Nog

It's been a busy December, as Decembers often are. There's decorating, shopping, and holiday gatherings and whatnot. I often get stressed out and cranky. That's easy to tell from the first couple reviews I did this month. I figure this blog is one of my outlets for ranting and raving, as the blog I do for my day job is so extraordinarily postive and happy all the time. Which reminds me, since it's the holidays and all, we should be thinking about giving to others...and CURE.org is a great organization to support.

Now, before I move on to the actual eggnog, I must say that I really like the snowman cow on the carton. TJ's has some great artwork sometimes. Though, I'm not quite sure what's coming out of the cup in his hand. Is that steam? Is the cow drinking his eggnog hot? I've never heard of that. That's just downright weird.

And I must say I am an eggnog-drinking maniac. I loooove eggnog. It's so disgustingly delicious. I mean, it tastes delicious, but after I drink an entire carton by myself, I feel disgusting. Disgustingly delicious. I've had many, many different brands. I've had it by itself, I've had it with various liquors, I've had it with nutmeg and cinnamon on top, I've had it cut with skim milk. I have drunk it in a car. I have drunk it near and far. As of now, my favorite is Southern Comfort brand. It comes sans alcohol, in vanilla or regular flavors. Amazing. Sorry, Trader Joe. You didn't make the #1 spot.

But you're not at the bottom of the list either. I've had store-brand eggnog that comes in gallon cartons for like two or three bucks. Terrible. I think the worst I've had was Ralph's brand out in California. Yuck. I learned to just shell out the extra $2 and get something that tastes like heaven in a glass. So let's imagine a hypothetical diagram. It's a line. At the far right end of the line is Southern Comfort brand eggnog in that sleek black container, the very paradigm of dairy deliciousness. At the far left end of the line is a repulsive, yellowed store-brand with mysterious brown chunks and the smell of chewed bubblegum. TJ's brand falls just right of center. It's more good than it is bad, but not by much. Its flavor is a bit nutty. Its texture is creamy enough. But there's just nothing to really set it apart from boring, run-of-the-mill eggnogs.

Sonia isn't a connoisseur of fine eggnogs like I am. In fact, up until recently, she thought eggnog was disgusting. She could never get over the smell for some reason. Under slight duress from her husband, she managed to gag down a couple gulps of different eggnogs over the past 3 Christmas seasons in an attempt to expand her horizons and appreciate new things. It's grown on her. She has managed to discern that SoCo brand is the best, but she thinks TJ's may be second.

I agree it's not bad, but I think there are a handful of other brands that would fall in between Trader Joe's not-bad-ness and Southern Comfort's perfection, most notably Alta Dena on the west coast and Turkey Hill here on the east side. I've heard very good things about a brand called Bud's that I haven't gotten to try yet.

Well, apparently, since Sonia still doesn't quite appreciate eggnog fully and recognize it as the nectar of the gods that it is, "second best eggnog ever" only garners a 3 from her. I'm giving it a 3 also. But in my opinion, it's really just a very average eggnog. Either way, it's only gettin' a 6 from us.

Bottom line: 6 out of 10.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Trader Joe's Cocoa Almond Spread

...what's that you say? "Better than Nutella"??? Them's fightin' words where I come from!

Someone on our Facebook page stated that about the new Trader Joe's Cocoa Almond Spread. Fair enough, I say, we're all entitled to our own opinions. That's kinda one of the premises of this whole blog, after all. But when at Trader Joe's for myself and seeing this on the new product endcap and it say so right on the product tag, well, we're in for a scrap.

See, I love Nutella. My wife Sandy says that's an understatement. It's gotten to the point that whenever I purchase it, I have to be a jar for me and a jar for her, mostly because I want to eat it all while she wants to be sure to have some handy whenever she wants. I'm sure she's hiding her jar somewhere...wish I knew where...I wish I had the chance to do something like that to her. Want to know a truly decadent and kinda weird way to enjoy some Nutella that I just discovered? Try Nutella topped with crumbled bacon on a whole wheat waffle (the whole wheat is to make it healthy). Freakin' amazing. Just don't over do that, Elvis.

Anyways, if TJ's claims to have a better chocolate nut spread than Nutella, there's only one way I know how to determine the winner: a full out, jaro-a-jaro, chocolatey cage match to the death!!!...err, to my belly! This method helped crown the king of fake sausage a while back so let's get it started.

Ringside Introductions: In the left corner, from Canada, weighing in at 13 ounces of pure choco-nutty tastiness, costing $3.99 (but conveniently on sale this week for cheaper at a non-TJ's), ladies and gentlemen, it's Nutella! Wooooooo!!!!!

On the right, coming to you from Belgium, also weighing in at 13 ounces, the unknown challenger, also costing $3.99, is Trader Joe's Cocoa Almond Spread! *mild applause*

Round One: First Impressions: Nutella comes in a oval-shaped jar with a round opening, which I know from experience makes it slightly tough to scrape out every tasty tidbit. It has very plain looking packaging but full of cool stuff like "over 50 hazelnuts per jar" (for the 13 oz size) and disclaimers stating to not refrigerate or microwave it. It doesn't say why but I like to believe that it has Happy Fun Ball-like properties if improperly provoked. The TJ's has a round jar and a cooler illustration on the front (both plusses), but the name's kinda clunky. "Cocoa Almond Spread"...hmm...maybe like "Can-u-tella it's not Nutella?" Ok, that's lame, but a step in the right direction. No fun nutty statements either. Judges' decision: draw.

Round Two: Nutrition: Look at the pics and figure out how you'd split that. A few differences? Sure, but nothing definitive enough for me to make a call. Ingredient lists seem to be pretty similar with the obvious exception of Nutella having hazelnuts and, from what I hear, the Cocoa Almond Spread having almonds. Maybe that makes a difference to you, but it doesn't to me. Ohbytheway, they're both terrible for you. Judges' decision: draw.

Round Three: Appearance Upon Opening and Spreading: Twist the lid open and bust the foil seal on either of them, and you'll be greeted by much the same sight: a brown smooth vat of deliciousness waiting to be devoured. The TJ's is kinda darker, though, and doesn't have as much of a glassy sheen. Pretending they were marching towards a tar pit of muddy despair, I grabbed some animal crackers to dip in both. The Nutella seems a little softer when dipping things in, as it draws out and curls up a little bit more than the TJ's. The Nutella also spread better on top of bread when tested. The TJ's was close, but not quite as dippable/spreadable. Judges' decision: Nutella, but it's close.

Round Four: Texture: Pretty related to the third round, of course. Along with its slightly superior spreadability, the Nutella is creamier and lighter than the Cocoa Almond Spread. The TJ's is more dense and lays a little thicker and lingers around a little longer in your mouth. Both have their plusses but.. Judges' decision: Nutella. To me, it's close. To Sandy, not so much.

Round Five: Taste: In the first four rounds, we have two draws and two slight advantages to the Nutella, leaving the TJ's brand with a fighting chance if it tastes better than its competition. And again, it's close. Imagine if you will two heavyweights fighting at the top of their game, and this is what we got. This ain't Little Mac against Mike Tyson here. And as always, it comes down to taste, and taste invariably comes down to preference. Like milk chocolate with hazelnuts and a little extra sugar? You'll like Nutella. Almonds and dark chocolate? The TJ's just may be your winner. Both are rich, full of chocolate, and with the toasted elements of their respective nuts being present. Nutella tastes a little richer and kinda silky, if that makes sense, while the TJ's is just more straight on. To me, they're both appealing and both tasty, and I'd eat either one of them and be a happy fat kid while invariably smearing it all over my face. But we can have only one winner. Judges' decision: Nutella.

