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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Trader Joe's Sparkling White Chardonnay Grape Juice



I've always been terrified of champagne bottles. It has something to do with the deafening pop and the lethal projectile that shoots out of the nozzle when you open it. 

On our honeymoon, Sonia and I had a couple of bottles thanks to some of our good friends. Each night, I'd try a new technique to open the bottle. I tried prying the cork off with a knife. I tried shaking the bottle like they do in the movies. That one's a great method if you don't mind wasting half the bottle and getting wine all over the room. So then I tried opening the bottle while holding it over the shower. 

Sonia offered to try, but like a good husband, my protective instinct (AKA foolish pride) kicked in, and I insisted on performing the risky task myself, night after night, adding one more thing to stress over on top of my already fraying nerves.

This bottle is no exception. Only this time, it's not champagne, it's chardonnay. But it's non-alcoholic chardonnay. It's apparently still "chardonnay," because it's made with actual Chardonnay grapes from Spain. Sorry, booze-hounds.You'll have to do all of the work associated with a regular champagne bottle, and alas, there's no buzz inside.

Nonetheless, this stuff makes a pretty good glass of bubbly for New Year's and such, especially if you're the designated driver, a non-drinker, or a law-abiding under-21-year-old. It's right in the middle of the dry/sweet spectrum, maybe favoring sweet just a bit, yet not feeling syrupy at all. It almost tastes a little appley to me. It tastes like a very high quality cider...like maybe a sparkling grape cider with a dash of apple juice...?

The carbonation level seemed just about perfect to me. Just the right amount of bubbles. Enough to tickle my mouth, but not so much that it burns. Sonia thinks it's very similar to dessert wines she's tried, but without the alcohol.

It was $2.99 at our local TJ's. That's a pretty good price for an item made with imported grapes. It's very high quality, and we'd definitely buy it again for another special occasion.

Sonia gives it 4 out of 5 stars. We're absolutely on the same page with this one. It's been a while since we've reviewed a beverage on here, and it's always nice to be able to say that Trader Joe's has produced another winner.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Trader Joe's Chocolate Peppermint Cupcakes

The packaging declares these cupcakes "Minty, delicious, and festive too!" Well, they're certainly minty and festive. On that other point, however, I might not agree so enthusiastically. It seems peppermint desserts like Pretzel Slims and Chocolate Covered Joe-Joe's can be hit or miss at TJ's. And new things like Peppermint Macarons are apparently fairly tasty. But, personally, I would call these cupcakes another miss.

Don't get me wrong, they didn't taste bad. They were moist, they had plenty of frosting, and as far as I can tell, they were made with quality ingredients. The icing tasted sweet, minty, and cream cheesy. But unlike other sweet frostings, I felt that the flavor conflicted with and overshadowed the chocolate cake part of the product. Chocolate and mint can easily complement one another. Just look at York Peppermint Patties or Andes candies. I'm not sure what exactly is working in those products that failed in this one, but I definitely tasted more peppermint cream cheese than chocolate cake.

It didn't taste like toothpaste, which is a plus. But it also didn't taste like a dessert to me. Even the cream cheese, sugar, and peppermint elements of the icing seemed to cancel each other out a bit, even before the chocolate came into play. Again, I could be wrong. There's a lot of positive buzz out there about these cupcakes. But I have to offer this dissenting opinion. There's nothing gross about them, but there's not really anything I would describe as "delicious" either. Sonia enjoyed them significantly more than I did, but she also admitted that she didn't see herself buying these again in the future. There are just too many other products at TJ's that we do find "delicious," and I don't want to waste my precious RDA for calories and fat on something I would say "meh" to.

I'll give these a very neutral 2.5 stars. Sonia gives them 3 stars.

Bottom line: 5.5 out of 10.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Trader Joe's Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

Chocolate. Hazelnut. Cookies. Let's repeat that again, and let it sink in. Chocolate. Hazelnut. Cookies. Let the wild drooling rumpus begin!

There's very few word trios that hold that kinda sway over me. Maybe "pizza/ wings/ beer" or "baseball/ boxseats/ beer" or maybe, from the looks of things, just "yada/ yada/beer." How can these be bad? And how could I have held strong, and walked past these shopping trip after shopping trip, and never give into temptation like I have been so tempted to before?

As it turns out...I could have waited and not missed much. I'm shocked at those words I just typed. But it's the truth. Let's analyze this. It's not the fault of the cookies, in this case meaning the twin hazelnut shortbread discs on either side of the chocolate filling. Oh no. Those are ab-sah-freakin'-lutely delish. Soft, crumbly, sugary, nutty, melty-in-your-mouthy...if it were a simply a box full of simply those, despite any restraint I am trying to cultivate within me, these would have been demolished within seconds, and Sandy and I probably would have inadvertently ruthlessly bloodied  each other as we fought each other off for every last little crumb. That would have been awkward to explain at the forthcoming family Christmas gatherings. But much like these similarly flawed shortbread-inspired snacks, there's a certain something that otherwise holds them back from being all they can be. This time, it's the middle.

Perhaps it's not really all that fair, but when I see the words "chocolate" and "hazelnut" together, my mind kind melds them into one word that stands above most others in this world: Nutella. Nutella's the standard, and despite several noble attempts to duplicate its success, well, you just can't. Coming close and falling short is okay, but to miss it completely, like the choco-nutty filling of these guys do, well, that's unacceptable. Them's the rules. It's not really the flavor itself, though it's not quite rich enough to really stand out from the rest of the cookie. It's the texture. I'm not sure if it's tough or kinda chewy or just plain hard, but to when your teeth sink right thru the wafer and strike upon the middle, it's a rude awakening, like digging through soft soil only to run into some hard clay. It's certainly not the "creamy" the package purports it to be, probably in an effort to fool you into thinking there's a reasonable Nutella knockoff dwelling inside. Not a fan.

Overall, the cookies would be better off either a) skipping the chocolate filling altogether 2) packaging a little jar of spread inside, separate from the cookies, in order to spread your own on or d) with you scraping off the spread then dipping them into Nutella. For me, this makes three not-so-glowing cookie reviews in a row...I'm beginning to question if I like cookies as much as I think I do...I might finally have to cave in and try the cookie butter to see what all you kids have been raving about for months on end. Sandy's not so huge on them either, for all the same reasons. We're waffling between a 3 and 3.5 each, when really, I wish we were talking another holiday pantheon candidate. Sigh.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons   

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Trader Joe's Pfeffernüsse


Pfeffernüsse are a traditional German treat. The name literally translates to "pepper nuts," but they're really a kind of gingerbread-ish cookie. They've got some unique spices and they're sweet, soft, and covered in a layer of powdered sugar.

Once again, we find a perfect instance for the Trader Joe's company to use one of their ethnic names - we encountered Baker Josef last year, and he was pretty good at what he did. Though "Josef" might be from any number of European nations, Deutschland is certainly among those he might be hailing from. When I studied German in school, the name I chose for myself was "Jörg." Although "Josef" is a better translation of "Joe," I think "Trader Jörg's Pfeffernüsse" has a nice ring to it.

On the box, there's mention of a German tradition in which pfeffernüsse are dipped in wine when served to guests during winter holiday parties. After trying the cookies, both Sonia and I thought that sounded revolting, so we had them with milk instead. However, in the days following, out of curiosity I looked up which wines might pair with something like these cookies. The sites I found mentioned some dessert wines, such as a Riesling, which made some sense, as well as Pinot Noir, which fascinated me thoroughly. How could gingerbread go with a flinty red wine?

I found an excuse to pick up a bottle shortly thereafter and immediately dipped one of the "pepper nuts" into my Napa Valley Pinot Noir Wine Glass as one might dunk an Oreo into cold milk. I was amazed. It was delicious - and very unique. It was at once dessert-ish, earthy, and spicy. I highly recommend the combo. Some of you lucky enough to live near a TJ's that sells wines might be able to pick up some Two (or Three) Buck Chuck Pinot Noir. I tried it back in my California days, and was pleasantly surprised, not that I'm any kind of connoisseur. In case you were wondering, we've only done one wine review on this blog, thanks to PA's archaic alcohol laws.

By themselves, these cookies are tasty enough. If you like particularly spicy gingerbread, you'll probably enjoy these little German treats. Of course, in this case, when I say "spicy," I don't mean hot in any way. I mean they're full of cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and nutmeg. And technically, I guess they're not really gingerbread—they just remind me of it.

My wife gives these pfeffernüsse 4 out of 5 stars. I'd give 'em a 4, too—if they came with a mini bottle of Pinot Noir. 3.5 stars as they are.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Trader Joe's Peppermint Macarons

As I alluded to a few posts ago, I am actually trying to eat a little healthier the past few weeks when I'm not bouncing around from holiday party to holiday party. It's kinda slowly but surely working. My typical weekday breakfast is now an apple followed by a few cups of coffee at work, with a Clif bar (only a buck each at TJ's!!) for a mid-morning snack, followed by another apple, some baby carrots and a reasonable entree for lunch. I stash a little dried fruit in my desk for the drive-by rumblies I sometimes get. At dinnertime, I kinda eat whatever but keep it to an actual serving, instead of whatever I can jam into my tummy. I've heard it advised to try and cut about 250-300 calories a day from your diet, and although I haven't been keeping a strict count, I'm pretty certain I'm in that range. It's slow, small steps, and they're actually beginning to work, as evidenced by my decision on a recent solo TJ's trip that, while very hungry, I opted to pass up one of these delectable treats (which I totally could have gotten away with) for yet another apple instead. I'm getting there.

That whole mentality I'm trying to live into is what initially made me protest us buying Trader Joe's Peppermint Macarons. If there's two things I know about macarons, it's that they're tasty, nutritionally unnecessary, little bits of decadence, and that they're French. In my mind, however (in)accurately, I equate French food with lots of fat and calories, kinda like these. Like I said, I protested, however meekly. Sandy protested my protesting, and then pulled out the number one irrefutable reason to buy them: "Review them for the blog!" That love of mine sure knows to twist my arm. Okay, okay, for the blog, for no other reason, it can't be that they look amazing and their autumn cousins were hit with the rare perfect score back in September....nope.

All that being said, I feel a little let down by them. Maybe it's because I was expecting more out of them. It's not that these macarons are bad. Like their similar TJ cohorts, they're frozen and you sit them out to thaw for half an hour before eating them. Unlike other desserts prepped in a similar fashion, there wasn't any trace of freezer-y taste. So there's a plus. The peppermint cookie part is juuuuust minty enough for my taste, and has the typical tougher outside/softer middle ratio going on. As for the chocolate ganache in between, well....it's been a few days since we ate them, and I don't recall too much about it one way or another. Let's say that means that it's neither outstanding nor revolting. It probably leans a good bit more towards good than bad on the taste-o-meter, but it certainly wasn't redlining. Altogether, it's not a bad macaron (if such a thing even exists), but I'd relegate these to a supporting role on your holiday cookie tray instead of center stage. Maybe I'm just spoiled by my mom's cookies.

Anyways, I was happy to see at least a serving of these were reasonable enough fat and calorie-wise, especially in comparison to some other TJ cookies. I'd buy them again, but probably not until they semi-hopefully reappear next holidays as the Annual Shelly Family Christmas Cookie Onslaught looms ever closer. I'll be a little generous and swing these guys a four. Sandy? Not as impressed, which I found surprising. "If these were fresh and not frozen, they'd be way better," she says. She's had more macarons in her life then I've had in mine, so I'll presume she knows what she's talking about when she gives 'em a three.  

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Peppermint Macarons: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Trader Joe's Vegetable Bird's Nests

Whenever Sonia and I see something that we've never heard of before in the aisles of Trader Joe's, we make a beeline for it. Inevitably, one of us will think it sounds delicious and the other will turn up their nose. In this case, I was the more interested party. 

Neither of us had ever heard of a food called a "bird's nest" before, but TJ's has done magical things with veggie-based dishes in the past, so I figured it was worth the gamble.

I'm a fan of tempura-anything. I've had scrumptious vegetable tempura from a number of Japanese restaurants, not to mention some excellent meat and seafood tempura's as well. We've reviewed one other tempura dish from TJ's, which got a low-ish score, although this extraordinarily unique vegetable tempura concoction redeems Trader Joe's reputation with tempura completely, at least in my book.

If you've had vegetable tempura before, you'll know that it's usually just one tempura-ized vegetable at a time. In this case it's several, including onions, which I've never seen in the form of tempura before. But I think it's the onions that really make this dish extra flavorful...just don't kiss anybody right after eating it. There are also carrots, kale, and of course, tempura batter. It's a delicious combination that winds up resembling the conglomeration of twigs, strings, and mud in a typical bird's nest. And if that comparison isn't very appetizing, just try the product, and you'll quickly forget about any negative images in your mind.

To add to the taste-tacularity, the dipping sauce is simply brilliant. It's a simple soy sauce, but with just enough sweetness and savoriness to make it seem like a gourmet chef's original creation. It comes right in the package with the bird's nests, and there's plenty of it.

One complaint: it's greasy. The nutrition info makes it seem relatively lean and low-calorie, but for crying out loud they claim that one piece is the recommended serving size! Sonia and I each ate 4 within minutes of pulling them out of the oven. If you're like us, you'll put away more than half your RDA for fat before you even have time to think. There's just something about these things that make them melt in your mouth and slide right down into your tummy. If we had bought two packages instead of just one, we would have immediately thrown the second one into the oven right after finishing the first. For the sake of my gut, I'm glad we didn't.

But other than the fattiness, I can't recommend this product enough. It was a pleasant surprise for both of us. Just click here to watch Sonia and I tasting it for the very first time.

I give it 4.5 stars. Sonia does too.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10 stars.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Trader Joe's Sweet Corn Tamales

So, a few weeks ago, I started a new job. It's closer to home, it's less stress, and it pays a lot more. Those are all good things. That's not to say that the place isn't a little bit of an unusual environment. Walk inside and probably the first thing you'd notice is the giant indoor walk-thru arboretum, and if you happen to glance off to the side, you can see the little pond with picnic tables around it. That's pretty sweet. And there's a pretty decent little employee cafe inside with made-to-order sandwiches and whatnot. My previous job didn't have any of that, not even the cafe. If you wanted a sandwich, it had to come from a vending machine. And that was at a flagship, otherwise state-of-the-art facility. Oh, and their microwaves sucked. My new job even has the same microwave that I own, and it's a good one. What they lack, though, is almost comical. There's no sink or hot water tap in almost any of the break rooms, making my routine morning French Press o' coffee a tougher task. But get this - they don't even have a freezer where people can store their frozen meals. There's none. There's a fridge, though, which keeps most lunches semi-frozen enough until lunch. You'd figure, if they can stock a pond and have some indoor trees that require upkeep every two weeks, there'd be a freezer somewhere. Maybe that's just me.

I mention all this because no matter where I work, I gotta eat lunch, and for the longest time, Trader Joe's tamales have been a staple of my noontime feasting. They're easy to make, they're inexpensive, and as Nathan pointed out a while ago, they're surprisingly good. In Pittsburgh, at least, the Sweet Corn Tamales are a new option, which I was only too glad to pick up, as the chicken, cheese and beef ones get a little old after a while.

They're...okay. Not great, but not bad, either. I'm not sure if the tamales themselves or my work's lack of freezer-hood are to blame, but they're kinda a weird texture, at least in my experience. It's definitely a different masa than the other types, which I could tell before even tasting due to its lighter color and softer, kinda soggier texture. A lot of folks on our Facebook page said to be sure to place a wet paper towel over them while nuking, lest they get all dried out. I didn't, because it's impossible to get to a sink without going to the bathroom where I work, and yet, after three minutes in the microwave, they're pretty soggy still. I'll be willing to split the blame.

As for taste, the corn masa exterior tastes like good sweet ol' cornbread, which I'm all about. Inside there's a respectable amount of fresh-ish sweet corn and little green chiles. The chiles don't add much (if any) heat, and the manchega cheese (which is fairly mild anyways) isn't all that prevalent, so overall, these tamales just taste like sweet, semi-chunky cornbread. Some slightly spicier chiles, and some queso mas fuerte, and they'd be much better. As is, they'll probably make my semi-regular lunch rotation, but I think that's more a function of TJ's small cheap lunchworthy entrees than anythng else.

Sandy doesn't really like tamales based chiefly on texture. We've been to Mexico and have eaten some fairly authentic ones, and even then, the masa shell makes her gag a little. So, in fairness and to avoid unilateral Golden Spoonage awarding, I asked our Facebook page what they thought about them. Overall, it was a bit of a mixed bag, ranging from amorous declarations ("I totally love these!" says Lindsey; "I eat them all the time and they rock!" says Kristine) to utter contempt ("I love tamales...these disappointed on all fronts" says Karen), with most folks in the middle. The average score that peeps gave them was about a 2.5 to 3, which seems about right. I'm not utterly opposed to them, but I definitely like the chicken and cheese ones much better. So, it's a 2.5 or 3 from me as well.      

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sweet Corn Tamales: 5.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
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P.S. - I completely whiffed on snapping a picture of the nutritional info for these. I'll add it the next time I buy'em.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Trader Joe's Fruit & Nut Log


The really short version: if you like dried fruit and pecans, you’ll love this thing.



The kinda short version: as Trader Joe states on the packaging, this product is basically a traditional pecan log, but with cranberries, apricots, and pistachios, too. They’re all rolled onto a nougat cylinder, making a “new festive holiday treat.” That’s accurate enough, I think. Plus, it’s kosher. Happy Hanukkah, friends!

I was surprised at how much Sonia loved this thing. I didn’t think she was a big dried fruit fan. But apparently, she’s been hiding that part of her identity from me. Now I know.

I, on the other hand, really like dried fruit. But I think I prefer just plain pieces of dried fruit to this holiday concoction from TJ’s. I have nothing against it. I guess I’m just a little freaked out by the massive quantity of creamy white nougat stuck between the fruit and nuts. Despite the nougatiness, this product is still relatively good-for-you. Please note that I said relatively good-for-you. People usually fall into one of two categories: (1) the group of people who wouldn’t even try this because they think it’s some kind of health food, and (2) the group of people who think I should be tarred and feathered for insinuating that a giant stick of glucose syrup is in any way “good-for-you.” I fall directly in between these two groups. The fruit and nuts are probably healthy, but the nougat…maybe not so much.



And if I’m going to eat something that’s not completely good for me, I want to eat something really, really tasty. And I’m probably going to eat a lot of it. This stuff was nice to try, but it wouldn’t be the dessert of my choice. I’d pick regular dried fruit for a snack, and then I’d pig out on pumpkin pie later on.

Sonia disagrees. She’d like to make this item a staple in our home for snacks, desserts, and not just for holidays. Sorry, Sonia. I think this is just a seasonal treat…

At any rate, she gives it 4.5 out of 5 stars. I give it 2.5.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Trader Joe's Cranberry Orange Cookies with White Chocolate Chips


Ever have those chocolate oranges at Christmas time? It doesn't seem like it should work, but chocolate/orange is an excellent flavor combination. Case in point: The Chocolate Orange.

This product from Trader Joe's is a little light on the chocolate end of the equation, especially for dark and milk chocolate lovers, but it's kinda the same idea. These cookies taste a bit more like "candied oranges." They've got real citrus flavor, and they're super sweet.

The dominant flavor in these cookies is definitely the orange. Sonia agrees. She's not fond of citrusy cookies, but I am. TJ's has done the citrus cookie thing before, and they did it pretty well. In this product, the cranberries add a bit of tartness, but you don't really taste cranberry per se. Likewise, the white chocolate adds sweetness, but you're not really tasting chocolate. You're tasting a cookified, extra-tart, extra-sweet orange. And I think it's brilliant.

My wife, on the other hand, wasn't as pleased with the overwhelming citrus flavor. She likes the cranberry part of the cookies, but wishes it were more prevalent. She likes the white chocolate (although, I know from experience that she'd be at least as happy with dark or milk chocolate). And we both loved the soft, bready, cookie part of the product. Sonia pointed out that they're vaguely reminiscent of Subway's birthday berry or white chocolate raspberry cookies...with way more citrusiness. The overall texture is sorta like a sugar cookie, in that it's a bit buttery and delicate.

While Sonia couldn't bring herself to give them higher than 3 stars, I was tempted to give them a perfect score. If I had tasted the cranberry and white chocolate just a tad more, I think I would have. 4.5 stars from me.

Bottom line 7.5 out of 10.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Trader Joe's Sweet Potato Tots

Back on Thanksgiving, Sandy and I decided to try and give sweet Lil' Baby M a sweet little treat. At a little over 4 months old, she's being staring at us pretty intently whenever we've been eating or drinking something*, so we decided that maybe she was ready to try her first bite of "real people food." So, Sandy scooped up a little bite of our baked sweet potatoes, mixed in a little mama milk, and mashed it up and plopped into Lil' Baby M's mouth. I, of course, had our de facto video recorder (read: iPhone) running to preserve the moment for all of time. And her reaction? Well, to ask that question assumes that she had one. She just kinda looked and blinked and swished it around and spit some up and might have managed to swallow a little, all with a completely blank, pretty uninterested expression on her little face.** Guess she ain't ready yet.

And I'm pretty sure her reaction would have been exactly the same if her first bite would have instead been a Trader Joe's Sweet Potato Tot, because, well, that was pretty much ours when we had them a few nights ago. Minus the spit up, of course.

It's not the taste that doesn't work. They're pretty legitimate sweet potato mini-nuggets. No real problem there. It's more the texture. You know how a tater tot is supposed to be - crispy on the outside, kinda soft/kinda firm in the middle, and a little greasy too? Indeed, TJ's makes some freakin' excellent ones that are perfect right from the oven. These...are more like baked mush. Anything purporting to be a tater tot cannot simply be a dollop of potato mush, with the outside being slightly less mushy mush. Doesn't work. And that was even after baking them for a little beyond the 35-40 minutes the instructions give for a crunchy tater barrel. I think to get anything resembling a crispiness or a crunchiness we would have had to flat-out blacken these suckers.

That's part of the sweet potato curse. Kinda like salty/chocolate combos, or stuff made with whole grain, or (for my taste) wheat beers, there's a balance that has to be struck. They can be absolutely great, but if not done well, it doesn't work. A little unlike those examples, sweet potatoes almost always taste great, but texturally they either work very well (like these frites) or not at all (look at these gnocchi! Ugh). I'm not sure what really separates them from their regular cousins in that regard - I guess it's something that has to do with the additional natural sugars softening them up during preparation.       

Anyways, out of our veggie corn dog and tater tot dinner, these were the absolute disappointment. "They're basically like a baked version of the gnocchi," Sandy said. Oooh, that's a deep insult. She gave them a two, based solely on the texture. I'll be a little more generous than I might otherwise and say a three.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sweet Potato Tots: 5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
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*She's the most interested whenever we drink a beer. I guess she likes what's in her bottle so much she wonders what's in ours. I don't know how to feel about this.
**We have so many nicknames for her. "Little Face" is one that Sandy came up with. I wish I had veto rights over nicknames, like what we granted each other when discussing actual names, 'cause man, I hate that one.   

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Trader Joe's Vanilla & Cinnamon Black Tea

There's some holiday traditions that frankly, I just don't get. Chief among them is the movie "A Christmas Story." You've probably seen it a hundred times, which is roughly how many times it gets played on TBS (or whatever station) this time of year, including nonstop on Christmas Day itself. What's the point of the movie, besides Ralphie actually getting his Red Ryder BB gun while not actually shooting his eye out? I mean, really, the whole movie is a bunch of somewhat amusing snippets of some slightly aggrandized yet skewed version of some every day life which, honestly, are mostly downers. Sure, you may get to beat the crap out of the neighborhood bully every once in a while, but the rest of the time it's getting your tongue frozen to the flagpole (why they opted for the yank method over some warm water, only God knows), your husband winning an ugly trashy leg lamp he insists on proudly showcasing, you breaking your prized ugly trashy leg lamp you insisted on proudly showcasing, your top secret decoded message turning out to be a lousy Ovaltine ad, your furnace is always breaking, your neighbor's dogs ravaging your holiday turkey, making you settle for Chinese for Christmas dinner...it goes on and on. About the only thing that does go right is Ralphie not losing his eye, but still busting his glasses, which if I were his old man I'd not be amused.

On the other hand, there are holiday traditions that I fully support. Homemade cookies. My Grandma sending us pajamas every year. Pictures on the staircase. These are all great things. To a somewhat lesser (but still great!) extent, there's all the holiday goodies Trader Joe's puts out, some of which we've already reviewed. Trader Joe's Vanilla & Cinnamon Black Tea, or what I prefer to simply call "lemur tea," probably has to be my absolute favorite.

I mean, what's not to love? Let's start with packaging. Look at the lemur's face! There he is, probably lost, cold from the snow, missing his home in Madagascar, and somehow he got tangled up in Christmas lights while holding a mug of tea. Yeah, it makes no sense but it works. It's cute and funny and can't help but make you smile. And that's before you even take a sip of this steeped perfection. Just by itself, it's good solid black tea with a healthy dose of vanilla and little hints of cinnamon here and there that tastes very grown-up and refined. It's excellent that way. If you're a little more like my cohort and crave something sugary and sweet, well, just add a good dose of cream and a little sugar, and you've got yourself a very tasty treat. Either way, there's very few other ways I'd prefer to warm myself up than grabbing a tea kettle, a big mug, and a bag of lemur tea. Have some while snuggling under a blanket reading, lounging on your couch with a movie, working away in your cubicle...it just doesn't matter where or when, it's fantastic. Overall, it's just well-balanced, good, honest tea that TJ trots out every holiday season. There's not a single bad thing that can be said.

Sandy likes it almost as much as I do. "I'm not much of a tea person," she said, "but man, I love lemur tea!" That's me, too. I'll drink iced tea all summer, but there's no other hot tea I make a point of buying and consuming at every reasonable chance other than this one. I'm a little confused by the labelled gluten-free stamp on the box...Is there gluten in other teas? Isn't there some form of gluten in the typical lemur diet?...but regardless, this is a perfect five from me. Not one single teeny-tiny complaint from me. Sandy had the audacity to give it only a four, I think, which is way too low. I'm going to assume I was so shocked by her saying "four" that I missed the part where she said "and a half" so I'm tacking that on. If there's one TJ's tea that deserves Pantheon-hood, it's this one.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Vanilla & Cinnamon Black Tea: 9.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons



Monday, December 3, 2012

Trader Joe's Unsweetened Cocoa Powder

After living the first five years of my life in Hershey, PA, just blocks from the famous intersection of Cocoa and Chocolate Ave, and then growing up no more than an hour away from Hershey after that, I developed a mild sense of brand loyalty to the massive chocolate corporation. I'm not a chocoholic by any means, but I don't go out of my way to avoid chocolate, either. Who does?

And, as many of you regular readers may know, I'm open to try new things and I can provide the average person with a few insights about most Trader Joe's foodstuffs, but my child-like sweet-tooth refuses to be ignored. I'll often choose a "chick-drink" over beer, and I very rarely drink coffee because I want my caffeine to taste like candy. So I indulge on energy drinks instead. Likewise, I'm all about white chocolate and milk chocolate, and haven't much love for the dark stuff.

Now, I'm married to a beautiful Mexican-American woman, and one of the prerequisites for that is a love of traditional Mexican beverages, such as champurrado and Abuelita, which is pretty similar to Trader Joe's Spicy Hot Cocoa. All those beverages get a big thumbs up from me, as does microwaved Hershey's syrup and milk. But this stuff is darker than them all. It's bitter. Even after the specified tablespoon of sugar, my hot cocoa was thick, rich, dark, and not very sweet. I put the sugar in myself. It's scary how much sugar I put in. A tablespoon is big. There was practically as much sugar as there was milk. And still, no sugar shock. No sweetness surge. That's something I'm looking for in a chocolate. That's something I crave. And there are those of you who would tell me that if it still wasn't sweet enough, I should have just gone ahead and put another spoonful into the cup. But I couldn't. That would have been wrong. Like asking Santa to bring me diabetes for Christmas. It was just a bit disappointing.

But for those of you with "refined palates," you'll agree with my wife: this stuff is delicious. Coffee connoisseurs and lovers of beany things, rejoice. And go buy a box. The packaging proclaims that the product is made with Tumaco beans from Colombia. Apparently, Juan Valdez and his ornery mule picked up a sack of cocoa beans while he was out there in the bush collecting coffee, and he sold it all to Trader Joe when he came to port. I googled "Tumaco cocoa" and more than half of the results I found referenced this Trader Joe's product. I'm not sure if that reflects the success of Trader Joe's brand or the fact that "Tumaco cocoa" really isn't that famous. Either way, I think you folks that like dark coffees and chocolates will like it.

On that note, I don't want to give it a deceptively low score. I can tell that it's a quality product. It's just not my cup of tea..er, hot cocoa. I'll give it a 3.

Sonia, predictably, gives it a 4.5. She loved the drink and would like to add that it's good for baking, too. She used it in a cake she made. It was yummy.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Trader Joe's Kona Coffee Shortbread Cookies

Okay, you probably know by know that we're just a couple amateur-hack food reviewers, which we proudly proclaim. But exactly how amateur-hack are we? While Nathan proclaims his love of 80 cent chicken pot pies, I'll admit that I have no idea how Kona coffee actually tastes. Never had it. I know it's supposed to be among the best coffee-types in the world, and there is a particular variant available at your friendly neighborhood Trader Joe's. And I know that costs about $20 a canister, which may or may not be a fair price for such sacred roasted beans, and while there's at least some folks who say it's good, I think I've heard or there that it's not worth the price. Normally, this would be something I'd investigate for the benefit of you all (like Nathan tackling that birdless bird last week - did it have vegan tryptophan for authenticity's sake?), but to be frank, I have better things to drop a Jackson on these days with a growing baby in the house. Plus, if you read enough of my other coffee reviews, you'll see I don't know much about coffee to begin with, so I'd have no intelligible opinion anyways.

But cookies? Yup, got those down. And when Trader Joe's has something with the long, tastebud-tingly name of "Kona Coffee Creamy Half-Dipped Shortbread Cookies," well, I can take the ol' college try and attempt to say something smart. Let's have a go, shall we?

I like them okay. But I want to like them more. Like, I really want to like them a lot more than I do. Really. The shortbread cookie part, by itself? Fantastic. Like the finest of shortbread cookie bounty upon the earth, these are melt-in-your-mouth crumbly wonders that satisfy the deepest of sweet tooth cravings. Absolutely, deliciously, sugarfully confection perfection. Love them. That's for the naked half. For the part clothed by the cream frosting....meh. Best way I can think of to describe it is, it's like when you pour too much cream into your coffee, so the cream:coffee ration is way out of whack and it leaves that sickly sweet-creamy flavor in your mouth. That's what I get on that side. All the good brought forth by the cookie gets lost in the frosting. I almost wanted to scrape it off. I probably should have. As for the "Kona coffee" part, both the cookie and the cream have actual ground Kona beans in them. This might be more an indication of my ignorance than an indictment of one of Hawaii's finest offerings, but it doesn't sway me much. There's certainly a nice coffee flavor in the shortbread, which I love, but you could tell me it's Folgers and I wouldn't bat an eye. Perhaps I lack the training to enjoy the nuances and subtlety. Or perhaps one cannot reasonably expect to experience all that is Kona coffee through a relatively simple cookie. Call that one as you see it.

All that being said, the package didn't lasted less than 24 hours in the house once Sandy and I cracked it. Given how yummerific the portion unspoiled by creamy excess is, we could probably binge out on them if we weren't sticking to the ascribed two-at-a-time. "They're just so good and crumbly, the texture's just so good," Sandy said. She also agreed with me about the creamy frosting, though, making it the only demerit in her mind. She says a four. Me? Drop a spoon lower. That's how* this particular cookie crumbles.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Kona Coffee Shortbread Cookies: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons
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* Do people still make the "*removes sunglasses*" joke?   

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Trader Joe's Peppermint Pretzel Slims



Although it's not quite December yet, it has officially been declared the Christmas season. And, for your reading pleasure, it's time to start reviewing some Christmassy items. Trader Joe's has a ton of holiday-related items, and we've already reviewed a few crowd favorites like Candy Cane Joe-Joe's. Despite the fact that our scores might not always be in exact agreement with the general consensus, we do our best to be objective, even in cases where the product already has its own Facebook page

Now, most of the time, when our initial reaction to a product is negative, it stays that way. Occasionally, I have to downgrade my score just slightly from my initial reaction, as was the case with Trader Joe's Mexicaine Quiche. But with this product, both Sonia and I weren't feeling it at first, perhaps due to the fact that we had both just brushed our teeth. But it grew on us big time. Especially me. If you like pretzels and peppermint bark, you'll love these peppermint pretzel slims. They're like traditional peppermint bark, only saltier.

If it's one thing that TJ's has taught us, it's that salty and sweet go great together. In this case, it's salty, sweet, and minty. The mint part is what threw us off initially. They're really minty. It's a candy cane extravaganza. I don't recommend using these snacks as an alternative to brushing your teeth, but after eating your first handful, you might feel like you could. And definitely don't eat them right after brushing your teeth with Crest Pro-Health Clinical Gum Protection Toothpaste - 4 / 5.8 oz. Your mouth goes numb, and then it's like those commercials where that gum makes an arctic wind come flying out of your face. I think it's Dentyne Ice Sugarless Gum, Peppermint Flavor, 12 Pieces/Pack, 12. But after munching on these little peppermint guys throughout the day, I decided they were a really refreshing snack, and a nice break from regular chocolate-covered pretzels.

Also, the "slimness" of the pretzels caught us by surprise. Even though it's right there on the label. They're actually hard pretzels...but flat. Rather than tubular strands of crunchy, bready goodness, they're pressed flat—still in a pretzel shape, but smooth on one side, and very thin overall. It didn't affect the texture or taste of the product, and in a way, made it easier to shovel more into our mouths at one time, and that's a bonus for gluttons like us.

Sonia's a fan. She wishes there were more in a bag. She gives them 4 stars out of 5. I agree with that assessment. 4 out of 5 from me too.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Trader Joe's Cocoa Drizzled Kettle Corn

My beautiful, lovely wife Sandy, with whom I have just celebrated three years of married bliss, usually has a lot of really good ideas, but a somewhat enigmatic sense of timing with them. A recent, classic example of this is her recent push for us to join Weight Watchers. We're both packing a few extra pounds these days - she with the completely, 100% valid reason of shedding off a few more stubborn pounds after having our baby a few months back, and me with the not-as-completely, perhaps 50% valid reason of too many sympathy cheeseburgers along throughout the pregnancy. Now, I'm not opposed to joining Weight Watchers - I know it's done well for a lot of folks and hey, I could use the help - but really, talking about it the week leading up to Thanksgiving, with holiday parties and Christmas right around the corner? I mean, she knows what our moms are capable of around the holidays when the family's all together, and there's no way that's conducive to anything resembling a weight loss management plan. There's a reason why people wait until New Year's Day until to really start making a concerted effort about such things. Now, if she would have said, "Hey, let's start trying to watch what we eat, eat some stuff in moderation, mix in a salad every so often, blahblahblah" and then after Christmas drop in the bit about Weight Watchers, then there's a good chance I wouldn't consider the timing as odd.

Of course, perhaps it wouldn't strike me as odd at all if at the same time she wasn't downright adamant that we snag a bag of Trader Joe's Cocoa Drizzled Kettle Corn. Popcorn by itself is a perfectly healthy, tasty treat, and probably kettle corn isn't all that bad for you, either. And maybe even putting little chocolate stripies on kettle corn isn't the worst thing in the world, but it just seems a little, I don't know...the word "gratuitous" comes to mind. I don't think it's needed to have a little treat that's perfectly fine on it's own. At least, so I thought.

As it turns out...this is pretty darn tasty popcorn. Solely considering the "sans cocoa" portion of the kettle corn, it's pretty standard fare. It's got the right texture and the right crunch to it, with a little sweet and a little salt. There's not much to write home about it, though, which doesn't mean it's not good (because it certainly is), it just isn't amazing or even all that noteworthy. But drizzle on a little milk chocolate, and now we're talking. Unlike other salty choco-covered snackies at TJ's, there's not too much chocolate, so you can still taste the slightly salty sweetness of the popcorn while enjoying the Hershey-fied goodness. One thing about the chocolate, though, and this can be viewed as a plus or a minus: like a second degree burn or a broken-down Dalek, it's very sensitive to the touch. In just the few seconds to transfer each bit from bag to mouth via hand, the chocolate got melty enough to leave brown spotty residue all over our hands. The positive spin is, think of it as built-in portion control as grabbing it by the handful would create a mess. On the other hand, well, in the wrong hands there will be a mess to deal with. Judge as you will.

I forgot to ask Sandy how she would score this. If there's anything I've learned over the past fourish months, it's: Don't wake up the baby ever and don't wake up the mama until absolutely necessary. Asking her for her score doesn't make the cut, so I'll just have to guess it for her. Hmmm...well, despite our much-conversed about healthy eating aspirations, we both kinda housed the bag in two short sessions of watching Dr. Who (hence the Dalek reference) and I can tell we both enjoyed it roughly equally, except perhaps one of us more than the other, though I'm not sure which one of us that would be. Eh well. Split as you see fit.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cocoa Drizzled Kettle Corn: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Greek Yogurt

This pumpkin-tastic season isn't over yet. So when Sonia heard the buzz about a "delicious" new kind of yogurt at TJ's via Instagram, she rushed out to get some for a review. She heard rave review after rave review as people posted pics of the product repeatedly. Pumpkin yogurt sounded weird to me, but I'll try almost anything once.

Sonia's facial expressions are frequently enigmatic and very difficult to translate, even after 3 years of marriage. And her reaction to this stuff was no different. She blankly stared into space and smacked her lips. The blankness slowly became a grimace. I tasted it myself. It struck me that this pumpkin yogurt wasn't as thick as most Greek yogurts, which, I must admit, I don't really like. I thought this "Greek" yogurt had the consistency of a normal yogurt instead. Sonia agreed, and added that although most Greek yogurts are low-fat, the fact that this Greek yogurt was non-fat might have contributed to its thinner-than-expected consistency. 

I'm not sure what facial expressions I usually make when I try stuff, but I'm pretty sure I grimaced just like Sonia. To me, it tasted like aspartame. There's no aspartame on the ingredients list, to be sure, but I still swear it tasted like it. Sonia said it was too sour. We checked to make sure it hadn't gone bad. There was a month left until the expiration date. There was very little flavor. It tasted vaguely of sourness, nutmeg, and cloves, all in a small tub of plain yogurt. 

After all the expectation, all the hype, we felt pretty let-down. Especially Sonia. And again, maybe our taste buds are just numb to pumpkin after too many seasonal treats (most of which were way too sweet for our own good), but we weren't feelin' this Pumpkin Greek Yogurt at all. So once again, it was Pumpkin Butter to the rescue. The sweetness of the pumpkin butter made the yogurt much more palatable, and we were able to finish the little tub fairly quickly after that. But we're really reviewing these products for themselves, not for how well they mix with other Trader Joe's products. All in all, we felt this Greek yogurt was a big fail. But there are plenty of dissenting opinions out there. Let us know what you think of it in a comment below. Thanks! And happy Thanksgiving to everyone! Argh, I feel like a terrible person for putting up a negative review on Thanksgiving Day. Forgive me.

1.5 out of 5 stars from Sonia. 2.5 stars from me.

Bottom line: 4 out of 10.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Trader Joe's Turkey-less Stuffed Roast with Gravy

I've eaten plenty of veggie burgers in my day. I've had delicious meatless chicken nuggets. And I love plenty of vegetarian dishes. But I've never had tofurkey, and I've certainly never had a vegetarian Thanksgiving before. So, like many of you, I was thoroughly skeptical about this Turkey-less Roast. Especially with a price tag of approximately $10 per package, it's a bit of an investment just to find out whether it's edible or not. That's why Sonia and I took the risk. So you don't have to. You may thank us in the comments below.

This past week, we had a bit of a pre-Thanksgiving, just the two of us. And we decided to take one for the team and feast on this forgery of a fowl from TJ's. We grazed on this goofy gobbler. We bit down on a bogus bird. We tasted a tricky turkey. But honestly, it wasn't bad at all. I think it's worth the cost. I think most vegetarians can go ahead and dive right in. My guess is that you'll love it. Does it taste exactly like turkey? No. So you red-blooded, meat-lovin' Archie Bunker types might want to have some dead bird on stand-by just in case. But really, overall, I'm diggin' it. The stuffing was great, the gravy was delicious. The soy-based fake turkey wasn't bad, but I'll be honest: the imitation beef and chicken dishes I've had would fool me way before this stuff would. It's hearty enough to fool your tummy into thinking that you've eaten something meatful, but not quite succulent enough to trick the taste buds. Texture-wise, it's a tad firmer than turkey meat, and there's a sort of crust that forms on the outside of the roast that fails to emulate real turkey. Taste-wise, it's a bit more beany. All in all, it's a decent approximation of traditional turkey, but it's not a dead ringer for the real thing.

Sonia pointed out that the product was a bit too rich with rosemary. The herb was over-represented in the roast for sure, but it didn't bother me quite as much as Sonia. However, she raved about the stuffing and gravy even more than I did, but agreed that the turkey-less turkey was the weakest element of the meal. She thought the texture was reminiscent of firmer-than-usual pâté, and added that when reheated, it got very dry on the sides.

Despite a few weaknesses, our final verdict is a thumbs-up. The price tag is hefty, but there're at least 4 good servings in there. (The label says 6, but you know how they exaggerate). It's not going to replace a real turkey at my family's Thanksgiving dinner this year, but I wouldn't be completely heartbroken if it did. 4 stars from Sonia. 3.5 from me.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Trader Joe's Fresh Noodles and Gourmet Buffalo Chicken Meatballs

Ever make homemade spaghetti noodles? No, I'm not talking about using a Ronco presto-pesto auto-al dente pasta maker or even a Kitchen Aid mixer attachment (however in the h-e-double bendi-straw that would work) either. Sandy and I did once, using some old school handcranked pasta dough flattener/noodle cutter that should've been bolted to a work bench. That thing was a beast, and if we had any Italian grandmothers, I'm sure they would've been well pleased. But honestly, we weren't so enamored with the results. I mean, for all that work,I'd hope for something marginally better than the dried boxed variety, but alas, it was not to be.

So while homemade may always be the best, freshest option for just about anything, sometimes it's not a bad idea to leave it to the pros and try to settle for a second best option. Sandy and I bought Trader Joe's Fresh Noodles  with that at least partially in mind. I'm sure these have been around for a bit, but I've never spotted them until our last trip. TJ's apparently is making another experiment in noodle technology, this time to make a completely vegan noodle. Now, if they could make a organic, gluten-free vegan noodle...is that even possible, aside from subbing in some strips of tree bark? Anyways for these vegan delights, this naturally means no eggs, which is one the base ingredients for just about any type of dough. I guess that's why they tasted a little different. I don't mean different in a bad way, just....different. They're a little plainer tasting than even their usual semolina brethren, a little doughier, and while soggier isn't the right word, they seemed to somehow retain water a little differently, making them perhaps a little denser. I'm not sure that "al dente" is an option with these noodles, although even after our generously-sized dinners we have a full half of the package to experiment with. I'm not sure these will become a regular purchase of ours, but still, they're not a stray from the norm we regret. Maybe that Popeil fella's on to something after all.

Meanwhile, I'm almost positive that Trader Joe's Gourmet Spicy Buffalo Style with Blue Cheese Chicken Meatballs has to be a new product, because anything that has "Buffalo" and "Chicken" in its title increases its likelihood of purchase to nearly 100%. Seriously, if I saw Buffalo Chicken Owl Pellets for sale somewhere, I'd buy them and not think twice. Anyways, these meatballs, like most of TJ's spherical carne offerings, did not disappoint. They're fully cooked as is, and are in the fresh refrigerated section as opposed to the freezer aisles, and so all that's needed to get these ready for dinner is a few minutes in the oven. Although kinda dry and dusty-lookin' on the outside, inside the ground chicken remains just juicy enough, and also maintains a lot of freshness. Not only that, but they're fairly spicy as well. Granted, at the risk of alienation of some of the masses, they could be just a tad spicier, but that's not too much of a demerit in my mind. Too many times when there's bleu/blue cheese that gets tossed into the Buffalo chicken product at the factory level, the overwhelming flavor is the cheese. Not with these albóndigas de pollo picante. The blue cheese is more of a sidenote/accessory flavor while the spiciness takes center stage. That's the way it oughtta be. Count me as a fan.

I got in the habit during college of just splashing some Frank's Red Hot on a bowl of noodles and calling that and a beer "dinner." Somehow this has lasted all the way into my married life, with Sandy completely joining in, so our noodle 'n spicy chicken meatball dinner was something right up our respective alleys. To be fair, it could have used something, like a little mozzarella or some extra hot sauce, but we don't have much of a problem with the respective components as is. Sandy gives a "three...no, maybe three 'n a half" for the "not bad" eggless wonder noodles, while giving the Buf-fowl-o balls a four "because they could be a little spicier." I'll match her on the noodles and up by half a spoon for the meatballs.

Bottom lines:
Trader Joe's Fresh Noodles: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons
Trader Joe's Gourmet Spicy Buffalo Style with Blue Cheese Chicken Meatballs: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
     

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Trader Joe's Chunky Minestrone Soup

This soup's got big chunks of vegetables and spiral-type noodles. It's hearty. The tomato-based broth is delicious, but not as much as TJ's Tomato Bisque which, I'm told, has been discontinued. The minestrone broth has nearly as much flavor, but not half of the rich texture of the bisque. For those of you who've not tried Trader Joe's Tomato Bisque, and sadly may never do so, unless Trader Joe hears our cries of re-continuation, it was simply the best tomato-based broth I've ever had. By far. But this minestrone broth might take a distant second place, which, in the grand scheme of things, is still really darn good.

In addition to the silver-medal broth, there're thick pieces of swirly, carb-rich, rotini-esque pasta-things, carrots, green beans, peas, bits of cabbage, lima beans, celery, and potato, among other things, at least according to the packaging. My wife and I didn't notice some of the ingredients mentioned on the can, including bell peppers and leeks, but that doesn't mean they weren't there. We're occasionally not-so-observant, especially on a Sunday evening right before the beginning of a long workweek.

This soup is vegetarian. And, well, for vegetarians, that's of course good news. But for us omnivores, it's an area for potential improvement. A touch of beef could have made this side dish a bit more like a meal. I guess honest-to-goodness traditional minestrone doesn't necessarily have meat in it, but experimentation is a good thing sometimes. And, as TJ's has done in the past with other products, it couldn't hurt to offer both meatless and meatful options. 

Sonia would like to give this soup a 4, stating that "It's really hearty and tasty, especially for being vegetarian. It's better than Progresso and most brands." Like me, she does wish that it had a bit of meat, though. I'll give it 3.5 stars. It's on the chunkier, heartier side of meatlessness.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Trader Joe's Mesquite Smoked Seasoned Almonds

Sometimes I don't really know how to start a review. This is one of those times. I asked Sandy how I should as she sits beside me making a Pittsburgh Steelers-themed tutu for lil Baby M, and she said, "Awwwwww nuts." So, boom, there we go.

Anyways, Trader Joe's Mesquite Smoked Seasoned Almonds. The best way I can think of to describe these is, imagine Sam Elliot personally shaking out his mustache over each and every bag of roasted almonds, and that approximates how these taste. Minus the whiskers, of course. That'd be a pretty big Golden Spoon deduction. These are some pretty intense nuts as far as flavor goes. I'll be honest, I'm not able to identify all the different spices that each almond is liberally dusted with, because it's literally everywhere. You know that one Cheeto in the bottom of the bag that has all the extra Cheeto dust? Each and every nut is kinda like that - my tastebuds are literally overwhelmed by the bombardment of spices and flavors, but all of them definitely flow along the line of "mesquite" and "smoked". And salty. I mean, real salty. Seasoned salt has to be one of the big ingredients, and literally after a small handful or two, I find myself pretty darn thirsty, maybe for some more of that good sarsaparilla. Thanks, Sam Elliot.They're flavorful and dust-coated enough that I'd actually recommend sticking to eating them more or less by themselves - put them in some trail mix or Chex Mix or something, and they'd probably overpower everything else.

They're about 5 bucks for the pounder bag, which isn't bad for a bag of nuts these days. I probably ate about 90%  of the package, which is okay with Sandy as she kept herself busy with her sackful of pumpkin seeds. She liked them well enough, though. "They're very mesquite-y, and super crunchy," she said. "Like, you know how sometimes almonds aren't crunchy and they're kinda, like, soggy instead?" Soggy almonds? No dear, I don't know what you mean. Sometimes almonds are crunchier than other times, but I've never once had something that I'd describe as a "soggy" almond. Perhaps you have, though, and my wife wants to assure you that will not be the case here. She'll give them a three, saying the nuts can be a bit too much after just a small handful or two. I agree they could take a small step back and actually stand to gain from that. Other than that, I like the crunch and I like that just a handful or two will keep the stomach grumbles away for a good spell. Something around a four seems right.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Mesquite Smoked Seasoned Almonds: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons    

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Trader Joe's Pecan Pumpkin Oatmeal

Let's face it: in our modern society, pumpkins and pumpkin-flavored stuff is available year round, or at least it could be. All of the pumpkinnery you see at this time of year is more due to the demand for it, rather than the seasonal availability of pumpkins.

But I'm not really complaining. There's something about pumpkin that's only really good between October and December. Pumpkin's not really a February/March kind of flavor. And it's definitely not a June/July kind of flavor. So every year, at the beginning of the season, I begin consuming massive quantities of pumpkin-flavored things that I wouldn't normally buy. That way, the novelty-factor of said pumpkin-items is very high through the middle of November or so, and yet, by the end of December, I'm so sick of pumpkin that I can go for another 9 months without missing it at all.

Now, we've been pretty heavy on the pumpkin this year so far, and we're almost reaching that midway point through the 3-month season of acceptable pumpkin-consumption. I'd like to tell you I'm not pumpkinned out at all yet, and that our scores are thoroughly fair, unbiased, and objective, but realistically, the Pumpkin Macarons might have had a bit of an advantage over this oatmeal. We're not taking back our perfect score on the macarons just yet, but I feel like maybe we might have given this oatmeal a slightly higher score had we tried it right at the beginning of October.

Our biggest complaint about this product is its lack of rich pumpkin flavor. We found that a spoonful of TJ's Pumpkin Butter added a nice little extra dose of pumpkinny goodness. Without it, there's a hint of pumpkin, but not much more. (It is possible that our tastebuds have achieved some sort of pumpkin-overload at this point and that we simply can't taste it as much as the average consumer anymore). However, the pecan flavor and a few actual pecans gave the oatmeal a really nice texture and taste—a little above and beyond what we expect from traditional oatmeal.

All in all, it's a decent buy if you think pecan oatmeal sounds good. If you're really craving pumpkin, however, don't expect too much. Sonia, a self-proclaimed oatmeal connoisseur, gives it 3.5 stars. I dabble in oatmeal from time to time, but I'm far from an expert. I'll give it a respectable 3 stars.

Bottom line 6.5 out of 10.