Hello. My name's Nathan, and I love Trader Joe's. My wife Sonia does too. She's a great shopper, has excellent taste and knows good value when she comes across it. As many of you know, Trader Joe's is unsurpassed in the world of good-value grocery stores, so we spend a lot of our time and money there. Although the store fairly consistently delivers great taste with its own unique line of food products, there are definitely some big-hits, and unfortunately, there are some misses...

After doing a couple of internet searches for reviews of TJ's food items, Sonia discerned an apparent dearth of good, quality reviews for the store's offerings. So, at her suggestion, we decided to embark on a journey of systematically reviewing every Trader Joe's product, resulting in the blog you are about to read...

A couple of months into our Trader Joe's rating adventure, an old college friend, Russ, who unbeknownst to me had been following our TJ's blog, decided that I had been slacking in my blogging duties (which, of course, I was) so he decided to contribute his own original TJ's reviews to the blog, thus enhancing it, making it more complete and adding to it a flavor of his own. He and his wife Sandy are also avid TJ's fans and, as you will soon discover, he is an excellent writer and is nearly as clever, witty and humble as I am.

Seriously though, Russ: You go, boy!

So here it is: "What's Good at Trader Joe's?"

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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Trader Joe's Chicken Parmesan Lollipops

What's the deal with meat on sticks?

Sorry, that was me channeling my inner Jerry Seinfeld.

But really, what's the deal? I have a theory: Our ancestors used to have to run around and club animals with sticks then roast them over a fire to eat. But no, not our modern selves. Nowadays, we put meat on a stick for fancy occasions (say, hors d' ouevres at a wedding) or at mass gatherings of civilizations (like county fairs) or in the case of these Trader Joe's Chicken Parmesan Lollipops...well, I'm not sure why there's a stick in them. I guess it's just to remind of us of how far we've come. We're ahead. We're advanced. We're the first mammals to wear pants.

Sorry, that was me channeling my inner Eddie Vedder.

Let's talk about these inner chicken on a stick thingies. I'll try to be careful about how I refer to them, because calling them certain things sound a little, um, phallic. Use your imagination if you so choose.

Channeling my inner Abraham Lincoln, I'm going to be straight out honest with you, to perhaps a fault: I have not been this sorely disappointed by a Trader Joe's product in a long, long time. The best way I can think of to describe them is, imagine you're eating some breaded chicken parm, and some of the breading slips off and gets all mixed in with the sauce and cheese, with maybe an itty bitty teeny weeny bit of chicken in it. Taste good? Yeah, sorta. Would you pay $5 for a box of 10 McNugget sized pieces of that? No? I sure wouldn't....except I did when I bought these. I'm almost tempted to tag these as vegetarian, because I truthfully cannot verify if any actual chicken is used in these, because whatever was included was so scant it was pathetic. As one of the very few "meat cheats" I make as a roughly 85% vegetarian, it's even more disappointing, and honestly I'm feeling a little bit ripped off and cheated..

Sandy was even more enthusiastic initially about them then I was, and as I pulled them out of the oven, she excitedly ran to the fridge, curiously yanked out her self-proclaimed "favorite condiment" and then as she picked up her first chicken stick, dejectedly exclaimed "Ugh! Why's there red stuff in it?" I was very confused about this sequence of events until I realized she transposed the words "chicken" and "parmesan" and was expecting slightly cheesy chicken nuggets ideal for dipping into mustard, not infantile quasi-Olive Garden knockoffs. She harrumphed the rest of the night away. "They'd be okay for appetizers but that's about it," she said. She also noted the complete absence of discernible clucky parts, so it wasn't just me. Sandy's giving them a two, graciously, I think. Me? When the best thing you can say about a product is that it comes with it's own toothpick, that's not really a ringing endorsement. Perhaps I'm just unreasonably grumpy about the whole thing, but I'm channeling my inner Richard Dawson. Survey says....

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chicken Parmesan Lollipops: 2 out of 10 Golden Spoons     

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Trader Joe's Pomegranate & Blueberry Cereal

When it comes to Trader Joe's cereals, we've collectively only found one worthy of the Pantheon so far. And each half of the WG@TJ's team has found at least one offering that we can't wholeheartedly recommend, like the Twigs, Flakes, and Clusters or the Loaded Fruit and Nut Granola

This Pomegranate and Blueberry cereal is the only one in recent memory that falls right in the middle of those two categories. I highly recommend you try it if you're into pomegranates and blueberries, but I can't give you my personal guarantee like I might something in our Pantheon.

The flakes are hearty, rigid, and very crunchy—even more than I expected. They're borderline "scrape up the roof of your mouth" style flakes, and they're surprisingly sweet, coated in what I guess is "milled cane sugar." There was a decided lack of blueberries in my box, which is unfortunate, because they were my favorite part of the cereal. They're dried and slightly shriveled, but they taste like lightly-sweetened real blueberries...because that's what they are.

But the most pleasant surprises in the mix were the delicious crunchberry-esque wads of purplishness that I'm guessing are supposed to be pomegranate-flavored. To me, they tasted more like cherry, but either way, they were tasty. And yes, if you read the ingredients list, you'll note that there is both real freeze-dried pomegranate and cherry puree in this cereal. These lavender bunches crunch like clusters of granola, and they're both sweeter and more tart than you'd expect. Plus, unlike the elusive dried blueberries, these fruity chunks were omnipresent in the box.

The cereal stays crunchy until the end of the bowl, and while your milk won't turn super-purple, there are hundreds of flecks of dark blue floating around, and there's just enough sweetness to make it worth reliving your childhood, putting the bowl up to your lips, and chugging it dry.

Sonia gives this cereal 3.5 stars. I give it 4.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Trader Joe's Hot & Sweet Mustard

As I've written before, with the notable exception of hot sauce, I'm just not a condiment kinda guy. I don't know why that is. I mean, I like the idea of adding different kinds of sauces and whatnot to a sandwich or pile of fries or whatever, or the idea of salad dressing to spruce up an otherwise dull plate of greens and veggies, but when push comes to shove, more often than not I'll just pass. Maybe I just like my food to taste like however it's going to taste without too much outside interference. Don't like ketchup. Don't like pretty much any salad dressing. And don't get me started on mayonnaise. And most importantly, if it's in a squeeze bottle that makes farty sounds, no way on earth I'm trying it. Them's the rules for me. Blecch.

One very occasional exception to this would be mustard. And I must say, very, very, occasional. I'll put some on a pretzel or, back when it was a viable lunch option, let my Subway sandwich artist put some on every once in a great while. It's no great loss when they don't. So, when someone (I think my brother, not sure) told me that Trader Joe's Hot & Sweet Mustard was more or less the best thing ever, I felt good about trying it out despite my usual prejudices (keep those in mind as you read the rest of this).

This mustard, to me, just isn't all that great. Not that it's terrible, either. "Hot and sweet" is not a completely honest description for it - "sweet and sour and a wee bit of something that approaches hot" seems a bit more accurate. Trader Joe's repeats their fairly classic mistake of assuming vinegar equates to heat (prime example: their black bean dip) for their "hot" and loads up on sugar for the "sweet" part (see first ingredient). So imagine very sweet, vinegary mustard. Maybe that's tantalizing for you. For me, not so much. To be fair, after dunking a few pretzel sticks in it, the back of my throat began to sense something a little spicy, or perhaps overly bitter, in a kinda horseradish-y sense. There's no horseradish in this mustard, of course, but that's the closest thing I can equate it to. Overall, the mustard seemed okay, not bad enough to keep me from snacking, but not good enough for me to keep on craving it. For whatever reason, it tasted a little better the one night we dipped our chickenless tenders in it instead.

My wife's admiration more than makes up for my ambivalence. "Oooooooh, this is so good, I could drink it right out of the jar!!!" Sandy exclaimed. I offered to snap a picture of her doing so and can't believe she said no. That would've been a much more interesting visual addition than our usual product shots. She agrees that it's closer to sweet and sour than hot and sweet, so good to know I'm not just making that up. It's not a terrible pickup for the measly $1.49 it costs, but if solely up to me, it's not one we'll make often. Sandy gives it a four. For me, about the fairest I can be is to call it right down the middle with a 2.5.

Bottom line: Trader Joes Hot & Sweet Mustard: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons     

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Trader Giotto's Bambino Pizza Formaggio

Back when I was a kid in elementary school, one of the highlights of the academic year was participating in the BOOK IT! program, which apparently still exists. It involved reading books for free pizza. Each student got an oversized button with 5 or 6 blank star-shaped spaces. For each book we'd read, we would receive a little star sticker to put on our button. We're not talking Crime and Punishment and Moby Dick, of course. We're talking Amelia Bedelia and Freckle Juice—books we'd be reading anyway, even if there weren't free food involved. 

So we'd read like mad in anticipation of our free personal pan pizza from the local Pizza Hut. On the day of redemption, we'd turn in that button at the pizza counter feeling like kings. The little round pizza would come out steaming hot, and it tasted better than any pizza we had ever had before, because we knew we earned it.

These Bambino pizzas from TJ's remind me of those personal pan pizzas from pizza hut in size, shape, and appearance, but the flavor is a little more grown-up. They taste just like really good Sicilian-style pizza with plenty of Italian herbs and spices in the mix. Although, I must say that unlike the picture on the packaging, you can't really see flecks of green herbs (I guess that's oregano?) all scattered across the tops of the pizzas. You can taste it, but you can't see it.

Each Bambino pizza is about the size of one large slice of pizza, so if you're having this for dinner, you can probably count on each person eating at least two. They come in two individually wrapped packages of two pizzas a piece. I like my crust fairly crispy, so I wound up leaving my pizzas in the oven for a minute or two longer than the instructions called for, but other than that, the baking time was spot on. Like most other frozen pizzas, I simply can't imagine these being half as good if cooked in the microwave.

If you're a fan of Sicilian pizza, check these out. I was really happy with the texture and taste, and I give them 4.5 stars. Sonia will give them a 4.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Trader Joe's Organic Strawberry Lemonade

It's tough to type this without it sounding like a out-and-out whiny complaint, but maaaaaan July and August in Pittsburgh are fairly unpleasant. It's all about the humidity. It's atrocious. For the past couple days as I've left for work at about 8 a.m., it's felt like I've left the comfort of my home and stepped straight into a vaporous incarnation of a sponge hot hot and fresh from the dishwasher. Our power went out twice last week for hours, leaving us in a hot sticky mess where the usual standing order for goodnight hugs and baby snuggles were temporarily suspended for sheer survival's sake. Ugh. It's just bad. At the same time, I realize I could live somewhere else that would be prone to tornadoes or wildfires or massive widespread flooding, and my heart goes out to all communities affected by all those recently, especially Prescott, AZ. In the grand scheme,a couple months of hot steamy mugginess in the summer is not a bad truce to have with Mother Nature. I'm just glad for when those times come, God invented air conditioning.

I'm also glad he invented Trader Joe's Organic Strawberry Lemonade for these summer months. At the very least I can say he inspired those who manufacture this delicious concoction, as I believe it is truly the product of inspired divinity.

How can anything possibly taste this impossibly good? It's improbably perfect. Every sip has the proper balance of tart lemony citrus and sweet sugary strawberry that blends together in a smooth, cool, refreshing taste that however temporarily brings it all down a few degrees. And this ain't wimpy stuff, oh no. It's potent and unrelenting in it's powerful tastiness.  I tell you, it's addicting and highly chuggable for those in search of liquid refreshment. Heck, I don't even want to stop there. When I rule the world, or at least the local waterpark, I will replace all water with this lemonade. Can I wade into a wavepool churning and swaying with strawberry lemonade? Can I coast down a long twisty turny waterslide (err, lemonade slide) and splash land at the bottom, face-first mouth-open? Can I grab an innertube and float down a lazy river armed with just a swimsuit, shades, and an extra long straw for the occasional sip? Believe me, if I could, I would. It's so impeccably funktastalicioso that I'll overlook the "black carrot concentrate" added "for color" and wonder how in the h-e-double Bendi straw that works. And it almost goes without saying that add some booze and ice cubes for the adults or freeze it into some popsicles for the kiddos, and you get yourself one cool treat.

Obviously, I'm about as high on the strawberry lemonade as I can be. I think the wife and I have bought it four times thus far this summer, and seeing as that we're currently out, I'm beginning to get the DTs from withdrawal. That's just me, as Sandy's not nearly the aficionado that I am. "Eh, it's just lemonade to me," she says. That's like saying the Beatles were just a pop band or that, for his time and era, Jonathan Taylor Thomas was just another child actor. Sandy continues, "It's not like 'Ermergerd, it's strerberry lermernerde!'" It hurt just typing that, yeesh. She gave it a mere three. I file my five in protest, as this may be one of the best drinks Trader Joe's carries. Better than sweet tea. Better than the Arnold Palmer. Better than the vintage root beer, and way better than this primordial green ooze. Yums all the way around in my little world.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Organic Strawberry Lemonade: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons       

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Trader Joe's Petite Seafood Croquettes

With Surimi imitation crab! Oh boy! That's the best imitation crab meat of them all!

Or so I might believe after perusing the cover of this product. I've actually never heard of Surimi until now, but I have known for a while that a lot of times "crab meat" is actually nothing but fake crab meat that's really only dressed-up fish. I just find it funny that TJ's advertises it so boldly on the cover of the product. Well, it does say "seafood croquettes," not "crab croquettes." And really, I think if it were real crab meat, they'd just go ahead and call them "Petite Crab Cakes" or "Mini Crab Cakes." But I do get caught up in the semantics too easily. It's the English major in me.

Let's talk about grub.

These are good. But not quite as good as the Maryland-Style Crab Cakes we reviewed a while back. Maybe that's because...they aren't crab cakes. But they're so similar to crab cakes...they might as well be. You could call them "Fish Cakes," but that would be boring. I guess the best thing
to call them would have been "Imitation Crab Cakes" or "Surimi Cakes." But what marketer would put the word "imitation" in the title of a product? One who's slightly crazier than the one that put "made with surimi imitation crab" immediately below the title of the product.

They're slightly firm on the outside, and significantly softer on the inside. You can taste things like peppers, celery, and cream in the mix. It's actually a good bit like Thanksgiving stuffing...mixed with fish. They're not very spicy, but you can detect a hint of seasoning. All in all, not a bad appetizer, but there are plenty of hors d'oeuvres I'd take over these.

Sonia gives them 3.5 stars, adding, "They were a little too eggy for me, even though I like eggs." I didn't notice the egginess so much, but I give them 3.5 too, because they were snackable enough, but not particularly memorable.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10 stars.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Trader Joe's Gluten Free Joe-Joe's

I'll admit this right up front: I'm most likely the last person in the world who should be reviewing these. I have no gluten sensitivities or any need to be wary of pretty much anything I eat. I'm also not a huge fan of Oreos and sandwich cookies in general - yeah, I mean, I'll eat them, but they all kinda taste the same to me, and if I'm eating a cookie, well, dangit, if it's not homemade I want it be something not so ordinary more times than not. Notable exception: add mint and dip into dark chocolate.

But fear not, I (for once) have a plan. Since I lack the proper gluten-free perspective and a healthy fondness for these kinda cookies, I'm actually going to take a small step aside here for a moment. One of my good friends, Allison, has had to adopt a gluten-free diet for the past several years, and when she, in a little bit of a break from the norm, started raving on Facebook about how tremendously awesome Trader Joe's Gluten Free Joe-Joe's are, well, it got my attention and so I invited Allison to share her thoughts about them.

"In eating gluten free, you generally find good replacements (IF you search around-there is a lot of bad gluten-free food that you have to weed out). Products that are a good substitute, however, are exactly that: a substitute. TJ's gluten free Joe-Joes are the first gluten-free product I have tasted that taste just like the original. They are oh-so chocolaty, and have an amazing texture, reminiscent of Oreos (in my opinion, better, since you can taste the real vanilla bean in the middle). I had my non-gluten-free husband try them, and he loved them as well, guessing that he wouldn't have been able to tell the difference in a blind taste test," she wrote. "I would also add that good chocolate flavor in cookies and cakes (gluten free or not) is hard to do. Many times the chocolate flavor is flat, especially in packaged cookies. These cookies give you a full, robust, chocolate flavor, satisfying any chocolate lover's craving."

Well, there you have it. Sandy and I picked up a box of the regular and the gluten-free guys to compare and contrast. They're pretty close overall but to be honest, we both kinda sided with the the gluten-free ones being a tad bit better despite their nearly identical taste. The gluten-free guys have this particular crunch and "clean crumbliness" to them that make them more fun to munch. Sandy also she said she liked the middles of the gluten free cookies better, but I can't tell the difference. 

There is another difference though, which Allison tipped me off to, but apparently is par for the gluten free course. The box of regular Joe-Joe's cost $2.99 and had 42 cookies, so about 7 cents a cookie. The gluten free ones cost $3.99 (so a third more) and had 28 cookies (so a third less) which computes to about 14 cents a cookie. For another example, regular TJ's mac 'n cheese (yum!) goes for a buck a box, while the far inferior rice/celiac friendly version costs a paper Jefferson. Yeesh. How do you all with gluten sensitivities and a budget do it? Mad respect. And perhaps I'm a bit slow, but I can't think of a great justification for the widely divergent price points, and find all of that to be a wee bit unfair. 

Alrighty, Golden Spoons time. I'm keeping out of this one altogether for two reasons. First, Allison is the leading gluten-free expert I know, so I'm giving her the courtesy of scoring on my behalf. Secondly, if there's anything that over 3.5 years of marriage (and just over 1 year with a delightful daughter!) have taught me, it's that when there's a question of whose opinion matters more, there's not a question after all. Sandy just went "mmmmm" while munching a mouthful and flashed me all five digits. That texture's got a hook on her. Allison agrees. "For really great junk food (that would also make an amazing pie crust) gluten-free or not, I give it a 5." There you have it. All you gluten-free peeps out there, rejoice.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Gluten Free Joe-Joe's: 10 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Trader Joe's Lemon Curd

A month or two ago, in the downtown area of our tiny little suburb right outside the City of Brotherly Love, my wife and I found ourselves hunting for some vittles one bright Saturday morning. We settled on a new diner/cafe right on the main street. It was a quaint mom and pop's joint. It reminded us of a little place we used to go in Hollywood called "The Corner." 

Now, my wife Sonia usually eats an hour or two after she gets up, whereas I am in the habit of eating at least a little bit of something immediately upon waking, usually accompanied by a caffeinated energy drink of some kind. That meal, a true break-the-fast is often very small, allowing me to eat a little more a little later and join Sonia when she finally does eat breakfast. Inspired by our good friend Peregrin Took, Sonia and I refer to that latter meal as my "second breakfast."

But second breakfast can't be as big as a normal meal, since it's book-ended by first breakfast and elevensies. So when I searched the menu at this little cafe for a small-ish meal and declined when offered a hashbrown add-on, our waitress of course decided that I must be a cheap SOB and that she would undoubtedly receive little or nothing in the way of a tip. We received little or nothing in the way of service after that, as our waitress strived dutifully to fulfill her own prophecy, but when my meal finally came out (pancakes with lemon curd) everything in the world was right as rain. I was delighted at the tart, tangy, lemoniness of the curd. I was upset that something so delicious would be called "curd." I giggled like a schoolboy as I smeared it 'round my flapjacks. Then I literally licked my platter clean.

Sonia, apparently offended by the streams of yellow drizzle on my face, said to me flatly, "You know they sell that stuff at Trader Joe's."

My eyes widened at the realization that I wouldn't have to go back to this goofy little diner for lemon curd. BUT, would TJ's version taste as good as the poor-service cafe?

In the time that's passed, I have confirmed that YES, TJ's version is every bit as good as the one I had at that diner, and in fact, that the two taste so similar, I'm guessing the cafe's lemon curd "supplier" IS Trader Joe's. 

It's got the consistency and feel of honey, but it's RIDICULOUSLY lemony. It made me want to scream "Lemony Snicket!" like I did when I ate the Lemon Bars. It goes well with pancakes, with toast, with scones, with cookies, or just about anything you want to taste like lemon candy. It's super sour, but also super sweet. I'm in love with it. I don't know if anywhere else sells this stuff in the states, and I'm pretty sure Trader Joe didn't invent the stuff, but I'm going to give TJ's the credit for introducing me to it. 5 big stars from me. 4.5 stars from Sonia.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Trader Joe's Cheddar & Horseradish Flavored Potato Chips

There's a few simple joys in life that I truly love: Cuddling a sleepy baby for a lazy Sunday afternoon nap. Licking off the beaters or wooden spoon while making a cake or homemade cookies. Getting just in front of that dirtbag who doesn't want to let you merge and winning that mutual battle of wills to get to your cubicle 2.3 nanoseconds sooner. These are all great things.

Another I'd add to the list would be when your bag of chips gets down to last itty bitty shards of chippiness, with all the flavor dustings smushed down in and concentrated in a small pocket in the corner of the bag, and simply lifting the bag and pouring straight into your mouth because to reach your hand in would only result in dusty digits turning to sludge that your wife will give you the stinkeye for wiping off on your jeans.

Unfortunately for Trader Joe's Cheddar & Horseradish Flavored Potato Chips, this was an experience I could not enjoy one bit when I indulged the other day after Sandy and I more or less ravaged the rest of the bag throughout the day. The back of the bag says something to the effect of "cheddary with a touch of horseradish." The scribe who penned those words must have done so with a touch of horse....uh, nevermind, family-friendly, SFW website we run here. Every chip I crunched in all its otherwise kettlechip glory I tasted nothing but the horseradish through and through, with all the compulsion of its bitter might. I literally could not taste anything else except a slight smidge of cheddar here and there when my tastebuds pleaded for mercy. "Delightfully flavored" is not the way I'd describe these, unless horseradish is really, and I mean really your thing.  The kicker was that last little refuge of snacktime crumbles - it took me two tries and a large glass of water in the middle to make it happen. Yes, it owned me.  

That might all sound like a negative. I actually don't quite mean it that way. In a sense, I can kinda relate these to salt-and-vinegar chips, not because of flavor similarities (because there's not much) but because of flavor potency. I don't eat chips often but when I do I prefer either regular or barbeque or sour cream and onion or something along that line. There's a time and place for salt-and-vinegar chips, though, for me to occasionally poke at and munch a few then put away. These very horseradishy/not very cheddary guys fit much of that same mold.

I mentioned somewhere up there that these were opened and demolished within a day. Yes, I helped, but Sandy sure did too, and she loved these chips as she's gone around the house humming about them occasionally. Then again, she really likes salt-and-vinegar chips, so maybe there's something to that comparision. She's also made fun of me a couple times for my reaction when polishing off the bag. "Ahhhhhhh! Oooooh! Aaaaaaaaaaaa!" she'll grimace as she stumbles around like a dizzy wide-eyed t-rex in search of liquid salvation. That's fairly spot on, actually, wifey, so good work, keep it up. She's going with a four, while I'll chime in a little lower.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Cheddar & Horseradish Flavored Potato Chips: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, July 8, 2013

Trader Joe's Sliced Halloumi Cheese


Well, hello there. The past few weeks for the Western PA half of the WGaTJ's team have been, in a word or two, a little nutso. Start with my old laptop dying literally as I pounded out the final words of my last review a few weeks ago. Add in putting on the final touches of getting our house ready to be put on the market (which it finally is!) and driving a little over 2,000 mostly soggy miles in about 8 days for a little vacation up to Vermont and back. Then it was enduring a couple atypically crazy weeks at work and needing some funds to procure a new laptop and....well, yeah it's been a while since posting. Sorry for the lull, but I've found some great little TJ's goodies in the past few weeks, so I'll be making up for that. Thanks, Nathan, for holding down the fort. It's good to be back.

One of those goodies I came across, courtesy of my baby sister (a recent TJ's convert), was Trader Joe's Sliced Halloumi Cheese. My goodness. "A grilling cheese." I've never heard of such a thing. There's grilled cheese, of course. I'm almost 31 years old, and that's still almost a weekly staple. And then there's one of my favorite things, which is melted then crispied cheese, like the slighty burned edges of homemade mac 'n cheese. But a grilling cheese? Can't say I've heard of it.

But maaaaaaaaaan is it good. As you can see, the halloumi in fact grills up and gets a little browned and charred with minimal (if any) melting. By what power of Zeus is such a thing even possible? The Cyprus folks who invented this are pure men/women of genius. It's a very mild tasting cheese, fairly similar to mozzarella, but certainly isn't as soft. It's tougher, heavier and meatier, with a touch of crumbliness to it. Alongside our burgers, cold beers and grilled peppers, onions and eggplant, the halloumi was a perfect part of a terrific dinner we had on an overnight pit stop at my parents' house as we trekked back to Pittsburgh. My sister, who is pastry extraordinaire by day and an excellent all-around chef, says she picks this up quite often for either grilling big hunks of it (like ho we enjoyed it) or frying some up to put in some salad or pasta. I'm thinking that it would be a great match for a dish with sundried tomatoes and fresh herbs. Sis, if you're reading this, leave a comment or two with some of your recommendations.

There's only one sad thing I can say about the halloumi: like too many other good products that most of the TJ's-lovin' world gets to regularly enjoy (ahem, especially those alcohol related ones), it's not freakin' available at the East End Pittsburgh shop I frequent. Believe me, I scoured the otherwise rather expansive cheese selection for it, high and low, and didn't see it. Being a guy, I was too prideful to ask, but this really needs to be available locally, because I'm craving it again. Until then, I must dream sweet, cheesy dreams about a cheese that chars and doesn't melt. As will Sandy. "Mmmm, cheeeeeeeese...." is about all she could say until the expression on her face switched to one of pure, transfixed serenity as she recalled the fond tasty frolics she and the halloumi had together. I'm kinda surpised she gave it only a four. I'm going 4.5.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Sliced Halloumi Cheese: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons  

Friday, July 5, 2013

Trader Joe's Chocolate Chip Brownie & Oat Bars

Along the same lines as the Peanut Butter and Oat Bars or the Fiberful Granola Bars, these are pre-packaged snack bar thingies that come 6 in a pack. They're filling, chocolatey, and a good size for an in-between meal morsel.

The actual product is pretty moist when you first unwrap it, but it's a texture that instantly makes your mouth dry. If you're the type that loves to drown chocolatey things with milk or a coffee-type beverage, these little bars would probably be alright for breakfast or some similar situation. On the flip side, if you're hiking or walking around in the summer heat, I personally would think these would be the last things you'd want to eat. They cause thirst. And not just thirst, but they leave this sensation in your mouth that begs for something more than water. There's still an aftertaste even after a few swigs of H2O.

Sonia thinks the chocolate tastes a bit like carob in this case, and I agree. It's a "healthy" chocolate taste. It's "oaty." Which, of course, isn't that bad if you're a fan of carob and oats. The icing drizzle on the top of the bars is sweet and tasty, and both Sonia and I wish there were more of it.

All in all, because of this product's heavy, oaty chocolatiness, I think this is more of an autumn/spring pseudo-healthy morning food than an indulgent, refreshing summer afternoon snack. But not bad in a pinch. Just be sure to have some milk or creamy coffee on standby. 

Sonia gives these bars 3.5 stars. I give them 3.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.