Post Fight Wrap Up: Sandy likes them both, too, but it's a clearer decision for her. I'm not sure what she'd rate Nutella at, but it's on my personal pantheon, so Nutella is an absolute five for me. Trader Joe's Cocoa Almond Spread is step, however small, below. I'm wavering between a 4 and a 4.5. Not shabby there, rookie. Sandy's not quite as enamored with the TJ's. "The texture's a little bit weird and kinda off," she said. Also, as she flatly stated while climbing into the car a morning or two ago after sampling it for the first time, "The Trader Joe's just isn't as good as Nutella. Taste isn't as yummy." So there you have it. Sandy said she'd three it up. Seems a little low to me, so I'll go with that 4.5.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cocoa Almond Spread: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Trader Joe's Gingerbread Coffee

In the past, Trader Joe's has demonstrated an uncanny knack for nailing all things gingerbread-ish. Case in point: the cookie butter. It's not really gingerbread, but it is "reminiscent of gingerbread." Also, the gluten-free ginger snaps, the lemon triple ginger snap ice cream, and the pfeffernusse are all TJ's gingerbread (or at least gingerbread-esque) classics.

I believe this is the first gingerbread beverage I've ever had. It's quite drinkable. Not chuggable, in my opinion, but very drinkable.

I guess I should mention, in case you're a new reader, that I'm not a coffee person. I have the palate of a semi-sophisticated and relatively adventurous 12-year-old. And I like my beverages to taste like candy. So for caffeine, I drink energy drinks. Yes, they're bad for you...however, I've only been drinking ones without high fructose corn syrup, and have been feeling much better since cutting that out of my diet. But that's neither here nor there. My point is that recently, I've been attempting to plunge head-on into adulthood and become addicted to coffee instead of energy drinks.

It's a difficult transition for me—even with coffees that taste as delicious and unique as this one. I put a fair amount of sugar and milk in it when I drink it, though most coffee drinkers might put in less. But I guess gingerbread is intrinsically dessert-like in a way, so the presence of milk and sugar might be a welcome additive even for coffee purists who would only drink this stuff on special occasions and holidays.

This coffee has a mild cinnamon taste, but there really are hints of gingerbread in it, too. It's not a harsh or bold taste at all. This product strikes me as a gentle winter morning wake-me-up beverage. It's nice. Kind of a peaceful flavor, if that makes sense. Sonia likes it, too. She doesn't think there's anything particularly wintery about it, though. She hopes to ration her canister and enjoy this coffee well into the spring...which, apparently, is coming next week. Philadelphia isn't supposed to be in the 50's in the middle of January.

Sonia gives it 4 stars. I give it 3.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Trader Joe's Sweet Potato Pie Bites

So, my last review was really negative. And the one before that was pretty negative, too. I was beginning to feel like Scrooge. Granted, the most recent review wasn't really even food. And the Shrimp Bao nonsense wasn't even close to December holiday food. But this stuff could arguably be the perfect Christmas party hors d'oeuvre. It's just similar enough to pumpkin pie that I can pretty much just go ahead and make the sweeping generalization that if you like pumpkin pie, you'll like these tasty little morsels. Plus, they're topped with candied pecans. There's something decidedly Christmasy about certain candied nuts. Walnuts, almonds, and pecans would top my list of Christmasy nuts (but only when candied). And maybe macadamias, if you play that Don Ho song "Mele Kalikimaka" while you eat them.

But anyway, these little fellas can quickly be heated in the oven. 25 minutes at 350 degrees. Ours came out awesome. They were crispy and crunchy around the crust and nuts, and they were smooth and soft in the filling department. They're like little miniature pumpkin pie desserts. So much so, that we grabbed the whipped cream and topped them with little tufts of the confection. Delicioso. Seriously, we downed the entire box in a matter of minutes, just Sonia and me.

I'm just happy that I broke my little streak of Scrooge-like Bah Humbug-ness. Tasty little bites. Hmmm, what else should I tell you about them? Buy them. I'm gonna go ahead and give them a 4.5. I'm feeling happy right now. Serve them at a party with some high-quality eggnog and maybe some Christmas cookies and other finger foods.

Sonia was just as enthused with them as I was. She absolutely loved their taste. She thought that they weren't too sugary...just naturally sweet. She liked their texture, too. Nice and flakey. She's gonna go with a 4.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Trader Joe's 24 Chocolate Days 'til Christmas

Busted. This isn't really a food item. Well, part of it is. Chocolate. Well, really, if you've tried this product, you'd know that the "chocolate" involved here isn't really even food.

The chocolate in this advent calendar is quite probably the most revolting chocolate I've ever ingested during my 33 Christmases. (I'm 32 years old, but you have to count the one Christmas I lived through before I was a year old). And, yes, if by some strange chance I had worse chocolate at 6 months of age in December of 1979, I would have remembered it. In fact, I would have been so scarred by the incident, that I would have written off chocolate for the rest of my life and been one of those rare souls that dislikes chocolate for reasons they can't fully explain.

The chocolate in this advent calendar tastes like a combination of plastic and cardboard, with an emphasis on the cardboard...with an extra dose of the weird glue that holds the particles of board together as a solid substance. The graphics on each window are fairly cute and well-designed, but really, they have nothing to do with Christmas at all. Not secular Santa-style Christmas. Not the true Jesus-inspired Christian Christmas. There's a baseball on there, for crying out loud. This might as well be a countdown to Labor Day.

Granted, there are other versions of Trader Joe's Advent Calendars, but I'm reviewing this one...which very well could be four years old or so. The chocolate tastes like it's at least that old...which reminds me of the time my grade school friend and I handed out 5 year old chocolate at Halloween. It was white. And I don't mean it was white chocolate. I mean it was traditional brown milk chocolate that was so old that it was turning back into sugar. We gave it to a group of cheerleaders that went to our high school. They returned a couple hours later and threw the half-eaten candies at us. It was hysterical. It was worth it.

It seems that karma has seen to it that I am now the brunt of such a joke—a cruel joke perpetrated by my old friend TJ. Good one, buddy. This stuff tastes like butt, and you tricked me into paying you for it. With other advent calendars, we would generally fight each other over who gets to eat the chocolate, but with this top-shelf quality product, my wife and I bicker about who has to eat the chocolate each day.

TJ's could have at least thrown us a bone and put Bible verses with the Christmas story behind each window, or maybe individual lines to The Night Before Christmas. But no. Everything is just blank. The chocolate isn't even good for you...not even a little bit. All things considered, I'd rather be eating carob.

And I hate carob. Well, except for Sunspire 33011 Unsweetened Carob Chips (Google Affiliate Ad). Those are yummerific.

I give this stuff a 1. Way to go, Santa Joe. I'm'a have the fire going Christmas Eve, buddy. Don't try to enter through the chimney. Sonia gives it a 2. I don't feel bad. Call me Scrooge. Merry freakin' Christmas, TJ's. 24 Revolting Chocolate Days 'til I Puke My Face Off.

Bottom line: 3 out of 10.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Trader Joe's Spicy Shrimp Bao

I'm not particularly proud of it, but I'm a carbivore. I'm definitely into anything with breading...chicken nuggets, chicken fingers, fried shrimp, anything parmigiana, and pretty much any kind of Asian dumpling. I would have said just "any kind of Asian dumpling," but after many years of happily gorging myself on many different kinds of high-carb delicacies, I've finally found a dumpling I don't like.
To be fair, I must admit we made them the fast way. The box said microwaving was acceptable, but there were alternate instructions for those patient folks who could wait an extra 15 minutes to eat their food. That version involved cooking them on the stovetop with water—not oil, but water.

These dumplings were dry, lacked flavor, and had very little shrimp in them. In fact, the vast majority of the matter in each pastry was the bland, white, bread-like shell. Though they were small, it was entirely possible to take a bite of them and get only fluffy white nothingness.

I'm usually such a fan of carbs that getting a mouthful of nothing but bread wouldn't bother me, but in this case, the dough was so plain and seemingly stale, that I found it not only unpleasant, but nearly inedible. Even a greater amount of the inside-filling couldn't have redeemed these little wannabe hors d'oeuvres completely, as the main substance in the center was a vague greenish mush, with only slightly more taste than the mass of bleached breadiness surrounding it.

My expectations had been pretty high, since other Trader Joe's Asian dumpling-esque items like this and this were pretty darn successful if you ask me. We ate the shrimp dumplings with soy sauce, but I don't think there's a condiment in existence that could bring these suckers back from the brink of nastiness.

I was surprised that Sonia gave them a 3. She was disappointed with the lack of veggies and shrimp in the middle, but didn't seem as disgusted by the dough as I was. I'm going with a 2 since, in all fairness, they might have been much better had we made them on the stovetop. Otherwise, as we ate them, I might have been tempted to give them a 1. I should totally just stick to traditional holiday fare during the month of December.

Bottom line: 5 out of 10.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Trader Joe's Latin Style Black Bean Soup

There's a cookbook that Sandy and I own that we're both kinda squeamish about and very hesitant to use. Strangely enough, it was a wedding gift from our pastor.* Its name? "Intercourses," and yes, that is a double entendre. Aside from being full of artistic and, umm, interesting yet tasteful photos of food and people**, is all sorts of information about food and its various uses besides filling your belly, along with some recipes. One short chapter is devoted to black beans. Now, it isn't cited, so I'm not sure how true this is, but according to the authors, around the year 400 AD an edict went out forbidding nuns from eating black beans because for those "avowed to celibacy, black beans were bad news." Aside from making one randy, they also allegedly have something to do with fertility, and have been used as a symbol as such going back centuries.

Now, Sandy and I enjoy our black beans, but I'm pretty sure that I speak for both of us when I say it's for reasons completely unrelated to any of the above. First of all, they're tasty. Secondly, there's a lot of dishes that we enjoy that quickly and easily incorporate them into a satisfying meal. And of course, with all their fiber and protein, black beans have a lot of health benefits that shouldn't be denied. Anything else they do is extra credit in my book.

I guess if any black bean product had any chance of sweeping us off in a torrid love affair, it'd be Trader Joe's Latin Style Black Bean Soup. You see, it's Latin-inspired, so it sounds a little exotic, a little mysterious, and definitely Antonio Banderas-y. Interpreting it differently, Latin is the origin of all of the world's Romance languages, though in seventh grade it really wasn't apparent what was sexy about sentences like "Britania insula est."***

Anyways back to the soup...not to go all Yoda on you, but whisk us off our feet it does not. I mean, it's okay and all, I guess, and not a bad option, but that being said, I'm not a huge fan. First, and this is ticky-tacky, to get it out of the box, it doesn't really pour. You have to squirt the soup out, and that's just plain weird, and something that I have a minor hang-up about. Squirt boxes, squirt bottles, etc, just aren't my thing. I don't know why. Tastewise, it's pretty nondescript to be honest. You taste a little bean action, before being hit with a wall of black pepper (the last ingredient listed so supposedly the least used...yeah right) before it mellows out to a kinda beany/milky finish. The cumin and garlic and everything else? Don't really taste it, to be honest. It's all smooth and creamy, too, which some may like, but I'd prefer actual beans in there.

Don't get me wrong, it's not a terrible soup. In fact, I'd say it makes a decently tasty pairing with a grilled cheese sandwich for a simple, hearty meal on a cold winter day. It's just I guess my wife's homemade soup more, with whole and pureed beans, and flavor perhaps evened out better by using chicken or veggie stock as a base and not water like Trader Joe's. Sandy makes hers with marginally more effort than heating up a pot of this soup-in-a-box, and hers tastes at least ten times better. I guess hers is what I'm used to, and however unfairly I'm using hers as a measuring stick for the Trader Joe's soup. I can't vouch for the TJ's authenticity, but can say it was a good buy ($2 or $3, misplaced the receipt) and it lasted us two meals.

I asked Sandy what she thought about it. She took the opportunity to kinda half-glare at me, and utter a semi-halfhearted, "I don't know, 3.5 or 4" which I took to mean the lower of the two. To be fair, it was as she was working on some take-home reports from her work, and right before she was going to run out for her usual Monday night babysitting gig, so I can't blame her for being too unenthusiastic, but it just goes to show that she wasn't too impressed either. "It's yummy but I like to have actual beans in my soup," she offered. I agree. It's decent but lacking something, whether it be real legumes or a little extra flavor to finish it off better. It's not the worst black bean-based Trader Joe's offering, but it's not the best either (that's still TBD). I'll go with a 3.

Bottom line:
Trader Joe's Latin Style Black Bean Soup: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

------------------------------------------------------------------------
*Apparently it's his standard wedding gift. "The burritos in it are great," he says with a wink.
**For some reason a certain episode of Seinfeld comes to mind. Believe me, the book is much classier.
***Yes, I know. Different meaning.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Joe Joe's

If there's one thing that Sandy and I continually do not see eye to eye on, it's the question of when it's appropriate to start playing Christmas music each year. I'm a proponent of enjoying each holiday as it comes; ergo, certainly no Christmas music before Thanksgiving, and preferably not until at least a few days into December. That way, I have a fighting chance of not wanting to claw off my bleeding ears from being pa-rum-pa-pum-pummed by the ubiquitous "Little Drummer Boy" for the umpteenth time. Sandy, though? She probably wouldn't play it year-round, but anytime after Labor Day seems to be fair play for her. Ugh. We've come to more or less a truce where she can listen to whatever when I'm not around (of course) and we can play it around the house after our annual "Elf" viewing (probably the greatest Christmas movie in the non-Jimmy Stewart genre, and possibly ever). Too many good scenes...just too many....

I kinda employ the same rule for Christmas-themed treats. We've reviewed plenty of tasty pumpkin-related Turkey Day treats on the blog. Well, now that Thanksgiving is done with, and "Elf" has been satisfactorily watched, it's on with the carols and Christmas cookies. Bring it, I say.

Long time readers (umm, let's see...my mom? Maybe?) may recall last December I reviewed the Trader Joe's Candy Cane Joe-Joe's. Rereading that, I probably sound like more of a grinch than I should have, except I remember not being overly wowed by them. It's probably not surprising that these, the Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Joe-Joe's, are pretty much the same thing, except, obviously, being coated in yummy super delicious dark chocolate. And man, what a difference that makes. It's like Inspector Gadget got the assist from Penny or Cher found her auto-tuner. These, the choco-covered ones, are that much better. The candy shell just adds this cacao-richness that helps accentuate all the crumbly cookie wafer yumminess and the minty creaminess of the filling. It also helps that the white mint chunks on the outside aren't hard crunchy candy cane shards like they appear to be but instead soft and full of flavor, too. Altogether, each cookie, even by itself, is a rich and filling treat that satisfies my sweet tooth.

It's a good thing, too, if you gander over at the nutritional info. Like other extremely tasty TJ sandwich cookies, these are something to be taken in moderation. But unlike the Maple Leaf Cookies, I can't knock them too much for that for two reasons: First, it's Christmas. And second, whereas I want to eat as many of the maple cookies as I can, just one of the chocolate-coated minty Joe-Joe's is enough for me. Granted, I may want to eat one of them and maybe then a small something else (50/50 on that), but two of these? That's a bit much, and that means something coming from a big-boned cookie-lovin' kid like myself. They're just too rich for any more.

Sandy liked the regular candy cane cookies last year but she's in love with these. I've seen her munch one pretty much every night since we got them, and usually a big smile accompanies it. "Whatever I gave the other ones, give these a full spoon more," she said. Well, that would make them a perfect five from her. I like them almost as much, except when it comes to holiday cookies, pretty much nothing can beat my mom's or mother-in-law's. I'm lucky and spoiled. That and $3.99 for a sleeve of ten seems perhaps a slight bit high, but not overly so. Just tonight I repurchased some for a workplace potluck (along with some other holiday goodies), and they do seem to be a perfect easy option for a get-together like that if you're not one of those "hoarde-them-all-for-me"-type folks. Something around a four seems about right to me.

Bottom line:
Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Joe-Joe's: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons