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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Trader Joe's Strawberry Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert

I hate to start things off with a semi-non-related gripe, but, well, it's my blog post and you can't stop me. Last week the night before my birthday, all I wanted to do was go out to Rita's with Sandy, Baby M, and our trusty mutt (he usually gets a dish of vanilla ice cream on the house there!). Anyways, I had to work a little late, come home home, make dinner, eat dinner, and deal with the usual little delays that come with having a not-quite two month old baby. Despite all that, we got to Rita's at 9:55pm. That shouldn't have been a problem, as that location closes at 10, but...as we parked right in front, maybe three spaces aways, within easy eye shot, the lil snot-faced teenie bopper running the joint snapped the window closed and closed the blinders and turned off the light. Granted, we were the jerks showing up 5 minutes before closing time...but it was 5 minutes before closing time. Take the 30 seconds to scoop me and my wife some Italian ice, and my dog a dish of ice cream, and make us happy. Heck, I'd even be inclined at that point to not use the BOGO coupon I had in my wallet. Jerks.

Anyways, we had to settle for a not-nearly-as-good Squishee from the gas station next door. And I'm not saying that I'll never go to Rita's again, because that's just a bold-faced lie. But between that experience, and Sandy apparently having to be mindful of dairy intake because Baby M seems to be a lil' sensitive about it, we're going to try and see what other frozen non-dairy delights we can find.

That search brought us to Trader Joe's, more specifically to Trader Joe's Strawberry Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert. It's just like ice cream, minus the whole "cream" part, at least as it pertains to moo cows. Instead, it's made from coconut milk, and in fact is completely vegan. For the record, it's also gluten-free. And you know what? It's absolutely delicious, to the point that I can't believe we didn't finish the pint in one sitting. The strawberry flavor is so full and rich that it tasted like a bowl of frozen mashed strawberries, except smooth and creamy and without all the little seeds. Loved it, and I swear that, unlike most things, it tasted better with each bite. There's no such thing as the law of diminishing returns here. Initially surprisingly to me, it doesn't taste much like coconut, until I remembered that coconut milk doesn't necessarily taste a lot like coconut, and indeed there's no little flakes of it about. It's soft, sweet, and addicting. For a self proclaimed ice cream expert, I don't think there's a higher compliment.

Sandy and I plopped down on the couch the other night with the pint-sized carton and two spoons and went to town. As she was scooping up her first bite, Sandy exclaimed, "Oooooh, it's soft!...That means it's good!" And she was not lying at all. There's also a chocolate version of this dessert, which we haven't tried yet, but will be probably as soon as our next TJ's stop. In Sandy's mind, there's nothing that could possibly be any better about our strawberry ice non-cream, so she's going with a full-handed five. Me? I could choose to quibble some over the price (it was somewhere between four and five bucks, closer to five, I think) but, I figure, with a little self-control we can each get two desserts out of it, making it about half the price of going out somewhere (you listening to me, Rita's???...of course, if I find more coupons...). what I'd say, although, is some actual little strawberry bits would be welcome, but not absolutely necessary. It's not too often we have two pantheon entries in one week, but when we pick 'em, we pick 'em good.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Strawberry Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert: 9.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Trader Joe's Soft-Baked Snickerdoodles

Back before I discovered Trader Joe's about 8 years ago, if someone would have tried to sell me on gluten-free, vegan snickerdoodles, I wouldn't have been even a little bit interested.

Even as it stands, I have mad respect for Trader Joe's, but stuff that says "Free of the 8 common allergens" is still a gamble, regardless of where it's from, in my opinion. I thoroughly disagree with the people who answer the question "What's Good at Trader Joe's?" with "everything." If that were true, this blog would be entirely unnecessary.

Be that as it may, if I had to put money on some brand—any brand—being capable of making something hypo-allergenic, relatively healthy, and really tasty, it would be on the Trader Joe's store brand. And whaddaya know? They did it again.

These things are amazing. They are truly soft, reminiscent of something freshly-baked, especially if you microwave them for a few seconds. Bursting with near-homemade pastry tastes and textures, the ingredients of these cookies seem almost unbelievable: sorghum flour, dates, grapes, and apple and pear juices are at the top of the list.

The cookies taste like cinnamon and brown sugar, with undertones of the aforementioned fruit juices. There's the tiniest bit of grittiness, but no more than a traditional snickerdoodle. These are an unbelievable find for anyone, especially those with food allergies. If you're gluten-intolerant, these could very well be the best thing in your cupboard since gluten-free sliced bread.

Sonia's even more enthused about them than I am. Another triumph for Trader Joe's and a must-try for people with sensitivities to wheat, milk, eggs, soy, or peanuts. Four and a half stars from me. Five stars from Sonia.


Bottom line 9.5 out of 10




Friday, August 24, 2012

Trader Joe's Pinachios

piz·zazz/pəˈzaz/

Noun: An attractive combination of vitality and glamour.

pa·nache
/pəˈnaSH

Noun: 1. Flamboyant confidence of style or manner. 2. A tuft or plume of feathers, esp. as a headdress or on a helmet.

pis·tach·i·o/pəˈstaSHēˌō/

Noun: The edible pale green seed of an Asian tree.

Combine those three words together and that's how you get "Pinachio." Or so I assume. I wouldn't have figured the "pizzazz" part, but the side of the Trader Joe's Pinachio container tells me these cookies have that, and I guess something like "Pizznachio" just sounds a little bit too ridiculous.

Anyways, those a lot of words could use to describe these pistachioed-white chocolate-chipped cookies, but pizzazz and panache are not on the list. I mean, they're not bad, but despite their premise, they're just not all that fancy or particularly great either. Each cookie is mostly just that...cookie. As in, not pistachios or white chocolate, but kinda like the empty space between the stars. Just not a lot there. As a result, while present, there's not a lot of pistachios or white chocolate to taste. Also, this is my personal bias, but I don't like overly crunchy cookies nearly as much as soft semi-melty ones, and the Pinachios are some crunchy little buggers. For the record, they pair great with milk, but to me it's almost a necessity to help soften them up to make them enjoyable.

Sandy swears they softened up some over time. I'm not arguing or contradicting her, but let's just say my mouth's interpretation as to the rigidity and texture pertaining to crunchtitude of these said packaged goods differs from hers. We both agree there isn't all that much to them. "They don't have nearly as much pistachio flavor, as, say pistachio ice cream," Sandy said. "Hmm, these would have been great with ice cream...We should go get ice cream." Oh, twist my arm, sweetie. Anyways, somehow in my life I have managed to be blessed with a semi-regular influx of absolute killer white chocolate chip macadamia cookies, which I'd go for way over these. Just to show how indifferent Sandy and I were to them, after opening them, the container lasted a full week just sitting out on the kitchen table. If that's not an indication of "meh", I don't know what is.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Pinachios: 5.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons





Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Trader Joe's Everything Bagel Chips

In case you were wondering, to my knowledge at least, Nathan and I really don't have any system whatsoever to determining what products we're going to review. I usually scan the shelves for anything new or interesting-sounding (or both), and if that fails, try to check our purchases against a mental inventory of what we have and haven't reviewed. It's not flawless by any stretch but it works often enough. The only possible weakness of it is, speaking solely for myself, since it's my money and my food (both are pretty darn important), with a notable exception or two, I tend to buy things I have a reasonable expectation of liking, so we can tend to be a little too positive. I think we might be some of the best press TJ's receives this side of the Fearless Flyer, and if someone can get me a job with that, I'm jumping ship.

I mention all that because it's not like Sandy and I bought Trader Joe's Everything Bagel Chips with the set intention of reviewing them. I mean, ho-hum, they're bagel chips, right? How much can one really say about a bag of bagel chips?

Well, this is me we're talking about. I can say a lot about them, but I'd rather be eating them. They're so good that I feel propelled to advise all of you to go purchase them, if for no other reason than to make a good faith effort to ensure they are never discontinued like too many tasty goodies we've reviewed, like the best. salad. ever. Aside from all the normal great attributes of bagel chips (crunchiness, high munchability), what really struck me on these is how fresh they taste. Maybe this doesn't make sense, and maybe I'm pulling this from my youknowwhat, but where other bagel chips taste distinctly toasted, these....don't. They taste just like a fresh bagel that magically crunchy-crispified itself. I don't know how to explain that. Just like any good everything bagel, these chps have plenty of garlic and onion flavor, with all the requisite seeds, and they even have a little butteriness to them. I wish I had a tub of cream cheese to dip them in.

Sandy likes them a fair amount. Bagel chips are her favorite part of Chex Mix, and she acknowledged that these are better than those (no kidding). "I just wish there were more in the bag," she said. "So we could eat more of them?" I asked. "Exactly." Me? I could eat these enough to make myself test positive for opium (that poppy seed deal? Completely legit, as proven by no less a scientific authority than Mythbusters) and not really care. Okay, that's an overstatement, but for bagel chips with a little bit of everything, they're tough to beat.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Everything Bagel Chips: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Trader Joe's Mini Blueberry Cheesecake Ice Cream Wedges

The packaging for this product claims that it's "an ice cream that thinks it's a cheesecake." Now where would ice cream get a silly idea like that? Maybe because you put the word "cheesecake" in the title of this product even before the words "ice cream," Trader Joe. I think you're largely to blame for this poor dessert's identity crisis. Is it a fruit? Is it ice cream? Is it cheesecake?

I think it may be all of the above. All at once. It seems paradoxical, but just in the same way that I am a son, a husband, and a friend all at the same time, this dessert may be multiple things at once. In both cases, it's kind of a beautiful mystery.

Of all the things that this product is, if there were one that I think it should try to be a little more, it would be blueberry. There are a few graceful swaths of a blueberry gel swimming through the frozen cheesecake, and right in the center of the dessert, there's a larger cache of sweet blueberry goodness, with perhaps a hint of actual blueberry. But Sonia and I both agree that the blueberry-ish center of the ice cream is the best part of the whole thing. We want more blueberry. It already has a fair amount of it. But we want more. We're both only children and we're used to getting our way.

It's creamy, it does taste like cheesecake, complete with a graham cracker crust, and it's frozen, with plenty of ice cream-ish properties, too. The only thing we weren't pleased with was the decision to place this product on a stick. In some cases, like this delicious snack, sticks are great. And there are plenty of successful frozen desserts on sticks like this one. But for some reason, both Sonia and I thought the sticks in these particular treats made the cheesecake taste just a bit like wood. Now, we may be nitpicking, but we both think these would have been better just served on a plate with a fork, a la traditional ice cream cake. They are a bit crumbly, so you might need a plate or a bowl to catch the mess anyway.

Considering how indulgent they taste, 100 calories per snack isn't that bad. Though they are quite small. I could probably have eaten the entire box of six in one sitting, though my sweet Sonia may have scolded me in that sassy Latin way that I love so much for doing so.

Because of the wooden taste, Sonia docked a few points, though overall, she agrees that these wedges are a win. 3.5 stars from Sonia. I think she's blowing the wooden thing a bit out of proportion. These sweet treats are unique and delicious, and I can't go lower than 4.5 stars.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10 stars.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Trader Joe's Organic Orange Strawberry Banana Juice

It's pretty tough for me to imagine it, dear readers, but Sandy and I went over a month without going to Trader Joe's recently. Between being busy with a newborn and the incredible influx of homemade food from friends and family, in addition to the giant stock-up trip before, well, we just didn't have a need (much less the time or energy) to go at all, so we didn't. But that's not the amazing part to me. When we finally made our way back about a week ago for a few small supplies, like drinks and snacks (we hit up farmer's markets for meat, fruits and veggies, usually), after scouring the aisles for anything new and exciting, well, we kinda came up empty-handed. There just didn't seem to be anything new that we wanted to pick up. One would think that the sample station would help save that, but the drink was the green plant juice that we're not that move by one way or the other. The food sample? It was some new pulled pork something or other, and in a phrase I never thought I'd think and/or write, after friends twice dropped off a plethora of pulled pork, and my folks bringing some to town when they visited, I had eaten entirely too much pulled pork in the previous week to be interested in it whatsoever.

So, anyways, we settled for a juice I'd seen a couple times, Trader Joe's Organic Orange Strawberry Banana Juice. I've think I've written previously about my juice addiction, and I know Nathan's a sweet juice fiend, so it kinda baffles me that we haven't reviewed this yet, because it's pretty terrific. It seems to be a base of orange, apple and grape juice (what DON'T they put grape juice in these days?) with pureed strawberries and bananas mixed in. Or so they say. I mean, I can definitely taste them, but when I think pureed fruit, I think of the smoothies I've made and the little chunkies in there, and there's absolutely none of that in this smooth blend. It's sweet, smooth, clean and refreshing, and while delicious on its own, making smoothies or popsicles with the juice both seem like worthwhile causes, not to mention perhaps using it as a good mixer.

As usual with liquid refreshment, I'm a bigger fan of it than my beautiful wife. While not scolding me for drinking more than my fair share, Sandy's made a remark or two about it smelling like bubble gum, and said that she's pretty much in the middle about it, and gave it a 3.5. For me, I like how tasty it is, and like that it's organic so i can try and tell myself that it's even healthier than think it is, and so I feel less guilty as I guzzle it down. Good stuff. I'll slap it with a 4...nah, it helped save our maiden TJ voyage as a family of three...let's say 4.5.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Orange Strawberry Banana Juice: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Trader Giotto's 'Spearean Risotto

My dear Giotto,

Bongiorno. It was nice to see you on your most recent visit to the U.S. of A. And we were happy to taste another one of your Italian dishes. But as a foodie-hack of sorts, I have to be honest—I'd really prefer pizza or pannacotta again next time you visit.

First of all, when I look at the picture you show on your bag, all I see are asparagus tips. But all I saw in my actual dish were the bottom parts of the asparaguses...or is it asparagi? And let's face it, the asparagus "butts" simply don't have the taste or texture of the top part—the "spear" that you so prominently feature in the title of your entree. So give us more top parts. I may not be good at math, but one would think that for every bottom part, there would be one top part. Where did those go? Did you use them all in the photo shoot for the art on the packaging? Did you eat them all yourself? Giotto... were we not gracious hosts? Why would you hold out on us like that?

Furthermore, they seemed unusually rubbery and stringy—even for the bottom parts. Overall, your dish lacked flavor. There's a bit of butteriness, but it's not enough. Your risotto was soft and your sauce creamy, but it tasted like I was eating something off of the "lite" menu. I know that we Americans are fat, but when we eat Italian, we expect a treat, Giotto! Mama mia!

And I must say that your rice dish would greatly benefit from a few more ingredients. Add different veggies, add sausage, or heck, add bacon! Adding almost anything would have helped hype this dish up a bit! Sonia fully shares my sentiments on this matter. Sure, we could add more stuff in ourselves, but you're the chef, Giotto. And furthermore, we're lazy.

It's not that we're ungrateful for the dish you cooked up for us. It's just that we know you can do better. After all, if your American cousin can make a good Sicilian Pizza, shouldn't a real Italian be able to nail an Italian dish? If we were going to score your risotto on a scale of one to ten gondoliers, we'd have to give it only cinque.

Your American pen pal,
Nathan

Bottom line: 5 out of 10.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Trader Joe's Almondictive Bits

Context, I remember my middle school English teacher saying. Context. That's one of the best ways of trying to figure out what an unfamiliar word means. Read the other words around it and more times than not, it'll give you a good idea, and that exercises a couple more brain cells than running for the nearest Merriam-Webster's.

With that in mind, I stumbled across a new word for me during our latest Trader Joe's word: almondictive. Now I'm not above pulling a new word from where the sun don't shine (I think I once used the word "meatosaurus" in an article I wrote), so I don't necessarily mind that. At first glance, I was pretty sure it was a cute little combo of the words "almond" and "addictive", especially with the other words like "compulsively compelling"* on the package, but then a dark thought crossed my mind: What if instead of "addictive" they really meant the word "vindictive"? The "nd" in the middle there kinda derailed my thought train that way, not that there's anything I can think of that a chocolate-covered caramelized nut would have to be all angsty and vengeful about (certainly hopefully not me after I ate them). But I figured, just to be sure, Sandy and I would have to give them a try...with one eye open, of course.

Well, after a couple small handfuls of them, I'll vouch that they're definitely more addictive than anything else. The Almondictive Bits are pretty darn tasty and hard to put down. I'm not sure if it's more the rich, dark chocolate coat or the crispy crunchiness of the almond. Maybe it's the subtle caramel undertone. I don't know. But altogether these are a pretty remarkable little snack that's rich and satisfying after only a few nuts, yet are tasty enough that both of us wanted to eat even more of them as the flavor lingered in our mouths.

There's only one or two small complaints Sandy and I have about these decadent little dudes. I, for one, would like just a wee bit more caramel and Sandy would like just a wee bit more almond, as the chocolate coating definitely seems to be the predominant flavor that could use just a little more balance. But no matter. The only way these could turn even remotely vindictive is if one of us happens to hog all the nuts for ourselves, but that'd be more between the wifey and I than us and these nuts. We're not above such things, and with her home on maternity leave, we both have an even chance at being the greedy one. She'd probably say it's for the baby somehow...I think I may go count them now. Sandy gives them a good, solid four, and since these are my favorite chocolate almond treat from TJ's I've found thus far, I'll see that four and raise half a spoon.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Almondictive Bits: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
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*Please excuse my omission of that blatantly gratuitous comma.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Trader Joe's Pomegranate Blueberry Sherbet

I grew up calling sherbet "sherbert," which is apparently incorrect. According to Grammarist, the original Turkish word from which the English word is derived is more similar to the word "sherbet." So TJ's got it right. But I didn't.

I was so distraught at being wrong (something I'm certainly not accustomed to), that I decided to drown my sorrows in a sweet dessert. Even though it was a painful reminder of years of mispronunciation and misspelling, I reached for this stuff.

And let me tell you it's so friggin' good, I forgot all about the  whole "sherbet/sherbert" debacle. This is probably the second best Trader Joe's brand frozen dessert we've ever had—right after the Lemon Triple Ginger Snap Ice Cream. TJ's is very good at these creamy, fruity, frozen things. And more good news: this stuff isn't even that fattening. It's sweet and sugary, but what sherbet isn't?

It's more refreshing in extreme heat than thick, lard-laden ice cream with chocolate goodies, and it's way creamier than the cheapo store-brand sherbet from other grocery stores. Plus, it's got real fruit chunks, and it actually tastes fruit-juice-based.

Sonia and I polished it off on the same day we opened it. We fought bitterly over the last few bites—got into a sort of spoon-fight duel. We compromised and shared it and have since made up. Thanks for your concern about our marriage.

It's light and fruity, yet somehow thick and creamy at the same time. Perfect for hot, humid August weather. It's conceivable that some would want to pass on this item if they're not fans of blueberry or pomegranate, but Sonia says she thinks it tasted like raspberry. I'm with TJ's on this one—"pomegranate blueberry" seems as accurate a description as any, with maybe a slight emphasis on the blueberry.

But we both agree it's good. Really darn good. Double 4.5's, for Sonia and my highest score since April and a very near miss on attaining Pantheon status.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Trader Joe-San's Shrimp Fried Rice

Okay, true story time: A little over five years ago, while still very much a bachelor, I lived in a house with a bunch of other guys, one of whom we found on Craigslist. Now, I won't say anything bad about him, because overall he and his girlfriend were pretty cool except...one day I got a call from him at work. He had never called me before. "Ummm, yeah, we, uh...we burned down the house," he said. Wha!?!? Apparently they neglected the chicken they were frying on the stove top in favor of watching Judge Judy and some grease caught fire and POOF. The entire house didn't quite burn down, and most of our stuff was okay, but my favorite recliner had to be pitched due to smoke damage, so I was NOT happy. Ever since then I have made two pledges: Never find people to live with on Craigslist, and always watch whatever I'm cooking very carefully, especially if it's something spattery.

I mention all that because combine that story, along with new parent jitters as I attempted to make my wife and I bacon and eggs after being home from the hospital for just a few days, and man, that was so incredibly stressful. I kept having to turn off the burner as she asked me to get this and do that so it took me an hour to make breakfast. A freakin' hour. I told myself whatever I made next on the stove top had to be a lot easier.

Thankfully, Trader Joe-San's Shrimp Fried Rice is pretty easy. If you have about a large fry pan or wok, 5 minutes, and two tablespoons of olive oil, you got yourself a pretty good dinner. Note the take-out carton icon on the package - that's a pretty accurate assessment, and for a fraction of the cost. Our favorite local Chinese place sells a quart of shrimp fried rice for about $7, so once we pay tax and tip the driver and his little assistant we call Short Round (see this for that story), it's pretty much $10. This? $2.99. That's it. More importantly, tastewise, it's about right on par with typical takeout fare. All the rice and veggies taste right, and it has about the right amount of shrimp, which also tastes right, like most TJ shrimp offerings. I have only the smallest of complaints, and really, it's more like a quibble: I personally think it's kinda weird that's there frozen scramble eggs in it. Not that they taste bad, and I certainly include eggs while making my own fried rice, but frozen eggs kinda skeeve me out, and I'd rather have the option of including my own. That may be just me.

Sandy's a little less high on it than I am. I think it's because I have her spoiled. Not to brag, but for a pasty, gingery Pennsylvania Dutch boy, I make some darn good fried rice. She likes all the little spices I mix in, and I also make sure to dice the onions smaller just the way she likes them so she can't really see them, either. Admittedly, since I also favor my own, next time we pick this up (and there will be a next time) I'll dress it up a bit as it's kinda, well, not bland but more like just plain and unspicy like what you'd expect from a restaurant. As is, Sandy will give it a three, but since I think it deserves a better fate than that, I'll overcompensate a bit and go with a four 'n a half.

Bottom line: Trader Joe-San's Shrimp Fried Rice: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons